Theory Being Paraded As Truth
Killing Crockett (Part 2):
by Thomas Ricks Lindley
In most cases, actual events of the past have an inherent logic and structure. This means that the alteration of a single fact, whether by conscious fraud or unconscious error, crates countless anomalies that are there for us to see if we only open our eyes to them. Unfortunately we do not always see these anomalies, because our images of the past are often shaped more by error than by evidence, more by myth-making than by research.1Dr. James E. Crisp
I have seen the truth and it does not make sense.Author unknown
esides the dissimilarity of the de la Peña and Dolson accounts that Dr. Crisp is blind to, the latter narrative contains several allegations that falsify the report, destroying its authenticity as the report of an interview with an eye-witness. Firstly, Dolson claimed that the Texians were taken "to the tent of Santa Anna." The statement incorrectly locates the executions outside the Alamo. Reliable evidence, however, suggests the defenders were killed within the fort, probably at the south end of the large plaza. Also, Santa Anna was head-quartered in a stone house, west of the San Antonio Rivera fact that conflicts with the tent allegation. He may have visited a troop tent before going to the Alamo, but it would have also been outside of the Texian fortress.2
Secondly, the Texian sergeant identified the Mexican informant as Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte, Santa Anna's aide-de-camp. The claim is false because Almonte would not have needed a translator. The Mexican had been educated in the United States and was fluent in English. The interview with Almonte was supposed to have taken place on Galveston Island on July 19, 1836. At that time Almonte was quartered with Santa Anna, Ramon Martínez Caro and Col. Gabriel Nuñez Ortega outside of Columbia.3
Lastly, Dolson's alleged Mexican officer claimed that "Santa Anna's interpreter" was an individual who knew David Crockett. The account failed to identify the translator. One of Santa Anna's officers at the Alamo may have been an Englishman named "Black," but it is extremely doubtful that he or any other English-speaking staff member would have known Crockett.4
Crisp, to combat the anomalies in Dolson's tale, argues like a criminal defense lawyer who tries to create a reasonable doubt in the minds of as many jury members as possible. At a point in which Crisp accuses Groneman of employing considerable imagination (not to say credulity) in stretching thin and resistant evidence to fit his own twin theses, the professor furnishes his readers with a couple of extremely creative explanations and one profoundly unimaginative one in an attempt to eradicate the Dolson missive's shortcomings. The deficiency of Crisp's answers is that they are not evidence, just suppositions"what if" conjectures lacking certitude.5
Furthermore, Crisp ignores that the Dolson report is hearsay evidence based not on Dolson's personal knowledge of the executions but on matters supposedly reported by an alleged Mexican officer. While Crisp argues that Dolson corroborates de la Peña, what evidence substantiates Dolson's claim that the interrogation took place?
Dolson said that Col. James Morgan "had taken the whole in writing,..." Yet, no such document can be found today. Also, it appears that Morgan, the Fort Travis commander, did not pass the information on to his superiors. Given the importance that Dolson placed on the information, it is suspicious that the data is not reflected in Texas military correspondence and records or Texas newspapers.6
Moreover, it is doubtful that a Mexican officer would have cooperated with the Texians to condemn his president. Historian Margaret Swett Henson, in reporting the court martial of a Mexican officer by his peers for disobeying a superior, observed:"Thus, military discipline remained active even during captivity."7
Writer Walter Lord, however, believed there was one Mexican who may have cooperated with the enemy. The first alleged report of the executions that included the Castrillón intervention on behalf of the defenders and the Crockett identification was a June 9, 1836 letter from Galveston Island that appeared in the July 9, 1836 edition of the New York Courier and Inquirer. The correspondent, however, did not identify his alleged Mexican informant. The reporter only claimed: "There are certain reasons why the name of the narrator of the events should not be made known. I will only repeat that he was an eye-witness." Lord said the "narrator" was probably Ramón Martínez Caro, Santa Anna's civilian secretary.8
Caro mentioned a Texian interrogation in his 1837 pamphlet. In early May, 1836, Lorenzo de Zavala, Bailey Hardeman and P. H. Grayson interviewed Caro about the Goliad executions:9"They assured me that my disclosures would be kept under the strictest secrecy, and that I would receive the corresponding reward, etc. I flatly denied everything, doing in this nothing more than my duty....If on the other hand, intimidated by the horrible situation in which we were, awaiting death either by order of the enemy or as a result of the indignation of the undisciplined mob that might mutiny at any moment without recognizing any authority to appease its anger by killing us; If, I repeat, in view of these dangers and many others, I had confessed the guilt of His Excellency, would he be alive and free today? Certainly not. What has been my recompense? Guided by false appearance, giving freed rein to his well-known impulses of the moment and to an unpardonable levity, he has tried to malign me with no other proof or foundation than the only spring of his actions -ForceandPower."10
Despite his denial, Caro may have reported what he knew about the Goliad and Alamo executions. At Velasco in early June, 1836, when it appeared that Thomas Jefferson Green and a mob of American volunteers were going to lynch Santa Anna and his staff, Caro would have probably agreed to anything Green and his officers suggested. The situation was especially stressful for Caro, who wrote: "I was unable to stand the horror of our situation; and, overcome by the sad and pitiful condition in which we were, knowing that my spirit was becoming more depressed and saddened every minute, I tried to rise, but I had hardly taken a step before I fell unconscious to the floor, where Colonel Nuñez assisted me with the aid of His Excellency and Colonel Almonte.11
The evidence is circumstantial, but it Caro told Green and his officers that Crockett was one of the executed Alamo men, the information was probably obtained with a flintlock pistol or a Bowie knife. Such a report would have been tainted and of little value.
