Fact, Fiction, or Contradiction?

During my research of Texas history, a persistent point kept hitting home –something I had never given much thought to, but should have. Often the accuracy of the details and the authenticity of the events were called into question as contradictions arose in the storytelling. Of the few people who knew the stories, almost none were professional writers. In fact, many pioneers couldn’t read or write and often led solitary lives with no one to witness or chronicle their experiences. Of those who wrote personal journals, their diaries were very late in surfacing, some only in this century. As for the stories handed down by word of mouth, there’s no way to tell if any had been embellished as the narratives passed from one person to the next. 

That’s why I read with great interest Journal of A Trapper, a personal log written by frontiersman Osborne Russell, recounting his nine years as a fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains from 1834 to 1843. His firsthand descriptions of the mountain terrain and lush valleys inspired me. As he trapped in the greater Yellowstone region before leaving the solitary mountain life to settle in Oregon, his encounters with grizzlies and wolves were at times hair raising, and his run-ins with the American Indians were sometimes, but not always, hostile.

This rather lengthy prelude brings me to another question. What really happened at the Alamo? When I read historian John Myers’ book on the history of The Alamo, it was obvious that the author had done exhaustive research to lay bare the authenticity of the siege and the legendary characters – Bowie, Travis, Crockett, and Santa Ana – who were behind the heroism that made the Alamo story immortal. But I also wish historians had given more credence to Travis’s slave, Joe, who was interviewed a few days after the siege but whose statements were put aside. He was described as intelligent, and he was there to see what happened – one of the few people able to give a firsthand account. That prompted me to learn more about Joe’s story of the battle at the Alamo. Read more about Joe: https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Joe%20Article.pdf. 

My fascination with knowing more about Joe paralleled my prior research on another slave, Bob Jones, who overcame enormous obstacles to become a prosperous landowner in the Roanoke-Southlake area, a well-respected rancher, and family man. Link back to prior blog post on Bob Jones.

Impressed by Myers’s exhaustive research and his dedication to chronicle the details of the Alamo, I promptly bought his book titled The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee, and Mountain Man. Is this legendary hero’s story true? Did Glass survive being mauled by a grizzly bear and, when left for dead by his fellow trappers, have the will and fortitude to crawl for six weeks until he reached the nearest settlement for help? Buy the book and judge for yourself. 

Then analyze the two movies that were based on Hugh Glass’s life and ask yourself this question. Was either the 1971 movie, Man in the Wilderness starring Richard Harris, or the more recent movie, The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio, an authentic depiction of the remarkable real-life survival story of Hugh Glass? Or were they more Hollywood than historically accurate?

Hitting closer to home, how many of us have taken time from our busy schedules to chronicle our own lives? When was the last time we sat down with our family and asked those all-important questions that seem to arise after our loved ones are deceased?  I often find myself thinking, “Why didn’t I ask before they passed on? Now I’ll never know.” 

On a side note but related, almost every time I charge my camera batteries I muse, What a great invention! How I wish digital SLRs had been around during all those years of growing up overseas. Sure, I have Polaroids, but the quality is lacking and fades with age. On the other hand, photos in general are wonderful visual memories of times past. I did keep a diary of those informative years aboard, and I’m thankful that my father kept a log . . . of certain events. But nothing compares to a face-to-face talk to get the facts, cutting out the fiction or contradiction from the truth.

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Texas: Fort Worth

Credit: https://www.facebook.com/lavenderpathways

The Cross Timbers of Texas is composed of two long and narrow strips of forest region that extend parallel to each other from Oklahoma southward to Central Texas and form a marked contrast to the prairies of the state. Early travelers through north Texas coined the name Cross Timbers because they repeatedly crossed these timbered areas, which proved to be a barrier to their travel on the open prairies to the east and west. No major metropolitan areas lie entirely within the Cross Timbers, although roughly the western half of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex does, including the city of Fort Worth. 

Originally settled in 1849 as an army outpost on a bluff overlooking the Trinity River, Fort Worth was one of eight forts assigned to protect settlers from Indian attacks. Despite myths to the contrary, there were no major battles with Native Americans at the fort.

