San Antonio Living History Association
Texian Coordinator - 2003
Texian guide book
Cover illustration by, and
used with permission of,
Gary S. Zaboly
The groups of men who fought and died at the San Antonio de Valero Mission (what we today call the Alamo) were not the movie versions of "Mountain Men", or "Buckskinners", nor clones of Davy Crockett as portrayed by John Wayne and Fess Parker. The movies stereotypes of the men who fought and died at the Alamo are far removed from reality. The real David Crockett dressed in a buckskin outfit now and then, but only for certain occasions. The rest of the time, he preferred the dress of men accustomed to comfortable living (he was a member of the US Congress, and dressed appropriately). Some of the men who fought and died at the Alamo were farmers, many were townsfolk, and some had only recently arrived in the United States from countries like Germany, England, Scotland, etc. They were doctors, lawyers, clergymen, shopkeepers and tradesmen of all kinds. With the exception of the few men under Travis’ command, these men were all volunteers, answered to their own elected leader, and seldom paid any attention to anyone else. They were fiercely independent and did not take well to criticism or to following orders from anyone. They also were dedicated and loyal enough to stand with a friend, even to the point of giving up their lives if so called upon. They were a special breed of men who called themselves TEXIANS. Today these men would probably be Special Forces Rangers, Navy SEALS or United States Marines. Only a few of the nearly 200 men who died at the Alamo were native Texians. A few more were men who had moved to Texas prior to the start of hostilities and settled into one of the towns or communities, such as Gonzales or Nacogdoches. The vast majority of the men who were there had heeded the call to come to Texas to serve in the militia in exchange for grants of land, and a chance at a new life.
There was no standardized "outfit" among the Texians, so it is very difficult to set any hard and fast rules as to how any individual Texian should dress. The following are some examples of what would be acceptable for anyone attempting to prepare a "costume". Please do not be put off by the use of the word costume as it simply means an assemblage of clothing worn to project a certain image – in this case, the image of a man living in 1836 in San Antonio de Bejar.
Starting with footwear, remember that only leather was used to make footwear during this time period. The most common type of shoe worn during the 1830s was a brogan or a boot. Brogans generally had a squared toe, but round-toed boots were becoming popular. There was no boot polish available at the Alamo, so highly polished footwear would not be appropriate. A common method of blackening boots at that time was to make a mixture of lampblack and lard and rub it into the leather. Black was probably the most standard color, but brown would be acceptable. If you wear boots (NO COWBOY BOOTS), I would strongly recommend you try to find some made so that the rubber sole is as inconspicuous as possible. Boots and Brogans actually had leather soles, but leather tends to get very slippery when wet, so a rubber sole is safer. Unless it is really extreme, such as a vibram lug sole, most folks won’t notice. If you choose to wear boots, be aware that very few men wore their trousers tucked inside their boots. Normally your trouser legs would cover your boot-tops or brogan tops. If your persona is to be a Texas farmer, you may want to wear a set of leather or wool leggings over your trousers, from the knee down, to protect your lower legs from stickers, thorns, and snakes (all very common throughout Texas). Moccasins were quite common footwear on the frontier (Texas was definitely considered as a frontier area), but until you have become accustomed to wearing them, you may only be able to tolerate them for short periods at first. The men at the Alamo who would have worn moccasins were most likely those whose regular footwear had worn out, and since supplies of all kinds were desperately scarce, they would have resorted to making their own. Reliable reports exist of some of the men simply wrapping their feet in a piece of cowhide with the hair still on it. Whether this was a very crude form of moccasin or used over their regular footwear because of the very cold, wet conditions at the time I do not know, but in fact it did occur.
