Texans stand second to none in their (often vocal) appreciation for their home state, but if it weren’t for Tennesseans, they’d be bragging in Spanish.
OK, I might be guilty of a little Texas-style exaggeration there. But still …
Curiosity took us to San Antonio a few weeks ago. The city offers much by way of diversion. My much-abbreviated list of recommendations would include its famed Riverwalk, a nondescript but charming little roadhouse café by the name of Josephine Street and the Triple-A baseball team, which has Henry the Puffy Taco for a mascot.
But I’d argue the biggest attraction in the city – if not the entire state – is the San Antonio de Valero Mission.
Founded in 1718, it’s more popularly known by its later name as a fort: the Alamo.
“There is no doubt that the Alamo is considered holy ground to Texans,” my Texan friend John Forsyth says, “and it’s pretty much where it all got started, at least in the modern mindset.”
It’s also where I’ll start with that debt-to-Tennesseans argument.
We all know the Alamo basics: Good guy defenders come under attack by much larger Mexican force under bad-guy commander, Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna. Good guys all killed.
Of the 189 identified at Alamo.org as having died in the defense, 32 had been born in Tennessee, more than double the number of the next highest state, Pennsylvania.
One of them was David Crockett, aka Davy, who, before volunteering for the defense, had been engaged in more famous exploits back home and in Washington.
Visitors to the San Fernando Cathedral can see a crypt that purports to hold his remains, along with those of the rest of the Alamo Holy Trinity: the co-commanders, Col. William B. Travis and Jim Bowie, another fellow of some pre-Alamo note.
Does it really? Unlikely. But myth looms large in the Alamo story.
Start looking into it all, as I did, and you’ll learn that much of the received knowledge is a tangled mix of hearsay, lore and legend. Crockett’s death, for instance. He is variously reported as having died in the battle, or been taken alive and then executed.
The 2004 movie version of the tale espouses the latter theory, with a kneeling Crockett – portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton – contemptuously offering surrender terms to Santa Anna before being enthusiastically bayonetted by several Mexican soldiers.
The movie also has Crockett, on the night before the final attack, grabbing a fiddle, mounting an Alamo parapet, and defiantly playing a tune for the nearby Mexican soldiers and their imperious commander.
Historians cock eyebrows at that sort of thing.
What isn’t disputed is that, about six weeks after the attack, another Texas force engaged Santa Anna’s men at San Jacinto and, to cries of “Remember the Alamo!” put a decisive (pardon my French) whup ass on them that took all of 18 minutes.
That force was led by Sam Houston, who became the first president of the Republic of Texas and, later, governor of the State of Texas. And who was, of course, a former governor of and congressman for Tennessee.
See what I mean about that debt?
Previous travels had taken me elsewhere in the state, but the whole Alamo experience persuaded me that if you haven’t been to San Antonio, you haven’t really been to Texas.
I ran that thought by my Texan friend, John. He wouldn’t go that far, mentioning Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and “to some extent” El Paso as also worthy.
“Or even some of the smaller places, like Nacogdoches (oldest town in the state), Corpus Christi or the Rio Grande Valley,” he went on. He did concede this: “It’s certainly fair to say San Antone (that’s how we say it!) is a special place without which Texas as we know it wouldn’t exist.”
As, I suggest, is Tennessee.
Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at email@example.com.