Companion Book to History Channel Mini-series Digs Deep into Texas History

"The Fall of the Alamo" by Robert Jenkins, 1903. Davy Crockett (with upraised rifle) fights off Mexican forces who breached the walls of the mission on March 6, 1836.
"The Fall of the Alamo" by Robert Jenkins, 1903. Davy Crockett (with upraised rifle) fights off Mexican forces who breached the walls of the mission on March 6, 1836.
Courtesy of William Morrow

Texas Rising: The Epic True Story of the Lone Star Republic and the Rise of the Texas Rangers, 1836-1846
By Stephen L. Moore
400 pp.
William Morrow

You may need to call up your old Texas History class teacher from junior high soon for a refresher course. That’s because interest in the story of the little ol’ Lone Star State will soon come to a fever pitch due to the current 10-hour epic miniseries on the History Channel.

This, the official nonfiction companion volume by noted Texas historian and author Moore (himself a descendent of Texas Rangers, military leaders, and legislators), tells the story of the state’s birth in one handy volume. It also brings to life the deeds of the men whose names many pass on signs for downtown Houston streets everyday: Fannin, Milam, Travis, Rusk, and Lamar.

That some of those leaders had all too human frailties (“Father of Texas” William Travis abandoned his wife, son, and unborn child to come to the state; the Cherokee Indians’ nickname for Sam Houston was “Big Drunk”), brings them alive here.

And whether Moore is describing Jim Bowie’s seemingly Wolverine-level ability to recover from battle wounds or Mirabeau B. Lamar’s rise from Texas army private to Secretary of War in a mere three weeks, the story of Texas is of Big Men and Big Deeds (though a few women also make appearances). And that includes many Mexicans who fought for Texas independence, wearing playing cards in their sombreros and hats during battle to distinguish them from the forces of Santa Anna.

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All the Big Events in Texas history are detailed: The “Come and Take It” Battle of Gonzales (“it took only a beating and a little bronze canon to start a revolution”), The storied Battle of San Jacinto, the Goliad Massacre, and the Comanche War that at one point saw 12 Indian chiefs massacred “Game of Thrones” Red Wedding-style in a courthouse.

The book’s best section covers the events leading up to and battle for the Alamo. And though the story has been told countless times in countless mediums – and the ending is no surprise – the details unfold like an action movie. Davy Crockett (who famously told his former Tennessee friends “You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas) emerges as the lead hero, fiddling and fighting for the doomed cause.

It may not have helped that the night before the battle started, many of the Alamo defenders had partied with “corn liquor, tequila, mescal and local women.” And oh, if only the indecisive James Fannin had arrived with some troop reinforcements…

Moore’s writing style is sometimes textbook dry, and there is a lot of page space devoted to troop movements. And the last third of the book about the rise of the Texas Rangers (starting salary: $1.25 a day), exploits of “Devil Jack” Hays, and the folding of the Republic of Texas into the United States is not nearly as engrossing as the earlier portion about independence from Mexico.

Nevertheless, by concentrating on the first decade of the state’s history, Texas Rising is an invaluable resource to telling the tale of a Big State with a Big History. There’s a reason that the History Channel isn’t running a mini-series called Idaho Rising

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