Last Sunday, March 2nd, was a date that many hold dear. Among other things, it is the birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev, Jon Bon Jovi, Dr. Seuss, and the author of this blog. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game on March 2nd, 1962. One-time President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of Texas, and later U.S. Senator from Texas Sam Houston was born on that day as well. That last one is fitting, because March 2nd is also Texas Independence Day, celebrated statewide since 1836. With that in mind, we’re sharing many of our newspapers dating from that era!
For our first example we have page 3 of March 24, 1836’s Staunton Spectator, the newspaper of record for Staunton, Virginia that ran almost continuously from 1823 to 1916. This brief snippet reports the arrival in south Texas of the Mexican army headed by former President of Mexico General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. News traveled slowly back then, as by the time this issue was published the Battle of the Alamo had occurred nearly three weeks earlier.
This article, published two weeks later in the Albany Journal of Albany, New York, relates the tale of the Battle of the Alamo. This report doesn’t shy away from melodrama: 150 men killed, their bodies thrown into a heap! Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie dead! Alamo commander William Travis committing suicide rather than being captured! Every Texian inflamed with a passion to fight until “every Mexican east of the Rio del Norte should be exterminated!” (Texian, by the way, was the name for residents of Mexican Texas and, later, the Republic of Texas.) It’s doubtful that anyone in Albany could verify these claims, nor were they aware of the fact that the town of Goliad, mentioned toward the end of the article, had fallen on March 27th. Regardless, as we read these we often wonder what images were conjured in reader’s minds about events transpiring over 1,600 miles away.
The next article, once again appearing in the Staunton Spectator, portrays the Texas Revolution as a slowly-losing cause. As we’ve seen two times already, 19th-century newspaper information had a habit of being out of date. Sam Houston’s army had defeated a portion of general Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto, Texas back on April 21st, forcing the end of the conflict and freeing Texas from Mexican control. The most entertaining part of this article, however, is the lionizing of Davy Crockett. Check it out: “Crockett was found (within the Alamo)…on his back, a frown on his brow, a smile of scorn on his lips–his knife in his hand, a dead Mexican lying across his body, and twenty-two more lying pell-mell before him….”
Word finally caught up with the east coast by the end of May 1836, as we can see here in Exeter, New Hampshire’s Exeter News. It details the Battle of San Jacinto, the routing of Mexican forces, and the capture of Santa Anna. The latter event contains more of the entertainment that we’ve come to expect. After over 600 Mexican troops laid down their arms, mounted riflemen began chasing a few attempted escapees. Only one continued to elude them, a chase that lasted 15 miles and ended when one pursuer guessed that “like a hard pressed bear, (the fugitive might) have taken a tree. The tree tops were then examined when lo, the game was discovered snugly ensconced in the forks of a large live oak.” The captors allegedly didn’t know who they’d nabbed until the Mexican troops began hailing the prisoner as Gen. Santa Anna when his captors walked him through the camp.
We’re ending this with a more sedate piece, free of the drama of Davy Crockett, generals in trees, and Texans hell-bent on exterminating every last one of their enemies. The Bennington Vermont Gazette instead describes events as they transpired from San Jacinto onward, culled from other news sources such as the New York Courier & Enquirer. Nope, no melodrama at all…oh, wait: “The poor devils…would hold up their hands, cross themselves, and sing out ‘me no alamo,’ but nothing could save them; the blood of our countrymen was too was too fresh in the memory of our people to let one Mexican escape, until worn down with pursuit and slaughter, they commenced making prisoners.” Perhaps the real magic of these papers was not so much contemporary takes on the Texas Revolution as it was the histrionics of 19th-century newspapers!
We have a vast newspaper collection here at the Southwest Collection, some of which can be found in digital form. We also have manuscript materials about the Texas Revolution and its participants, most notably the Temple Houston Morrow Papers, a series of letters and documents collected by Sam Houston’s grandson, some of which were items composed by Houston himself. And, as always, our Reference Staff would be happy to help you peruse these or any of our other fine collections.