Around this time, 185 years ago, a much-smaller Texian Army defeated a well-trained and well-supplied Mexican Army led by Gen. Santa Anna at San Jacinto.
The generalissimo was captured and sent word back to the rest of his army that they were to vacate Texas, Mexico’s most northern state, or he would be put to death.
I spent about eight hours this weekend reading up on the historic battle and its aftermath.
I wasn’t planning to read up on the Texas Revolution. I was once again searching my family history on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s website, which also includes a section on genealogy.
Well, one thing led to another and somehow I moved from searching for my ancestors to reading about the Texas Revolution.
But I’m glad it did, for I discovered lots of information I had never seen or read about before.
Seen? Yes, the websites included digital copies of speeches, documents and paintings of that time period.
And it was on one of the websites I discovered a real gem.
It turns out that during the Battle of San Jacinto, the Texians captured three Mexican battle flags.
In 1991, photographs were taken of the three flags and professional archivists measured them and described them in great detail. (Online, click on “Historic Flags from the Texas State Library and Archives Texas Treasures Exhibit).
One of the battle standards, hand-stitched with the words “Battlon Matamoros Permanente” and a what appears to be an eagle grasping a snake with its talons, is torn to shreds. I’m guessing it was whipped to death in the wind and it appears to have bullet holes (a history buff can only hope).
The once green, white and red flag is now pretty faded, according to the photographs.
Two other battle standards, the Guerrero Battalion Flag and the Toluca Battle Flag, are in better condition.
It was really neat knowing three Mexican battle flags were captured, and someone had the common sense to save them for posterity.
What I found incredulous was that two of the flags were sent off for restoration and never restored because of the costs involved.
Wow! I mean, the state of Texas couldn’t see fit to restore such historical treasures? It was stunning to read. (Online, click on “1991 memo on flag’s accession” to read the entire story about the flags’ restoration efforts.)
Here’s a condensed version of what the website says:
“Five days after the Battle of San Jacinto, General Sam Houston issued orders to the Texas troops en marche from the East, recounting the defeat of Santa Anna and enumerating the ‘vast amount of property taken.’ Included in the listing were ‘three general standards’ of the Mexican Army. At least one of these trophies apparently remained with the Texas Army for the remainder of the century.
“On December 15, 1900, the flag of the Matamoros Battalion was from the Adjutant General’s Department by CPT Lamb Seiker, Quartermaster of the Frontier Battalion. This acquisition joined at least one other tricolor of the Toluca Battalion and are carried together in an early accession ledger. On June 19, 1925, the Texas Library and Historical Commission loaned two of the Mexican battle flags to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Museum.”
The article says the library sent the flags out to be restored.
“The first of the three Mexican standards to be restored was probably the Guerrero battle flag. The flag was shipped in June of that year and was returned to the Library in July of the next.
“The ‘beautifully embroidered’ banner was finished on the wrong side making the inscription read backward. The mistake was judged to be irreversible.”
What?!! This historic treasure was ruined during restoration, by professional restorers? It’s unbelievable!
The library then sent off a second flag to be restored, the one carried by the Toluca Battalion. It was returned June 9, 1966.
“House Concurrent Resolution 99, 60th Legislature, Regular Session, temporarily transferred the Toluca Battalion banner to the San Jacinto Museum of History, where it could ‘be viewed by many Texas citizens and others visiting this historic site.’”
(I have to head to the San Jacinto Monument where the museum is located and check this flag out!)
The online article continues: “In January, 1980, the Matamoros and Guerrero Battalion flags were taken to the Conservation Center at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum for conservation. Because funds appropriated for the restoration of the flags in custody of the Library and Archives Commission proved insufficient, the necessary restoration work on the two Mexican battle flags was not completed, and these were returned to the Texas State Library, December 6, 1988.”
Geez, how much could it cost to get these flags restored?
The article goes on to say that the flags should not be exposed to light sources as light may damage them (and thus the need for restoration). So am I to understand that we can not view the flags? I plan to call the state library in the near future and inquire.
I am thankful that I could read about the flags and see photographs of them online.
Apparently, I failed to do enough research as it appears all three flags were eventually restored.
The director of the state library, an ardent reader of The Herald and my columns, corrected me. Here's what she had to say:
Dear Mr. Willey:
Thank you for your recent Herald article featuring flags in the collections of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (“Texians captured 3 Mexican flags,” April 20, 2021). We are always happy to hear about our online resources being used to research family history, as well as Texas history generally.
We have a couple of corrections and clarifications to your article.
“What I found incredulous was that two of the flags were sent off for restoration and never restored because of the costs involved.”
The three Mexican flags in our collection have all received professional conservation and restoration; the Guerrero and Matamoras in 1998 and the Toluca in 2000. The conservation reports from Textile Preservation Associates are available on the webpage for each flag (Matamoros, Guerrero, Toluca). The reports provide a detailed analysis of the condition of the flags, the treatments conducted, exhibit preparation, prognosis, and recommendations for care. The number of hours required for treatment (restoration) are also included.
The following quote from the 1991 Matamoros flag conservation memo was noted.
“In January, 1980, the Matamoros and Guerrero Battalion flags were taken to the Conservation Center at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum for conservation. Because funds appropriated for the restoration of the flags in custody of the Library and Archives Commission proved insufficient, the necessary restoration work on the two Mexican battle flags was not completed, and these were returned to the Texas State Library, December 6, 1988.”
You ask “Geez, how much could it cost to get these flags restored?”
Conservation and restoration work on materials culture artifacts such as artworks, documents, and textiles require significant professional training and a great deal of time, especially for fragile items like the Mexican flags. In the case of the Toluca flag, the treatment necessitated 195 hours of conservation work and cost $18,664 in 2000 ($28,708.85 today).
The article goes on to say that the flags should not be exposed to light sources as light may damage them (and thus the need for restoration). “So am I to understand that we can not view the flags? I plan to call the state library in the near future and inquire.”
The Mexican flags have been on public display numerous times since their restoration. They were loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 2002 and are regularly loaned to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. This article discusses one such occurrence in 2016.
You note in closing that “Besides the three flags, I discovered a few other gems online. I’ll share them with you in my next dispatch.” We would be pleased to assist you in your future research and answer any questions you may have in advance.
Jelain Chubb, State Archivist and Director
Archives and Information Services Division
Texas State Library and Archives Commission
512-463-5467 | email@example.com
I've got to admit I've never been more happy to be proven wrong. I can't wait to see these restored flags. I'll take Chubb up on the offer for assistance in the near future.
Besides the three flags, I discovered a few other gems online. I’ll share them with you in my next dispatch.
Reach Scott Reese Willey at firstname.lastname@example.org.