Bogus history: Engraved in stone


Quotes from patriots engraved on the walls greet visitors to the Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Unfortunately, in one case the engraved quote is now known to be bogus, a piece of fiction originally created for a children’s book.

Kent Biffle’s weekly article on Texas History in the Dallas Morning News reports the story:

Scholarly sleuth James E. Crisp will formally reveal to historians this week a jarring error literally carved in stone at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

In the sweeping lobby of the 6-year-old museum, a few steps from the state Capitol, visitors read on the wall stirring words of Tejano hero José Antonio Navarro:

“I will never forsake Texas and her cause. I am her son.”

The quote is a permanent feature of the museum – or was. Dr. Crisp says Señor Navarro (1795-1871) didn’t utter those words. But he will tell us who did.

Dr. Crisp reports his findings at the 2008 convention of the Texas State Historical Association, in Corpus Christi.


Kent Biffle: Truth revealed about Texas State History Museum’s writing on the wall

08:12 AM CST on Sunday, March 2, 2008

Scholarly sleuth James E. Crisp will formally reveal to historians this week a jarring error literally carved in stone at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.

In the sweeping lobby of the 6-year-old museum, a few steps from the state Capitol, visitors read on the wall stirring words of Tejano hero José Antonio Navarro:

“I will never forsake Texas and her cause. I am her son.”

The quote is a permanent feature of the museum – or was. Dr. Crisp says Señor Navarro (1795-1871) didn’t utter those words. But he will tell us who did.

Navarro, of San Antonio, signed the 1836 Texas Declaration of Independence (adopted 172 years ago today) and, holding a series of elective posts, became perhaps the most influential Tejano of the 19th century. On a foray to Santa Fe by Texas expansionists in 1841, he fell into the hands of Mexican President Santa Anna. He was clapped in chains and sentenced to life in prison. After three years, he escaped.

Dr. Crisp will cite the Navarro misquote and other examples of what he calls “historical ventriloquism” at meetings in Corpus Christi this week of the Texas State Historical Association and the Nueces County Historical Society.

“What Navarro actually told [Santa Anna] in pleading for his freedom was that he was a man ‘forever Mexican,’ who wished to God that the [Texas] revolution had not forced him and his fellow Tejanos to make such a wrenching choice between nations.”

Dr. Crisp said Navarro only reluctantly signed the Declaration of Independence, fearing the consequences for Tejanos. And he had misgivings about the 1841 Santa Fe expedition, which he joined at the urging of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar. Navarro was truly a Texas patriot, but a human one, not a cardboard hero.

Tracking the phony Navarro quote, Dr. Crisp traced it to 11-term state lawmaker Daniel James Kubiak (1938-98) of Rockdale in Milam County. Dr. Crisp referred to Mr. Kubiak as “a small-town high-school math teacher and football coach” who created the quote in Ten Tall Texans , a book for young readers.

The book helped win its author the title “Texas Teacher of the Year” in 1967. The volume is, Dr. Crisp said, “utterly without scholarly merit or reliability. Dan flew without footnotes. When he needed a quote, he simply made one up.”

From Ten Tall Texans, Joseph M. Dawson (1879-1973), Baylor professor of religion, injudiciously plucked the counterfeit quote for use in his 1969 biography, José Antonio Navarro: Co-Creator of Texas. From nonagenarian Dawson’s book, a person described by Dr. Crisp as “now unknown” submitted the bogus quote to planners of the state history museum. In the rush to open the showplace, museum officials failed to document the words.

Dr. Crisp credited former museum director Lynn Denton with aiding his research.

Dr. Crisp, of North Carolina State University, is famous for unraveling historical riddles, notably in his popular 2005 book, Sleuthing the Alamo. Born a Texan in Clay County, he’s a Rice and Yale grad.

He finds a recurring flaw in Texas chronicles: a tendency to ignore the realities of the Tejanos’ struggle for survival in the 1800s, a struggle that sometimes forced patriotism to yield to pragmatism. Anglo hostility and land grabs caused suffering among many Tejanos. Now, historians seem to be compensating or overcompensating for past sins.

“Today, one-dimensional Tejano ‘heroes’ are paraded in celebrations and popular histories, erasing the harsh realities visited upon most Tejanos under the flag of the Texas Republic,” Dr. Crisp said. “We need to take the lives of Tejanos serious and to take them whole – along with those of other peoples excluded from the dominant narrative of Texas history.”

kbiffle@sbcglobal.net

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