I am looking forward to watching “Texas Rising” tonight at 8pm Central on the HISTORY Channel. I keep hearing that the Texan in me is going to love it, but the historian in me is going to hate it. I guess that is how Texas history goes.
There is great reward in being a historian, if it is done correctly. The job of a historian is to be a detective. Primary documents are rarely nice and neat like we would like for them to be. The actors of history had biases, agendas, foggy memories, and inaccurate information. On top of that, they liked to be admired by their peers, so they often lied. A historian has to look at all of these sources and develop conclusions on what actually happened. Once we figure out what happened, we try to make conclusions about why it happened, how that event fits into the greater narrative of history, how that event affected other events, what the motivations of the actors involved were, what lessons can be learned from the event, and how we got to where we are today. There is great reward to the historian who does the hard work, asks the tough questions, assumes nothing, and develops conclusions based on the evidence.
Unfortunately, that is not how it usually works with Texas history. Before the Texas Revolution was even over, myths began to be made and stories got grossly exaggerated. These legends were passed down through the generations, retold and retold to the point that even when historians found facts contrary to the myths, the general public accepted the myths. This created a form of ancestor worship that has little to do with the actual facts of history.
This ancestor worship not only causes us to miss many of the lessons of history, but it also causes us to look at Texas history through rosy glasses that blind us of many horrible events. We focus so hard on the perceived goodness of early Texans, that we miss out on the bad things, questionable things, or just flat out human things that they did. In our minds, they are not humans, but superhuman characters almost out of fiction.
All that said, there is nothing wrong with sitting back and enjoying the myth. It is an entertaining, epoch story. We just have to remember that history is much more messy, that good and evil are never quite so clear, and that the true characters of history were just as human, frail, and fragile as we are.
20 minutes until the show begins!