Saturday, April 23, 2011


As a Native Texan I write this post from my mind and not my heart, letting the historical record guide my words. On the occasion of this great state’s 175th anniversary, let’s pursue the truth with an even greater vengeance.

The conflict we know as the Texas Revolution certainly appears to have been inevitable. You had the need of a new country (Mexico) to attract settlers to its poorest and one of its sparsest populated states (Coahuila y Tejas) which can only be characterized as undeveloped wilderness. Residents of the nearby United States were attracted by the promise of inexpensive land and economic opportunity. Illegal immigration from the east into Texas was not uncommon and in 1825 the government of Mexico and the state of Coahuila y Tejas adopted what was known as the Empresario System in order to colonize and develop Coahuila y Tejas by a strategy of selective immigration and assimilation. While this was a laudable strategy, the Mexican government and the Empresarios eventually proved they were incapable of enforcing its stipulations.

The Empresario System allowed immigration agents such as Stephen F. Austin to bring in families and provided land incentives for their success. They came in droves all too willing to carve out opportunities for themselves though some were motivated by the initial stages of what would become known as Manifest Destiny. Though no premeditated conspiracy has ever been proved, it would be hard to think that the US government was not aware of the ultimate consequences of that immigration.

Many Texians were only paying lip service, if that, to their contract with the Mexican Government which included their conversion to Catholicism, learning Spanish and not embracing the institution of slavery, forbidden by the Mexican government. The greater majority of Protestant Texians did not convert to Catholicism and many supported the institution of slavery. Indeed, when Texas was ultimately admitted to the United States in 1845, it came in as a slave state.

Then, when the Mexican government clumsily though legitimately expressed concerns that their invited, mostly Anglo guests in Texas were not abiding by their emigration agreement, those Texians (independent by necessity) pushed back becoming ever more bold and defiant (Fredonia – Spark of the Revolution?). In the midst of all this the Mexican government itself was deeply troubled politically, in constant turmoil, sending conflicting messages to the Texians and their own citizenry.

The bubble of civility burst in 1835 when the charismatic though arrogant, corrupt and even delusional President of Mexico Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (aka Santa Anna) who styled himself "The Savior of the Motherland" and "The Napoleon of the West" abolished the Republic and the 1824 Constitution he helped create and declared himself Dictator. Santa Anna installed a centralized dictatorship backed by the military openly declaring that, “Despotism is the proper government for them.” However you perceive Santa Anna, he influenced Spanish and Mexican politics and government, for forever and a day.

Santa Anna’s dismemberment of the Mexican Republic was not received well by the Texians who were used to an independent, representative Jacksonian Federalist model and the promises of a more benevolent, decentralized government. They resisted and were met with a determined Santa Anna who pledged to use force to, “reduce the malcontents to obedience.” For Santa Anna it was the beginning of the end (in fact, several beginnings and endings) that at one point in 1869 saw him selling chiclet to a businessman in New York City in order to fund yet another revolution. This man was hero and villain throughout his life especially to his fellow countryman who saw him as President of Mexico on eleven non-consecutive occasions over a period of 22 years though then periodically exiled him for 20 of his 82 years – the ultimate love-hate relationship.

The Battle of Gonzales when coupled with the earlier Anahuac and Velasco Disturbances, Santa Anna’s brutal and horrific handling of the Zacatecas Revolt, the call to disarm militias, the order to expel all illegal immigrants, unwarranted and illegal imprisonment of a then loyal Stephen F. Austin, the denial of state’s rights with the dissolution of the Constitution of 1824 turned out to be the “Lexington of Texas” and the first formal military engagement of the Texas Revolution. The attack on Texian Jesse McCoy by a Mexican soldier in the Dewitt Colony was perceived by many as unwarranted military brutality and appears to have dramatically altered the sentiments of the loyal DeWitt colonists. For many it was the straw that broke the camels’ back. We note that an ever motivated Jesse was one of the 32 Gonzales Rangers killed at The Alamo.

The Battle of Gonzales was “fought” between rebellious Texian settlers and a detachment of Mexican army troops in Ezekial Williams’ corn and watermelon fields not so ironically near Gonzales, Texas, on October 2, 1835. While Mexican authorities had given the settlers of Gonzales a mostly useless spiked bronze six-pounder cannon in 1831 to help protect them from frequent Comanche raids, they feared the Texians would turn the weapon against them and requested its return. Their request was dismissed and after what was a short fire fight between a reinforced and determined citizenry in Gonzalez, the Mexican military withdrew. The Gonzales cannon, by the way, was restored for this battle and fired at least one harmless but significant round validating the concerns of the Mexican military.

