Remember the Alamo and the Rest of Texas History
Among the most memorable lines in American history are “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet,” and “Remember The Alamo.” While most school children (and their parents) know what Patrick Henry and George Washington were talking about, most Americans, except those living in Texas, know we’re supposed to remember the Alamo, but we just don’t know why.
It was in late February/early March 1836, that nearly 200 volunteers from around the nation, fighting for Texas’ independence from Mexico, withstood the forces of 5,000 Mexican soldiers for 13 days. Just before dawn on March 6, 1836, General Santa Anna’s soldiers stormed the little church’s walls and in 90 minutes, the battle was over, the freedom fighters all lay dead, and the Alamo had become a legend in Texas and American history.
One of the best places to start a family tour of the history of Texas is 150 miles from the Alamo at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park, a 260-acre park near Brenham, 50 miles southwest of Houston. It was here, on a cold, rainy March 2, 1836, that 59 patriots signed the Texas Declaration of Independence after 17 days of negotiation, bickering and compromise. At this time, Texas was a part of the Mexican state of Tejas and General Antonio Santa Anna ruled the land as a dictator. The grievances includes in the Declaration were similar to those in the U.S. declaration from British rule: individual rights, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms.
This story is recreated on March 2 each year, but told throughout seven venues at the park at other times during the year. The museum tells the entire history of the republic of Texas, focusing on the social history of the settlers and everyday people. A living history farm, built around the home of Anson Jones, the last president of the nation of Texas, includes endangered breeds of livestock that once roamed the lands of Texas.
Brenham is a great place to base your tour of Texas history. In addition to a number of family-oriented accommodations, Brenham is the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, which gives away samples on your tours.
From Brenham, take a day-trip to Goliad, the site of two controversial episodes in Texas history. The first is Fannin Battleground, where James W. Fannin and 240 men surrendered in good faith after a battle with Mexican forces. Seven days later, those prisoners and others captured in the area were marched to Presidio LaBahia, a fort founded in 1749, and executed here on Palm Sunday 1836. In Texas, the rally cry “Remember Goliad” is as powerful as “Remember the Alamo.”
The kids might enjoy this place, not so much because of the history, but because you can spend the night in the military guest quarters which is said to be haunted. When the park closes at night, you and your family will be the only ones around—just you and the ghosts, who are said manifest themselves in bright lights.
Another interesting stop in the vicinity is the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historical Park in West Columbia. It’s a wonderful antebellum home built by Martin Varner, one of Texas’ original 300 colonists. The home was eventually purchased in 1901 by James S. Hogg, who became governor of the state. Kids will perk up and pay attention on the tour when the story turns to Governor Hogg’s only daughter, whom he name Ima. Yes, her name was Ima Hogg. Remind the kids of that one when they say they hate the name you gave them.
But Miss Ima overcame her unfortunate name to became one of the most respected women in Texas, using her family fortune and influence to found the Houston Symphony, fund medical research at the University of Texas and build numerous museums and state parks. There’s a lesson in here that even the kids can’t miss.
A final stop on your tour of Texas history should be the San Jacinto State Park outside of Houston, where the final battle was fought, where the lives of those lost at the Alamo and Goliad were vindicated and General Santa Anna surrendered his troops to General Sam Houston. The site is marked by a 570-foot tall monument where visitors can get an impressive view of the surrounding landscape from an observation deck at 489 feet. In the museum below, the complete story of Texas independence is told is an award-winning 35-minute documentary designed especially for the education of Texas elementary school children.
Also at San Jacinto is the Battleship Texas, which served in both World War I and World War II. The Texas provided cover fire for the D-Day invasion of Normandy and has since been named a National Historic Landmark. Families can tour the battleship, climb into sleeping bunks and develop a better understanding of the contributions of this great battleship in American history.
While Texas independence was won on April 21, 1836, less than two months after the declaration was signed at Washington-on-the-Brazos, the conflicts with Santa Anna continued throughout the ten years of Texas’ existence as a nation. When Texas became a part of the United States, Mexico then declared war on the United States, resulting in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. We know how that one turned out, but maybe another historical tour should be on the agenda for next year’s family vacation.
If you Go:
When winning the state’s independence from Mexico, General Sam Houston was not thinking of tourism at the time. Most of the sites where Texas independence was won are in remote areas of the state. The Alamo, of course, is in San Antonio, which has a great airport for flights from almost every city in the U.S. You’ll then have to rent a car to drive the route to the sites mentioned in this article, and plan at least a week in so doing. Otherwise, fly into Houston and see most of the sites within a day’s drive of that city.