In This Review

Unsettled Land: From Revolution to Republic, the Struggle for Texas
Unsettled Land: From Revolution to Republic, the Struggle for Texas
By Sam W. Haynes
Basic Books, 2022, 496 pp.

Haynes delivers a powerful counternarrative to the traditional foundational myths about the defense of the Alamo and the origins of Texas: the shopworn narrative of a heroic American resistance overcoming Mexican despotism. In so doing, he proposes another myth: a pre-independence, Mexico-ruled multicultural province where English speakers, Hispanics, indigenous tribes, and freed Blacks coexisted in relative harmony. For all these groups, apart from white males, independence for Texas in 1836 and then its incorporation into the United States as a state in 1845 resulted not in liberation but in a devastating loss of liberty. Haynes enriches this revisionism with the histories of embattled indigenous tribes (some native to the region, others recently arrived), all tragic victims of a purposeful, blood-soaked ethnic cleansing perpetrated by whites. Endemic political chaos in Mexico City and an underfunded and poorly led Mexican military allowed Texas, with a population of under 100,000 (only some 30,000 of whom were Anglo-Americans), to win independence from Mexico, with a population of some eight million people. Haynes’s riveting tale of the state’s violent, intolerant, color-coded history reverberates in the radical politics of today’s increasingly radical Texas Republican Party.