Regardless of what Caro may or may not have told Texian officials, mutinous volunteers, or a New York newspaper reporter, the Texian authorities probably knew in May 1836 that General Castrillon had found five defenders after the battle and had taken them to Santa Anna, who reprimanded the general for taking prisoners and had the men immediately killed. Also, the basic elements of the 1837 Caro execution story may have been obtained from thetejanoswho first reported the Alamo executions to Texians at Gonzales on March 11, 1836.12
Furthermore, Susannah Dickinson witnessed two of the executions and reported them to at least one person. According to William Parker: "My informant William Hadden, who escaped the Goliad massacre above quoted states, that on his way in, he saw and conversed with Mrs. Dickinson, ... He says Mrs. D. informed him, that of the five who, for a moment, survived their companions, and threw themselves on the victor's clemency, two were pursued into her room, and subjected in her presence to the most totturing [sic] death. They were raised again and again, whilst invoking as a favor, instantaneous death to terminate their anguish, till they were at last too weak to speak, and then expired in convulsion."13
The 1836 Dickinson report is hearsay, but it is verified by a second independent report that Dickinson gave many years later. The old woman, in an interview with an Ohio journalist, reported that the two defenders executed in her presence were two boys, ages eleven and twelve.14
Thus, we are left with three conclusions, Firstly, Caro in May, 1836 may have given Texian officials the same execution information that appears in his 1837 pamphlet. Secondly, if Caro, in early June 1836, perhaps under the threat of injury, imprisonment or death, identified Crockett as one of the executed, the report s unreliable. Lastly, the basic elements of the 1837 Caro description may have been general knowledge among Texian military officers and government officials in June 1836. Thus, anyone who wanted to embellish the basic Caro story could have done so with ease.
One other conclusion, however, is certain. Regardless of what Caro may have reported in May and June, 1836, he could not have been Dolson's alleged eye-witness. Caro, like Almonte, was not on Galveston Island where the alleged interview took place.15
Therefore, since there is no reliable evidence that verifies the Dolson interrogation and the one Mexican who may have furnished details of the executions could not have been the Dolson informant, the question remains: Did Crisp explore the possibility that the Dolson document might be something other than just a letter to a brother? Crisp failed to probe the prospect that the letter might be fiction designed to serve a function other than the truth. Investigation in that direction, if productive, would not have advanced his premise that the Dolson account is authentic and verifies the de la Peña report. Crisp had to have the sergeant because without his story, de la Peña stands alone, a voice that has been used to declare that Crockett surrendered, practically begged for his life and was executed.
Thus, Crisp's research and presentation were only aimed at eradicating the known flaws in the Dolson account that damage its authenticity. To do away with the conflict of the defenders being "marched to the tent of Santa Anna," Crisp argues: "What he [Groneman] seems to have forgotten is that the Mexican officer could not have referred directly to Santa Anna's 'tent.' He spoke Spanish, not English. What Spanish word did he most likely use, that Sergeant Dolson would have translated in good faith as 'tent?' It could have been 'tienda', though that word in Mexico is most often used to designate a shop, store, or stall. In a military context such as this one, he would probably have referred to a 'tienda de campaña,' but could have easily used a single word that denotes a large military tent: 'pabellon.' This word would have especially appropriate in the case of the President and commanding general of the army; apabellonis no pup tent! But if the Mexican officer told James Morgan that the prisoners were marched to thepabellonof Santa Anna he may not have been speaking of a tent at all, for the wordpabellonmay also denote a banner, particularly the national flag. As the general (and president) strode into the rubble of the battle's immediate aftermath, one may easily envision him accompanied by a retinue including a flag bearer carrying the national colors, so that no one might mistake Santa Anna's presence in the confusion that still reigned inside the walls.
" Thus, if General Castrillon, upon finding the last defenders still alive, marched them to thepabellon de Santa Anna, he did not necessarily take them outside the walls or into the city; it is in fact more likely that he directed their steps to where thepabellon nacionalindicated the presence of the commander-in-chief inside the Alamo."16
Two characteristics draw attention to Crisp's analysis of the Spanish noun that Dolson supposedly translated to mean "tent." Firstly, in his analysis of the Spanish used in the de la Peña narrative, Crisp relied on assistance with the language from Kent Lioret of the Department of Foreign Languages at North Carolina State University and Dora Guerra, head of Special Collections at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In the critique of the Dolson letter, however, Crisp depended on his own ability with Spanish to carry him throughan ability about which he expressed reservations.
That situation poses the question: What exactly are Dr. Crisp's Spanish language skills?17
The answer is not all that clear. In regard to a Carmen Perry translation of de la Peña, Crisp wrote: "Though no scholar of Spanish, I have relied on my own translation rather that [than?] Perry's because her rendering focuses attention on Crockett in a manner that the original does not."
