Part 2 of the Crockett Debates
Ihave read with great interest the first installment inThe Alamo Journalof Thomas Ricks Lindley's multi-part rebuttal of my October, 1994, article in theSouthwestern Historical Quarterly, "The Little Book That Wasn't There: The Myth and Mystery of the de la Peña Diary."1
My request to reply having been graciously honored by editor William Chemerka, I will with his indulgence confine my response in the present essay to Part I of Lindley's rebuttal: "Killing Crockett: It's All in the Execution.2I hope to respond in the next two issues ofThe Alamo Journalto his second and third installments (the last of which, of course, I have not yet seen).
In Part I of "Killing Crockett," Lindley engages in an extended analysis of three accounts of the executions of Texan defenders that followed the battle of the Alamo. The three accounts are: 1) an excerpt from the memoirs of Santa Anna's personal secretary, Ramón Martínez Caro; 2) a letter from Texan sergeant and interpreter George M. Dolson, outlining the testimony of a Mexican prisoner-of-war; and 3) an excerpt from the controversial "diary" of José Enrique de la Peña.3
Lindley takes issue with my contention that the degree of agreement between these three accounts is remarkable, and then takes me to task for 1) not giving the reports in their entirety, and 2) not separating "the narratives into their component elements and then comparing them for similarity." Let's deal first with the matter of quoting the entire reports.
I did not quote the entire Dolson letter because much of it is irrelevant to the narrative of Crockett's death. I began with Dolson's own beginning of the prisoner's testimony ("He states that on the morning the Alamo was captured"), and I stopped with the end of the description (with the prisoners killed "within six feet of [Santa Anna's] person"). Lindley himself, in his own subsequent detailed analysis of the reports,has not used any part of the Dolson letter beyond the passage that I quoted.
Similarly, the sentences that I omitted from the beginning of the Martínez Caro account were those that I felt were not directly relevant to the description of the executions: "The enemy died to a man and its loss may be said to have been 183 men, the sum total of their force. six women who were captured were set at liberty." Lindley has quoted these sentences from Carlos E. Castañeda's translation of Martínez Caro,but he has not included any data from them in his extended comparative analysis of the texts.In the case of Martínez Caro as well as that of Dolson, Lindley has found nothing worth analyzing himself in the material which I omitted because I believed (with apparent justification) that it was extraneous to the discussion.
Since Lindley has underlined in his article the portion of the de la Peña account that was taken from my translation (the remainder is from Carmen Perry's version), your readers may see for themselves whether I omitted any key information. I probably should have included the sentence which reads (in Perry), "Shortly before Santa Anna's speech, an unpleasant episode had taken place, which, since it occurred after the end of the skirmish, was looked upon as base murder and which contributed greatly to the coolness that was noted." The fact that the de la Peña account puts the executions "after the end of the skirmish" is certainly relevant, and would seem to agree with Martínez Caro's statement that the executions came "after the assault." Yet according to Lindley's 'Freeze-Frame" analysis, the two accounts donotagree on this point, and here is where his attack on my methods gives way to methodological problems of his own.
(Before we get to Lindley's "Freeze-Frame" methodology, however, a relatively trivial point should be noted. Lindley has not followed his own advice to "present the reports in their entirety," because the first part of the data that he quotes from de la Peña's account in Freeze-Frame #1: "General Time of the Execution," is nowhere to be found in the de la Peña material that he quotes in his article! The words "shortly after six in the morning" are to be found on page 52 of the Perry translation of de la Peña, in the paragraph which precedes the one with which Lindley begins.If Lindley is going to use this material in his own comparative analysis. surely he should include it in his "entire" quoted report.)
This however, is a minor lapse; let's get on to the major problem with Lindley's rebuttal. The bulk of his essay is a "frame-by-frame" breakdown of the alleged Crockett death scene, in which he compares the treatment of each of twenty-three frozen "moments" by each of the three narrators: Martínez Caro, Dolson's informant, and de la Peña. Notice below the data presented by Lindley in "Freeze-Frame" number one, "General Time of the Executions":
Caro:"After the assault."
