The Alamo Story: From Fact to Fable Author(s): Perry McWilliams Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep. - Dec., 1978), pp. 221-233 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3813977 . Accessed: 09/01/2012 21:51 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com.
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THE ALAMO STORY: FROM FACT TO FABLE
PerryMcWilliams The studyof mythsand legends,whichonce was the legitimate concernof only a few disciplines, becomeincreasingly has interesting to scholarsfrom a varietyof traditions who bring correspondingly diverseobjectives, conceptions, and methodologies bear upon a to common subjectmatter.For example,both the historianand the folklorist concernedwith folk historyas it is expressedthrough are culturalnarrative, that peculiarmediumin whichthe two logically distinctcategoriesof fictionand historical truth are blendedinto a cumulative accountof a culture's past.Sucha narrative, whetherexpressed through tradition written oral or account, oftentransforms the oralevidenceof eyewitness observers ElCtitiOUS into explanations and blendsthesewiththefactual, precise records professional of historians. Although boththe historian the folklorist concerned and are with the relationship betweenhistorical and oraltradition, fact theydiffer considerably the natureof theirconcerns. historian in The attempts to constructan accurateaccountof the past by separatingfact from fiction,whetherthe sourcebe oral or written.But sincewrittenaccountstraditionally beenconsidered be morefactual have to thanoral accounts, historians havetendedto givelesscredence thelatterthan to to the former.The folklorist, the otherhand,is concerned on withthe process enfablement which of in written oraltradition blended and are intoa narrative account the past,whether account factual of that be or not. He is likely,therefore, distinguish to betweenfactandElction only to determine howand whenthisprocess occurs.A concernsharedby the twodisciplines the distinction is betweenfactand fiction,albeitfor different purposes: the historian to establish accuracy,and the folklorist understand processof enfablement.1 to the An exampleof the waythisprocess occursis foundin accounts of the legendarybattleof the Alamo.The event has been recordedby historians attempting construct factualaccountof the pastwhich to a 221
wouldbe devoid of fiction and fantasy.Yet, because the culture'spride and sense of identity Elndready roots in accounts of its origins, and even the historiansthemselveshaveoften been productsof this because culture,what was once perhaps substantiatedfact has become molded into a narrative which often rivals the most incredible of fUlctitious tantasles.
Accounts recorded in the historicaltradition have been disseminated through the media of scholarly publications and particularly through textbook accounts as a compulsory part of the state's public educationcurriculumfor more than a century. The folk traditionhas been developed and perpetuated through virtuallyevery conceivable form of communication,from balladsand folktalesto television serials and movies. Each tradition has influenced the other to such an extent that, in the minds of most Texans, there is little doubt that the events occurred exactly as they are presented through the media. The legend tells...
Cited: in WalterLord, "Myths and Realitiesof the Alamo,"in Stephen B. Oates, ed., TheRepublic Texas(PaloAlto, of Cal.:AmericanWest Publishers,1968), p. 23. 8 Lord,"Myths Realities the Alamo," 22. Also reportedin WalterLord,ATime and of p. ToStand(New York:Harperand Row Publishers,1961), p. 147. Originallyreportedin "Adjutant General 'sLettersConcerningthe Alamo, 1875-78"(Austin:Texas State Archives). 9 Substantiatingaccounts are to be found in J. M. Morphis,Historyof Texas,pp. 174-175;and Lord, "Mythsand Realitiesof the Alamo,"pp. 22-23. Lord,A TimeTo Stand,p. 201. 11 E.g., J. M. Morphis,Hzstory Texas,p. 177. of 12 See "W.P. Zuber 'sLetter to CharlieJeffries,"in In theShadow History, 42. of p. 13 As in E. G. Rohrbough,"Howlim BowieDied," In theShadowofHistory, 50-51; in pp. M.O. Frost, "Bowieand His Big Knife,"Adventure Magazine25 (June 1935): 8-9; and Lord, Timeto Stand,p. 165. A 14 John Sutherland,TheFallof theAlamo (SanAntonio:The NaylorCompany,1936).
