Should We Care

DON CARLETON, the director of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, gestured toward a stack of old paper about two inches thick. The paper was so old it was as soft and supple as a bedsheet. The edges were frayed and each sheet, front and back, was covered with flowery old-fashioned handwriting in brown ink. “In my twenty-five years in the profession,” Carleton said, “this is the most vibrant piece of history I’ve ever seen. Every week there’s a call about it from somebody somewhere. The interest in it doesn’t die down. It just keeps building. And the reason is because of the stuff about Davy Crockett.”

That vibrant pile of old paper, which some claim is a forgery, purports to be the diary of José Enrique de la Peña, a lieutenant colonel with the Mexican army who fought with Santa Anna at the Alamo. In it he wrote that Davy Crockett surrendered to the Mexicans rather than fighting to the death, as legend insists. He describes Crockett as a “naturalist” who had “undertaken to explore the country and who, finding himself in Béjar at the very moment of surprise, had taken refuge in the Alamo, fearing that his status as a foreigner might not be respected.” But these excuses did him no good. After surrendering, de la Peña says, Crockett and a handful of other defenders who had also surrendered were taken to Santa

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