Dolson:Between 5:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.
de la Peña:"Shortly after 6:00 a.m.... after the end of the skirmish," between Santa Anna's arrival on the scene and his speech to the assembled soldiers.
According to Lindley, Martínez Caro and de la Peñadisagreehere, even though they both say that the executions came after the end of the fighting. I do not see that Lindley explains why this is a "disagreement." Is it because one gives the time and the other doesn't? How does this create a disagreement? In the next frame, "Time of Execution By The Clock", Lindley says that Martínez Caro did not give a specific clock time in his account. So how does his account disagree with de la Peña's? What does Tom Lindley mean by the word "disagreement"? Does it mean a contradiction, or merely the failure of two or more witnesses of a scene to mention exactly the same details of what they saw? Is this a reasonable definition? I think not.
Take a look at frame number 12 in Lindley's analysis. Dolson identifies Crockett as being in the rear of the group of prisoners that were executed. De la Peña says that Crockett was "among" the prisoners. According to Lindley, this is a disagreement! That's quite a restrictive definition of the word "among"! Thus with Martínez Caro failing to mention whether Crockett was in the group or not, Lindley scores this inning (of his overly long 23-inning game) as 3 against Crisp. That is, he says that all three witnesses disagree with each other, even though there is no contradiction between the three accounts. I'm not sure what to call this game, but it certainly isn't cricket!
Let's see what happens when Lindley's rules are applied to other cases where there is no outright contradiction between the three accounts, but where the witnesses do not use exactly the same words to describe what they saw. (And keep in the back of your mind the fact that if the three witnesses did use the same words to describe exactly the same elements of the scene, Lindley could, with good reason, claim that collusion, plagiarism, forgery, or some other hanky-panky must have been going on.)
We have already seen in frame number 12 that even apparent agreement between two witnesses can be construed by Lindley to be total disagreement. This happens again as Lindley splits hairs in moving fromframe 16toframe 17.
Inframe 16, "Santa Anna's Reaction," Lindley says that Martínez Caro and Dolson agree when the first characterizes the reaction (to quote Lindley) as Defenders should not have been taken prisoner, and the second says that Santa Anna "Questioned who had given order to take prisoners". [Please note in passing here that because the third narrator, de la Peña, is "silent" on this point, the sixteenth inning is scored as two disagreements, one agreementthat is, Caro and Dolson agree, but de la Peña disagrees with Dolson, and de la Peña disagrees with Caro. Crisp loses again, even when two witnesses agree and the third is silent!]
Next, inframe 17, Lindley lists the three versions of Santa Anna's Expression of Reaction":
Caro:Severely reprimanded Castrillon for not having killed the prisoners on the spot, turned his back on Castrillon while soldiers killed the Texians.
Dolson:Santa Anna replied: Who has given you orders to take prisoners, I do not want to see those men living.
de la Peña:"Santa Anna answered the intervention of Castrillon with a gesture of indignation.
Here, Lindley now finds total disagreement! Although Dolson's version clearly contains a reprimand of Castrillon for not killing the prisoners, just as Martínez Caro reported, the two narrators are now said by Lindley to disagree, apparently because Dolson's informant did not precisely follow Martínez Caro and add the information that Santa Anna turned his back on Castrillon as the killing began. By this time, if not long before, the readers ofThe Alamo Journalshould be aware that a methodological flim-flam is going on here. By breaking up the execution scene into twenty-three frozen frames, and by scoring more disagreement than agreement even when two out of three narrators completely agree, Lindley has loaded the dice in a way that makes the numbers generated by his analysis totally worthless!