The material most commonly used for trousers was probably wool, although some leather or cotton canvas and linen was used as well. Remember that all the events portrayed by the San Antonio Living History Association (SALHA) occurred during the winter of 1835-36. This was one of the coldest winters on record. Levis had not been invented yet (that occurred during the gold rush days in California and they were made of canvas, not denim), nor had any form of zippers! The most popular trousers were the "fall front", or buttoned flap (similar to the Navy trousers) with two or three buttons, made of horn or wood or metal (no plastic please!). Trousers were held up with suspenders. Normally these are non-elastic. Even though the English invented elastic in 1820, it was not yet in widespread use on the frontier. Suspenders were attached to the trousers with buttons, rather than clamps. If the trousers had pockets (many did not), they would only be in the front (sides). During warmer weather, men often wore trousers made of linen, cotton canvas, or muslin. Colors usually ranged from off-white to brown, to dark gray. Trousers did not have belt loops. If a man wore a belt, it was so he could carry a knife, an axe, a pistol, or maybe all three. Some men wore a sash rather than a belt, for the same purpose. Remember when putting together your outfit that everything men carried on their person had a use. Most men didn’t wear anything purely for ornamental reasons; so before you buy or make anything, ask yourself if the person you are portraying would have needed it. These men had traveled a long way to get to the Alamo, and most only arrived with what they had on their backs, which was very little, and by the time of the siege, their clothing was very badly worn and stained (tattered and torn, patched, and patched again would probably be a very accurate description).
A shirt was more than just a shirt. The "tail" of a man’s shirt would extend downward to his knees and serve as a shirt during the day and a nightshirt to sleep in. How often it got washed depended upon how many shirts you owned (normally no more than two or three – often only one). This note on washing of clothing applied to all clothing items. One rarely had the time to devote to washing and drying clothing, nor were there usually any facilities for bathing. During this time period, you were more concerned about mere survival than you were about personal hygiene. The most common shirt materials are linen, osnaburg, or muslin. Although white was the most common color, it is easy to see that shirts didn’t stay white for very long. Some men dyed their shirts, not only to please their individual taste in clothing style, but also to hide the sweat and dirt stains. Remember there was no Ritz Dyes in 1836. If you want to dye a shirt, use pecan hulls or some other locally grown plant product as the basis for your dye. Boil the shells, etc. in an old pot until you have enough dye, then add the shirt and continue boiling. I would suggest at least a couple of washings before wearing a shirt that has been dyed in this manner, so that you don’t wind up dyeing yourself as well. Shirts did not have pockets, and they didn’t button up the front. You slipped the shirt over your head, and either left the neck open or closed the "collar" with the one or two buttons provided, or used a drawstring and tied it in a bow. Then you may or may not wear a "stock", which was the 1800’s version of a tie, and was worn when one wanted to "dress up".
During warm weather, most men wore a waistcoat, or vest, as an outer garment. Many wore one at all times, except while sleeping. It has been said that many men would venture out in public without a hat before going out without their vest, as they considered not having something over their shirt/nightshirt like being out and about in their underwear. Waistcoats were generally made of wool, cotton canvas, linen, or leather. Buttons would be pewter, wood, or horn. No pockets. Dark brown, burgundy, red, black, and navy were the most commonly used colors, but those who could afford it occasionally used patterned materials.
Coats came in a variety of styles and lengths, depending upon where the individual came from. But by far the most practical and commonly worn coat at the Alamo would have been a wool coat (again our events took place during winter). The most popular colors were black, dark brown, and navy, although men that came to the Alamo from the cities in the northeastern part of the United States would possibly wear more stylish, patterned materials. One or two men may have had a cloak to wear, or a capote, but these were not very commonly used during this period. Military officers and gentlemen who could afford them wore cloaks during the 1700s, 1800s, and even into the early 1900s. A capote is a hooded long coat, held together in the front with a sash. A capote is normally made of wool blanket material, and as such is very warm. The major drawback to these two styles is their expense and the fact that when wet they are very heavy. Wool short jackets were in use by sailors and laborers through the early 19th century. Frontiersmen in the south commonly wore hunting frocks of cotton canvas or linen more often than leather. If you decide to wear leather for any of your clothing items, be aware, leather is hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and when wet it takes a lot longer to dry than cloth. But most important to you is that leather is very expensive now. In the 1830s this was not the case. Fabrics of all kinds were hard to get in Texas, and very expensive when they were available. Cow hides and deer hides were easy to come by, and when properly tanned, wore well under the harsh frontier conditions. Mixed use of leather and fabric in a costume would be quite appropriate.
