An Interview with Dr. David Crockett

“It is a complicated history, but the values that it has become soaked in, in terms of how the culture perceives it, I think are certainly worthy values to try to emulate.”

Do you think it’s important to remember the Battle of the Alamo?

Yeah, I mean, it’s important on a variety of levels. It’s important because we should remember our history. It’s important for Texans for sure to learn their history because it’s obviously a major event in the state’s history. You know, why we are what we are today. So, in that sense, there’s a lot of mythology about the Alamo. And the fact that there’s mythology about it, or the fact that people have certain perceptions of it in terms of why you would remember it: courage, valor, self-sacrifice, stuff like that. Even if history is more complicated, the general understanding of what happened serves the purposes of civic virtue and binding citizens together with some common understanding of our heritage. It is a complicated history, but the values that it has become soaked in, in terms of how the culture perceives it, I think are certainly worthy values to try to emulate.

How do you feel about the restoration plan for the Alamo?

I notice that Proposition Seven on the Republican ballot has something to do with preserving the Alamo as it is with no changes, which I think is nuts. It’s crazy. And why this becomes a liberal-conservative issue just boggles my mind. It’s this testament to how everything becomes tainted by these partisan perceptions. 

So, I will admit, I like going to battlefields. I have an interest in military history. And when I go to a battlefield, I like it when the battlefield is as close to what it was like back then as possible. 

I have done numerous tours of the Alamo with friends and family members. I took Charles Krauthammer on a tour of the Alamo. I took Milo Yiannopoulos on a tour of the Alamo. I took Chip Roy on a tour of the Alamo. So, every once in a while someone comes here and Crockett’s the guy to take him on a tour of the Alamo. And I always have to explain stuff to them because when you go down there, it’s rather underwhelming. People who know it and love it, of course, wouldn’t say that. But if you’re driving by there as an out of town visitor and you see this adobe fixture, you think ‘So, okay, it all happened in that building?’ 

Virtually nothing happened in that building! People just have a completely disoriented sense of what happened, the space involved, the challenge for the defenders… Just facts of the battle itself. 

If I had my way, I would remove the federal buildings on the north side, the buildings on the left side, I’d move that cenotaph and try to recreate the walls as close as we can. Now, I can’t do that. We’re not going to destroy the federal buildings. And I’m not saying we should get rid of the buildings on the west side. I think we should get rid of the obscene businesses that are there, because it taints what should be an important battlefield. So, I’d give them a lot of money to move somewhere else and whether you destroy the buildings and do something else or preserve the buildings and make it a museum—there are all sorts of things you can do—but I have no problem with major renovations. 

By the time we have the bicentennial of the battle of the Alamo in 2036, people will be down there and they’ll see how big this Alamo plaza was and how impossible it was for 200 people with single-shot flint locks to defend themselves against 5,000 trained Mexican soldiers. And you’d have sensible stuff in that area to try to orient people, instead of trying to explain ‘Oh, where this road is is this thing, and that little bit over there is where the cannon was.’ I don’t mind doing that because it’s kind of fun to orient people. It just becomes underwhelming for a lot of visitors. 

There’s nothing about the businesses across the street that are sacred. The cenotaph is fine, but there’s nothing sacred about the location. It’s not where they burned all the bodies, and it’s not a tomb or where any remains are kept. So, if you move it 500 feet down outside the Alamo grounds as a sort of entryway to the Alamo, I think that’s perfectly fine. 

Get that plaza back where people can walk up there and realize, ‘Oh, this is where the walls were, there would have been a well right here’ and things like that. So you can have all sorts of signs and stuff to educate people about what was going on. 

I actually am a big fan of the plan. Now, if it becomes politicized in stupid politically correct ways, then I would probably be annoyed. My father thinks that nothing should be done and he doesn’t want anything other than the Battle of the Alamo to be represented there. I have no problem with the history of the Alamo as a mission being depicted, everything from when it was founded in the 1700s up through the Battle of the Alamo to the fight to preserve the Alamo structure that took place at the turn of the 20th century. So, there are all sorts of ways you can do that without taking away from what happened on March the 6th, 1836. I am actually not opposed to lots of radical work being done. I’m kind of passionate about it.

Now, that all seems long-term. Is there anything you think should be done right now for the grounds of the Alamo to preserve it and educate people on the history?

They’ve done a little bit of that. So along the long barracks they have these little steel dioramas that depict what the Alamo looked like at different phases. So that kind of thing is nice and educational. They have those pictographs that give you a vision of what the Alamo would have looked like in 1836 if you were standing right there. That kind of stuff they have spread out in different locations, so that’s a start. 

