• The Forgotten Women of the Alamo

    Of the many stories about the Alamo, one of the least understood is the roll women played. There were three distinct, but very similar groups of woman. First, there were women and children who were sheltered in the Alamo during the siege and assault. 

    The second group of women were just outside the Alamo. They followed their husbands and lovers in the Mexican Army to San Antonio,  and were deeply affected by the campaign, suffering deprivations during the long journey, and in the camp during the siege. And finally, there were the Tejano women from San Antonio who had fallen in love with some of the defenders. They waited in agony for the siege to end. While the smoke cleared, the wails of grief could be heard as the Mexican and Tejano women searched for their loved ones.           

    Inside the Alamo, the women already knew the fate of their loved ones.

    Susanna Dickinson became the most famous woman survivor of the battle. The most mysterious was Sarah—the only woman who died in the battle. Sarah, a black woman, would remain anonymous for nearly 180 years. Susanna would be forever afflicted by the horror of the battle. Her trauma would be absorbed and extended by the tragic life of her daughter, Angelina, “The Babe of the Alamo.”

    But what of the other women in the Alamo, the wives, the relatives, and the slaves of the defenders? Who were they and what became of them? Their stories are seldom told and overlooked, but their contributions to the struggle are as important as the men who died.

    The order of the Mexican command was that non-combatants, women, children and slaves all would be spared unless they were actively engaged in combat. By and large the relatives of the defenders who entered the fort were sheltered in the Sacistry in the Church. However, there were a few exceptions.

    Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister in-law of Jim Bowie, had her own quarters in a building on the west wall. She was related to Jim Bowie by marriage and her father was a former Spanish official. She was given special treatment due to her status and stayed apart from the rest of the women.

    Jim Bowie had a woman slave named Bettie. She spent the siege dutifully taking care of the seriously ill Bowie, and was thought to be found alive in the Alamo kitchen near Bowie’s room.

    Esparza Family Enters Alamo. Drawing by Gary Zaboly

    Anna Esparza was married to Gregorio Esparza, a cannoneer who was stationed on the cannons in the rear of the Church with Almeron Dickinson and James Bohnam. She, and her children, snuck into the Alamo to be with him.  Anna was sheltered in the Sacistry with the wives and children of other defenders, including Susanna Dickinson. She became a leader of the families, by calming their fears, and helping them cope with the dangers of the siege.

    When the final assault threw the fortress into a maelstrom, the women and children lived through the horrors of the deaths of their relatives. At least one child was killed in the final frantic fight in the Church. Hidden under a blanket, the boy was shot when a panicked soldado mistook him for a defender.

    As the defenses collapsed, Almeron found his way to Susanna, told her all was lost, and that she had to survive to save their child. He returned to his cannon and was never seen again by Susanna.

    In the aftermath of the assault, carrying her baby, Susannah was led from the still smokey Church into the small courtyard where Santa Anna was surveying his victory. The bodies of the recently executed last few defenders lay in a bloody heap. He approached Susanna and offered to adopt her child. Horrified, she refused and was led from the battleground only to be shot in the leg by a stray bullet from a soldado who was still shaken from the trauma of the battle.

    Many of those women sheltered in the Alamo are unknown today, but they played a pivotal roll in it’s defense. They came to support their friends and relatives only to see them all killed. The men were elevated as heroes, the women were largely forgotten.

  • You Say You Want a Revolution?

    I love books.

    One of Dr. Hardin’s books on the Alamo

    I read them, review them, restore them, collect them, and write them. Growing up as an only child, books became my friends and playmates. Echoing the novelist Neil Gaiman, “I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else.” My life as a university professor, revolves around books.

    Yet, my years in the classroom have taught me a melancholy lesson: Not everyone shares my passion for black ink on white paper. As a reader, I could not understand how anyone could admit not relishing the printed page. I judged such people to be mentally, even morally, deficient.

