As a member of the 1836 Project Advisory Committee, I’m writing to take issue with an opinion article about our work that Texas Monthly published by Leah LaGrone, an assistant professor at Weber State University who focuses on women in Texas history, and Michael Phillips, a senior research fellow and scholar of race relations at Southern Methodist University.
The authors suggested that I and other members of the 1836 Project Advisory Committee are dulling the senses of Texans “with self-serving fables” and “deceitful propaganda” and are creating a “sanitized and whitewashed history” of Texas. LaGrone and Phillips attacked the messengers, citing the 1776 report commissioned by then-president Donald Trump and writing, “The backgrounds of the committee members of Texas’s 1836 Project . . . indicate it will be similarly flawed.” The authors also focused obsessively on the number of words in the 4,517-word 1836 Project report dedicated to various topics in Texas history.
The authors seemed to dismiss my credibility by noting I’ve been critical of the book Forget the Alamo, but they at least did plug my website www.1836truth.com. Thanks for that! They could’ve mentioned my sponsorship, as a member of the Texas Senate, of legislation to create a Juneteenth monument and a commemorative license plate for the Buffalo Soldiers. They could’ve referenced my selection as Texan of the Year by the nonprofit group Celebrate Texas for my efforts to make Texas history relate to all Texans regardless of ethnicity, or my essential work in producing the documentary film (available on Amazon Prime) Porvenir, Texas, about fifteen innocent Tejanos killed by Texas Rangers in 1918. But those facts didn’t fit their narrative.
They went after others on the committee as well, including published PhD historians, simply for having, in the jaundiced view of the authors, questionable professional backgrounds that didn’t align with their concerns as specialists in race and gender studies.
However, they didn’t limit their disdain to committee members. In attempting to dismiss our recently completed history pamphlet (to be distributed to Texans when they obtain driver’s licenses), they referenced a 1918 state official who belonged to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a 1950s Texas history textbook, and a former chair of the State Board of Education whose reappointment as chair was rejected by the Texas Senate in 2009 because he didn’t believe in evolution or the separation of church and state. That they failed to mention that fact suggests to me that they consider many Texas leaders, past and present, to be rubes.
LaGrone and Phillips presented a long list of topics, from the horrors of slavery to the triumphs of the civil rights movement, that they wished we had covered more extensively in our pamphlet. But they failed to cite any specific “self-serving fable” that we were guilty of promoting. Considering possible 1836 “fables” that might have been in the authors’ minds, the first topic that comes to mind is the Alamo. Problem is, there’s only one 32-word sentence out of 4,517 words in the entire committee report on the Alamo. So, were they referring to a “fable” about the battle of San Jacinto? Nope. There was only one sentence on that battle too.
Maybe we dwelled too much on Bowie, Crockett, and Travis? Probably not, because their names were each mentioned just once, and in the same sentence with the Alamo. Stephen F. Austin was mentioned once. On the other hand, Santa Anna was mentioned five times. Others mentioned were Cabeza de Vaca, Francisco Ruiz, Lorenzo de Zavala, Father Miguel Hidalgo, Oveta Culp Hobby, Dorie Miller, and Barbara Jordan, to name a few.
Also left out of the critique was any mention of a specific factual error. I suspect that was because there were no such errors.
LaGrone and Phillips were displeased that we spent too many words on the Texas Revolution. I see nothing abhorrent with allocating 601 of 4,517 words to the 1836 Texas Revolution by a committee described as the 1836 Project, but that’s just me.
I suspect the problem of these two academics is similar to that of the QAnon cultists—they only hang with those who think just as they do. They’re dismissive of conflicting historical facts and those who espouse those facts. They’re inclined to attack the messenger instead of the message.
The 1836 Project Advisory Committee held multiple public hearings. We invited the authors of Forget the Alamo to testify, but we received no response. All Texans were welcome to testify before the committee, a fact well known to Texas historians, including, I would imagine, LaGrone and Phillips, given their areas of interest. It’s unfortunate they chose to complain after the fact rather than speak up at a time when they could have influenced the final product.
Jerry Patterson is a former Texas land commissioner and former state senator. His opinions are his own and don’t necessarily reflect those of other members of the 1836 Project Advisory Committee.