Then at a meeting of the Alamo Battlefield Association in San Antonio on March 4, 1995, Crisp claimed: "I am a alumnus of Midwestern State University, too. I took my French course there before I went of to graduate school, since they told me I was going to need French. Turned out I needed Spanish, but they wouldn't let me do that." These two statements are complicated by a third Crisp statement that alleges: "Fortunately for me, the documents [Herman Ehrenberg memoirs and the alleged de la Peña manuscripts] were written in German and Spanish, the two foreign languages I had studied (to use the term loosely) in high school and as a Rice undergraduate." Crisp, whatever his Spanish language training, accepts responsibility for the article's Spanish translations.18
The second characteristic that questions Crisp's translation skill is his failure to cite any authority for the definitions he assigns to the nounstiendaandpabellon. What Spanish language dictionary did he use to determine the meanings. Also, is the approach he uses in his analysis valid?19
Crisp used a similar approach in his award-winning article, "Sam Houston's Speech Writers: The Grad Student, the Teenager, the Editors, and the Historians."Crisp located and corrected translation errors in Herman Ehrenberg's German language memoirs so that he could argue that Houston did not make a racist speech reported by Ehrenberg. In that investigation, Crisp had access to the original German document. In Dolson's case, however, there is only an English newspaper transcription of an informal report of the translation of the interview with the enemy officer. Therefore, Crisp should have realized the danger in forming an interpretation without the original language. The professor, however, would like his readers to believe his explanations are like a well-constructed stone fort. Actually, his rebuttal of Groneman's evidence is more like the little pig's straw house--meager protection.20
Now that Crisp's presumption of remarkable similarity of the Caro, Dolson and de la Peña accounts has been set aside by the critical comparison, will his Dolson theories withstand a similar examination? Given his Spanish language expertise and his failure to cite a source for his definitions ofpabellonandtienda, the place to inaugurate a search for validation of Crisp's meanings is with 18th and 19th century Spanish language dictionaries. Crisp asked the question: "What Spanish word did he [Mexican officer] most likely use, that Sergeant Dolson would have translated in good faith as 'tent?'"21He answered: "It could have been 'tienda,' though that word in Mexico is most often used to designate a shop, store, or stall. In a military context such as this one, he would probably have referred to a 'tienda de campaña,' but could have easily used a single word that denotes a large military tent: 'pabellon.' This word would have especially appropriate in the case of the President and commanding general of the army; apabellonis no pup tent! But if the Mexican officer told James Morgan that the prisoners were marched to thepabellonof Santa Anna, he may not have been speaking of a tent at all, for the wordpabellonmay also denote a banner, particularly the national flag."22
According to the 1726Diccionario de autoridades, the oldest meaning ofpabellonis: "Kind of army tent, of circular construction below, and finishing in a point above. It is held up by a thick pole that is fixed in the ground, and extending it [the tent] downward It is secured with cords on some stakes. Ordinarily they are made of wool or of very thick canvas, and it serves so that the soldiers may be under cover while on campaigns, and those who travel in unpopulated regions."23
The third definition listed forpabellonin the 1726diccionariospeaks to the "flag" denotation: "There is likewise called a large flag with the arms of the crown, which is borne by the flagship, or the commanding ship of some squadron. and they put it on the mainmast; and most frequently it is in the form of a pennant, which extends down to the deck."24
By 1839, the definitions forpabellonhad changed from the 1726 meanings. The 1839 edition of Neuman and Barrett'sDictionary of Spanish and English Languagescontains the following definitions:
"1.Pavilion, a kind of tent 2. curtain hanging in form of a tent 3.Pabellon de armas, (mil.) Bell tent 4. (Naut.) National colors. 5. Summer-house, or arbor in a garden made in the shape of a pavilion.25In 1852, the definitions forpabellonwere similar, except for one meaning.A New Pronouncing Dictionary of The Spanish and English Languageslists:
1.Pavilion, a kind of tent; field-bed. 2. Curtain, hanging in the form of a tent. 3. Pabellon de armas, (Mil.) Bell tent. 4. (Naut.) National colors, flag. 5. Summer-house in the shape of a pavilion."26
Thus as Crisp proposes, if the Mexican officer said that the "men were marched to thepabellon de Santa Anna", instead of to " thetienda de Santa Anna", which definition ofpabellonis most likely the correct one for such a military situation? Given that the "flag" definition ofpabellonin March 1836 most likely specified a national flag flying from a ship and the oldest definition of the word referred to an army tent, it is obvious that if Dolson's informant saidpabellon, he was talking about a tent, a military bell tent, atienda de campaña.
This conclusion is reinforced by additional analysis. If the defenders had been marched to Santa Anna's flag, the insignia would have been a version of the national banner with a motto or wording that identified the cloth as representing the general. Therefore, to term Santa Anna's command standard thepabellon de Santa Annawould have been incorrect usage ofpabellonbecausepabellonrefers to a ship's national flag and Santa Anna's flag would not have represented the Mexican nation. Correct usage would have beenbandera de Santa Anna.27
Dr. Crisp would probably argue that the "living language" was not always dictionary-correct and that the Mexican informant still could have usedpabellonto signify Santa Anna's command standard. Yes, that is a possibility. However, is it a significant probability? Since there is no record of the spoken language of the 1830s, the written record must be examined to determine how the wordpabellonwas used during the period.
