This tapestry was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Ross S. Sterling of Houston, Texas during the late 1920’s. The tapestry has several images that represent the natural environment of Texas and several scenes from Texas history. The overall concept of the tapestry is based off of a painting of similar proportions that was also commissioned and designed by Mr. and Mrs. Sterling. The painting was completed in New York, but the tapestry was woven in France. When the tapestry was completed it was displayed in the Sterling home in Houston for a number of years.
Ross S. Sterling was born in February of 1875 and served as Governor of Texas from 1931 to 1933. Sterling was involved in several business ventures throughout his life, including the oil industry. In 1910 Sterling founded the Humble Oil Company. It in turn became the parent company of the Humble Oil Corporation and in 1973, the Exxon Corporation. Sterling sold his interest in the oil company in 1925 and used his profits to purchase the Houston Dispatch and the Houston Post in 1926. He later combined them as the Houston Post-Dispatch, which later became the Houston Post. He became the Chairman of the Texas Highway Commission under Governor Dan Moody and turned it into a consistent highway program. Sterling became the Governor of Texas after beating out Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson in the Democratic primary, but became a one-term Governor after losing to Ferguson in the following election. After leaving the Governor’s office he retired from politics but continued his ventures in the oil industry. He died in Fort Worth on March 25, 1949, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
The border of the tapestry shows different plant and animal life native to Texas. At the top, in the center, are six flags with a star. The flags represent the six countries that have held sovereignty over some or all of the territory that today is the State of Texas. They are Spain, France, United Mexican States (Mexico), Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. The portraits in the corners are Stephen F Austin (Upper Left Corner), Moses Austin (Upper Right Corner), David Crockett (Lower Left Corner), and William Wharton (Lower Right Corner). The center image depicts the surrender of Santa Anna to Sam Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto. The bottom image depicts the cabin where the Texas Rebels declared their independence from Mexico.
If you would like to know more about the Texas Revolution we have several blogs referencing the events and offering more details. You can see them here.
One cannot visit San Antonio without taking a trip to the Alamo. Usually after visiting the IMAX theater inside the Rivercenter mall where the movie Alamo: The Price of Freedom is continuously showing; here is a link of show times. In Texas, the Alamo is a top tourist destination visited by more than 2.5 million people a year. The object featured in this blog is commemorative gold rimmed plate commemorating the 1836 fall of the Alamo. Another popular way to commemorate the story of The Alamo has been through film. To date there have been 15 films based on the Alamo, the first was a silent film made in 1911 and the most recent was made in 2004. Although, some of these films are historically inaccurate and sometimes surrounded by controversy “the Alamo makes a good backdrop to tell stories of patriotism, courage, sacrifice and duty.”
The first known movie about the Alamo is titled The Immortal Alamo and was released on May 25, 1911. No known copy of the film exists, only still photographs and reviews in a journal titled Moving Picture World remain. The Immortal Alamo was 10 minutes long and was said to have been shot on location in San Antonio. However, this cannot be confirmed since no actual footage exists. The Immortal Alamo follows a “pretty girl, shy hero, and villain.” Richard Flores author of Remembering The Alamo: Memory, Modernity, & the Master Symbol claims this film is one of the earliest attempt at a historical documentary. Four years later a film called Martyrs of the Alamo was made. Compared to the film The Birth of a Nation, the film projected racist rhetoric, and reinforced white supremacy. The film given the subtitle The Birth of Texas and was re-released with that title in the 1920s. The film captured audiences nationwide and can still be seen on archive.org: Martyrs of the Alamo.
One of the most popular movies depicting the Alamo is the 1960 film starring John Wayne. The film titled The Alamo is one of the most expensive Alamo films made. John Wayne’s vision was to make the a historically accurate film about the Alamo. However, he mainly succeeded in producing an accurate set. After looking at different locations to shoot the film including Mexico, Peru, and Panama. It was ultimately decided that the film would be shot in Texas. This decision came after people in Texas threatened to boycott the film if it was shot in Mexico, even though in 1836 the Alamo was located inside Mexican territory. The location for the film was a 22,000 acre ranch owned by James T. “Happy” Shahan. The film premiered at the Woodlawn Theatre on October 24, 1960 and received mixed reviews. It was praised by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas but some film critics stated it was boring and too long. The film did receive 7 Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, but only won one for sound. It has been argued that in the end the film had little to do with 1836 and more with John Wayne’s own vision and politics. The set of the 1960 film, called Alamo Village, remained open decades after the film was shot and became a tourist destination. In 2010 Alamo Village closed permanently and is currently for sale. The set is not well preserved and some of the buildings are succumbing to the elements. A businessman from Corpus Christi reportedly has plans to buy the set and turn it into a theme park.
