Historical Inaccuracy in the Preview of “Texas Rising”

When the History Channel comes out with a preview of their next production, I no longer get excited. Instead, I cringe. When I heard that they would be releasing a Texas and Alamo themed mini-series this May, my heart almost stopped, because of the soft spot I have for the Alamo story and how I knew it would be butchered by this studio. Boasting a cast consisting of Bill Paxton, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Rob Morrow, and Kris Kristofferson, and directed by Roland Joffe, Texas Rising does not look as bad as I expected, but much worse. The series will cover the Texas Revolution and the formation and early years of the Texas Rangers. The Alamo siege and battle appears to only be slightly larger than a footnote, merely setting up the story, which is fine. However, in just a few fleeting glimpses of such scenes in the film, I am already mightily concerned about the historical accuracy of this production. After all, this was the network that gave us a documentary on Gettysburg and still managed to get things wrong, and in some cases, blatantly fabricate or exaggerate certain information. Now, we get to a project that contains creative license, and oh my, might as well come to expect a flying saucer to land in the Alamo’s courtyard.

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Right off the bat we are met with a shot of the Alamo church and part of the adjoining long barracks. While it is hard to tell due to the quality of their website’s video player and the smoke floating across the scene, it appears that the actual Alamo itself is wrong. Are there remnants of a hump at the top of the chapel? The same hump that was not added until decades after the battle? I don’t have any more complaints about the church, even though the door looks too big, but the long barracks at the left are completely, unequivocally, wrong. The arches and steps never existed, nor would wooden scaffolding on the roof of those same barracks (unless that was part of set construction and production ran out of money and thought the beams would add charm…). Considering the base of the barracks still exist today, such a mistake is inexcusable. For an accurate rendering of what the Alamo compound would have looked like, see John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960), which is the most accurate set built to date in regards to spacing. The John Lee Hancock film of the same name (2004)  is a little more realistic in look, however the barracks were placed evenly with the church. In real life, the church was set back around a hundred feet. To the right of the church, I also see no palisade—the makeshift row of wooden stakes added to fill in the gap between the church and main gate house.

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As for something even more perplexing, above is a picture of the flag that the production chose to have flying over the Alamo. To get a set wrong can be understood in terms of budgetary restraints and whatnot, but for a piece of cloth to be wrong, when volumes of books on Texas history have been written, detailing what may or may not have flown over the Alamo, is another one of those unforgivable mistakes. Not only did this flag not fly at the Alamo, but it was created out of thin air. In all likelihood, a Mexican flag with “1824” in the white center would have flown, a reference to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 which granted land rights to settlers coming to Texas. Other flags from the era include the “Come and Take It” flag which was created as a response to the Mexican Army attempting to seize a cannon in Gonzales, Texas earlier in the revolution. A mistaken use of this flag could at least have been understood for dramatic reasons, as could the use of the modern Texas flag to give audiences a point of reference. But no, we have this one that never existed. All I can ask is, why?

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As for other items I noticed, we have several dramatic readings of the famous “Victory or Death” letter written by Alamo commander William Barrett Travis, which was a plea for help to tell people that his men were surrounded and they would do the best they could to hold out. The preview shows about ten different people reading the letter, all at different times. I was not aware that this letter was mass-produced. I also was not aware at how high the literacy rate was on the Texian frontier in 1836. And of course, we have violence and bloodshed at every turn, including the wonderful screenshot above, where a sword happens to be sticking down someone’s throat. I am sure the Mexican Army will be depicted much like the British in Turn—sadistic murderers hell-bent on revenge for revolution.

Also, it is worth noting that the few survivors of the final Alamo battle are depicted as being executed as prisoners. This was most likely the case, but I have to question an African American combatant being one of them. There may have been several at the Alamo, but the only one that can be confirmed was the slave of Commander Travis, Joe, who survived the battle. Any others would have been better served not fighting in the battle and then pleading to Mexican soldiers that they were a slave, who would have granted them a release (as depicted in the 2004 Alamo film) since slavery was illegal in Mexico at the time.

Not that this is incredibly important, but Colonel James Fannin’s last name on Texas Rising‘s IMDB page is spelled “Farrin”. I do hope this is just a typo, and that is not his character’s name in the series. Stranger, dumber things have happened though; it was in the 2011 Gettysburg documentary when the narrator called Morse Code “Morris Code”. I guess they blew their budget on blood packets and could not afford a fact-checker.

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27 thoughts on “Historical Inaccuracy in the Preview of “Texas Rising”

  1. angela

    I don’t believe anything made for entertainment should be really criticisms for inaccuracy. One of the characters in the show is Emily D. West.

  2. Bill

    That flag did exist. it was the flag of the Harrisburg Volunteers, sometimes called the Dobson Flag. I doubt it was flown at the Alamo but the only flag we know for sure was flown at the Alamo was the New Orleans Grey’s Volunteers flag. The tradition that the 1824 flag was flown was only written down decades later. Most Anglo-Texians had given up on the Constitution of 1824 by the end of 1835. I doubt most of the defenders of the Alamo would have fought under that flag.

