"To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?":
The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of José Enrique de la Peña
Few documents from the American past have had as fascinating, mysterious, and controversial a history as the 680-page memoir written by Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, a Mexican army officer who in 1836 served under the command of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna in Texas. Peña's Narrative gives a vivid eyewitness account of the Mexican army's campaign to suppress the Texas Revolution. In his detailed description of the final assault on the Alamo, Peña claimed that American frontier folk hero David Crockett was captured and executed. When this claim first appeared in English translation in 1975, it sparked a major controversy. Defenders of the view that Crockett died while fighting challenged Peña's Narrative and his credibility. Some even claimed that the manuscript was a forgery.
In the early 1970s, San Antonio businessman John Peace acquired the Peña manuscript in Mexico, then housed it on loan at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In 1998, members of the Peace family withdrew the manuscript with the intention to sell it. Texas businessmen Thomas Hicks and Charles Tate purchased the manuscript in a highly publicized auction in California, then donated it to the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin in December, 1998. The Peña Narrative and related documents regarding the Mexican army campaign in Texas are now housed permanently in the Center's archives, where they join the largest collection in existence on the history of the Texas Revolution.
The continuing controversy about the origins and accuracy of the Peña manuscript convinced the Center for American History of the need to bring these documents and the issues surrounding them to the public eye. With the support of the Associates of Winedale, a non-profit organization in Round Top, Texas, which received funding from the Summerlee Foundation, the Center sponsored the conference "Eyewitness to the Texas Revolution: José Enrique de la Peña and His Narrative." That conference also opened the Center's exhibition, “To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?”: The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of José Enrique de la Peña, on view April 29 through October 14, 2000.
The Peña Narrative was the focus of the “Eyewitness to the Texas Revolution” conference and forms the centerpiece of the related exhibition and this descriptive catalog. Quotations from the Peña Narrative were drawn from the Carmen Perry translation of the Narrative as published in José Enrique de la Peña, With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution (Texas A & M University Press, 1975, 1997). The Peña quotations used in the exhibition and in this catalog provide a unified perspective on the events and personalities involved in the turbulent history of Texas in the 1820s and 1830s.
In addition to the Peña Narrative, the exhibition showcases examples from the Center's extensive research collections documenting the period from the beginnings of the Stephen F. Austin Colony in the 1820s through the Texas Revolution, including the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto in 1836 and its aftermath. Among the historical treasures featured in the exhibition are an 1849 daguerreotype of the mission church of the Alamo, which is the earliest datable photograph made in Texas; a drawing of the Mexican battle plan at the Alamo; the first printing of the Texas Declaration of Independence; Santa Anna's written order to retreat from Texas; and the Treaty of Velasco. Other rare and unique documents, pamphlets, drawings, and maps dealing with the period of the Texas Revolution are also on display. Unless otherwise noted, all materials exhibited and described in this catalog are part of the Center for American History's research collections. The Center gratefully acknowledges the loan of additional materials from the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, both at The University of Texas at Austin.
|Don E. Carleton
Briscoe Center for American History