While some may think this much ado about nothing, it was an ultimate breach of confidence and the already strained relationship between the Mexican Government and the belligerent Colonists. It was the start of the Texas Revolution with the First Army of Texas Volunteers immediately raised after the Battle of Gonzales with Stephen F. Austin in command.

So, where is the Gonzales Cannon now? No one really knows though the historical record reflects that it was not abandoned assuring us that that a smaller, mostly iron cannon found in 1936 near Gonzales (another Texas Tall Tale) is certainly not the cannon (Thomas Ricks Lindley). Most historians believe that the Gonzales Cannon did make its way to Bexar and The Alamo where a victorious Santa Anna probably melted it down with other Texian ordnance. There appears to have been more than one cannon which has prompted this great controversy. While the cannon now on display at the Gonzalez Memorial Museum is not that gun (despite their claims), it does symbolize the defiant and courageous act that sparked the Texas Revolution.

Let’s never forget that this initial conflict was from the Texian perspective mostly about insuring Texas’ rights under the 1824 Mexican constitution and becoming a separate state in Mexico. That petition soon dissolved into outright revolution and not unlike other Mexican states, a drive towards total independence. The “Battle” of Gonzalez (flag above) was followed closely by the Siege of Béxar when rebel Texians under the command of Stephen F. Austin and Edward Burleson defeated Mexican forces under the command of Santa Anna’s brother in law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos at San Antonio de Béxar in the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas.

Cos who had initially intended to humiliate and arrest critics of Santa Anna surrendered in December 1835. Not unlike the Battle of Kings’ Mountain in the War of American Independence most of the combatants returned home confident that many others were wading into their fight for freedom. After Gonzalez and Béxar the die was cast.

An infuriated and embarrassed Santa Anna took matters into his own hands and decided on a no holds barred, no quarters given strategy that today would be perceived as ethnic cleansing and probably prompt a United Nations/NATO response today. Santa Anna’s tactics saw his victory at The Alamo, San Patricio, Agua Dulce and Refugio cheapened and dishonored. History now treats the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad as ultimate baggage and Pyrrhic victories that cost Santa Anna the confidence of many of his officers, prompted outrage and resentment and even increased fervor amongst those in the new Republic of Texas and any hope of legitimacy and recognition abroad. However the Mexican history books write this story, Santa Anna gave the Texians (and a supportive United States) all the ammunition they needed.

Given that he lived by the sword it is surprising, no amazing, that Santa Ana wasn’t assassinated by one or more of his political foes or that he was not executed at San Jacinto. His life sustained, a capitulated Santa Ana would countermand and render impotent the other approaching contingent of the Mexican army and sign the Treaties of Velasco, in which he agreed to withdraw his troops from Texas soil and, in exchange for safe conduct back to Mexico, lobby there for recognition of the new republic. That safe passage took a long detour (six months) and by that time a disgraced though we suspect a delighted Santa Anna found the Mexican government refusing to recognize the treaties thus setting up the Mexican-American War,

One eyewitness account of Santa Anna’s humanitarian disposition following San Jacinto makes sense to me (and I paraphrase) that given the tyranny he has pressed on his country let him be returned to Mexico and that, “in a few years Mexico will be too feeble to give us any trouble.” That, of course turned out to be an accurate and prophetic assessment and recommendation with Santa Anna becoming an enthusiastic and unwitting mole for all his adversaries (within and without). Though an admitted oversimplification there is no doubt that mostly because of his policies Texas ultimately broke free and became an independent state.

We also need to remember that Manifest Destiny or not, most of the Texians were invited guests, many of whom who outlived their welcome proving once again, however noble, valiant, courageous and legitimate the cause, there are always two or more sides to every story.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, April 9, 2011


This handsome lad (even with heavy makeup and bad teeth) is probably known and recognized by many PBS regulars as the eccentric, socially inept though brilliant (sometimes in his cups) ex-detective Brian Lane of the eminently successful BBC production of New Tricks which just ended its seventh season. He is all that and much, much more. He is the talented Alun Armstrong whose body of work appears to include something for everybody from Dickens and Shakespeare to modern theater and TV. He spent nine years with the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1979 to 1988.

Armstrong (Aye, his Father was Scottish) overcame many obstacles as a child and was motivated even as early as grammar school to seek a career in theater. He pursued his dream through some bumps and grinds that included a stint as a gravedigger and ultimately earned his position as one of the elite entertainers on our planet.

In his maturity he shows the march of time though that only enhances his character and perhaps the range of roles he can play. This man from coal mining stock has never forgotten his roots which inspire him to this day. His very credible theater, television and film credits are far too numerous to mention here except to comment that he raises the bar whenever he sets foot on stage.