    1. John

      The flag shown is the Dodson flag made by Sarah B. Dodson, my 3rd great grandmother. It was flown during the “Runaway Scrape” and was the first “Lone Star” flag of Texas…but they even got the colors wrong. The star was on a blue background on the left of the flag, the white was in the center and the red was on the right. Sheesh!

  3. RWM

    When I first saw the image of the Alamo I couldn’t believe it had the “hump”. They apparently had a Texas historian on site for accuracy???
    I live in Canada, I’ve never been to the Alamo and even I know that the hump and the upper windows were added years after the battle.

  4. not Bridget

    Remember–this network brought us “Sons of Liberty.” Which made me look kindly on “Turn”–where only one of the Brits is actually a sadist.

    I’ve read that Emily West will play a “courtesan”–which she was not. Also, she will see that she was apparently Sam Houston’s lover. And those scenes in Santa Anna’s tent show chandeliers, a large bathtub & other luxuries probably not found on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Of course, they connect her with “The Yellow Rose of Texas”–refer to the Handbook of Texas to discover the “truth” about that fakelore. https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xey01

    The rise of the Texas Rangers will be conflated with the Revolution–a couple of Revolutionary soldiers joined the Rangers later. Then there are the costumes–not at all what was worn in Texas in the 1830’s….

    The cast is interesting. Look at the series as an opportunity to educate.

    1. Don White

      No, look at the series as an opportunity to brainwash ignorant liberal idiots who don’t know any better. people will see that blacks were key players in the fight for Texas independence and wonder why they never heard that before. Damn . . . must be those nutty Tea Party members putting the heroic blacks down once again . . .

    2. John

      Emily West was NOT at the Alamo. She was an indentured servant on my 3rd great grandfathers plantation (Col. James Morgan) at what is now Morgan’s Point, near Houston. She even took his last name for a time…Emily Morgan. She was a mulatto of exceptional beauty and after Santa Ana had burned the plantation, he became enamored with Emily, taking her with him. She “entertained” him in his tent so that he was not immediately available to command his troops at San Jacinto, which the Texians won, thereby gaining their independence. The battle lasted all of 18 minutes. She was recognized for her part in the Texian victory by Sam Houston himself and the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written about her.

  5. Liz

    The History Channel has it wrong again! The last I checked, we don’t have mountains or Mesas in Gonzales! It’s in the Coastal Plains regions! And the Comanchee? They never came this far south not did they ever make a treaty with Stephen F Austin. Also they have failed to mention the 3 major turning points which turned inevitably towards war..the Decree off April 6, 1830 which ended all immigration from the United States, Stephen F Austin’s arrest in 1834 where he was held in prison for over a year without ever being charged with a crime and finally, Santa Anna public ally tearing up the Constitution of 1824 and declaring himself supreme ruler of Mexico! Plain and simple, the Texas Revolution was a war to regain the rights that were taken away from the people of Texas! And we are just 35 minutes into the series!!

  6. Frank Lago

    I was wondering about the Indians chasing the wagon around the Mexican camp shooting them I don’t think so! I saw the first episode & I was not impressed at all. I’m a fan of the History Chanel, I wonder how they took on this series with so many discrepancies to the history of the Alamo.

  7. What?

    I agree that if the History Channel is going to make a show like Texas Rising, it would be wonderful for the program to be historically accurate. However, nobody is ever going to know for certain what happened in daily life there in that time since none of us were there. It does no good to nit pick the program apart.

  8. Robert Huberman

    Movie and Mini-series producers do the young people a disservice by providing fiction as fact. Schools don’t have the time to delve into the detail of history and soon fiction is fact. They also do a disservice to the brave men that deserve all the honor they died for by depicting their acts as nothing more than movie B.S. Lastly, they do themselves (History Channel, Smithsonian Channel, and Animal Channel) a disservice by producing fiction portrayed as fact. They become the “Brian Williams” of Cable TV. Loss of credibility will really hurt should they ever try to actually portray something factual. I stopped watching “Texas Rising” after 10-minutes and “Sons of Liberty” after the first episode. I don’t think I’ll renew my cable subscriptions for these channels. Now I’ll just go back to the Animal Channel and watch “Big Foot Monster Nazis From Outer Space.”

  9. Cliff

    The terrain used in this mini-series is what is really disappointing. The only really tall mountains in Texas are around El Paso and in canyons along the Rio Grande, the rest of Texas is pretty flat or has medium-sized hills at best. Over the years, movie after movie about Texas shows terrain more likely found in New Mexico or Arizona. Not sure why that mountainous terrain trend got started but now any movie about Texas has to have tall rocky mountains and rock formations like you find in monument valley. That’s fine for traditional Hollywood filmmakers but one would expect more from the History Channel.

    1. Jim

      The mountains shown are not real high, I’m from Texas and there are more areas than you mention that have terrain like this. The Hill Country, the Canyonlands of West Texas. Still they are hundreds of miles from the area where this story takes place, which is the coastal plains.

