Most people who've lived in Texas for a while know something about the Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna and won Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. Today, many artifacts of that battle now belong to the Dallas Historical Society, and its museum at State Fair Park. About two dozen items from the collection are in Houston for San Jacinto Day, and historian Alan Olson says they include personal things like Santa Anna's battle standard, his spurs, and even things from the desk in his tent.
"From San Jacinto there is a paper weight that sat on his desk, along with a candle stick. That's where the flag originally came from, outside his tent at San Jacinto. It's a swallow-tail, like a cavalry guidon, and that would have belonged to either lancers or mounted dragoons, mounted infantry."
Olson says they have a petition written by William Barrett Travis to Santa Anna a year before the revolution asking him to release Stephen F. Austin, who was in prison in Mexico City. There are documents from the convention that led to creation of the Republic of Texas.
"A segment of the minutes of the first convention of the Republic, that includes a copy of the Declaration of Independence, with a copy of the signers. It also includes their rules by which they would conduct themselves during those meetings, and the resolutions passed at that convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos."
There's also a love letter and a poem written by Sam Houston at San Jacinto to a lady in Nacogdoches whom he wanted to marry. Pressed into that letter are some leaves from the tree under which Houston lay wounded, where Santa Anna was brought after his capture. The lady wasn't impressed, she married someone else. Olson says private things like these show that giant historical figures like Sam Houston were ordinary humans like everybody else. He also thinks understanding the Texians' fight for independence helps us understand what's going on today.
"The concept of Texas independence was a big idea. It carries over today with the war in Iraq. We wanted to give the folks their independence and freedom. You can better understand that concept sometimes at home by studying your own history."
The Lex Johnston Republic of Texas Collection from the Dallas Historical Society Museum will be on display through May 4th in the lobby of the Sterling Bank Memorial Banking Center just off Gessner at Memorial City. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.