Think about it: Martínez Caro's complete description of the executions is only six lines long in Lindley's article; by contrast, Lindley quotes over 60 lines from Dolson, and over 35 from de la Peña. Even allowing for the fact that only about 16 of Dolson's lines are actually relevant (i.e., the ones I quoted in my article), as are about 18 to 20 of de la Peña's, this still means that the second and third narratives are about three times as long as the first. It thus stands to reason that fewer details are going to be discussed in the first than in the other two, and sure enough,in more than half of Lindley 's twenty-three frames it is Martínez Caro 's silence or failure to mention a facet of the scene that results in a score of more disagreement than agreement, no matter what the other two may say!
Imagine that you have the depositions of three witnesses, all of which are now deceased and beyond cross- examination. The first says:
"Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water."The second witness recalls that:"I saw Jack going up the hill with Jill to get some water. He had an empty pail with him, and she was wearing a yellow skirt."The third witness says:"I saw Jill yesterday wearing a knock-out yellow dress. She was with lack, and the two of them were going up the hill to fill their pail with water.Incredibly, Tom Lindley would see more disagreement here than agreement! Why? I could be nasty and say that he would find a discrepancy in the descriptions of the dress and the "skirt" (after all, they're not exactly the same); or I could note that he would inset a frame titled "Time of Ascension of Hill" so that the fact that the third witness's inclusion of "yesterday" puts him in "disagreement" with the other two, since they fail to mention a time. But even ignoring all these details, you should realize that Lindley would score this inning as 2-1 disagreement, for the simple reason that the first witnessfailed to mention Jill's clothing! He didn't contradict the story of the yellow dress, he just failed to notice itand on the basis of this omission, Lindley would find a two-to-one ratio of "disagreement" to agreement among the three accounts. Is this methodology, or madness? It is in any case a method guaranteed in advance to produce the desired results!
When I asked Tom directly, in a friendly conversation this summer on the steps outside the Texas State Archives, about this tactic of finding imaginary "disagreement," Tom's answer was: Well, you can't agree withnothing." True enoughbut I must insist it's equally true that you can'tdisagreewith nothing. The simple fact is that Lindley's basic definition of terms, and therefore his basic methodology, is fundamentally flawed.
If we acknowledge, therefore, that detailed comparison by Lindley's method of the two longer accounts with the short description by Martínez Caro produces rampant (if phony) "disagreement" by default, perhaps we should take a closer look at his comparison of the two accounts that are of relatively the same length: Dolson's and de la Peña's. According to Lindley, these two accounts agree on only five items, while "disagreeing on eighteen. Let's add somequalitativeanalysis to the merely quantitative, and see just what the degree of agreement and disagreement between Dolson and de la Peña amounts to.
First, on what do they agree? On some pretty basic stuff, I would argue. Using Lindley's "frame" numbers, the points are:
#5:They agree that David Crockett was among the prisoners taken captive;What are the "disagreements" that Lindley finds between Dolson and de la Peña? Are they of sufficient import to undercut what I described in my article the essential corroboration of the two sources? You be the judge. Again, we will use Lindley's frame numbers:
#7:They agree that it was General Castrillon who found these defenders still alive;
#10:They agree that it was Castrillon who took the surviving captives before General Santa Anna;
#13:They agree that Castrillon intervened on the prisoners' behalf;
#18:They agree that Santa Anna immediately ordered that the prisoners should be shot. (And although Lindley does not mention this, they also agree that the captives were killed forthwith, though neither says that shooting was actually the mode of execution.)#1. General Time of the Executions:Dolson's informant says it was in the morning of the Alamo's capture "between the hours of five and six o'clock"; de la Peña remembers the time as "shortly after six in the morning." The clear message of both accounts, and Martínez Caro's as well, is that the killings occurred immediately after the fighting. What this amounts to is a discrepancy of at least 5 or 10 minutes between the two accounts. I can live with that.
#2. Time of Execution by the Clock:Here is one of Lindley's more clever methodological moves. Having just counted one disagreement between Dolson and de la Peña in frame #1, he restates the category in a way that produces another disagreement. To put the matter another way, Lindley arbitrarily decides that de la Peña's shortly after six in the morning" is not a specific "clock time, while Dolson's "between the hours of five and six o'clock" is a clock time," thereby creating a second disagreement out of thin air.