Ramón Martínez Caro, in writing (1837) of an incident that occurred during his Texas imprisonment (1836), said: "This was a document of little importance, considering that the schooner was flying the American flag and could not be molested." Caro usedpabellonin the original Spanish.28
There are five examples that demonstrate the usage ofbandera(flag) andpabellon(a ship's national flag) in José María Tornel Y Mendivil's 1837 publicationRelations Between Texas The United States of America and The Mexican Republic. Also, the three examples that speak to a national flag from a ship suggest that in usagepabellon'smeaning may be more specific than the previous evidence had indicated. The original Spanish is in brackets.29
The afternoon of the 14th [November, 1835] three ships flying the national flag [bandera nacional] were sighted.30
A whim of fate [at San Jacinto] was sufficient for victory to desert our standards [banderas] and to perch herself on those of our spiritless adversaries.31
More scandalous still was the capture of the Mexican warshipGeneral Urrea, whose flag [pabellon] was run down and the ship immediately taken to an American port.32
In that war, sir, the banners [banderas] of freedom will be the banners [banderas] of Mexico; and your banners [banderas], I blush to speak the word, will be the banners [banderas] of slavery.33
But can we issue letters of Marque to private vessels to prey and harass her commerce not only in Mexican waters but in the far distant Indian Ocean, a practice that will prove most lucrative to those who may agree to fly the Mexican flag [bandera tricolor].34
Examples #1, #3 and #5 speak to a Mexican flag flying from a ship. Examples #1 and #5 refer to privately owned vessels and usebandera, Spanish for flag. Only example #3, which refers to a Mexican warship, usespabellonto identify a ship's banner. Tornel's usage suggests that in 1836,pabellonwas used to denote the Mexican flag used on the nation's military vessels. Given that the original flag definition (Spain's) ofpabellonspecified a military vessel (the flagship, or the commanding ship of some squadron), Tornel 's usage is consistent with the 1726 definition.
Additionally, example #2 speaks to the Mexican military flags that were captured by the Texian army at San Jacinto. The flags were versions of the national flag with unit names included in the design. Tornel did not usepabellonto describe the captured flags. He usedbanderas. This example suggests that if the captured Alamo defenders had been marched to Santa Anna's flag, the officer would have likely usedbanderato identify the standard.
Nevertheless, one can still (no matter the small degree of probability) argue that if the Mexican saidpabellonhe was referring to the Mexican flag or a military version of it. A common sense analysis of the phrase, however, conflicts with such an interpretation.
"Marched to the tent of Santa Anna" identifies a temporary structure. If such a tent existed, the general would have traveled to and from it as he performed his duties. The tent would not have followed the general around the city or entered the Alamo with him on the morning of March 6. Thus the expression "to the tent of Santa Anna" would have been used by the informant because the tent and the general were separate entities that were not always located together on the battlefield. The defenders would have been taken to the tent because that was were Castrillón believed Santa Anna was located at that time.
However, if one accepts Crisp's argument, the national flag of Santa Anna' followed the general into the Alamo that morning. The location of Santa Anna and the flag were one and the same. If the prisoners were taken from a "back room of the Alamo [the Long Barracks?]" and escorted to the Alamo's large plaza, both Santa Anna and the "supposed" color guard would have been in plain view.
Crisp, however, believes that Castrillón would have had to have located the alleged flag to zero in on Santa Anna because of the chaos within the Alamo. He supposes: "As the general (and president) strode into the rubble of the battle's immediate aftermath, one may easily envision him accompanied by a retinue including a flagbearer carrying the national colors, so that no one might mistake Santa Anna's presence in he confusion that still reigned inside the walls." Crisp, however, did not offer any evidence to prove his postulate that confusion ruled the Alamo compound when Santa Anna made his entrance.35
Confusion was not the case if one accepts what de la Peña allegedly wrote: "This scene of extermination went on for an hour before the curtain of death covered and ended it; shortly after six in the morning it was all finished; the corps were beginning to reassemble and to identify themselves, their sorrowful countenances revealing the losses in the thinned ranks of their officers and comrades, when the commander in chief appeared."36
Castrillon would not have needed to locate the flag on the battlefield to find the general. Also, would Santa Anna have had a flag to pinpoint his identity so that one last rebel with a long rifle might cut him down? Therefore, "marched to the national flag of Santa Anna" does not make sense. A phrase like the one used by Caro is more logical. He expressed the action this way: "He [Castrillón] took them immediately to the presence of His Excellency who had come up by this time."37
Moreover, it Dr. Crisp can argue, with absolutely no evidence, that the Mexican officer used the wordpabelloninstead oftienda, then it is possible that Dolson, in response topabellon, a word with many meanings, asked the informant to identify exactly which meaning was the correct one. The Mexican responded withtienda de campaña, or "tent."
Ironically, an element that Crisp missed or ignored in the alleged de la Peña narrative is the claim that there was a tent at Bexar that could have been identified as Santa Anna's tent. The writer of the de la Peña chronicle wrote: "From among the goods and the tents found which the enemy had abandoned when they took hurried refuge in the Alamo, one of the tents erected was called the president's tent because it was placed in the premises occupied by his Excellency."38
In contrast to Crisp's allegation that the use oftiendain a military setting was not a likely possibility, the writer of de la Peña (in the original Spanish) usedtiendasandtienda. Thus, if the de la Peña manuscripts are genuine, then the information appears to damage Crisp's claim that Dolson's Mexican officer would not have usedtiendato denote a military tent. On the other hand if the belief that a Mexican army officer would have most likely usedtienda de campañais correct, men the de la Peña manuscripts' use oftiendasandtiendaare minor anomalies that suggest that the works might have been written by someone other than de la Peñaa person unfamiliar with military terms.