If you’re a Scot, you probably will choose to wear a Highland Bonnet. If you’re French, you may want to wear a Voyageur’s Cap. Otherwise you’ll probably choose to top off you ensemble with a forage cap or a brimmed hat of some kind. The forage cap was very popular, especially for winter wear. It could be made of wool or leather and could be had with fur on the outside of the cap, or on the inside for additional warmth. Top Hats were a very popular form of headwear among townsfolk. Farmers and some preachers seemed to prefer the broader brimmed hats with a lower crown, either round or flat topped. Winter hats were primarily wool felt, while warm weather hats were of straw. Nearly all men wore a hat of some kind, primarily for protection from the elements. Any of the styles mentioned above are appropriate for an 1836 reenactor. You could choose an animal skin for a hat, but they are hot, and often smelly, and even David Crockett preferred other styles of headgear.
All cannons, muskets, rifles, shotguns, and pistols in use during the 1830s used black powder, and this is the powder used by all reenactors of the SALHA. The ignition systems for all these weapons (except cannons) are either flintlock or percussion caps.
The flintlock musket was possibly one of the most common weapons used during this time period. The most common musket in use during the 1830s was the "Brown Bess", a British military surplus weapon, which was quite easily and inexpensively obtained. This is a 75-caliber weapon; 54" long and weighs 9 lbs. The French Charleville (also military surplus), which is a 69-caliber weapon, is 59 ½" long, and weighs 10 ¼ lbs. Both are smooth bore (like a shotgun), have no rear sight and a very poor front sight that doubled as a locking lug for attaching a bayonet to the barrel. The effect of the large lead ball they fire was devastating to anyone within their effective range, which for both is approximately 70-80 yards. These long, cumbersome, heavy weapons are best suited to the close quarters, open field formation style of combat developed in England and Europe, and adopted by Santa Anna’s army. Their primary weapon was the Brown Bess. Another weapon appropriate for an 1836 reenactor is the U.S. Model 1803 or 1816 Flintlock Musket, made by Springfield and Harpers Ferry Arsenals. This is a 69-caliber weapon, 57" long, and weighs 9 ¾ lbs. Loading a musket is simple and quick because of its large, smooth bore. Cleaning is easy for the same reason. All black powder weapons must be kept as clean and dry as possible to ensure reliable functioning. A dirty weapon will be hard to load and misfires will be a common occurrence. A reenactor must treat his weapon as if he has to bet his life on it firing every time he pulls the trigger. This is the way the people we are emulating took care of their weapons. We must do the same for every weapon we own.
The rifle was usually the first choice of men who depended upon their weapon to protect themselves and their families, and to put meat on the table. The rifle is much more accurate than the musket because it has a rifled barrel and much better sights. Some, depending upon the ability of the shooter and the quality of the weapon, are accurate to 200 yards. There are some 54-caliber rifles available, but 50 or 45 caliber rifles are the most common now. Even 40, 36, and 32-caliber rifles were made, but these smaller bore rifles were considered more for women and young boys, although some men used them for hunting small game, such as squirrels and rabbits. This assortment of rifles could be any length, from 43" to 57" and weigh anywhere from 6 ½ to 9 ¼ lbs. Although the most common ignition system on the frontier was the flintlock, the percussion cap was becoming quite popular in much of the U.S. by the 1830s, so it is appropriate for our 1836 reenacting. Not all rifles were single shot weapons – double-barreled rifles were in use at that time, and highly favored by cavalry units. If you can find one of these rifles, expect to pay dearly for it. When you get ready to purchase a rifle, pay close attention to the details. More important than the caliber, length, ignition system, or even the style (Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Harpers Ferry, etc.) of the rifle is the type of sights and butt plate it has. Modern, adjustable sights did not exist in 1836, and neither did rubber or plastic butt plates. These two requirements eliminate many of the "reproduction" style weapons available today. The front sight should normally be a simple blade of brass, and often the butt plate, trigger guard, and other parts of the rifle will be brass also. Brass was a very popular metal because it could be easily shaped, but was tough enough to withstand a reasonable amount of abuse. It also does not rust. The primary finish for rifle barrels at that time was "browning", rather than the "bluing" that we use today. And wood was oiled, rather than lacquered, or coated with polyurethane, so try to find a rifle that has a good dull finish. Before you rush into buying, shop around at gun shows, gun dealers, and pawnshops. I own three guns. I bought all of them used, and the most expensive one was just $200.00. A new, shiny rifle will usually cost $500 or more.
