President David G. Burnet does not, I think, get the respect he deserves. He’s usually not even listed as Texas’ first President, just because he was appointed by the Legislature soon after declaring independence. He went ahead and called for elections in the Summer of 1836, as soon as he deemed the situation to be safe.
I think Burnet gets unfair treatment by the textbooks. I recall one book that mentions he was trying to escape to Galveston Island before the Mexican cavalry showed up, only to hide from them in a canoe full of fleeing women and children. Further investigation reveals that he deliberately stayed until the last boat while helping others escape, and that he then stood in front of the people in his boat to block any Mexican bullets with his body.
My respect for President Burnet also went up quite a bit when I read his reply to Santa Anna’s complaint letter (see yesterday’s post). This is also from the Telegraph and Texas Register’s October 4, 1836 edition:
I have just a few observations about the letter:
- This letter is a master class in how to kill someone with kindness. He seemingly takes all of Santa Anna’s complaints seriously and politely, and then tells him exactly how pathetic the former dictator is. I particularly love the line where he says, “Your excellency has acquired too great a celebrity in Texas, not to be an object of curiosity with the multitude.” That certainly would explain the angry mob that was howling for his blood.
- This is only a few months after the Texas Revolution ended, and I’m sure that nobody in Texas was really thinking about how their whole situation would be remembered by future generations of Texans. Burnet is quite terse in reminding Santa Anna about the deaths at the Goliad massacre and the destruction of the walls of the Alamo…but he barely gives even a mention about the deaths that occurred there. Burnet would have been shocked at how big the Myth of the Alamo would become in the collective memory of Texans.
- I’m going to steal Burnet’s polite insult about General Woll, whose “good discretion has not been conspicuously manifested during his stay amongst us.” It will now become my default disciplinary statement to parents about how their children have been annoying my classroom.
I could go on, but most of the letter speaks quite well for itself. Burnet was a better guy than historians admit. But still, everyone remembers that Sam Houston was the first President of Texas. **sigh**