Until you actually make the move to do something with the plaza itself, move the cenotaph and get the hucksters off of there, I guess I would have no problem with regrading the whole property to make sure that there aren’t steps there. So if that means lowering the whole property a few inches that’s fine. If we stop vehicular traffic, I have no problem with that. I’m a little bit agnostic about exactly what should be done. I’m willing to be briefed on that. But I do think that lots of interesting things could be done without ruining anything. 

I mean, the cenotaph has been there since the 1930’s, so I guess we had no cenotaph for a hundred years. And it’s not like bad things happened because of it. The idea that there’s something holy and sacred and untouchable about these things, I think, is just silly. I have never been to Gettysburg, but my understanding is that the Gettysburg Battlefield is really, really good on this idea. You go there and you see what it looked like in 1863. So, I look forward to going to Gettysburg someday. But that’s the kind of thing I like. 

You know, I went to Verdun when I was in Germany. We went to the battlefield at Hastings and Bannockburn when I was up in Scotland. I like seeing the land and walking the land where these things happen. It’s very difficult to do that without any sense of understanding unless you have someone like me saying, ‘See the Ripley’s? Believe it or not, that’s where Travis’ headquarters was.’

So, there are other things like the Woolworth Building down there on the corner is where they had some Civil Rights sit-ins back in the day. I have no problem keeping that structure there as part of the larger history of Alamo Plaza and telling that story too. It’s a good thing.”

You mentioned the politicization of the restoration plan. Can you say a bit more about the politicization of the Alamo’s history?

I don’t know where it started, but I suspect what has happened is that people in the state who are conservative distrust people they believe are liberal, for obvious reasons. Especially as polarization gets worse, we cease to think of our partisan opponent as our opponents and instead see them as our enemy. They’re bad, they’re probably morally bad or even evil. We think what they want to do is also bad. 

The fact that mayors in San Antonio have typically been center-left—certainly Ron Nirenburg is—means that conservatives in the city are predisposed to distrusting anything that comes out of that group of people. And so, that taints anything that’s recommended. 

So people see elites working on an Alamo project to do some big things down there, and they think, ‘You’re moving the cenotaph because you don’t want to recognize the sacrifice of Texans. And you think that all white males are imperialistic, just the patriarchy, and all that kind of stuff. And they’re white-washing history and trying to make it more politically correct by having less of a focus on Jefferson and more of a focus on Cesar Chavez.’ You know, that kind of stuff. 

Some people have interpreted these things because it comes from political leaders. Even though the mayorship in San Antonio is not a partisan position—they don’t run as Democrats and Republicans. But everyone knows that Ron Nirenberg is a Democrat. And so, they simply assume that if you want to do light-rail that’s wrong because that’s Democrats. Or the land-bridge where I live out where the land bridge is going to go over between two halves of the Hardberger Park. It’s a big $25 million operation. Most of my friends are opposed to the land ridge because they’re conservative and think it’s a waste of money. I like the land bridge myself because I think it’s kind of cool and half of it was raised by Phil Hardberger, so that’s fine. But I think that’s what’s going on. People who are predisposed to distrust anything that comes out of city hall because most of them are ‘lefties.’ And people that want to do something to Alamo Plaza probably can’t be trusted because, rather than focus on the battle, they’ll focus on what we did to Native Americans or who we had as slaves, or that all the people who defended the Alamo wanted to have slaves in the Republic of Texas. So, it’s impossible to have a sane conversation when discourse degenerates to that point. 

I actually got called on the phone several weeks ago by someone who was working with an organization trying to stop any of this from happening. So, I just had some fun with him, saying that I actually approve of doing some things in Alamo Plaza. He gave me the standard lines about destroying the cenotaph, or damaging it, or this and that and the other. Finally, he just had to hang up because obviously he wasn’t going to get anywhere with me. Part of this, I think, is knee-jerk fear-mongering, and as a conservative who takes second place to no one in terms of my conservativeness, I don’t understand why that has to be that way. It’s possible to do some really interesting things down there, and to honor completely the sacrifice my namesake made and other people without it being some sort of ‘Liberal Agenda.’ 

I think polarization and the cynicism about politics and the automatic distrust of anyone from the other side feeds some of this. Of course, this means that elected leaders, who are more often than not somewhat cowardly by nature—especially members of the House, who get every two years. And so it’s very easy to have a vote on something that they’re not going to like. And so if a Republican member of the House from San Antonio were to support what they’re doing, I’m sure they would draw a primary challenge. So it probably shouldn’t be a big surprise at the pressure on members of Congress who have a say in what’s going on, or at least have an opinion about what’s going on in San Antonio. They tend to be in favor of this ‘the sky is falling and it hit us on the head’ kind of argument. But I’m not.