In closing the discussion onpabellon, a number of conclusions are obvious. Despite Dr. Crisp's persuasive writing style and its showcase presentation in the prestigiousSouthwestern Historical Quarterly, there is no evidence that the Mexican officer featured in the Dolson letter used the wordpabellonor that a color guard escorted Santa Anna into the Alamo compound. Crisp's theory that the Mexican could have usedpabellonto refer to Santa Anna's hypothetical flag appears to have been an argumentative ploy to explain a major flaw in the alleged execution report that otherwise damages the account. Theoretically, there is an extremely small possibility that the Mexican officer usedpabellonto refer to Santa Anna's alleged command standard, but to argue such a claim appears to be "stretching" a "thin and resistant" theory to fit a preferred bias. Lastly, the evidence strongly suggests that if the alleged officer usedpabellon, the most logical meaning that can be assigned to the word in its martial context is military bell tentatienda de campaña, "tent."
At this point there is at least one last piece of evidence concerning "Santa Anna's tent" that is worthy of discussion. That is the fact that the Mexican president and general did have atienda de campañaat San Antonio during the Alamo siege. There is, however, no known evidence that it was set up for his use.39
After the Battle of San Jacinto the tent was among the spoils distributed to members of the Texian army. In September, 1836, Colonel James Morgan sent the tent to Samuel Swartwout of New York City. Swartwout was Andrew Jackson's Collector of the Port of New York. Additionally, he was a principal purchaser and trustee in the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company. Morgan was the company's land agent in Texas.40
Concerning the gift of the tent, Morgan wrote:"You will receive by the first safe conveyance the tent of Santa Anna, that vampire who sought to fatten on the life-blood of young liberty in our now booming land. With that tent are associated feelings of triumph and horror, the chivalrous efforts of our victorious little band which annihilated at one fell swoop the hydra-headed monster of tyranny on the plains of San Jacinto. The other at the infernal mandates of the deeply crimson pirate issued under the cover of that tent which traversed through rivers of gore, reckless alike of the wailings of unprotected womanhood or the manly confidence of the brave soldier in the open prostration of his arms. In that tent slumbered that fiend who under the demon tutelage of his pillow planned and executed the foul massacres and ruthless murders of the Alamo and Goliad and then sat at noonday the slick hypocrit [sic] upon whose lips hung the words of promised mercy, but who signal immolated to his indomitable spirit of desolation. Nearly in his presence died the brave Fannin and his worthy compatriots, whose blood flowed even while the echo of mercy vibrated in their ears. But now while the monster withers under the ruthless blast of recognition, the tree of liberty overshadowing our fertile plains.
Oh what a antithesis, the foul den of the furious tiger and the unsullied abode of peace and honor, the one a memorial of valor in trepidity and a nation's benison, the other of dishonor, perfidy and execration."41
In addition to the derision of Santa Anna, the mention of the "ruthless murders" at the Alamo, and the killing of the "brave Fannin" almost in Santa Anna's "presence, the letter is conspicuous for a major omission. Morgan failed to tell Swartwout that Crockett, a former United States congressman and bitter enemy of Swartwout's patron President Andrew Jackson, was executed in Santa Anna's presenceprobably outside the tent's front entrance flap. That being the case,ifthe Dolson report is true. However, the omission while considered negative "evidence" by historians, is evidence that the Dolson execution account is fiction.
The second anomaly that helps to nullify the Dolson account is the claim that the Mexican informant was Col. Juan N. Almonte, Santa Anna's aide-de-camp. Dolson wrote:
"Colonel Crockett was in the rear, had his arms folded, and appeared bold as the lion as he passed my informant (Almonte.) Santa Anna's interpreter knew Colonel Crockett, and said to my informant, 'the one behind is the famous Crockett."
Even Crisp recognizes that the allegation is an impossibility that strangles the report's veracity. Thus he attempts to void the flaw by identifying "Santa Anna's interpreter" as Almonte and turning the informant into a faceless unknown.42 He said:
"Unfortunately, [Thomas Lawrence] Connelly [who found and first published the letter] somewhat muddied the waters by mistakenly identifying the Mexican officer as Col. Juan Nepomuceno Almonte... As Dan Kilgore has pointed out, 'he was, in fact, Santa Anna's interpreter and not only interpreted for him with General Houston after San Jacinto but also later accompanied his chief to Washington as aide and interpreter.'"43
Crisp, to further strengthen his case, argues that the Almonte/informant identification is a printing error. He wrote:
"Actually, it would have taken only the slight movement of one word, the name (Almonte) in parentheses, from one side of the period to the other. The name could very well have been interlineated in parentheses in the original letter. According to Kilgore, the passage should read: '...appeared bold as the lion as he passed the informant. Almonte, Santa Anna's interpreter, knew Colonel Crockett, and said to my informant,...' "44"Almonte in parentheses" at the end of the sentence with the period inside the parentheses, which is incorrect by today's punctuation rules, is awkward and unpleasing to the eye. Thus many individuals accept Kilgore's theory as conceivable because Almonte, Santa Anna's interpreter,..." has a rhythm that makes it read better. That opinion, however, is a subjective one similar to that well-known test of veracity, "The ring of truth."
A number of factors argue against the Kilgore and Crisp theories. Crisp alleged that the two sentences and the Almonte/parentheses element were written:45
...my informant. Santa Anna's interpreter,...
If the Kilgore and Crisp theories are correct, then the placement of "Almonte" between the lines would have been meaningless. The placement would have made it impossible to have objectively determined which person Dolson wanted to identify as Almonte. Kilgore and Crisp may be correct, but it seems unlikely that Dolson, after going back to write (Almonte) between the lines, would have failed to have written something to indicate which person he was identifying with the name.