    Recently, I came across the studies of reading specialists, scholars who devote their careers to comprehending why and how people read. What they discovered was a revelation—at least, to me. We can teach children to read, but we can’t teach them to love reading. We don’t know why some people take pleasure in reading and others do not. It’s like having blue eyes; our genetic makeup appears to determine it. It’s beyond our control.

    Many people hate to read. It doesn’t mean that they can’t, or that they’re lazy, or that they’re stupid. God knows, it doesn’t mean they’re depraved. It means is that they absorb information in different ways. Many of my students prefer to listen to audio books. Others who struggle with reading, come alive when I play a video. Still, college remains an exasperating experience for those who dislike reading.

    That’s my challenge as an educator—to find non-traditional ways to transmit information to students who don’t read. We can no longer afford to simply write these kids off. That’s why I was eager to throw in with the talented folks at Imagine Virtua in employing Augmented Reality (AR) to develop a bold new Alamo project. As a Texas historian specializing in the Revolution and Republic periods, it was a thrill to join a team of professionals whose technical knowledge and expertise enabled us to convey content in a way that blended cutting-edge technology, art, and storytelling that place viewers in the middle of the action.

    I’ve written three books dealing with this period of Texas history, but they were nothing like this. Through the magic of AR, students are participants—witnessing first-hand the valor, passion, and human tragedy that triggered the sacrifice that defined a nation.

    I am not given to hyperbole. Nevertheless, I boldly assert that this technology will change public education forever. No longer will student success and the love of learning be the exclusive domain of book nerds like me. It will transform the way teachers teach and the way students learn—or at least, it should. Our product is nothing less than revolutionary.

    And remember, I know a little something about revolutions.

  • Augmented Reality: Can it Really be Used in History Class?

    Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Most people confuse augmented reality with virtual reality.  Virtual reality, creates a totally artificial environment, and to be in that environment, the user is required to strap a device to their face. Augmented reality, in contrast, uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it, and you can access that information via your mobile smart device without a headset.

    In AR, computer generated images (CGI) and animations overlay onto camera-captured video in such a way that the CGI objects appear to have an absolute location in the real world.

    AR’s Use Case for Education

    AR made a big splash when Pokemon Go was introduced. And since then,  the AR applications with the most buzz have been games.  Although some parents might think of Augmented or Virtual Reality as just another way to play a game, many educators already understand the power of this technology. The ability to map images and information onto the physical world is very exciting, and they can envision or have seen its application in the classroom. But quite a bit of the conversation around this medium has focused on its ability to assist with science class: See beneath the skin! Learn the structure of atoms! Watch a volcano erupt! Very few applications have been introduced for use in a social sciences class.

    History teachers face a unique challenge. Unlike other subjects, the content is not tangible and teachers have to work very hard to create interactive learning opportunities. The historical figures you are talking about are long dead, the lives they led are somewhat hard for kids to relate to, and buildings where key events took place may have changed drastically. Even if you visit an historic location, it is hard to convey the gravity and the significance of the event.

    But what if the student could see events unfold as if they were there: in the middle of the battle, or holed up during the siege?  This isn’t similar to watching a movie, because the student is “in” the story, where the story happened. For instance, imagine a student standing outside the main building of the Alamo holding up a mobile device to watch Sarah, the freed slave, help defend the 18-pound cannon, then lose her life. Or entering a portal into the room where James Bowie was deathly ill with what was described as Typhoid Pneumonia, then watch as he fights to his last breath. What if  they could “fly over” the entire scene and watch the battle unfold from the bird’s eye view? Would that change their perspective? Would it enhance their retention and understanding of the material?

    Augmented reality is compelling and captivating in a way that a plaque on the ground, or a pencil drawing of a war hero just can not match.

    “This combination holds astonishing promise for education and entertainment as it brings history to life. This is particularly important for connecting with younger generations who desire a highly visual and engaging form of storytelling.” Chipp Walters, Imagine Virtua CEO

    Travel back in time with us. We know it will be fun… but you just might learn something along the way.

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