“The Alamo” (1960) at the Alamo

The Alamo offered a free showing of the 1960 Western epic on the last Friday of the anniversary of the real siege.

The excitement hit as soon as my eyes fell upon the mission itself. The lights hitting the cracked stones created a beautiful effect of shadow. Continuing to the right of the mission, greeting the Texas Ranger, and walking through the archway all heightened my excitement. Finally, I entered the living history encampment where the movie was shown. With the David Crockett hotel in the foreground, I—and the coonskin hat on my head—settled in to watch The Alamo (1960). 

The start of the movie follows the thirty-two Tennessee volunteers and their leader, Colonel David Crockett, on their last journey to the Alamo. At the Alamo, Colonel William Travis is attempting to slow down the Mexican army, led by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. When a letter from Colonel James Fannin tells Travis that their reinforcements were stopped by the Mexican army, the need for more men to defend the Alamo increases. 

Throughout the movie, the portrayal of the three main American leaders of the Battle of the Alamo (Travis, Crockett and Bowie) was quite historically accurate. Travis, played by Laurie Harvey, is a highly trained military leader who demands the same level of military standards for all the men in the mission. His leadership style foils Crockett’s, played by John Wayne, who lets his men decide if they want to stay and die defending the Alamo–with some clever persuasion. Bowie, played by Richard Widmark, undergoes the most character development due to the incredibly hard choice he faces at the battle. Bowie’s original plan is to destroy the mission and the cannons, leaving nothing for the Mexican forces to retrieve or use against the rebels. As the siege begins, Travis gives the men the choice to stay or go. At this moment, Bowie is ready to leave the mission, both for practical reasons and his ongoing friction with the stiff, inflexible Travis. However, Bowie changes his mind. He hops off his horse and stands behind Travis. This scene replaces the “line in the sand” moment, which historians still argue over today and is portrayed differently in other Alamo movies. 

Fun fact—this frame from the movie tributes the famous oil painting El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent.
Fun fact—this frame from the movie tributes the famous oil painting El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent.

I was surprised at the portrayal of the Mexican army in this movie version. In typical fashion, the Mexican army is portrayed as a brutal force that murders the Alamo defenders in cold blood. But, in this version, the army seems highly trained and polished. The extras in the movie demonstrated good horsemanship on the screen. Compared to the ragtag volunteer defenders of the Alamo, the Mexican army showed off their beautiful uniforms and military training as they marched towards the defenders. After one of the first scrimmages of the siege, there is a scene with some of the volunteers on their post on the main gate talking about the men of the Mexican army, admiring them for continuing to march towards the walls even though the men around them face destruction by the defenders. Later on in the siege, the army strikes an agreement with the troops that they will allow the women and children to leave the mission peacefully and go wherever they please. This show of humanity continues after the last battle when Susanna Dickinson is spared, along with her daughter and slave. The army shows respect towards Susanna as they give her a donkey and provisions to help her make the journey back to safety. This is the last scene of the movie. While nobody talks, the Mexican army behaves towards Dickinson with great honor. Even Santa Anna himself takes off his hat as Susanna passes him.  

This was a once in a lifetime experience. I had the honor of watching this movie on its sixtieth anniversary at the Alamo itself as a part of the thirteen-day celebration of the 184th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo. Watching the siege on the screen while sitting where it actually took place was an amazing experience. I was able to appreciate not only the movie, but also the Battle of the Alamo on a whole new level.

Remember the Alamo—Correctly

It’s easy for revisionists to trot out the age old line that history is written by the victors.

A famous legend about the Alamo entered Texan folklore a few weeks after the notorious siege. Around April of 1836, Santa Anna was fed up with resistance from freedom fighters. To stomp out this lingering flame, he sent a message to his troops in San Antonio, ordering them to burn the mission to the ground. But when his soldiers approached the Alamo, they met a ghastly surprise. The light from their torches gleamed on the sabers that suddenly appeared in front of them, glistening like red flames in the dark of night. Holding those sabers were six spirits, emerging from the front doors of the mission. “Do not touch the Alamo, do not touch these walls!” they shouted. The group of soldiers, shocked and afraid, ran from the mission, never to return.

