Before I even get started, I have to comment on the opening credits. They are machine-like, with circles of things like cannons, rifles, pistols, tomahawks, spears, and so forth revolving in concentric circles. It instantly reminded me of another show that has opening credits very similar to that. So the alternate title to this could be Game of Thrones, Y’all! Okay, back to the show …
The way we worked it in the Nederland Public School system in 1960 was you took Texas history in the 7th grade, American history in the 8th, and world history in the 9th grade. After that, the thinking was that you had that whole history deal covered, and didn’t have to take any more in high school. But, a whole year just to study Texas! Do other states do that? So, it’s been a while, and I’m surely no Larry McMurtry, but I do recall quite a bit of that stuff.
(BTW: An odd aside here. I’ll bet Larry McMurtry studied Texas history from the same source I did: A little comic book pamphlet called “Texas History Movies.” These were given out free to every school in Texas by the Magnolia Petroleum Company (which my father later worked for, and eventually became Mobil Oil) starting in 1928. They were amateurishly drawn but, aside from a certain dose of racism endemic to the times, fairly accurate, historically. I feel sure that Larry once studied this book … because it’s the same book my father was given when he was in junior high! They were still using it in Texas into the ‘70s, I believe.)
To me, the best thing about this 10-hour mini-series is that it begins after the fall of the Alamo. I feel that, though the Alamo is a great story, it has been told a gazillion times and we don’t really need to see it again. What happens in the forty-six days after that event is a story so remarkable that you couldn’t make it up. Sam Houston, leading an untrained rabble who constantly questioned his leadership, lured the butcher Santa Anna into Buffalo Bayou and, although badly outnumbered, surprised and defeated the Mexican army during their siesta, and captured the general (cowardly wearing the uniform of a private) at the Battle of San Jacinto. Mexican losses: 630 killed, 730 captured. Texian losses: 9 dead. It may well have been the most lopsided victory since Henry V at Agincourt.
Between these two events is the massacre at Goliad, something that was far worse than the Alamo, and few people outside of Texas know about it. Colonel James Fannin tried to retreat from the town but was surprised by a large Mexican army. There was a fierce fight where many more Mexicans died than Texians, but being outnumbered, Fannin surrendered. He expected to be treated as a prisoner of war, but he and most of his troops were murdered. Sources differ, but we were taught it was about 400 men. That’s why they shouted “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” at San Jacinto.
Historically the series seems accurate enough as to events. When it comes to people … well, this is where almost all historical movies take considerable license, sometimes to the point of character assassination. Often it’s a matter of opinion. I know there are those who defend Fannin, who is shown as an egotistic jerk here. There is also Mirabeau Lamar, who became the second president of Texas. Did he really petition President Burnet to remove Sam Houston from command of the army? I can’t recall. But Houston mentioned Lamar’s gallantry in dispatches later.
The worst thing here, to my mind, is the setting. Where the hell are those towering desert mountains? Not in Texas, and surely not in the hill country, and surely not within five hundred miles of San Jacinto. Which shouldn’t surprise me, as this was filmed in Durango, Mexico. (How’s that for irony?) San Jacinto is familiar territory to me, as I grew up eighty miles east of it, in bayou country.
Santa Anna himself was the one that put the bullet in Sam Houston’s leg? Purest bullshit. He was too busy stripping the uniform off a dead private and throwing away his general’s gear.
Houston spotted Santa Anna across a crowded street, being herded in with other POWs? Hogwash. Santa Anna was spotted because his idiot troops kept saluting him and called him general!
Ninety-nine percent of the sub-plot concerning Emily West, known as the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” is nothing but a scriptwriter’s attempt to toss a little sex into the story. There is no evidence that she knew Sam Houston, much less had been his lover, and not an iota of evidence that she was spying for him. Silly stuff. She was a mulatto, a Negress, also known as “high yellow,” all terms in use in those days.
It’s nice to see someone other than the standard Texas heroes like Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and Houston play an important part. Deaf (pronounced “Deef”) Smith was a Ranger, and played an important part in the fight for independence. For that matter, it’s fun to see what a rag-tag bunch the early Texas Rangers were. I kept expecting to see Woodrow Call and Augustus McRae. The Rangers are an institution no other American state has. One of the dwindling reasons to be proud to be from Texas.