In May 2002 director Ron Howard and Governor Rick Perry held a conference and announced that a new Alamo movie was in the works. According to Don Graham, the 9/11 attacks “led to an urgency to the idea of a movie about Americans taking a stand.” Ron Howard met with various historians in Austin who urged him to make the film as historically accurate as possible. Howard left the project due to differences with Disney over an R rating and budget. John Lee Hancock, a native Texan, took over as screenwriter and director. Hancock knew he would receive criticism whether he did a poorly researched film or a film that was well researched. Two historians were hired as consultants who would sit behind the camera and look for mistakes. For example, placements of flags and what kind of buttons should be on the uniforms. The film was shot on Reimer Ranch near Dripping Springs, Texas. The Curator of the Alamo, Bruce Winders stated “it’s probably the most accurate portrayal of the Alamo.” The film was set to premiere on Christmas day 2003 however, it was pushed back, making many question the film. Usually when a movie is pushed back it means there is a trouble, although that is not always the case. The film opened in San Antonio on March 27, 2004 and nationwide April 9, 2004. The film received mixed reviews but most were negative. Some called it a “dry history lesson” others an “over achieving made for TV movie and a dolled up history lesson.” So why did the movie fail? Don Graham states it could be because the film clashed with everyone’s collective memory of the siege of the Alamo.
As for future films depicting the story of the Alamo, a new TV mini-series called Texas Rising will premiere on television and some theaters. The series will air on the History Channel and is produced by ITV Studios America and A&E Studios. The release date is set for May 25, 2015. The mini-series will portray the Texas Revolution and the how the Texas Rangers were created. The series will star Bill Paxton, Chad Michael Murray, Ray Liotta, Olivier Martinez and others. How this miniseries will be received and whether it is historically accurate is something we will have to wait for. So what is your favorite Alamo movie? Leave your responses in the comments below. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Graham, Don. 2004. “Mission Statement: The Alamo And The Fallacy of Hisotrical Accuracy in Epic Filmmaking.” In Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, by Gregg Canterll and Elizabeth H. Turner, 242-269. Texas A&M University Press.
San Felipe Flag, modern reproduction
Original date: 1836
This item is a modern reproduction of the San Felipe flag which was carried in the Texas Revolution during Sam Houston’s retreat from Gonzales to San Jacinto. The front of the flag has thirteen stripes representing the stripes on the American flag. The star to the right of the stripes symbolizes Texas and its “spark of liberty.” The flag was carried by Captain Mosely Baker from the town of San Felipe to Gonzales in February 1836 where he and his men met with Sam Houston. From there they marched to San Jacinto where the flag led them into victory, and the end of the war.
The Texas Revolution began on October 1835 with the battle of Gonzales and ended with the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. The Texans gathered up nearly 10,000 soldiers to help fight for independence. Most of these soldiers had little or no military training. The battle of Gonzales was the official start of the war and is said to be “where the first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired.” Before the battle of San Jacinto began, San Antonio de Valero Mission in San Antonio, now commonly referred to as The Alamo, and town of Goliad had been brutally attacked by the Mexican dictator and president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (also known as Santa Anna) and his armies. These attacks led to the fall of the Alamo and left many Texan soldiers dead or wounded.
The conflict at the Alamo started when Santa Anna and his troops arrived in San Antonio on February 23, 1836. At the time, only a couple hundred Texan forces defended the city. Santa Anna was able to easily push the Texans into the old mission called “the Alamo.” Less than 200 hundred men defended the mission against Santa Anna. The siege of the Alamo lasted nearly two weeks, however several letters asking for back up were sent out. The most famous letter written by Commander William Barret Travis was sent the night of February 25th. This is known as the “Victory or Death” letter.
In this letter Travis pleaded for help and stated that Santa Anna demanded surrender. Travis then said “I shall never surrender or retreat… VICTORY OR DEATH.” The commander declared that he would defend the Alamo or die trying. On March 6th Mexican forces took the Alamo and killed all defenders. The bodies of the defenders were ordered to be burned while the bodies of the Mexican troops were to be buried or tossed into the river. Mexican documents counted burning only 182-183 Alamo defenders, but buried close to 600 Mexican soldiers.
