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1836 Facts About the Alamo & The Texas War for Independence 

Mary Deborah Petite, 1836 Facts About the Alamo & The Texas War for Independence (Da Capo Press, 1999, Pages 186, $12.95, ISBN: 1-882810-35-X)   

Virginia Tech University history professor Dr. William C. Davis, author of Three Roads to the  Alamo  (1999) and Lone Star Rising (2003), commends Mary Deborah Petite’s publication, 1836 Facts About the Alamo & The Texas War for Independence, as “a useful and interesting compendium…a quick and easy reference that has taken advantage of some of the latest scholarship on this always controversial subject.”   Dr. Davis is correct; this is a superb volume, well organized, evenhanded, clear, detailed, and simple to use.   In short, Texas history enthusiasts, particularly teachers looking for material to enliven their lectures, should own Petite’s book.    

Petite divides her study into eighteen chapters, covering such intriguing topics as “The Texian Army,” “The Mexican Army,” “Tejano Revolutionaries,” “Grapeshot, Musket and the Bayonet,” “Alamo Survivors,” “Atrocities of War,” and “Bowie, Crockett and Travis—How Did They Die?”    (Of the demise of “The Immortal Three,” she observes, “James Bowie, William Barret Travis and David Crockett all died at the Alamo.  Exactly when, where, and how these brave men lost their lives is not easily determined.”)  Additionally, Petite offers a helpful “Numbers and Statistics” section and a concluding bibliography, citing both traditional (such as T. R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star and Lon Tinkle’s The Alamo) and revisionist (Jeff Long’s Duel of Eagles) interpretations.  Petite contends that her purpose in writing 1836 Facts “is to entertain, educate, and honor the memories of those men who gave all…Though they died at the Alamo, they live on because we choose to remember.” 

To obtain a feel for the book, consider Petite’s discussion of three subjects:  music’s role in the Texas Revolution, the enmity endured by Tejanos in the post-war period, and her assessment of Mexican officer Manuel Fernandez Castrillon. According to Petite, “One of Crockett’s favorite ways to cheer the men during the siege was to stage a musical duel between himself and John McGregor.  The ‘Colonel’ had found an old fiddle and challenged McGregor to get out his bagpipes and see who could make the most noise.  McGregor always won…Santa Anna’s military bands played ‘Deguello’…on the morning of March 6.  The word meant ‘cut throat’ or ‘behead,’ and the music was a hymn of…merciless death…At San Jacinto, Houston and his army advanced to the sounds of ‘Come to the Bower,’ a tune regarded as quite risqué.  A German who could play the fife and a…freedman who could beat a drum played along with two other musicians who also volunteered.  But this foursome only knew popular music of the day.”  Evaluating the tragic treatment of Tejanos following the war, Petite declares, “Many Tejanos who fought so courageously with their Texian comrades found bitterness and resentment after the revolution.  Juan Seguin fought in almost every campaign of the [struggle]…He was elected mayor of San Antonio in 1840.  Forced to resign from office two years later, he fled to Mexico with his family fearing for his safety.  Many Tejanos who had supported the independence movement in Texas shared the fate of Seguin.  Original American settlers got along well with them, but those who came later treated them with hostility and abuse.”  Petite views Castrillon as “a well-trained professional officer… [He] repeatedly argued for fair and humane treatment of prisoners of war.  According to Jeff Long in Duel of Eagles, Castrillon had once been a prisoner of war himself following one of Santa Anna’s failed coup attempts in 1832.  Castrillon refused to flee the field when the Mexican army broke at San Jacinto.  He fell bravely trying to rally the troops.” 

An independent scholar with an avid interest in nineteenth century military history, Petite has also written “The Women Will Howl”:   The Union Army Capture of Roswell and New Manchester, Georgia, and the Forced Relocation of Mill Workers (McFarland, 2007).   1836 Facts About the Alamo & The Texas War for Independence, which boasts the iconic 1905 Henry McArdle painting, Dawn at the Alamo, on its cover, is part of the “Facts About” Series published by Da Capo, which also includes Jerry L. Russell’s 1876 Facts About Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1999).    

Although the lack of an index detracts from its value, Petite’s text belongs in the collection of every Texas history devotee. 

Review by Dr. Kirk Bane

Blinn College, History