#3. Location Where Defenders Found:Because de la Peña doesn't mention the location where Castrillón found the men, Lindley scores this as a disagreement, even though there is no conflict between the two accounts.
#4. Number of Defenders [Executed]:Here is a clear disagreement, which I fully brought forth in my article. Each of the three narrators gives a different number, from 5 to 7, for the men who were brought forth and killed. The historian must decide whether this discrepancy in recollection is sufficient to dismiss the authenticity of the sources. I do not find it so. For eyewitnesses recalling, after the passage of weeks and months, the details of a fierce battle's immediate aftermath, being off by one man is not so bad. Under these circumstances, close enough scores points in historical evidence, just as it does sometimes in horseshoes and hand grenades.
#6. Manner In Which Crockett Identified:Dolson says that his informant was told by Santa Anna's interpreter that one of the captives was Crockett; de la Peña fails to say who told him that one of them was Crockett. Lindley rates this as a "disagreement."
#8. Circumstance of Discovery:Dolson says the men fought "until defence [sic] was useless"; de la Peña says that they had survived the general massacre." These may not be identical statements, but where is the genuine disagreement?
#9. Statement Made to the Defenders:Dolson reports a direct statement by Castrillón that he would "protect" the men. while de la Peña says only that Castrillon protected them." This is turned by Lindley into a "disagreement"!
#11. Location Where Defenders Taken:Dolson's odd statement that the prisoners were marched "to the tent of Santa Anna" is one that I treated at some length in my article. My hypothesis is that Dolson chose the word "tent" in an inadvertent mistranslation of his informant's use of "pabellón," which can mean either "tent" or "banner." Because this issue is a central one in Tom Lindley's second installment of "Killing Crockett," I will address his rebuttal arguments in my next reply.
#12. Location of Crockett in Group:This issue has already been discussed. Lindley finds a disagreement between de la Peña's statement that Crockett was among the captured defenders and Dolson's statement that Crockett was in the rear of this group. His conclusion defies language, logic, and common sense.
#14. Manner of Presentation:As in the similar case in frame #9, when de la Peña here fails to emulate Dolson's informant by quoting Castrillón's words directly as he presented the prisoners to Santa Anna, Lindley concludes that there is a disagreement between the sources.
#15. Description of Crockett:Here Lindley pushes to find a disagreement bordering on outright contradiction when the reality is far from it. Dolson does indeed say that Crockett "appeared bold as a lion," but he also says that the Tennessean was in the rear of the group, with his arms folded. De la Peña looked upon this scene and described Crockett as showing both resignation and dignityterms which I find easily reconcilable with Dolson's description. When two observers report such a scene independently, this degree of similarity of description appears to me to indicate corroboration rather than contradiction.
#16. Santa Anna's Reaction:As in other cases, Lindley interprets silence as disagreement. And as in the first and second frames, Lindley essentially repeats the same point in order to produce another "disagreement in frame 17, below.
#17. Santa Anna's Expression of Reaction:Here both Dolson and de la Peña show Santa Anna as being indignant upon Castrillón's presentation of the prisoners, but because Dolson (as is his style) offers a direct quotation while de la Peña does not, Lindley sees a fundamental difference where none exists.
It is worth pointing out that "gesto" in Spanish can be translated as "expression" or "visage" as readily as gesture.4 Thus when de la Peña says that "Santa Anna contestó a la intervención de Castrillón con un gesto de indignación,"5there is, as in frame#15above, a degree of similarity of description of an event which appears to me more corroborative than contradictory. To insist that the two witnesses are describing totally different forms of communication here seems perversely pedantic. Santa Anna very likely responded to Castrillón's intervention by asking an indignant question"Who has given you orders to take prisoners[?]''with an expression (and perhaps also even a "gesture") of indignation! One ''form of communication in no way precludes the otherin fact, they usually go together!#19. Reaction to Execution Order:De la Peña mentions that the sapper battalion (his own unit) hesitated when ordered by Santa Anna to kill the prisoners, and that others stepped forth immediately and fulfilled the command. Dolson's statement, while not including this information, in no way contradicts it.To expect these documents, even those produced by men who were close eyewitnesses to the same dramatic event, to reveal the kind of lockstep agreement demanded by Lindley runs contrary to every instinct of the historian, and contrary to the experience of countless scholars who routinely deal with such documents.