The battle at Goliad is not as well-known as the battle of the Alamo however it was just as important. After learning of the defeat at the Alamo, General Sam Houston gave orders to Colonel James W. Fannin to retreat from Goliad. For unknown reasons Fannin delayed in his retreat and was surprised by Mexican General José de Urrea. There Urrea and his men dominated Texas forces at the battle of Coleto (a spot just outside of town) and imprisoned Fannin and his soldiers after they surrendered. The prisoners were sent to the fort in Goliad named “La Bahía” where Urrea wrote to Santa Anna about the surrender. Santa Anna ordered Urrea to leave no survivors, so all the prisoners were executed.
After the battles of the Alamo and Goliad both Texas and Mexican forces marched near San Jacinto River. On April 20, 1936, while Santa Anna and his army rested, Houston and his 900 men attacked. The Texans took advantage of the Mexican Army’s unpreparedness and won the battle. The battle itself lasted only lasted 18 minutes but in the end helped win the war. Houston’s men were able to capture Santa Anna the day after the battle and talk him into coming to an agreement. He agreed to order all Mexican troops to leave Texas immediately. Soon afterwards treaties were signed at the town of Velasco declaring Texas independence from Mexico. [McKayla McCarty, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
“Battle of Medina, 1813”
Date: 20th Century
Materials: paper, watercolor
This painting is an original watercolor entitled “Battle of Medina, 1813” by Texan artist Bruce Marshall. The painting shows Miguel Menchaca leading a Mexican division of Mexican and American soldiers in the Battle of Medina on August 18, 1813 against the Spanish. The painting depicts some of the many groups who fought for Texas. Illustrated in the foreground of the painting is Miguel Menchaca, a former Spanish deserter standing with his saber, a light sword for fencing worn by military soldiers, and wearing his Spanish military uniform. In the background, behind Menchaca stand men in an uneven line representing the different groups fighting at the battle. These people included American frontiersmen, Tejanos, French, Native Americans and former Spanish Royalists. The painting also depicts the battle setting with the men fighting on sandy soil and the line of oak trees surrounding them in the background.
In December 1813 Jose Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, a Mexican revolutionary and diplomat, with an envoy of rebels visited Washington, D.C. with the hopes of gaining American support for their revolution. A revolution Gutierrez de Lara hoped would free Texas from the Mexican government and create a new Texas Nation. Although, Gutierrez de Lara was not given support from the United States he did receive introductory letters to the Governor of Louisiana, William C. C. Claiborne. Before heading to New Orleans, Gutierrez de Lara discussed his plans with Jose Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois, who would become the military commander of the expedition.
In New Orleans Governor Claiborne introduced Gutierrez de Lara to William Shaler, an official agent of the United States, assigned to observe and report to President James Monroe. Shaler became a chief adviser and recruited Lt. Augustus W. Magee to the cause. Soon, Gutierrez was gaining the support of American adventurers, the French and even some Native Americans, all eager to see Texas free. The group became known as the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition and on August 8, 1812 under the “Green Flag” they crossed the Sabine River with 130 men and in four days, the expedition took Nacogdoches. After the victory, more men joined the expedition and Magee as he marched against Santisima Trinidad de Salcedo, a Spanish villa near present-day Madisonville, Texas. The Governor of Texas, Manuel María de Salcedo moved his forces to protect San Antonio but, Magee changed his attack and entered La Bahia, now present-day Goliad. On November 13, the Governor of Texas laid siege to La Bahia with only 200 men and reinforcements on the way, Magee asked for terms for surrendering. Unfortunately, before decisions of surrender were decided Magee died on February 6, 1813, leaving Samuel Kemper in command. Kemper quickly defeated the Governor in two attacks in February of 1813 and the Governor retreated. On March 29, 1813 Kemper defeated a royalist army of 1,200 with about 800 men at the Battle of Rosillo. On April 1 the Governor Salcedo surrendered San Antonio and on April 3, now commander-in-chief, Gutierrez de Lara ordered his execution along with fourteen royalist officers. The act outraged many American fighters who decided to abandon the revolution along with Samuel Kemper.
