Experts gather at UT Austin to examine controversial Alamo memoir

AUSTIN, Texas—Did Davy Crockett fight heroically to the death at the Alamo or did he survive only to be executed after the battle? Scholars from across the country will gather at The University of Texas at Austin April 29 to examine this question and others stemming from the controversial Peña memoir.

The 680-page document was given to UT Austin's Center for American History in 1998 by Charles W. Tate of Houston and Thomas O. Hicks of Dallas. The two men had anonymously purchased it at a Los Angeles auction for $387,500. The memoir was written by Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, a Mexican army officer who in 1836 served under the command of Gen. Santa Anna.

The conference, titled "Eyewitness to the Texas Revolution: José Enrique de la Peña and his Narrative," is open to the public and begins at 9 a.m. in the LBJ Auditorium. Pre-registration until April 14 is $10 and on-site registration is $15. The event is presented by the Center for American History with support from the Associates of Winedale and the Summerlee Foundation.

Peña's claims that Crockett was captured and executed soon after the fighting at the Alamo ended, have sparked controversy since the memoir was first translated into English in 1975. Defenders of the view that Crockett died while fighting challenged Peña's narrative and his credibility. Some even claimed that the manuscript was a forgery.

"The center's acquisition of the Peña manuscript and the controversies surrounding the document have attracted international attention," said Dr. Don Carleton, director of the center. "Because of this widespread interest, we are bringing together experts to examine and discuss the various issues related to the memoirs."

A highlight of the conference is the premiere of the video documentary film on the history of the Alamo memoir prepared by Brian Huberman of the Rice University Media Center. He has worked for nearly a decade on his film, Davy Crockett and the Peña Diary, interviewing many of the principals involved in the debate over the document's authenticity and content.

The conference also features a luncheon at which the noted essayist and screenwriter Stephen M. Harrigan will discuss his new novel, The Gates of the Alamo. A box lunch is available for $8.

The Peña memoir as history will be discussed by North Carolina State University historian James E. Crisp, who has written on the subject. Other participants include Richard R. Flores, a UT Austin professor of anthropology and Mexican American studies, who is completing a book titled Remembering the Alamo: Memory, Modernity and the Master Symbol; and David B. Gracy II, professor of library and information science at UT Austin. Gracy, a nationally known authority on archival enterprise, teaches a class on forged historical and literary documents.

Also participating is Dora Elizondo Guerra, a freelance consultant specializing in interpreting and translating 18th and 19th century Spanish manuscripts, and Edward T. Linenthal, a professor of religion and American culture at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. Linenthal is the author of Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields. Thomas H. Kreneck, head of special collections and archives at Texas A&M, Corpus Christi, and author of the forthcoming book, Felix Tijerina: Houston Entrepreneur and Twentieth Century Mexican-American Leader, also will participate.

A reception at the Center for American History, Sid Richardson Hall Unit 2, will follow the conference at 5:15 p.m. The center's exhibition, "To Whom Was This Sacrifice Useful?: The Texas Revolution and the Narrative of Jose Enrique de la Peña," will open at this time. The exhibit features Peña's original manuscript as well as other documents and drawings from the center's collections on the Alamo and the Texas Revolution.

For more information about the conference, call (512) 495-4515.