A shotgun was a very popular weapon with men who hunted for meat to supplement their diet, as it could be used with either shot or a single ball. It was, and still is, an outstanding close range defense weapon, and was the last weapon Col. Travis fired just before his death at the Alamo north wall. The favored configuration was a double-barreled gun. The shotgun has the advantage over a musket by providing two shots before you have to reload, with nearly the same effective range – if a lead ball is used. The use of lead shot shortens the effective range by approximately half, but in a combat situation it is especially lethal. At close range the blast from a shotgun can literally tear a man in half. If you decide to buy a shotgun, the same cautions about paying attention to details on rifles apply. Pedersoli, of Italy, makes an excellent period-correct shotgun (one that can be used without modifications). This can be a 10, 12, or 20-gauge, browned, flintlock or percussion firearm, and can be had in either long or short-barreled configuration. It is not cheap (expect to pay $500+ for one), and cheaper models can be had. The price range of shotguns currently starts at $325 and goes as high as $3,250.
The pistols used during the 1830s were primarily single-shot guns. Although a few multiple barreled weapons were made, they were not very commonly used. Unlike rifles and shotguns, pistols were purely as a tool of self-defense. Once again, not everyone owned a pistol. If you owned a firearm (and most men did), it was either for protection or for hunting, and in most cases a musket, rifle, or shotgun is far superior to a handgun because you can stop "the enemy" before he is close enough to hurt you – IF you fire first, or he misses, and you do not. Effective range of a handgun is very limited – no more than 30 yards in the hands of an experienced shooter (less for the average man). For those who want to own a pistol, they have the same ignition systems as rifles – either flintlock or percussion cap. Revolvers were being developed at the time, but were not yet available. If you decide you need a handgun, consider how you will carry it before you buy. Holsters were not readily available. As always, pay close attention to the details. Stay away from adjustable sights, blued metal, and lacquered wood.
A tomahawk is an extremely useful tool, and was carried by many men who lived on the frontier. In addition to its ability to cut wood for fires and building temporary shelters, quartering large game animals when hunting, and a variety of other useful tasks, it was a very effective weapon. Sometimes, since a tomahawk and a large belt knife were fairly interchangeable on the jobs they could perform, a man might carry one or the other. However, men were more prone to carry both, and more than one knife. Choices of tomahawks is relatively simple, as most produced today are suitable for reenacting. Once again, pay attention to details, and buy one that "looks old". Hand forged tomahawk heads are inexpensive and plentiful.
As simple as buying a tomahawk can be, the purchase of a knife can become very complicated. Although the "Bowie Knife" (several styles are available) was very popular by 1835, and was the belt knife issued to the New Orleans Grays, not everyone owned one. And even those who did often owned other knives as well. The "Arkansas Toothpick" was also a very popular style of knife at the time, as was the "butcher knife". Jim Bowie used a butcher knife before owning a "Bowie Knife". Back to details: stainless steel did not exist in 1835. Shun it like the plague. Knives were hand forged of either Damascus or carbon steel. Davy Crockett owned a Damascus steel knife, as did others. They are beautiful knives and available today, but are rather expensive. As mentioned above, men often carried several knives. A real necessity was the small "patch knives", often carried in a sheath on the powder horn carry strap, or hung around the neck. Folding knives were popular, as a small knife like this can do a variety of tasks, including patch cutting. Many men carried more than one large knife for defensive reasons, just as they might have more than one pistol tucked into their belt or sash. The variety of knives available then and now is virtually unlimited, and you will only be limited in your selection of these weapons by the size of your bank account. One final note on knives – a sword or saber is considered a long knife. Some military men wore them. Travis had one. You can strap one on and be correct in your presentation, but they are costly, cumbersome, and not something that many of the civilian defenders would have had, unless it was a battle trophy.
This section will be dedicated to all the little "extras" you will need to be successful in your role as a reenactor.
First off, in the 1830s you would have needed a powder horn or flask to carry your personal supply of powder. As a SALHA reenactor you must be aware that powder horns and flasks will NOT be allowed to contain any powder during reenactments because of safety concerns. We use paper cartridges during all reenactments, so there is no need to have powder in your horn or flask anyway. One safety note to remember is that you must NEVER pour powder from a horn or flask directly into a weapon! The results could be disastrous! In the 1830s, you may have carried a very small, additional container (horn or flask) filled with fine grain powder, purely for priming the pan on your flintlock. I have never employed this technique since I have found that all I need for priming my pan is a small amount of powder saved from my "cartridge" after I charge my weapon. In fact, I don’t even own a priming horn or flask.
While we are discussing extra items for your weapons, you need:
As you progress in your career as a reenactor, you will discover a lot more "extras" that you need, but you will need the items listed above immediately. One other item I consider essential is a good cleaning kit. You will have to clean your weapon thoroughly each time it is fired – unless you are really fond of rust. The cleaning kit normally stays back in camp or at home. EXCEPTION: When SALHA does more than one reenactment in a day, bring your cleaning supplies and clean your weapon between the "acts". This will help you avoid misfires.
Personal items you will need include, but are not limited to:
This is a listing of some of the companies that carry goods you will need to assemble your Texian outfit. This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, nor is the list in any order of preference, but it should provide a good starting point.
Guns and general merchandise. Huge catalog available for $5.
Tents and general merchandise.
Primarily for their tinware.
Later on, you may want to add a sewing kit (for emergency clothing repairs, or to make yourself a new pair of moccasins); a fishing kit (just hooks and line) to have some variety in your menu when possible, and to make your jerky last longer; a net hammock (to get you off the ground, and away from things that crawl, and sting or bite, while sleeping (if there are any trees available). Just remember one thing – you must be able to carry every part of your reenacting kit wherever you go. That’s the way it was done in the 1830s. IF you were fortunate enough to travel on horseback rather than "shanks mare" (on foot), you could carry more "stuff", but not much. Did you ever wonder how the cowboys in the movies managed to carry a coffee pot, a large iron skillet, plate, knife, fork, spoon, cup, beans, bacon, flour, metal grate for the fire, and don’t forget the coffee – all in one side of their saddlebag? It all had to fit in one side because the other side was filled with their extra clothes, and at least 1000 rounds of ammunition. If you believe any of this actually happened…. have I got a deal for you!
Texian Legacy Association
Texas Revolution Basic Reading List
(Click here for links to purchase these books)
By Charles M. Yates
I've been asked several times to recommend books on the subject of the Texas Revolution which would be helpful for reënactors and living historians. In order to present the best historical interpretations possible, reading about and studying the period are mandatory. The problem is that in today's hectic world, it's hard to wade through the abundance of books and articles on the subject available without some sort of starting place. I should point out that this is not a list of the only books necessary to read to understand the period. It is not an ending point; it is a beginning point. A great deal happened in Texas during the fourth decade of the 19th century and it is well to remember that there is no one book or set of books that can give the reader a complete and total understanding of the subject. The learning process is neverending.
I, also, realize that many fine books have been left off of this list and, no doubt, one of your favorites is among them. It is not an insult to you or the author that your book isn't on the list, so don't send me nasty emails before you read the criteria listed below!
The books on the following list have been selected with a specific set of criteria in mind. The first criteria requirement is that the list is limited to non-fiction books concerning Texas from, roughly 1830 to 1840. Some of the finest books on this era in Texas history have been written fairly recently, so it is easy to establish the later half of the 20th Century as a second criteria requirement. In addition to these two criteria, the books need to be of general interest, readable, accurate and provide a variety of perspectives. After all, I think we've all had enough of the tortuous, dry, boring history taught in public schools to last us a lifetime. It's time to have our interests piqued; to question our beliefs and to exercise the ol' gray matter a little.
Number 11: The Alamo Remembered. Tejano Accounts and Perspectives, by Timothy M. Matovina, 1994, University of Texas Press. Many times we forget that during the Battle of the Alamo there were people living in San Antonio. In fact, the population of Béxar was about 2300 prior to the onset of hostilities in late 1835. It was a predominately Hispanic population and most of the population had wisely fled to the countryside prior to Santa Anna's arrival in 1836. This book is a compilation of accounts left by some of the people who stayed in San Antonio during the siege of the Alamo or returned shortly thereafter. It is a fascinating book and well worth reading.
