Texas to Illinois: We want wooden leg of Alamo villain
The San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum launched a petition on the White House website, hoping to lure an important artifact to Texas. It suggested the wooden and cork leg used by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna should join other historical items in a Texas museum.
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN, Texas — The petition to wrest Santa Anna’s leg from Illinois and bring it to Texas was flat-footed from the start.
But Texas museum officials believe their heart was in the right place, even if that prosthetic leg is not.
Last month, the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum launched a petition on the White House website, hoping to get 100,000 signatures to lure an important artifact to Texas. It suggested the wooden and cork leg used by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — the villain of the Alamo, Goliad and a figure deeply embedded in Texas lore — should join other historical items in a Texas museum.
The leg, curiously enough, is in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. And officials there are in no mood to give it up.
“We know Santa Anna is a big deal in Texas history,” said museum curator Bill Lear. “But it’s here. It’s going to stay here. You don’t trade artifacts.”
Given that attitude, San Jacinto museum officials thought a petition might do something to kick it loose.
“We tried to get the White House to diplomatically tiptoe between the interests of the states,” said San Jacinto museum president Larry Spasic.
The museum created the petition in hopes it would draw people to its new website, not realizing they only had 30 days to collect the signatures needed to earn a White House response. The website began just before the clock ran out, and the unpublicized petition fell well short of the White House threshold.
Still, it was a lighthearted longshot, Spasic offered gamely.
“I cannot imagine a president from Illinois seriously trying to remove a piece of Illinois history and send it to Texas,” he said this week.
While Texas has coveted the piece for years, the state has no real claim to it.
Santa Anna had both his original legs when he led Mexican forces against the rebellious Texans. He eventually lost the war and territory in the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto.
Two years later, back in Veracruz, Mexico, Santa Anna was fighting invading French forces when cannon fire shattered his ankle, forcing the amputation of his leg. He took the lost leg and had it buried with full military honors.
Later, during the U.S. war with Mexico, the Mexican general had to beat a hasty retreat on a donkey during the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847, Lear said. A contingent of Illinois infantrymen overtook his position, finding Santa Anna’s carriage with a sack of gold and the prosthesis.
They kept the leg. The veteran who owned it even sold peeks at the leg during the 1850s and 1860s for 10-cents a pop, before his family donated it to the state.
“The leg is a big draw for our museum,” Lear said. “It’s a centerpiece.”
He also mentioned that almost a decade ago there were some rumblings of Texas obtaining Santa Anna’s leg and trading it to Mexico in exchange for a flag that flew over the Alamo, now displayed in a Mexico City museum.
There was a wariness in his voice.
“It doesn’t go on loan to anyone because it’s a main exhibit for us,” Lear said.
Spasic said Texas feels the leg should be loaned to the San Jacinto museum because it is part of the deeply shared history with Mexico and its leader.
“It’s all interrelated,” he said. “The history of Mexico and Texas is all one and the same, to a great extent. Does that give us a great latitude of claiming a large part of Mexico’s history as our own? Yes, I say.”