The Great Throwing-Away, Part 2a: The Siege of the Research Paper

 

The Great Throwing-Away continues to unearth evidence of past life.

Today it’s “The Siege of the Alamo,” my eighth-grade research paper, twenty pages handwritten in ink (I didn’t like to turn in work with strike throughs, so I trashed a lot of paper bearing mistakes), plus pencil draft and outline, plus bibliography cards and note cards held together by the original (now rusty) paperclips, the whole thing held together in a hole-punched manila folder with the original brads.

1854 drawing – The Alamo chapel would have looked something like this in the 1830s. Public domain. Via Wikipedia

For anyone not familiar with it, I’ll mention that in 1836, the Alamo San Antonio de Valero was a dilapidated former Spanish mission, hospital, and military post in San Antonio, Texas, where for thirteen days in February and March of 1836, fewer than 200 Texians held off over 2000 Mexican troops under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who called himself “the Napoleon of the West. All the Texians died or were executed by Santa Anna and their bodies were burned. The battle was important because it gave General Sam Houston time to gather reinforcements—when they heard of the fall of the Alamo and Santa Anna’s cruelty, many joined him. On April 21, 1836, in a battle lasting eighteen minutes, Houston’s forces surprised the Mexican Army at San Jacinto and the next day captured Santa Anna. During the battle, many of the Texian soldiers cried, “Remember the Alamo!” When captured, Santa Anna reportedly said to Sam Houston, “That man may consider himself born to no common destiny who has conquered the Napoleon of the West. And now it remains for him to be generous to the vanquished.” Houston replied, “You should have remembered that at the Alamo.” (Wikipedia)

At Prairie Lea ISD, the research paper was a fact of life for students in grades eight through twelve. On the first day of school, I started thinking about a topic. On January 1, I shifted into worrying about a topic. When the official assignment was finally made, my mother started worrying, because I yowled so loudly and so often that I would never finish, she was always afraid I wouldn’t. I suffered for what seemed like months (probably five or six weeks) and shared my misery with the rest of the household. When it came to heart-wrenching suspense, nothing came close to the Drama of The Annual Research Paper.

(My father seemed oblivious, but I think he assumed I was a teenage girl and hysteria was part of the landscape.)

Davy Crockett by William Henry Huddle. Dallas Museum of Art. Public Domain. Via Wikipedia

I don’t know why I chose to write about the Alamo. Possibly because I lived nearby and had visited it. Possibly because I could gather the required five sources of information. Possibly because it seemed doable. Possibly because at the age of thirteen, I was still smitten with Davy Crockett as portrayed by Fess Parker and presented on television and in the movies by Walt Disney (and based on legend).

When I was three, we got an RCA television, and I broke it in watching the Disney series. I found an old mop handle, charred on one end, christened it Old Betsy, and spent my days lurking behind the garage, singing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” and waiting for bars* to walk by. I knew one verse of the song plus the chorus.

 

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
greenest state in the land of the free
raised in the woods so he knew ev’ry tree
kilt him a be ‘are when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

There are twenty verses. Fess Parker’s recording, below, leaves most of them out.

For my birthday that year, I received a Davy Crockett outfit. The buckskin shirt was made of plastic. October was colder then (really), and wearing that plastic shirt was like wearing nothing at all, so my mother made me wear an undershirt with it, which I didn’t mind, but she also made me wear a cardigan sweater over it. Davy Crockett didn’t wear cardigan sweaters. Sometimes she made me wear a scarf under the coonskin cap.** Going out in public, even behind the garage, dressed like a sissy was embarrassing. Somewhere there’s a snapshot of me wearing my Davy Crockett suit, looking like a sissy, and holding my pet chicken, Dickie. I wanted to keep the coonskin cap forever, but it molted.

Fess Parker in Disneyland, episode Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, pubic domain. Via Wikipedia.

An article from the True West website headed “Davy Crockett’s ‘Ol’ Betsy Found” caught my attention while I was researching for this post. I got all excited, but it turned out that the found item was the rifle Fess Parker carried on television and in the movies.” There’s a difference. Big let-down.

Anyway, the research paper might have been an attempt to recreate happier times. It worked, to a degree, I guess. The content went over well. Footnotes didn’t. See red ink, below.

Example of eighth-grade footnote:

I understood the function of footnotes but could not get through my head that the superscript goes at the end of the quotation and isn’t put in parentheses. Grinning down bars behind the garage was a snap compared to battling the footnote. My mother weighed in, but to no avail. I just didn’t get it.

The quotation cited in the photo above is Crockett’s famous, “You all can go to hell and I’m a-going to Texas.” As a member of Congress from Tennessee, he had clashed with Andrew Jackson over Jackson’s support of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the forced removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma along what is now known as the Trail of Tears. In return, Stephen Harrigan wrote in American History (forty-six years after I wrote the research paper), Jackson “squashed him politically.” 

In a December 1834 letter, Crockett, anticipating that if elected, Martin Van Buren and would continue Jackson’s policies, wrote,

I have almost given up the Ship as lost. I have gone So far as to declare that if he martin vanburen is elected that I will leave the united States for I never will live under his kingdom. before I will Submit to his Government I will go to the wildes of Texas. I will consider that government a Paridice to what this will be. In fact at this time our Republican Government has dwindled almost into insignificancy our [boasted] land of liberty have almost Bowed to the yoke of Bondage. Our happy days of Republican principles are near at an end when a few is to transfer the many.

So Crockett didn’t consign his constituents to hell and take off for a Paradice in Texas just because he was angry about losing an election. I wish I’d known that when I wrote the paper. I wish his battle with Andrew Jackson over the Indian Removal Act were as well known as his part in the Battle of the Alamo and the legends that have grown up around him. He deserves to be remembered for standing against a government that was violating what we now call human rights.

Oh. Please forgive me. My post about a research paper took an unexpected detour. If I were grading it, I would say the writer veered off topic.

Sometimes, however, veering off topic is okay. I would rather write about Davy Crockett than about an eighth-grade research paper.

And you would surely rather read about him.

***

* Yes, I mean bars.

** I grudgingly concede my mom was justified in wrapping me up in cold weather. My other hobby was lying in bed with a raging sinus infection and a high fever, waiting for Dr. Luckett to come and pop me with a shot of penicillin.

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