In efforts to reclaim Texas from the revolutionaries, the Spanish sent General Joaquín de Arredondo to organize troops and recruit loyalists. Marching from Laredo General Arredondo and the revolutionaries, also known as the republican forces met twenty miles south of San Antonio at the Medina River. At el encinal de Medina– meaning “the oak grove in Medina,” the two forces met in one of the bloodiest battles in Texas. General Jose Alvarez de Toledo y Dubois led the Gutierrez-Magee expedition and made camp six miles from Arredondo’s forces, a bad decision. The next morning loyalist scouts separated the army and acting against Toledo’s orders, Menchaca leading his division decided to follow a cavalry unit believing it to be the army. Following the group for hours through deep sand surrounding the rivers Menchaca’s men grew tired, thirsty and hot while Arredondo’s cavalry were leading the republicans into a trap. Arredondo’s forces were preparing themselves on more favorable ground and Arredondo had ordered his men to shoot when the rebels were as close as forty paces. When the republican forces arrived they knew nothing of what awaited them. When Menchaca’s forces broke rank in battle many died. Those that survived were killed while retreating and less than 100 escaped. This decisive and bloody battle of Medina lost the republicans Texas once more.
In the battle, Arredondo only lost fifty-five men, but the bodies of the republican soldiers were left on the battlefield for nine years. Likely as a reminder to other rebels, until the Texas Governor, Jose Felix Trespalacios, ordered their burial near an oak tree on the battlefield. The battle of Medina was considered so disastrous it was largely forgotten and today neither the battlefield nor remains of the soldiers have been found. [Elizabeth Volz, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Learn more at this video about the 2008 Seminar held about the Battle of Medina and about one artist/author who paints about the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition.
Hardin, Stephen L. 1994. Texian iliad: a military history of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hatcher, Mattie Austin. 1908. “Joaquin de Arredondo’s Report of the Battle of the Medina, August 18, 1813. Translation”. The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association. 11 (3): 220-236.
Schwarz, Ted, and Robert H. Thonhoff. Forgotten Battlefield of the First Texas Revolution The Battle of Medina, August 18, 1813. Austin, Tex: Eakin Press, 1985. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=27671>.
Materials: Wood, Metal
This rifle is a percussion rifle which has been in the donor’s family since 1836 when according to family tradition the rifle was given to Jose Antonio Menchaca by Sam Houston sometime after the Battle of San Jacinto. The rifle has been passed down the family until it was donated to the Institute of Texan Culture in 2011. This particular rifle is believed to have been made by John Hunt.
A percussion rifle uses a percussion cap, which allowed a muzzle-loading weapon to fire reliably in any weather compared to the earlier flintlock ignition. Many black powder rifles have been converted from flintlock to percussion cap firing systems in the past. The percussion cap is a small cylinder of copper or brass that contains a small amount of a shock-sensitive explosive material, such as fulminate of mercury, called the “primer.” The percussion cap is placed over a hollow metal “nipple” at the rear end of the gun barrel. Pulling the trigger releases a “hammer” which strikes the percussion cap and ignites the explosive primer. The flame travels through the hollow nipple to ignite the main powder charge. The percussion cap was designed in 1807 by Reverend Alexander John Forsyth to prevent many of the problems that would occur with the flintlock ignition device such as misfire or failure to fire during wet weather.
The following video demonstrates how to load and fire a muzzle-loading rifle with a percussion cap.
The Battle of San Jacinto took place on April 20-21, 1836 and was the final battle for Texas Independence. The commander of the Mexican forces was Santa Anna, Sam Houston commanded the Texas forces. Both forces were trying to reach and gain control of Lynch’s Ferry which crossed the San Jacinto River near the point where it joins with the Buffalo Bayou. Fighting on the 20th forced the Mexican troops to retreat to an area about 200 yards east of the ferry, with marsh and water to their rear and along their right side. On the 21st the Texans were able to quietly advance until they were only a short distance in front of the Mexican forces, who had not posted sentries or lookouts. The battle itself lasted about 20 minutes before the Mexicans started retreating and the Texans began their pursuit. Santa Anna was captured on April 22nd and reluctantly agreed to the terms of the Treaties of Velasco, which promised that all Mexican forces would leave Texas, and seized property would be returned.
Sometime after this battle that Jose Antonio Menchaca was given this percussion rifle by Sam Houston. Sam Houston was the commander of the Texas forces during the Texas fight for Independence. He served as President of the Republic of Texas for two terms until 1846 when Texas joined the United States. Houston then served as a Texas Senator until 1860 and then was Governor of Texas until the outbreak of the Civil War when he was then removed from duties as Governor. He we removed from office for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederate States of America. Houston retired from Politics after this and died at his home in Huntsville, Texas, on July 26, 1863 [Jennifer McPhail, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud].