This time of year I often think about Juan Seguin and Sam Houston, the moral bellwethers of the Texas Revolution. Where Houston found a measure of redemption in the revolt against Mexico, Seguin ended up sowing the seeds of his own undoing. We often simplify the revolution as a bunch of intrepid gringo settlers defying the whims of a capricious Mexican dictator. The Alamo falls, San Jacinto happens and boom-Texas!
The reality is more complex and interesting. Santa Ana had left Mexico in turmoil. His habit of taking power, abandoning it and taking power again had created a civil and economic crisis. Mexican citizens wondered how best to save their country and bring lasting democracy. It was a time that calls to mind the heady days of the American Revolution. Texas was just one hotbed of fervor. Also the one with the most Americans wanting something closer to what they had back home.
More than anything else I’ve read on the subject Jack Jackson’s Los Tejanos best captures not only the revolutionary idealism, but the grinding reality and eventual compromise that left Seguin without a country and made Houston a hero. The art is amazing and the research is thorough. It doesn’t pull any punches but it doesn’t really cast any stones. Instead, it paints the two men as the canaries in the cage of Texas’ ideals. Houston, is shown as a pugnacious but pragmatic gringo is able to lead the new republic while Seguin has his hopes and ideals dashed one by one against the tide of history and Manifest Destiny. Both men ultimately see their work destroyed when Texas enters the U.S.
If your knowledge of the Texas history begins and ends with the Alamo, do yourself a favor and pick Los Tejanos. You owe it to yourself to see the bigger picture and to remember Juan Seguin.