There are several ways in which Dolson could have inserted "(Almonte)" between the lines and have indicated which person it identified. Dolson could have placed an arrow under Almonte that pointed to where the name was to be inserted. Also, since the punctuation custom of the period required that the appropriate punctuation mark or marks be placed inside the parentheses, "(Almonte)" could have been expressed in two other ways. If Almonte was to have followed "informant," it could have been written: (Almonte.) or if it was supposed to go before "Santa Anna's interpreter: (Almonte,). Any one of the methods would have clearly indicated the person that the name Almonte identified.46
For Crisp's theory to be correct, the typesetter would have had to have made three mistakes to have created:"... my informant (Almonte.),"instead of the Kilgore and Crisp version:"Almonte, Santa Anna's interpreter,..."First, he placed "Almonte" on the wrong side of the period. Secondly, he failed to remove the parentheses. Finally, he put the period inside of the parentheses. One error might be reasonable, but three mistakes involving one word does not seem plausible.
Therefore, the analysis of Crisp's theory and the placement of "Almonte" in the document (according to punctuation practice of its day) strongly suggest two conclusions. Firstly, if "(Almonte)" was written between the lines in the holographic version of the letter, Dolson probably included information that indicated the name referred to "my informant." Secondly, the manner in which "Almonte" appears in the newspaper version is probably the way it was written in the original missive. Of course, Crisp and other de a Peña supporters can always argue that the letter contained insertion directions that indicated that Almonte referred to "Santa Anna's interpreter" and the typesetter overlooked them.
The letter however, contains other evidence that shows that "Almonte" does not refer to the interpreter. Dolson claimed that the interpreter knew Crockett and identified him to the informant. Everything we know about Almonte and Crockett indicates that the Mexican officer did not know the ex- Congressman. Therefore, Almonte could not have been the interpreter. The only way Crisp could maintain his theory that the typesetter misplaced Almonte in the letter was to argue that Almonte could have identified Crockettthus proving that Almonte was not the informant; he was the interpreter.
While Almonte did at times interpret for Santa Anna, the effort by Kilgore and Crisp to brand the officer as "Santa Anna's interpreter" is pushing the evidence beyond the limits of its tiny mass. The evidence is a footnote in Kilgore's book which cites two sources. Kilgore wrote: "He [Almonte] was, in fact, Santa Anna's interpreter and not only interpreted for him with General Houston after San Jacinto but also later accompanied his chief to Washington as aide and interpreter."47
Firstly, Almonte was far more than an interpreter. He was a former newspaper editor with diplomatic experience. In 1834, when Santa Anna wanted detailed information on Texas, Almonte conducted the inspection tour and completed a comprehensive report on the area. After the Texas Revolution: "He continued in diplomatic and military service and rose to the ran of general of a division. In 1839 he headed the Mexican delegation in Belgium but in 1840 returned to the War department. During the Mexican War he served for a time as secretary of war.48
Secondly, Almonte did not translate for Santa Anna with Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto. According to the Mexican general's first narrative on the subject:
"The first duty during my imprisonment was to demand the treatment and considerations due a prisoner of war. The wordtalon[heel] which I overheard Houston utter made me enter into a discussion, to draw a parallel, daring as it was in my position, as to the justice of the war and its character as waged by both belligerents, Mexico and the Texans. The son of Don Lorenzo Zavala was serving us an interpreter and finally their effrontery went as far as to demand the practical surrender of the entire army under my command."49
Moreover, there was probably little opportunity for Almonte to perform direct translation for Santa Anna with the Texans. Caro, Santa Anna's secretary, reported that during their (Santa Anna, Almonte, Nuñez and Caro) captivity after San Jacinto they "were prohibited from speaking any other language except English."50
Undoubtedly, Almonte handled interpreter duties for Santa Anna on the trip to Washington and during meetings with U.S. officials, but that was because he was the one person with Santa Anna who was qualified to do so, not because that was his position of employment with the general. Even Santa Anna's words of appreciation suggest the role was temporary: "In closing this long narrative I cannot but, in all justice, commend to the graces of the supreme government the very worthy Colonel Juan Nepomuceno Almonte for the good behavior observed throughout the campaign and the propriety with which he conducted himself while a prisoner. Furthermore, he was a most faithful companion during my bitter days and served me as an interpreter when I needed him."51
Additionally, Crisp attempted to argue that Almonte would have had the ability to identify Crockett as one of the executed defenders. Crisp wrote: "Thus Almonte, thoroughly fluent in English, was back in familiar territory in the United States for more than two months just as the nineteenth century's own Davy Crockett craze was getting off the ground with the appearance of Crockett'sAutobiographyand his regular appearance in the national press. The Whig party was lionizing Congressman Crockett after his break with Andrew Jackson, and with news taking less than two weeks to travel between New Orleans and Washington there is no doubt that Crockett was a familiar personality in Louisiana, even if his and Almonte's paths did not finally cross until that fateful morning at the Alamo."52
Dr. Crisp, with no evidence other than locating Almonte in Louisiana in 1834 and acknowledging that the congressman had a high profile in Eastern newspaper articles that may have appeared in New Orleans at the same time, suggests that Almonte would have had the ability to recognize Crockett on sight. Never mind that on the morning of March 6, 1836, Crockett was probably much thinner than he was in 1834; he probably had a short beard, was dirty and perhaps bloody. Furthermore, Crockett was undoubtedly exhausted-maybe even sick. Crisp, however, must ride this mustang allegation because he contended that Almonte was the interpreter in order to advance his case, no matter how weak his evidence and argument. The contention, however, is irrelevant because Crisp ignored or missed what Dolson actually wrote about the identification of Crockett.53
Dolson wrote: "Santa Anna's interpreterknew[italics added] Colonel Crockett,..." Dolson's words reflect a personal knowledge of the "flesh and blood" man, not the newsprint and printer's ink Crockett.