How did Fort Worth get its name? On June 6, 1849, Mexican-American War hero General William Jenkins Worth, established a camp on the banks of the Trinity River and the fort became his namesake. The outpost was abandoned on September 17, 1853.

Known as Cowtown for its association with the cattle drives in which millions of longhorns were herded on the Chisholm Trail, Fort Worth also calls itself “the place where the West begins.” And with the arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway, Fort Worth became the heart of the state’s ranching industry, with the Fort Worth Stockyards transformed into a prized livestock center.

With this boom came the cowboys who stocked up on supplies in Fort Worth, then a dusty and lawless town, home to the brave and the brawling, the solider, the frontiersman, and the outlaw, who caroused its taverns and dance halls. During this wild era of cattle drives, gambling parlors and saloons sprang up around Fort Worth, and soon this rough-and-tumble frontier town won the moniker of Hell’s Half Acre. 

Hell’s Half Acre was a precinct of Fort Worth designated as a red-light district beginning in the early- to mid-1870s in the Old Wild West. It came to be called the town’s Bloody Third  ward because of the violence and lawlessness. In 1900, after robbing a bank in Nevada, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their Wild Bunch gang took up in the Acre to avoid capture.

By the late 1880s, Fort Worth citizens had grown tired of the Wild West within their own city. Hell’s Half Acre accounted for about half of the city’s crimes. Prostitution, violence, and regular suicides were especially embarrassing for leaders seeking city growth. Looking to rein in some of the criminality, Fort Worth installed a permanent police force in 1887.

By 1900, Fort Worth was one of world’s largest cattle markets, and the population tripled between 1900 and 1910. Growth continued, based on various multimillion-dollar industries—meat packing, flour milling, grain storage, oil, aircraft plants, and military bases.

But it wasn’t until the US entered World War I in 1917 and many young men headed off to fight in Europe that the taming of Fort Worth really began. With Prohibition in 1920 came another calm. It certainly didn’t do away with drinking, but at least swilling booze was no longer a wide-open activity. With these two events, much of the lawlessness of the Acre was fading and a much more bridled Fort Worth eventually emerged.

Today, Fort Worth is the 5th largest city in Texas, and many of its earliest buildings endure to this day — art deco skyscrapers stand beside older redbrick stalwarts. Although the dust of the old west is gone, Fort Worth’s proud Western heritage lives on.


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Texas: The Spanish

After Columbus’s discovery of the new continent in 1492, every country in Europe aspired to colonize the New World. Why? Because Europe’s population was increasing and resources were inadequate to support the growing masses. Therefore, the countries wanted and needed new land. 

Spain was in the heyday of its power, with strong armed forces – especially its navy – and there was no match for them. The Spanish leaders wanted the material and mineral wealth from their colonies. But as a devoutly Catholic country – remember that Ferdinand and Isabella were known as the Catholic Monarchs – Spain also felt obligated to spread Christianity to the natives.

At that time, any discoverer of a new territory was the keeper/ruler of that land. Spanish adventurers, led by Hernán Cortés and supported by the Tlaxcalan tribes, conquered the Aztecs, and from that time forward Mexico was a colony of Spain.

But what brought the Spaniards to Texas? Initially, they came by accident. Then they came to explore for gold or silver. Later, they focused on settling East Texas to shore up the northern border of New Spain against French encroachment from what was then the Lousiana colony. Why did they need such a buffer? To protect Spain’s interest in the rich mines in Mexico and New Mexico. 

From East Texas, Franciscan priests and Spanish soldiers established new missions and presidios along the Rio Grande and in West Texas, with the first Spanish-speaking settlers grouped around the San Antonio River in 1718.

In 1762, during the French and Indian War, France ceded French Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain and in 1763 transferred much of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain. No longer a dominant European power, Spain did little to develop Louisiana during the next three decades. However, after the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Spain began to reinforce Texas in order to protect its Mexican colony from its new neighbor – the United States. 

