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Mares: Revisiting The Alamo

The first time I saw the Alamo was on a school field trip. I was ten-years-old, and the Alamo mission seemed as big as a fortress.

At the end of a recent 1800-mile road trip fifty years later, seeing this Texas temple got me thinking again about what history IS exactly.
Thomas Carlyle called it a "distillation of rumor." Henry Ford said it was "more or less bunk.”

Perhaps it’s simply myth, I mused - what never was, but will always be.
In school, I had swallowed my teacher's "13 days to Glory" story line with nary a skeptical hiccup – how Colonel William Travis' drew the original "line in the sand" for all who would stay, or leave; how the injured Jim Bowie fought off attackers with his trusty Bowie Knife; how Davy Crockett used his long barreled squirrel rifle as a club against swarming Mexican soldiers; how in 1845, the U.S. joined Texas, not the reverse.
When I moved to Vermont, I discovered that Texas was not the only state to have been independent. Vermont, too, was a republic for 14 years before joining the union.
And I learned that Mills DeForrest Andross, 27, of Bradford was among those who died at the Alamo. His grandfather, Dr. Bildad Andross had served as a surgeon in the Revolutionary War, was a signer of the Vermont Constitution, and served several terms in the Vermont Legislature.

In 1835, Mills left his wife, two sons, and hard scrabble farm for no documented reason - and went to New Orleans. There, he joined a group of insurgents known as the New Orleans Grays, who marched into Texas, fought at the town of Bexar, and stayed on to die at the Alamo.
My visit reminds me that the study of history is laced with ambiguity. Motives are mixed, good guys do bad things and unintended consequences are not the exception, but the rule.
In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival, Native-Americans and others used the Alamo as a backdrop to call attention to all the biological and political woes brought by the European colonizers. They pointed out that the celebrated freedom of Texas did not apply to slaves.

Today even Mexicans are conflicted about the Alamo. Their textbooks claim the Alamo as a clear victory for their side. But the cruelty and despotism of the general (and later president) Santa Ana made him a tough person to revere.

Thinking about historical revisionism reminds me of the highly politicized Texas board of education and the epic battles it’s waged over religion and science in state textbooks.
On my recent visit, a group of 50 Japanese high-school students were posing in front of this Texas shrine and I couldn’t help wondering what they were thinking.

For their American counterparts, the teacher in me thought up an essay question: Contrast and compare the public reaction to, and enduring influence of, two famous defeats: the Alamo and the Little Big Horn.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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