Crisp, however, can always argue his theory by claiming that "knew Crockett" is a translation mistake, that the officer said "knew of" Crockett.54
Since the evidence for Almonte being Santa Anna's interpreter does not hold up under critical analysis, we are left with the question: Who could have translated for Santa Anna at the Alamo who would have known Crockett? No one comes to mind. Since it is highly unlikely that Santa Anna would have had an English-speaking staff member who knew Crockett, the claim does further damage to the validity of the Dolson letter.
Lastly, Crisp believes that Almonte could not have been Dolson's informant because "elsewhere in the letter Dolson was careful to refer only to 'the Mexican officer' or 'my informant.' " That allegation leaks water when one considers the evidence that Crisp does not include in his evaluation. Dolson wrote: "The Colonel [Morgan] has taken the whole in writing, with the officers name attached to it, which he observed to him, if he had the least delicacy he might omit, but he said he had not and was willing to be qualified to it in the presence of his God, and General Santa Anna, too, if necessary."55
Moreover, if Dolson had failed to identify the officer, would that not be an anomaly? Or as it is: the fact that Dolson's identification of Almonte (who had no need for a translator, was not on Galveston Island at the time of the alleged interview and who would not have "informed" on his president) as the informant stamps the Dolson report as fiction.
Thus, we come to the question: If the Dolson account is not a true report of he Alamo executions, then what is it? There is another possibility that Connelly, Kilgore and Crisp failed to investigate in their haste to declare the honorable David Crockett executed at the Alamo.
1. James E. Crisp,Texas History Texas Mystery," Sallyport (The Magazine of Rice University), February/March, 1995, 14.
2. George M. Dolson to brother, July 19, 1836, Galveston Island, Democratic Free Press, (Detroit), September 7, 1836. Theodore Gentilz, Document SM-2, Gentilz Collection, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, The Alamo, San Antonio. This document is the report of an interview with the wife of Antonio y Arocha, who witnessed the executions. She placed defenders at the southwest end of the plaza as Santa Anna entered the compound at that location. Charles W. Evans interview of Susannah (Dickinson) Hannig, March 14, 1878, Austin in San Antonio Express, February 24, 1929. Mrs. Dickinson was in the Alamo chapel. This account alleges that two of the five executed defenders were killed in her presence. The chapel was located east of the southwest end of the Alamo compound. Walter Lord,A Time To Stand, (1961; reprint, New York: Bonanza Books, 1987), 103. Mexican headquarters were in the Yturri house on Main Plaza.
3. Dolson, Democratic Press; Walter P. Webb, H. Bailey Carroll and Eldon S. Branda, eds., The Handbook of Texas (3 vols.; Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1952, 1976), 1:35; Margaret Swett Henson, "Politics and the Treatment of three Mexican Prisoners after the Battle of San Jacinto,"Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XCIV: 202.
4. Dolson, Democratic Free Press; "Testimony of Mrs. Hannig touching the Alamo Massacre," September 23, 1876, Manuscript Collection, Archives Division, Texas State Library, Austin, Texas; hereafter cited as TSL.
5. James E. Crisp, "The Little Book That Wasn't There: The Myth and Mystery of the de la Peña Diary,"Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XCVIII: 287.
6. Dolson, Democratic Free Press. A careful examination of John H. Jenkins'The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836and William C. Binkley's Official Correspondence of the Texas Revolution, 1B35-1836 and the Center for American History History's (University of Texas at Austin) newspaper "name" index has failed to locate any evidence to suggests that Dolson's story made it into the official records or Texas newspapers.
7. Henson,Politics and Treatment," 214.
8. Lord, A Time To Stand, 206-207.
9. Ramón Martínez Caro, A True Account of the First Texas Campaign, Carlos E. Casteñeda (trans.),The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution(1928; reprint, Austin and Dallas: Graphic Ideas Incorporated, 1970), 131.
10. Caro,A True Account, 128-129.
11. Ibid.; 131-137; David G. Burnet to Capt. of the Schr. Col. Fannin, September 12, 1836, Velasco, in John H. Jenkins, ed.The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836(10 vols.; Austin: Presidial Press, 1973), VIII: 439. Burnet requested that Caro be given passage to New Orleans at the government's expense for having rendered a valuable service." What that service was Burnet did not say, but it may have involved information about the Goliad and Alamo executions. Thomas J. Green,Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier(1845; reprint, Austin: W. Thomas Taylor, 1993), 248- 250. NOTES
12. Gray to , Gonzales, March 1, 1836, in Jenkins, The Papers, V: 48-49; Sam Houston to James W. Fannin, Gonzales, March 1, 1836, in Jenkins The Papers, V: 52-53.
13. William Parker to editor, April 29, 1836, Natchez, in Jenkins, The Papers, VI: 121-122.
14. Evans, interview of Susannah (Dickinson) Hannig. Hannig identified the two boys as the sons of Anthony Wolf. Also the report alleged that Wolf was the only defender who surrendered.