To a proud Texan, it is a pleasant myth. The only thing better would be for the same ghosts to reappear when revisionists try to burn the legacy of the Alamo heroes.

To us Texans, the Alamo is a symbol of how we value freedom and liberty. William Travis, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the other Alamo defenders were heroes because they valued the liberty of their countrymen and land above their own lives. 

Unfortunately, our own state’s institutions do not see it that way. Nearly two years ago, the Texas State Board of Education sought to remove mentions of the Alamo defenders being “heroic.” Their official statement said that the label was “too vague” or inaccurate. 

Disdain for cultural pride of the Alamo is not new.

What’s vague about it? Heroism means self-sacrifice. Heroism means undergoing a trying task for the sake of others. The Oddfellows Cemetery, about a mile from the Alamo, is a testament to the defenders’ heroism.

But the State Board’s decision had little to do with wording. The reason was rather simple: they saw the Alamo as culturally problematic. But why?

Disdain for cultural pride of the Alamo is not new. Academics, artists and pundits have tried to debunk heroism in the Alamo as idealistically flawed. Conflict between the Texan and Mexican perspective of the event is one of their major reasons. 

It’s easy for revisionists to trot out the age old line that history is written by the victors. They paint the freedom fighters as disloyal oathbreakers who stole Mexican land, turning their backs to form their own rebel state. In their eyes, the Texans were the real villains, traitors to the Mexican government. Perhaps more popularly, it can also be hard for some to extricate the battles of 1836 from our cultural problems today. 

Now, I could go ahead and describe the tyranny forced on the Texan settlers. I could show the various ways in which their rights and liberties were forfeited. I could even emphasize the atrocities committed on those who dared to resist.

But those are not the point. 

Instead, imagine the beauty of what drew the settlers to Texas. The viable farmland and plentiful crops. The warm, pleasant Texas sun. The promise of freedom and opportunity in a new world. All these aspects are certainly attractive. But what made Texas worth fighting for, then and now, was the creation of a unique culture and identity.

Being Texan is not just about buying the newest leather boots or sporting a cowboy hat. Nor is it only about baking blueberry pies or decorating the garden with bluebonnets. Texan culture is about something deeper: family, faith and freedom. When the Alamo defenders withstood artillery barrages, they were thinking about the lives of their sons and daughters. They were praying for perseverance and courage throughout the siege. But they also looked past their own lives, hoping that the battle would save the future generations from tyranny. 

That is why the Alamo defenders should be considered heroes. Even though they died to stop a dictator forgetting his own country’s laws, they sowed the seeds that would grow into a new nation and become the brashest, greatest state in the Union. Their actions were not vague or misleading. They were deliberate, risking their lives in a hopeless situation, to give hope to future Texan generations. 

Prayer, MLK at heart of Alamo March for Life

Last Saturday, hundreds of San Antonians marched downtown from the Alamo Plaza in peaceful protest of Roe v. Wade.

On Saturday, hundreds of San Antonians marched downtown from the Alamo Plaza in peaceful protest of Roe v. Wade. Both the young and old attended, including Pro-Life groups from Trinity University and UTSA. The Knights of Columbus headed the march, with the March for Life banner behind them. 

After the “March for Life,” locals gathered at the Main Plaza in front of the San Fernando Cathedral for the San Antonio Rally for Life, in front of the San Antonio City Council Chambers and at the heart of San Antonio. There, people registered to vote and pro-life advocates like Dr. Pat Castle, founder of Life Runners and government officials like Congressman Chip Roy (R-21) spoke out against abortion. 

“We know that if San Antonio goes, then Texas goes. And if Texas goes, then so does the United States of America,” Dr. Castle said on stage. 

The rally started with Reverend Will Davis leading prayer.

Terry Herring of Allied Women’s Center was the first to speak, motivating her listeners to do more for the Pro-Life cause. “It’s time to leave our comfort zones… to take your pro-life involvement to a higher level. Ask the Lord, God, today, ‘What can I do to put on the heat?’ There’s a lot more that needs to be done.” She then cited how she has been arrested seven times outside the abortion clinics while taking pregnant girls in. “I want to challenge every one of you here: get out of your comfort zone. Brace the heat. And we’ll see you next year, and you can tell me, ‘Hey, this is what I did to brace my heat.’” She then introduced her own granddaughter to show that even the smallest of them can do something. Herring spoke about how her granddaughter spent many of her afternoons at the Allied Women’s Center helping give out diapers to pregnant women in need. “No matter how old or how small you are, there are things you can do to help,” Herring said.