We note Armstrong has never tried to reinvent himself or be somebody else. He is comfortable in his own skin and origins. We suspect he is right at home in a local pub with his fellow AFC Wimbledon fanatics. To his extraordinary credit he has always opted for extremely challenging roles including the treacherous Mornay in Braveheart (vengefully killed by Wallace) who as a sidebar never existed in reality.

In 1985 Armstrong joined the original London production of Cameron Mackintosh’s musical Les Misérables playing the part of gleefully visceral villain and disreputable innkeeper Thénardier (photo above). Armstrong originated and literally created his "gruesome and comic character" and was successful as the epitome of both evil and the only comic relief in Les Mis. Those that have followed in the role to include the late Leo Burmester of Broadway fame and the recent efforts of the multi-talented Matt Lucas are but shadowy imitations of Armstrong’s interpretation. In short, Armstrong owns the character.

Armstrong reprised the role in Les Misérables - The Dream Cast in Concert at their tenth anniversary at the Royal Albert Hall in October 1995 which was filmed and released on DVD. One Les Mis reviewer commenting on his performance offered, “… the absolute delight of Alun Armstrong as Thénardier - his rendition of "Master of the House" in the 10th Anniversary concert is a truly joyful experience that should not be missed by anyone who is a true fan of the musical - the entire stage of actors who are behind Alun as he sings that song are visibly delighted and enjoying his rendition of that song as much as the audience.” Absolument

We cannot fathom anyone ever matching that performance much like Colm Wilkinson’s Jean ValJean though Alfie Boe may be the one to push Wilkinson witness his standing ovation during the 25th Anniversary show following his Bring Him Home. It was a first for Les Miserables though we need note this was celebration.

In more of a fit of humility than failure in judgment, Armstrong was surprised by the success of Les Misérables and stated, "I didn't think it would be very popular.” He underestimated the universal and powerful theme of Les Mis and the incredible performances (especially his own) that have made it the world’s most popular musical. Armstrong left Les Mis after a year wanting to work on other projects and, I suspect, fearing that he may trapped in that character.

When we saw Armstrong come on stage for the memorable encore finale of the 25th Anniversary performance of Les Miserable in London, we noted that same youthful exuberance and playful gleam in his eye that takes him to other places and dimensions we of the mortal plane can only imagine.


Ned Buxton

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Whether you’re Texas born and bred (like this writer) or one of those interlopers who came as quickly as you could and stayed (we love you), most folks (Native or not) have a feel for the history of one of the four states in the United States that was once its own country (a Republic from 1836 until 1845). Sidebar: The other states include Vermont, California (sort of) and Hawaii. No, we don’t include the Independent State of Franklin as they technically remained a part of North Carolina. The history of the State of Texas is unique and conjures up passion in her residents who savor their special place in history. Even as just one page in our evolving national manuscript, Texas deserves our close attention as she surges into the 21st century.

For me tradition and history are as important as where we are going. Our past and future are as one in the big scheme. That’s why it pains me when I see some folks especially in the Dallas area paying lip service to our traditions, some bent on reinventing history or just flat out ignoring or glossing over the past of our city and this great state. Many would replace what they believe to be outmoded and useless buildings with more concrete, metal and glass typical of our now iconic skyline.

Despite all that Dallas remains a beacon of history even as the site of the great Texas State Fair (since 1886) with grounds and buildings dedicated to the preservation of the history of Texas. Dallasites by their most recent words and actions have indicated that they are joining the Citizenry of Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin and many other cities who are enthusiastically dedicated to preserving Texas history. Thank God for the exemplary efforts of the Dallas Museum of Art and her Staff & Docents, Dallas Historical Society, Dallas Heritage Village, Preservation Dallas and the Dallas Bar Association via their Belo Mansion, among others who have literally raised the bar for us.

One Texan that walks the walk for many of us is twice former Texas Governor Bill Clements. He is the example we follow given his noble and enthusiastic preservation of history in his native Dallas and even throughout Texas. I applaud his leadership and vision as Governor especially as it related to education and working closely with our Mexican neighbors on critical immigration issues. Clements has been exemplary in his service to “The Republic.”

We note the continued existence of the Cumberland Hill School building at 1901 N. Akard St. in downtown Dallas as a testament to his sense of history. Built in 1889 on the site of a pre-Civil War school organized by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Dallas, the building was the city's second public school building and now the oldest standing public school building in Dallas. The building was a school complex off and on until 1969. Just when its future seemed doomed Cumberland was purchased and restored by Clements in 1971 as headquarters for his Sedco Company. I have attended meetings of the Society of the Cincinnati’s Lone Star Association hosted by Clements at Cumberland and certainly also appreciated his willingness to literally share his love of Dickey’s Bar-B-Que (since 1941). With Bill Clements history begets history. Too bad we don’t have more Bill Clements to help us restore more of our few remaining historic properties. Thanks, Bill.