15. Henson, "Politics and Treatment," 202.
16. Crisp, "The Little Book," 291-292.
17. Crisp, "The Little Book," 269, footnote 20 and 276, footnote 39.
18. Crisp, "The Little Book," 289, footnote 74; Crisp address, Alamo Battlefield Association annual meeting, March 4, 1995, San Antonio; Crisp, Texas History, 15.
19. Crisp, The Little Book," 291-293; James E. Crisp to Thomas R. Lindley, May 3, 1995, Raleigh, NC. In this missive Dr. Crisp stated that he usedDiccionario de la Lengua Espanola(17th ed.; Madrid: Real Academia Espanola, 1947), 295 for hispabellondefinitions.
20. James E. Crisp, Sam Houston's Speechwriters: The Grad Student, the Teenager, the Editors, and the Historians," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XCVII: 203.
21. Crisp, The Little Book, 291-292.
23.Diccionario de autoridades(1726; facsimile, Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1976), Ill: 69. The translation of the entry was completed by Ned F. Brierly of the Center for American History. Mr. Brierly is a professional translator of Spanish.
25.Neuman and Barrettis Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages(2 vols.; Boston: Hilliard, Gray and Company, 1839) I: 504.
26. Mariano Velázquez de la Cárdena, compiler, A New Pronouncing Dictionary of the Spanish and English Languages (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1852), 472.
27. Two captured Mexican army unit flags from the Battle of San Jacinto, housed in TSL. My conclusion on what a command standard for Santa Anna may have looked like is based on these two flags.
28. Caro, "A True Account," 144; D. Ramón Martínez Caro,Verdadera Idea de la Primera Campaña de Tejas(Mexico: Imprena de Santiago Pérez, 1837), 64.
29. José María Tornel y Mendivil,Relations Between Texas The United States of America and the Mexican Republic," in Castañeda (trans.), The Mexican Side, 292; José María Tornel y Mendivil,Tejas y los Estados-Unidos De America, en sus Relaciónes con la Republic Mexicana, (Mexico: 1837).
30. Tornel, "Relations," 353; Tornel, Tejas y los, 64. NOTES
31. Ibid., 365 and 75.
32. Ibid., 370 and 79.
33. Ibid., 382 and 92.
34. Ibid., 387 and 97.
35. Crisp, The Little Book, 292.
36. 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: Texas A&M University Press, 1975), 52.
37. Caro,A True Account, 106.
38. De la Peña, With Santa Anna, 61-62; José Enrique de la Peña,La Rebelion de Texas: Manuscrito Inedito de 136 por un oficial de Santa Anna, ed. J. Sanchez Garza (Mexico: A. Frank de Sanchez, 1955), 81. The second place in which the de la Peña account uses tienda instead oftienda de campañais when the author details an April 25, 1836 meeting of Mexican officers in General Filisola's tent." Filisola. however, reported that this meeting took place in the home of Mrs. Powell, which certainly makes sense. Why set up a tent when a house was available for quarters? De la Peña,With Santa Anna, 145 and 148; De la Peña,La Rebelión, 167 and 169; General Vicente Filisola, The History of The War in Texas, trans. Wallace Woolsey (2 vols., Austin: Eakin Press, 1987), II: 234.
39. James Morgan to Samuel Swartwout, September 5, 1836, Galveston Island, in Jenkins, The Papers, VII: 394.
40. Webb, Carroll and Branda, Handbook, Ill: 394.
41. Morgan to Samuel Swartwout, September 5, 1836 in Jenkins, The Papers, VIII: 394.
42. Dolson, Democratic Free Press.
43. Crisp, The Little Book, 287.
44. Ibid., 288.
46. Dr. Joseph E. Field'sThree Years in Texasfound in Jenkins, The Papers, IX: 197. This account contains the sentence: A first, second and third messenger was sent to the Mission, without bringing any information from our friends, except the last, who brought the news of their disaster, having obtained it at a ranch, (a Mexican farm.) [Wharton account] Texas found in Jenkins, The Papers: IX: 230. This account includes: They guarantee to each colonist the privilege of leaving the empire at any time, with all his property, and also the privilege of selling the land which he may have acquired from the Mexican government, (see the colonization law of 1823, more especially articles 1st, 8th and 20th.) The use of the period inside of the parentheses in these two examples demonstrates the punctuation practice of the mid-1830s. NOTES
47. Dan Kilgore,How Did Davy Die?(College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978), 37. One of Kilgore's sources for his belief that Almonte was Santa Anna's interpreter was the translation of Santa Anna's autobiography edited by Ann Fears Crawford The Eagle, Autobiography of Santa Anna. In this narrative Santa Anna did allege that Almonte had translated for him in his meeting with Sam Houston after San Jacinto. The old general, however, also claimed: no Alamo defenders surrendered; there were 600 Alamo defenders; Houston was on the road to support Travis with 2,000 men and eight cannon; the storming of the Alamo lasted four hours; the Mexican loss was more than a thousand killed and wounded.
48. Webb, Carroll, and Branda, The Handbook, 1: 35.
49. "General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Manifesto," in Castañeda, The Mexican Side, 34 and 84; Caro, "A True Account", 132.
50. Caro, "A True Account", 140.
51. Santa Anna, "Manifesto", 91.
52. Crisp, "The Little Book", 291.
53. There is no source for my description of Crockett. However, given that he had been on horse back and out of doors for a couple of months, the 13-day siege, and the typhoid and other winter illnesses in the Alamo, it is not an unreasonable speculation.
54. Dolson,Democratic Free Press.
55. Crisp, The Little Book, 287; Dolson,Democratic free Press.