Congressman Pete Flores of District 19, the largest senate district in Texas, also spoke at the rally. “I believe that most of us in Texas, especially in the district that I represent, are pro-life. We are pro-family. We are pro-God. We are pro-country. And for that we also do not apologize to anyone,” he said. He described how he and many other Texas representatives in the last Texas legislature struck all the abortion bills down and passed Senate Bill 22, which protects taxpayers from subsidizing abortion providers and their affiliates, and House Bill 16, which protects children born alive after abortions. “It’s a shame that in this day in age that we should even have the conversation about terminating a human being on a botched abortion… we should not even be discussing this topic in our great United States of America, much less our magnificent Texas.” 

Congressman Flores then called for everyone to show up at the polls. “At the last city elections here in San antonio, 14% showed up. The rest stayed home, and then we want to complain about the policies that come up after that. A lot of our opponents say that elections have consequences. They sure do… You must stay involved. You must stay engaged. You must have a voice. And you’re doing it today. If you don’t stand up, then you’ll be dictated to… So let us know what you think. Be vocal. Hold us accountable, always, and if we don’t do our job, vote us out. That is a life from the moment of conception. It’s a human being with a separate soul that God knows. And it’s up to us to protect them.”

After Congressman Flores, Congressman Roy spoke up at the rally, calling to attention that Martin Luther King Jr. Day was also coming up alongside the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. that “we want to be able to celebrate the content of one’s character, not the color of their skin. Yet, the color of your skin or your economic circumstances of your parents are now too often deciding whether or not you live or die before you are given the first breath of life. That should not be the case.”

The Alamo March for Life and the San Antonio Rally for Life was sponsored by the San Antonio Family Association, Shavano Family Practice, and Allied Women’s Center.

Texas Pride

On this day, Texas celebrates its 183rd birthday. On March 2, 1836, a group of 60 delegates in what was then known as Mexican Texas signed the Texas Declaration of Independence to declare independence from Mexico. After the harrowing defeat at the Battle of the Alamo in December of 1835, these 60 delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. After Texan forces had a major victory at the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas was officially independent, creating the Republic of Texas. This is the story of Texas Independence Day.

Those who are not from Texas may not even know that Texas has its own day of independence. Many do not know the significance of the Alamo in San Antonio. Texas is the only state to have had its own independence and status as a country. In fact, Texas was internationally recognized as its own country. Nine years after Texas declared independence from Mexico, the United States of America annexed Texas in December of 1845. Today, Texas Independence Day is a state holiday. Many schools and businesses have the day off. This year, it falls on a Saturday.  On this day, some Texans celebrate with family, friends, barbeque and beer. Barbeque and grilling is a huge part of Texan culture.

Many non-Texans wonder why Texans celebrate this day. What does it mean to celebrate Texas Independence Day? Texas Independence Day signifies Texas’s strength and exceptionalism as a state and former country. Texas Independence Day is an important day for me and other Texans because it resembles the persistence and glory that the Texan soldiers had during battles for independence. As a proud Texan, this day reminds me of American Independence Day. I feel the same patriotic and state-pride sentiment when the Fourth of July comes around.

Being a Texan is a benefit and a privilege because Texans get to celebrate two independence days in one year. These two days are similar in the sense that both struggled in a fight against two different foreign imperial powers. Just as the settlers in colonial America had grievances against the British King George III, the Texan settlers had similar types of grievances against the Mexican general, Antonio López de Santa Anna. The American Revolution and the Texas Revolution both mean something special to Texans.

Along with 19 other states, Texas has its own Pledge of Allegiance. However, Texas is one of the only states to recite the Texas Pledge in public schools. When I attended public school in my middle school to high school years, the Texas Pledge was recited every morning on the intercom. This is a good example of Texas’s exceptional status as a state. Every morning, I would be reminded that I live in a state with unique history unlike any other state in America. Sure, most of America’s founding history comes from New England and the Northeastern states in general, but Texas has history that only happened for Texas, not the United States as a whole.  In addition, Texas is also one of the only states that teaches its own state history to students in public schools. I remember telling my non-Texan friends I had a test coming up for Texas History class, and they were astonished to hear that Texas has its own history class. Teaching students Texas history in schools emphasizes the importance of Texas’s beginnings and fight for independence. Many states began as British colonies in colonial America or as vast territories, but Texas began as its own country that was eventually annexed to the United States. Texas pride roots from independence from Mexico.

Photo: YCT @ Trinity distributing Texas flags and bluebonnet seeds on Friday, Mar. 1. Photo by Manfred Wendt.