Historically Speaking

Story of a Texas anti-hero, his peg leg and chewing gum



Greetings, Atascosa County! Happy May y Feliz Cinco de Mayo! As Mother’s Day approaches, I wish all you mothers and mother figures a Happy Mother’s Day!

As we recognize Cinco de Mayo, a holiday with Mexican origins and American celebration, I will be discussing an individual that is commonly known as an anti-hero in every context he is mentioned in Texas. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was not involved in Cinco de Mayo directly. Cinco de Mayo occurred on May 5, 1863. The French had invaded Mexico and the pivotal Battle of Puebla provided a morale boost for the Mexican forces. During the French invasion, Santa Anna was in exile from his former country (Mexico) in the United States. I’ll dive into this bit, but allow me to add a little more context. Last week, I was browsing through social media and a history site posted a picture of a prosthesis in a museum setting. The caption noted that the prosthetic leg belonged to General Santa Anna. It was captured by United States Troops during the 1847 Battle of Cerro Gordo, an American victory by General Winfield Scott. I dove into the context to read a little more about the General and 11-time Mexican President. The cause of his missing leg, cannon fire. The French invaded Vera Cruz in 1838, thus Santa Anna was given power to command the forces he needed and to redeem his loss of the territory of Texas two years prior. During the invasion of Vera Cruz, he suffered a severe injury to his right leg due to grape shot from cannon fire. The General Santa Anna held a state funeral for his amputated leg, with parades and fanfare. In 1844, his displeased citizens unearthed his interred limb and drug it through the streets.

Soon after the loss at the Battle of Cerro Gordo, he was exiled by the Mexican Government to Cuba and Staten Island, New York. While in New York, Santa Anna purchased a shipment of Chicle and attempted to convince tire manufacturers that his product would perform better than the material they were currently using. His sales pitch failed and he sold his product to his American companion Thomas Adams. Adams eventually sold the product as a chewing gum called “Chiclets.”

From famed General and Gran Generalissimo (Santa Anna fancied his exquisite titles), to American businessman, exiled citizen and leader, Santa Anna is remembered in Texas for his merciless battles at the Battle of Medina, The Alamo and Goliad. I hope you’ve enjoyed this strange bit of history, until next time.

MARTIN GONZALES is the Atascosa County Historical Commission Chairman. If you have history to share, you may contact him at 830-480-2741.

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