Number 10: The Magnificent Barbarians. Little Told Tales of the Texas Revolution, by Bill and Marjorie Walraven, 1993, Eakin Press. I want to say "Buy this book for your kids.", and it would, indeed, be a great book for them read. The only problem is that it's also a great book for adults. The "Little Told Tales of the Texas Revolution" are presented as stand alone essays, so you can literally pick up the book and start reading anywhere. It is well written and entertaining, but what sets the book apart is that it's very well researched. The Walravens did their homework and it shows. I read this book years ago and I still refer to it's bibliography, every now and then, when doing research.
Number 9: A Revolution Remembered. The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguín, edited by Jesús F. de la Teja. This is a wonderful book to help understand what the long established Tejano families went through during the turbulent years of 1835 to 1846. The whole story of Juan Seguín is seldom told and this book goes a long way to correcting that.
Number 8: The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836, by Paul D. Lack, 1992, Texas A&M University Press. OK, this is probably the most "academic" book in the list. It is a bit on the dry side and at times it will be a little slow for some readers, but it was written to provide a different perspective of the Texas Revolution. It is also controversial in some places. Lack discusses issues that were being discussed at the time and have long since been forgotten. He also provides statistics which alter the traditional view of the revolution, as a whole. If you want a book to challenge your beliefs and to really exercise the mind, this is it.
Number 7: Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835, by Alwyn Barr 1990, University of Texas Press. Sometimes we forget that the Texians had to defeat the Mexican military to get the Alamo in the first place, so that they could defend it against Santa Anna three months later. This is a wonderful book about the first major battle of the Texas Revolution and the events that led up to it.
Number 6: With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution, by Jose Enrique de la Peña, 1997, Texas A&M University Press. De la Peña provides us with a unique view inside Santa Anna's army. He is not hesitant in his praise or condemnation of his fellow officers and his analysis of the Texas Campaign. He, also, describes in detail the beauty of the land and farms as well as the sufferings of the average Mexican soldado. There were many facets to the Texas Revolution and this account helps clarify a few of the lesser known or visited facets.
Number 5: The Day of San Jacinto, by Frank X. Tolbert, 1959, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. Frank Tolbert was a newspaper man and this book is written as a newspaper man would write it: as a story. It's well researched and accurate for its time. It's a first rate, fun read for young people or adults. This book is out of print, but should be available through any major library.
Number 4. A Time to Stand by Walter Lord, 1978, Univ of Nebraska Press. This is one of the first of a genre of books written by eminent historians for popular consumption. It broke ground in researching the Siege and Battle of the Alamo and was written in a style that made it immensely popular to the general public. Even today, 38 years after it was published, it is still used as a benchmark of Texas History.
Number 3. Blood of Noble Men: The Alamo Siege and Battle, by Alan C. Huffines and Gary S. Zaboly, 1999, Eakin Press. This book is a "must have" for any study of the Battle of the Alamo. It is a day by day description of the seige and battle of the Alamo as written by people who were there. Included are the wonderful drawings of Gary Zaboly and a wealth of information on dress, equipment and the village of San Antonio at the time. Alan and Gary did a bangup job on this book.
Number 2. Three Roads to the Alamo, by William C. Davis, 1998, Harper Collins Publishers. William Davis is primarily a writer of Civil War books, but he brought his skills as a researcher and writer to Texas history with stunning affect. Three Roads to the Alamo is a biography of William B Travis, James Bowie and David Crockett and a must read for anyone who is interested in Texas history. Serious students of Texas history will find the notes and bibliography invaluable.
Number 1. The Texian Iliad, by Stephen L. Hardin, 1994, University of Texas Press. While Davis' book is a close second, Hardin's Texian Iliad is the best overall book on the military aspect of the Texas Revolution ever written. It is not only a wonderfully written book and wonderfully illustrated by Gary Zaboly, but is also Dr. Hardin's dissertation, which attests to it's accuracy. If you could only read one book on Texas history, this is, quite simply, the one. TLA Review
Many new discoveries concerning Texas history have been made in recent years and many more will be made as researchers continue digging through long forgotten records and documents. Again, these books are not meant to be the sole or terminating sources on the subject, but as a starting place for the continuing study of our Texian past. Be forewarned, though; history, particularly Texas history, can become a wonderfully satisfying addiction.
Sic Semper Texanus
Reading List Copyright © 1998 Texian Legacy Association