We could also follow the example of another native Texan who was dedicated to the preservation of Texas and Southwest history: esteemed historian Walter Prescott Webb (1888-1963) who was born in the deep piney woods of East Texas near Carthage and went on to The University of Texas History Department. As President of the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) Webb established what evolved into The Handbook of Texas, a comprehensive encyclopedia of Texas geography, history, and individuals who contributed mightily to our great state. The Handbook of Texas was ultimately published by the TSHA and is now available on line. It is an incredible work in progress without peer.

Texas is now celebrating the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence (3/2/2011) and the Battle of the Alamo (3/6/2011), both pivotal events in what culminated in annexation by and statehood in the United States of America in 1845. That ultimately precipitated the certain pivotal conflict/debacle known in the United States as the Mexican-American War (1846 to 1848) and was a precursor to the American Civil War (“Mexico will poison us.” RWE). Despite the persistence and bravery of a much weaker and disorganized Mexico, the outcome was assured even before the first military engagement.

Given the many aspects of this great state and this important Quartoseptcentennial/ dodransbicentennial (choose one) celebration, Might of Right will endeavor to cover some of these topics and in the process enlighten, educate and even dispel some old myths (the first being that Texas was the only independent country to become a US State).

The other myth I regularly hear when some Redneck Texans are wont to thump their chests is that Texas has the right to secede and/or split itself into from three to five separate United States. The latter is mostly a curiosity and while the right was granted (four additional), it was a ploy by the representatives of the then US slave states to counter the numbers and influence of the “Free” states. It is doubtful that could occur today or tomorrow as per the US Constitution any realignment requires Congressional approval. So, that’s not going to happen and, no doubt, a majority of Texans wouldn’t ratify that option anyway. Secession? Well, no such provision was in the annexation agreement, period. It is a fantasy and hoax… Governor Perry is a very smart man who despite his very strident rhetoric in 2009 knows his history and how to blow a lot of political smoke at times.

So much for the credibility of some of our Citizen Historians including some politicians who seem to be more gullible, ignorant or blatantly arrogant than I or maybe they’re just testing us? I guess the point here is that we have a great story to tell and there is no need to embellish and pervert our history and traditions. Texas Monthly take note and please don’t use Terquasquicentennial anymore. It means 375 years.

So, what’s happening with this great 175th anniversary celebration? I’ve only heard a few sound bites from several TV stations and an article in the Dallas Morning News. Texas Monthly touted The Great Terquasquicentennial Road Trip (oops!) and ended up mildly embarrassed though their hearts and that effort were in the right place. Texas Lt. Governor Dewhurst read a statement in the Texas Legislature on March 2 (good). Many Texas State Parks, museums and libraries are reinventing themselves as living history centers including re-enactments of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence and much more as credibly transpired at the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site in February. We have also seen local festivals like the 2011 Texas Independence Day Music Fest & Chili Cook Off in Conroe – their fourth annual – that proves once again that music, chili, history and politics are all inextricably intertwined in this great state (entertain and educate).

What I had been looking for and really haven’t seen was any loud, sustained fanfare or substantive statewide celebrations. Now maybe we’re just waiting for our 200th anniversary (Bicentennial - Texas Monthly take note) or the very presence of a burgeoning contemporary Hispanic/Latino population and recognition that the openly transparent objective of the Mexican-American War and the fledging United States in a fit of Manifest Destiny was to ultimately grab Texas and what is now New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado is an impediment. Please note if we hadn’t done so Great Britain would have surely taken California and more aggressively defended and probably not ceded the Columbia District to the US via the Oregon Treaty in 1846. Significant? Columbia now constitutes the US states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of Montana and Wyoming.

Now relative to Texas if there are any politically correct (PC) considerations here we need to remind ourselves that without popular support from the existing Tejano populations, the revolution probably wouldn’t have been successful. We wonder what would have happened if the Mexican Constitution of 1824 had been restored or for that matter, never rescinded…

The great conundrum here is however gray many of the issues that eventually involved the United States, it will always appear to many that we abandoned many of the lofty principles that prompted our founding and as one historian offered, “A retreat from the idealism of the 18th century.” That is the great paradox though we pretty much treated our First Nations the same way (same song, different Jacksonian verse).

Texas and her drive towards independence is like a great onion with layer after layer that needs to be peeled back to better understand the motivation of the players and the overall time line. Texas was built on the backs of the personalities of a handful of individuals most of whom never had the initial intent to form an independent Texas though that eventually turned into a deliberate, righteous cause. It is our intent to reflect our reality and not raise our august founders above their accomplishments or denigrate them. Both good and bad brought us here today and we shall endeavor mightily to honestly explore our history.

Happy Terquasquicentennial - less two hundred years.


Ned Buxton