Students in Texas public schools are required to take two courses in Texas history: one in the fourth grade and another in the seventh grade, when kids learn about the great heroes who fought for Texas’s independence from Mexico, the establishment of the Republic of Texas, and Texas as part of the United States. Much of that time is spent studying the causes of war, the major battles, and the legendary men whose names adorn cities, streets, and buildings across the state—Austin, Travis, Bowie, Houston.
But Juan Seguin, another legendary man in Texas history and the only documented Tejano officer in the Texan army, is barely mentioned in seventh grade textbooks. Seguin, who was present at both the Battle of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto and was a key figure in bringing Anglo settlers to what was then known as Tejas, is often overlooked in the study of the state’s history, or is, at best, immersed in controversy, having been branded a sell-out to fellow Mexicans or as a traitor to Texas by some historians.
Despite Seguin’s obscurity to most Texans, he will play an important role in the new film The Alamo, which is scheduled for release in April. The movie’s director, John Lee Hancock, called Seguin a “moral bellwether of the story” in the January 2003 issue of Texas Monthly. According to Hancock, the most interesting thing he learned while researching the revolution was that the men inside the Alamo “all had different ideas of what they were fighting for.” This was certainly true for Seguin, who had served as a prominent figure in San Antonio before the war (as well as during and after), including time as the political chief of the Department of Bejar, a captain of a company of mounted volunteers, Travis’s messenger for reinforcements at the Battle of the Alamo, a participant in the Battle of San Jacinto, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army of the Republic, a three-term Senator from the district of Bexar to the Republic of Texas, and as mayor of San Antonio.
Seguin also helped Stephen F. Austin bring Anglo settlers to Texas. Some members of later-generation Hispanics have labeled Seguin a sell-out for this, claiming that Anglo settlers discriminated against Hispanics and implied that they were inferior. However, considering the political and economic conditions of Mexican controlled Tejas, efforts to bring in settlers were intended to help foster commerce in a region Mexico had largely neglected.
Other critics of Seguin have accused him of being a traitor to Texas. In his personal memoirs, Seguin wrote that he was made to feel “a foreigner in my native land” as a result of his decision to move to Mexico to escape Anglo harassment. His participation in the Woll Expedition, which led to the capture of San Antonio on September 11, 1842, didn’t help matters. The press, including papers such as the Telegraph and Texas Register and the New Orleans-based Crescent City, was especially harsh on Seguin’s participation in the expedition and printed articles that relied heavily on rumors and exaggerated truths.
The controversies surrounding Seguin’s life are sure to persist after The Alamo is released, but hopefully the film, which aims to be the most accurate telling of the story of the Texas War of Independence, will help revive interest in an essential figure of Texas history—Juan Nepomuceno Seguin.