  10. Daniel

    I’ve been teaching Texas History for the past fifteen years. They could not have made this more historically inaccurate if they had tried and maybe they did. It’s not even entertaining. They keep playing this stupid music score at the most ridiculous times. It’s like they’re trying to make another Lonesome Dove, but Lonesome Dove is an amazing movie. And who the heck is this character played by Ray Liotta? I guess if you’re the History Channel you just make up whatever you want and call it History.

    1. Carlos Armintor

      1) Gonzales does not have 1,000 foot cliffs and there are not twin waterfalls at Groce’s Crossing which is on the Brazos River in Waller County.
      2) According to the movie it was the Karankawa who attacked the wagon train. They lived along the coast and were not known for being horsemen. No such attack on Susanna Dickinson as she was fleeing the Alamo has been documented.
      3) No romantic relationship between Emily Morgan and Sam Houston has been documented or rumored until now.
      4) The men at Goliad were not surrounded by Mexican soldiers in a Square formation and shot. They were marched out of the Persidio in a single file line when they stopped and the order to fire was given. Some men realized what was happening and began to run. Some were shot on the back, but some made it to the tree line and escaped.

  11. Gerald

    In a word, “disappointed”. In addition to many of the above comments, I found it very “choppy”, hard to follow and many scenes that did not add to the development of the plot….is there a plot?
    As a Texan with family heritage back to the Alamo and the times depicted, I wish they would advertised it as pure fiction set during this time period, then I might watch the following episodes, but probably not.

  12. Mark

    Blatently obvious this film was not shot in Texas. To mountainous and desert like for San Antonio and everywhere else For that matter.

  13. Andrea

    They clearly say it is a dramatic interpretation of what they believe took place …. Interpretation meaning not exact ….. Factual or necessarily accurate lol

  14. Jim

    He doesn’t mention than much of the shots have what looks to be far West Texas, desert and mountains, in the background. The area of Texas between San Antonio and San Jacinto look nothing like this. And then there were the ladies who survived the Alamo being transported by Mexican soldiers in a wagon and they are attacked by Indians who are in turn attacked by Texas Rangers who rescue the ladies. Complete fiction, nothing like this happened with the survivors of the
    Alamo. And then the “calvary engagement” that Houston had ordered not to happen and of course it didn’t. Another complete fictitious episode dreamed up by the makers of this incredibly inaccurate series.

  15. APL

    As a direct descendant of Alamo defender Gordon Jennings and a direct nephew of his brother that was killed at Goliad, I have been a lifelong student of the Texas Revolution, That said, the series ‘Texas Rising” has numerous inaccuracies and the most glaring is the topography. With the exception of far west Texas and the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas has long sloping hills and an almost completely flat Gulf Coastal plain where most, if not all, the incidents in the Revolution took place, Very few big boulder outcrops that are depicted exist and as an earlier commenter noted Groce’s Plantation on the Brazos had no triple waterfalls…possibly a few streams at flood stage flowing into this second longest river in the State, but nothing remotely similar to what the series depicted.

    One of my greatest quandaries of the Revolution was the singular great leadership qualities of Sam Houston. He was under constant scrutiny, second guessing by everyone from the privates to the “officers” in his ragtag army, but he persevered under extreme pressure. Surrounded by mutinous mutterings and dissent at every step of his retreat, he did not relent in his leadership of that ill-disciplined cutthroat gang of warriors. Then when victory was won at the Battle of San jacinto on April 21, 1836, and following the capture of Santa Anna, had both the wisdom and forceful personality of leadership and while seriously wounded was able to keep that blood thirsty, revenge-bent Texas army off the “Napoleon of the West”. And it is especially noteworthy that he spared Santa Anna’s life from many in that victorious army who undoubtedly had lost fathers, brothers, sons, uncles, and friends of theirs at both the Alamo and La Bahia (Goliad) and their homes, farms and businesses in Santa Anna’s scorched earth campaign from Bexar (San Antonio) to Lynchburg and ultimately the Battle of San Jacinto on Buffalo Bayou. (that bayou was widened and now is the Houston Ship Channel and made the Port of Houston one of the greatest ports of the world) Houston was very seriously wounded at San Jacinto and believed too sick to ever recover, but he had the prescence of mind to do the absolute right thing at the right time to gain a lasting victory for the Republic (and the United States)

    Houston was adamantly against Texas’ alliance with the Confederacy and resigned his governorship rather than swear allegiance to the CSA in 1861…another right decision in the face of almost statewide opposition. Truly one of the greatest leaders in American history. His friend and mentor Andrew Jackson called “Houston the bravest man he ever knew”.

  16. Mark

    I am very disappointed in the historical accuracy of this series. I wonder if the History Channel realizes or cards about the quality of the History that they present. For a large number of people it will be their only exposure to this era and so much of what was presented was just wrong or made up. It would be so easy just to it right the first time since most of the basic facts are well known and not in dispute.

  17. Billy J Shafer

    As a Texan I was able to watch the first episode only. It was hard to do that without laughing my ass off. So many lies and falsehoods in this turkey it is unreal. About the only thing true was the name. It was supposed to be about Texas. I am crossing the History Channel off of my watch list. Who ever approved this disaster should be fired.

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