The Mexican War of Independence, which began in 1810 and lasted until 1820, was a lengthy struggle as Mexico fought for its independence from Spain. The revolutionary war weakened Spanish control in Texas, which saw major battles fought between royalists and insurgents. In the process, Texas came to the attention of the Americans, some of whom claimed that Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase. On September 27, 1821, the Spanish finally signed a treaty recognizing Mexico’s independence, thereby ending the uninterrupted Spanish occupation of Texas that had lasted for 105 years (1716 to 1821).

Prior to Mexico’s winning its independence, the Spanish government had encouraged Anglo-American settlement of Texas. In 1820, Moses Austin, a bankrupt, fifty-nine-year-old Missourian, asked the Spanish authorities for a large tract of Texas land to sell to Anglo-American pioneers. Spain welcomed the idea because Austin’s Anglos would provide a buffer against the approximately 3,000 illegal settlers from the United States who had settled in east Texas prior to Austin’s land grant. Not long after making his request, Austin died, leaving his son, Stephen F. Austin, to carry out his father’s dream of colonizing Texas. 

The younger Austin persuaded the new government of Mexico that the best way to develop the region was immigration from the north, so Mexico agreed to give land agents 67,000 acres for every two hundred families they brought to Texas. To obtain the land grants, the immigrants had to agree to become Mexican citizens, obey Mexican laws, learn Spanish, and become Catholics. By 1834, over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas compared to 7,800 Mexicans. But while these immigrants legally became Mexican citizens, they continued to speak English, formed their own schools, and had closer trading ties to the United States than to Mexico.

In 1835, the president of Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna, overthrew the constitution and appointed himself dictator. Recognizing that the “American” Texans were likely to use his rise to power as an excuse to secede, Santa Anna ordered the Mexican military to begin disarming the Texans. On October 2, 1835, the growing tensions between Mexico and Texas erupted into violence when Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales, sparking the Texan war for independence and the enduring catchphrase—“Come and Take It.” (Read more at https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/gonzales-come-and-take-it-cannon)

December 1835, Texians (Anglo-American settlers) and Tejanos (Texans of mixed Mexican and Indian descent) captured the town of San Antonio. Two months later, on February 23, 1836, Mexican troops under General Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio to retake the city. Although Sam Houston ordered Texans to abandon San Antonio, a group of rebels decided to defend the town and make their stand at an abandoned Spanish mission, the Alamo. One hundred and eighty-three defenders were killed, including several Mexicans who had fought for Texas independence, and their oil-soaked bodies were set on fire outside the Alamo. 

It was March 2, 1836, Texas Independence Day, when historians believe the original and five copies of the declaration were made and signed by 59 men at Washington-on-the-Brazos. With the creation of the revolutionary document, settlers broke away from Mexico to create the Republic of Texas. “Here a Nation was born.”

On April 21, 1836, Sam Houston some 800 Texans defeated Santa Anna’s Mexican force of approximately 1,500 men at the Battle of San Jacinto, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” The victory ensured the success of Texan independence and formation of the so-called Lone Star Republic. 

The Republic of Texas was a sovereign state in North America from 1836 to 1846, but the Mexican Congress refused to recognize the Republic since the agreement was signed by Mexican President General Santa Anna under duress while he was  a prisoner of the Texians. And although the United States recognized the Republic of Texas in March 1837, they declined to annex the territory until December 29, 1845, when Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state. The transfer of power from the Republic to the new state of Texas formally took place on February 19, 1846.

With the admittance of Texas, the US inherited the southern and western border disputes with Mexico, who had refused to recognize Texas’s independence or to accept the US offers to purchase the territory. Thus, the annexation led to the Mexican-American War.

On May 12, 1846, the United States Senate voted 40 to 2 to go to war with Mexico. President James K. Polk had accused Mexican troops of having attacked Americans on US soil, north of the Rio Grande. But Mexico claimed this land as its own territory and accused the American military of having invaded.

Replica of the building at Washington-on-the-Brazos where the Texas Declaration was signed.

On February 2, 1848, the Mexican-American war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. According to the terms of the treaty, Mexico ceded fifty-five percent of its territory, including all or portions of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and Utah, to the United States. These events brought within the control of the United States the future states of Texas, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, and Oregon, as well as portions of what would later become Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana. The Mexican government was paid $15 million – the same sum paid to France for the Louisiana Territory.



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