#20.Method of execution: While both Dolson and de la Peña report that Santa Anna asked for the men to be shot, de la Peña explicitly says that the killers leapt forward with swords, while Dolson says only that they dispatched the [prisoners] in [Santa Anna's] presence, and within six feel of his person." Lindley believes that Dolson's phrasing suggests they were shot-I can find no such suggestion in his words. On the contrary, for the captives to be dispatched within sic feet of the President of the Mexican Republic suggests to me a less explosive method of murder.
#21.Identity of Executioners: Here is more pedantic literalism. To call Dolson's use of the metaphor hell-hounds of the tyrant" a disagreement with de la Peña's more mundane description of the killers as the officers around Santa Anna is just plain silly.
#22. Reaction of Defenders & #23.Reaction of Mexicans: In both of these cases, the fact that de la Peña described these reactions and Dolson did not is scored as two more disagreements. But think about these last two frames: if both Dolson and de la Peña had described these two reactions, and in the near-identical terms required for agreement" by Tom Lindley, wouldn't you be just a bit suspicious? The plain truth is that Lindley's definition of disagreement defies common sense and turns logic on its head. Historical documents are produced by human beings who express themselves differently, react to events differently, and record their sometimes imprecise recollections in various ways and with diverse intentions.
Tom is not just bean-counting here; his methodology is, quite frankly, full of beans. The numbers generated by it are bogus, as are any conclusions based on them. If you have any doubts about this, re-read the adventures of Jack and Jill above and see what happens when Lindley's rigid definitions and tendentious quantitative methods are applied to the three witnesses. The results speak for themselves.
I stand by my previous statement that the Dolson and de la Peña accounts are remarkably similar, and that both are fundamentally consistent with the memoir of Ramón Martínez Caro, which Lindley calls an "authentic Alamo execution account."
I have recently had the opportunity of reading the second installment of Lindley's "Killing Crockett" series. It is, I believe, more cogently reasoned and historiographically sound than his first critique. I look forward to responding to it in the next issue ofThe Alamo Journal.
1. James E. Crisp, "The Little Book That Wasn't There: The Myth and Mystery of the de la Peña Diary,"Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XCVIII (Oct., 1994), 260-296.
2. Thomas Ricks Lindley, "Killing Crockett: It's All In The Execution,The Alamo Journal#96 (May, 1995).
3. Ramón Martínez Caro, A True Account of the First Texas Campaign, in Carlos E. Castañeda (trans.),The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution(1928; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1976), 103-104; Thomas Lawrence Connelly, Did David Crockett Surrender at the Alamo?: A Contemporary Letter,Journal of Southern History, XXVI (Aug., 1960), 373-374; José Enrique de la Peña,With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution by José Enrique de la Peña, ed. and trans. Carmen Perry (College Station: Teas A&M University Press, 1975), 52-54.
4. Cassell's Spanish Dictionary, ed. Edgar Allison Peers, et al. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1968), 449, 986.
5. José Enrique de la Peña,La Rebelión de Texas: Manuscrito Inédito de 1836 por un Oficial de Santa Anna, ed. J[esús] Sánchez Garza (México: A. Frank de Sanchez, 1955), 70.
Orginally Appearing in the Alamo Journal, Issue #97, October 1995, Reprinted with permission ©1995 The Alamo Journal
Illustration by Randell Tarin. ©2005, ALAMO DE PARRAS. All Rights Reserved.