Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - October - 2002 Issue

To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?: The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of Jose Enrique de la Pena?

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By AE Staff

Originally a physical exhibit in conjunction with the Center for American History-sponsored conference "Eyewitness to the Texas Revolution: José Enrique de la Peña and His Narrative" in April 2000, “To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?: The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of José Enrique de la Peña” has become an online exhibition www.cah.utexas.edu/exhibits/Pena with seven web pages of digitized images of original archival documents, battle maps, portraits, broadsides, diaries, and photographs from the period of the Texas Revolution in 1836. Central to this exhibition are excerpts and images of the diary of Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in the Mexican army under Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna. Lt. Col. Peña’s account of the battle of the Alamo has shed new light on the both the conflict itself and the execution of Davy Crockett, causing controversy since its English translation was first published over 25 years ago.

In the introduction to the exhibition Dr. Don Carleton, Director of the Center for American History, discusses how the Center came to hold the 680-page manuscript:

In the early 1970s, San Antonio businessman John Peace acquired the Peña manuscript in Mexico, then housed it on loan at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In 1998, members of the Peace family withdrew the manuscript with the intention to sell it. Texas businessmen Thomas Hicks and Charles Tate purchased the manuscript in a highly publicized auction in California, then donated it to the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin in December, 1998. (Introduction)

The controversial document, alleging that Davy Crockett was captured and executed after the battle by the Mexican Army rather than dying in the fight with his comrades, brought so many allegations that it was a forgery that the diary was subjected to extensive paper and ink tests. Peña’s diary was authenticated in May of 2000 by David B. Gracy II, Governor Bill Daniel Professor of Archival Enterprise at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Texas, and an expert on forged documents.

Despite the ongoing debate surrounding the narrative, the exhibit takes a neutral stance on the Davy Crockett question. Most of the exhibit items chosen illustrate several passages of Peña’s narrative including his thoughts on Santa Anna, the “Texas colonists’ rebellion” and other observations on Mexico and Texas. For example, the signature page of the Secret Treaty of Velasco (May 14, 1836) promising General Santa Anna “immediate freedom with certain qualifications” (page 7) is paired with the following excerpt from the Peña diary: “Never has General Santa Anna performed a more contemptible deed among the many that he has committed during his political career than in selling out his country by relinquishing Texas' delightful territory . . .”. (Ibid)

Exhibit items are from the Center for American History’s extensive Texas history collections with additional items from the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center both at the University of Texas at Austin. The exhibit was curated by Lynn Bell and John Wheat with the online version designed by Justin Saffell. Both the exhibit and image index are available in Spanish. This online exhibit would appeal to anyone interested in Texas history, forgeries, the history of Mexico and Mexicans in the United States, and of course, to Davy Crockett.

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