By Gerry Fischer
he cultural heroes we are taught to honor, have been embellished over time and turned into God like images and examples to strive to be, but because the myth is impossible to live up to, no one can be as honest as Old Abe Lincoln, or General George Washington. “I cannot tell a lie, father. I cut down the cherry tree with my little hatchet.” Or how about Abe walking miles in one direction to return a few pennies to a customer. Are they true, who knows? They have become the myth. The myth when repeated long enough becomes truth.
ears ago, I was defending my Master’s Thesis at Spalding University. I had to present before a panel of professors and peers. I am the oldest student and half my professors we’re younger than me. I was teaching History and Social Studies, on an emergency certificate, defending the proposition that I would teach the truth to the children and not perpetuate a myth for them later to be disillusioned when they found the truth.
s far back as our collective minds can reach, even into Biblical times, our heroes like everyone living today, possessed qualities to be admired, but also possessed faults. King David is a prime example. When a lad, he saved the Israelite army with only a rock, a leather sling and the grace of God, slaying the giant Goliath. He later became king however he had a commander of his army slain so he could have his wife to himself. All people possess positive and negative attributes. My job was to convince the panel, by revealing to my students these truths, good and bad, they show our cultural heroes as real people functioning in exceptional times under danger and stress. These cultural heroes performed courageous deeds. They are immortalized and remembered not for their moral failures, but rather for their heroic deeds. My students, by understanding this could deduce how despite their own fears and deficiencies, they too, can achieve greatness through their deeds.
he historic event I chose to demonstrate this was the 1836 War for Texas Independence, and the people I chose were the principle the men involved at the Battle of the Alamo. The revered Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Indian fighter, and scout David Crockett, Col. James Bowie, and finally, Texas Army, Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis. The last three named died defending the Alamo and are recognized American heroes, although no less so than the other 183 unsung, bravely dying there.
began with Santa Anna, who was the President of Mexico. He was highly educated in Europe, spoke four languages, almost singlehandedly wrote the Mexican Constitution and personally led his army into battles. After his capture, he became a society favorite, in Cincinnati, and later Washington. In spite of his courage, education and intelligence, he was a ruthless dictator and pedophile who married 12 or13 year-old girls in places where his army camped, and ordered the priest to annul the wedding the next day when they moved on.
David Crockett was an army scout and soldier during the Creek Indian War. Primarily a hunter provisioning Jackson’s army, he killed 400 bears in one season. As a congressman, he championed the Cherokee Indian’s causes and opposed the “Indian Removal Act.” He died bravely defending the Alamo. He also deserted his wife and children, and when his wife died, he took to drink, married a wealthy widow, squandered her money and again deserted her and his children. As a congressman, he lost his next election and publicly announced, “You can go to hell, I’m going to Texas.”
James Bowie, was a Kentuckian who immigrated to Mississippi and Louisiana. Courageous, he became a wealthy business man, cattle baron, and land owner marrying Santa Anna’s niece. Credited as the inventor of the Bowie Knife, he bravely died at the Alamo. He was also a barroom brawler and knife fighter, who borrowed his brother’s hunting knife and killed a man in a duel. He fenced stolen goods for the Pirate Jeanne Lafitte, was a slave dealer and unscrupulous Real Estate speculator.
illiam Travis, was a notorious womanizer, divorcing and abandoning his wife and children. He kept a graphic diary of all his girlfriends, and was a debtor who skipped out on what he owed. Bowie almost killed him, and would have, but was stopped by Crockett. Travis, a good soldier, was likely the first killed bravely defending the Alamo.