De la Peña Diary Paper Authenticated
By Carmen Danini, EXPRESS-NEWS STAFF WRITER
©1998 San Antonio Express-News
Analysts have authenticated the age of the paper used by a Mexican army officer to pen his account of the fall of the Alamo, but even more relevant for defenders of the controversial document is that the paper was available in northern Mexico at the time, a historian said Wednesday.
Just in time, too, since the diary is to go up for auction November 18.
"Everyone knew that the paper is old," said James Crisp, a North Carolina State University history professor who had studied the diary written by Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, one of Santa Anna's officers.
De la Peña's description of Davy Crockett's capture —and summary execution on the orders of Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — goes against the Alamo legend that the Tennessean died heroically near the front doors of the former mission's chapel March 6, 1836.
Some historians have dismissed de la Peña's memoir as a fake ever since an English translation by San Antonio archivist Carmen Perry was published in 1975. The controversy hasn't died down in the nearly quarter century later.
The diary, which had been at the John Peace Library at the University of Texas at San Antonio for nearly 25 years, is being sold by John Peace III, son of the man for whom the library was named.
A California auction house, Butterfield & Butterfield, will auction off the diary and other Texas revolution era documents November 18 in Los Angles.
Much of the historical consensus on how Crockett died is based an reports by Susanna Dickinson, wife of an officer of the Alamo garrison, and the recollections of a young slave owned by Col. William Travis, both of whom survived the slaughter.
Dickinson said Crockett was one of the first to be killed and that he died outside the Alamo chapel; Travis' slave reported seeing Crockett's body near slain Mexican troops.
Bill Groneman, a New York arson investigator, called the de la Peña journal a forgery in his book Defense of a legend: Crockett and the de la Peña Diary.
Although he has acknowledged he cannot prove it, Groneman believes the diary is a 20th-century fake crafted by the famous forger John Laflin.
Not so, said Crisp, a scholar of the Texas Revolution who defends the memoir as authentic.
"The army was using the paper for pamphlets and the like and de la Peña had access to it,'' Crisp said 'I don't know that this will satisfy others, but my position is that I welcome another test because it would be one more test that the diary would pass."
Catherine Williamson manuscript cataloguer at Butterfield & Butterfield said de la Peña's memoir was written on a high rag content paper typical of the early 19th century. "The watermarks tell us the paper was produced in Lisbon between 1825 and 1832" she said.
"If something had indicated to us the paper was made after that period or was from the 20th century and clearly a fake. we would not be offering it for sale. Were satisfied that it is what it is.
Butterfield officials believe the eyewitness journal could fetch between $200,000 and $300, 000.
Source: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8, 1998 PAGE 2A