THE ALAMO STORY
of Heroine theAlamo(Houston:The Rein Candelaria4Jnsung 15 MauriceElfer,Madam Company, 1933), pp. 16-17. ine 'dito 1836 porun oficialdeSanta de manuscrito La de 16 J. SanchezGarza, rebeliotn Texas; Anna (Mexico:A. Frankde Sanchez, 1955), pp. 68-69. and Realitiesof the Alamo,"p. 24. For the most thorough 17 Quoted in Lord, "Myths researchon the topic, see Amelia Williams,"ACriticalStudy of the Siege of the Alamo 36 Quarterly (April Historical and of the Personnel of its Defenders, I," Southwestern 1933):251-287; and "ACriticalStudyof the Siege of the Alamoand of the Personnelof 37 Quurterly (July 1933): 1-44. Historical its Defenders, II," Southwestern 18 See Lord,A TimeTo Stand,p. 207. of p. l9 See "W.P. Zuber 'sLetterto CharlieJeffries,"in In TheShadow History, 45. Also Lord,A Timeto Stand,p. 207. Revolution (1836) bythe Side 20 Antonio Lopez de SantaAnna, TheMexican of theTexas Caro,. . . Martinez D. Lopez Santa-Anna, Ramon de Gen. Participants, Antonio Chief Mexican Fillsola,Gen.Jose Urrea,Gen.JoseMartaTornel,trans. Carlos E. Castaneda Gen.Vicente (Dallas:P. L. Turner, 1956), pp. 103-104. 21 Thomas LawrenceConnelly, "Did David Crocket Surrender at the Alamo?: A 26 History (August 1960): 373. Journalof Southern ContemporaryLetter,"The Days of 22 Forsubstantiation these and other imputedmotives,see Lon Tinkle,Thirteen Book Company,Inc., 1958), pp.75-84,94-100, and to Glory (New York: McGraw-Hill and Goliad, SanJacinto,pp.3-6; and Frank 123-133;JackC. Butterfield,Menof theAlamo, (New York:Harperand Row, 1961),pp. l 13-118. X. Tolbert,AnInformalHistory ofTexas 23 Lord, "Mythsand Realitiesof the Alamo,"p. 25. 24 See Bruce Rosenberg, "Custer:The Legend of the MartyredHero in America," and 9 Institute ( 1972): 114-115. See also Rosenberg,Custer theEpicof Journalof theFolklore Defeat(UniversityPark, Penn.: Penn State UniversityPress, 1974), pp.211-213. 25 See Stith Thompson and Jonas Balys, The Oral Talesof India, Indiana University No. Folklore Series, 10 (Bloomington:IndianaUniversityPress, 1958), p. 20, Publications, Fromthe and Ella E. Clark,IndianLegends Motif A1021 "Deluge:escape in boat (ark)"; Rockies (Norman: Universityof OklahomaPress, 1966), pp. 67-68. Northern Tales(New York:Barnes 26 Tom Peete Crossand ClarkHarrisSlover,eds.,AncientIrish and Noble Inc., 1936), p. 8; and Bruce Rosenberg, Custerand the Epic of Defeat, p. 242. and 27 See Rosenberg,Custer theEpicoJDefeat,pp. 2-3. Daysto Clory,pp. 1-l0. 28 Tinkle, Thirteen 29 The legendarydisputeof authoritybetweenTravisand Bowieis wellknownto those familiar with the legend. It is generally accepted that Bowie 's concession to Travis ' command was due to Bowie 'sdebilitatingillness and injury. Tales,p. 8; Thompsonand Balys,p. 30 In this regard,see Crossand Slover,AncientIrish of WilliamBascom,TheYoruba 175 (MotifF142 "Riverof fire as barrierto otherworld"); Nigeria(New York:Holt, Rinehart,and Winston, 1969), p. 75;J. A. B. van Southwestern India(Chicago:Universityof ChicagoPress, 1959), pp. Buitenen, trans.,Talesof Ancient India and Storiesfrom (New York: 214-216;SudhindraNath Ghose,comp.,FolkTales Fairy Thomas Yoseloff, 1964), pp. 26-27. trans. Pat Shaw Iversen (Chicago: of Folktales Norway, 31 See ReidarTh. Christiansen, University of Chicago Press, 1964), p. 8; and John Cuthbert Lawson,ModernGreek Relig7on (New York: UniversityBooks, 1964), pp. 107-108. and Greek Folklore Ancient 32 Luke22:28 attributesto Christthe following:". . . I appointunto you a kingdom,as ...." in at may my fatherhath appointedunto me; thatye eataruldrink mytable mykingdom is And in Mark 14:23 Christsays:"Thisis my blood of the new testamentwhich shedfor many" (emphasisadded). KingJames translation,TheHolyBible(London:Oxford University Press, 1962). (Paris:Bernard Grosset, 1972), pp. 1-25. et 33 Rene Girard,La Violence le Sacre '
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