Historians and film critics have largely panned the 2015 History channel miniseries Texas Rising for its historical inaccuracies, but many have been cheering the tie-in book by historian Stephen L. Moore. Moore’s style and insight drew readers to his previous books, including Taming Texas and Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of Jan Jacinto and the Texas Independence. He also writes about World War II. NAL Caliber/Penguin Books of New York recently released The Battle for Hell’s Island: How a Small Band of Carrier Dive Bombers Helped Save Guadalcanal (2015). A native Texan, Moore [stephenlmoore.com] lives in Denton County, north of Dallas, with his wife and daughters. He took time from working on other military history projects to talk about Texas Rising: The Epic True Story of the Lone Star Republic and the Rise of the Texas Rangers (see review).
Which came first, the book or the miniseries?
I was approached by the editorial staff at William Morrow/Harper Collins to write the nonfiction companion book for Texas Rising while the series was already in production. I was given access to the script, to see the time frame and key players involved, but was urged to write the facts about the revolution and the early Rangers. The book takes the reader back months before the start of the History series. So, the miniseries came first and was well on its way to final production before I was brought in.
I’m happy they allowed me to relate how the Rangers played a key role in the Texas Revolution and to set the record straight. The series includes a certain amount of fiction and characters who are really composites of people that served in that time. I think each work should be viewed as a separate entity. The series is highly entertaining, but those who want the full story should read the book.
What drew you to write about the revolution-era Rangers?
I was drawn to the early Texas Rangers because I found so little detail about the companies in which my ancestors served. I ended up writing a four-volume set called Savage Frontier, which covers all of the Indian Wars, the Texas Militia and the Texas Rangers during the Republic of Texas era. Most of my material came from Texas Archives material: muster rolls, pension papers, audited military claims, military correspondence and other early sources. I learned plenty in compiling that series, including much about the battles in which my ancestors fought.
How important were the Rangers in the fight for independence?
The Texas Rangers had been in service off and on for years prior to the revolution, mainly as part of the colonial militia structure. During the revolution, in 1835, the Rangers were legally created. At least 16 companies of Rangers operated in the field for varying lengths of time between October 1835 and April 1836. They ranged vast territories, fought minor battles with Indians, protected settlers during the Runaway Scrape, built forts, protected river crossings, scouted for Sam Houston and ultimately fought at the Battle of San Jacinto. More than 80 men who had served in revolutionary Ranger companies were present for the battle on April 21, 1836, or stationed at Harrisburg to protect the sick and the army supplies.
Little has been written about them, with the exception of Noah Smithwick’s memoirs. It took quite a bit of digging in the archival papers to flush out the names and stories of those who served in other Ranger companies during the revolution. The famous Parker’s Fort was a Ranger headquarters during the revolution and was known during that time as Fort Sterling.
Another Ranger company, Lieutenant George Kimbell’s Gonzales Mounted Rangers, rode into the Alamo as the last large force to come to the aid of William Travis and his men. They became known as the “Immortal 32” when all of these Gonzales men perished at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
I uncovered so much unknown data on the early Texas Rangers companies that I was compelled to begin writing books on the Republic-era Rangers
Tell us about your storied great-great-great-grandfather, William Sadler.
William Turner Sadler, born in North Carolina, first scouted land in Texas in the early 1820s. By the time he sold his farm in Georgia and headed for Texas permanently in 1835, he was a veteran of the Indian wars. He traveled with Mirabeau Lamar (a distant relative) via steamboat, stagecoach and horseback to Louisiana. They would not meet again until the Battle of San Jacinto. Lamar became president of Texas. Sadler served as a captain of Rangers and a captain in the Texas Army. He fought at San Jacinto and in a number of Indian battles in Texas during the 1830s. He later served in the House or Representatives for the final Congress of the Republic and in the first Congress of the State of Texas. He was first appointed captain of Rangers on January 1, 1836, during the revolution, and his 10-man company helped build Fort Houston in present Palestine, Texas. In writing his biography, Taming Texas, I uncovered so much unknown data on the early Texas Rangers companies that I was compelled to begin writing books on the Republic-era Rangers.
What happened in Texas history near Walnut Creek on Jan. 10, 1836?
Captain John Tumlinson’s Ranger company fought the first recorded battle between Rangers and Comanches on that date. Although a couple of Rangers were wounded, they managed to kill four Comanches, wound several others and recover a young boy who had been kidnapped by the Indians. Tumlinson’s men proved the value of maintaining small, mobile forces of Rangers who could move swiftly to intercept raiding Indian parties preying on settlers. The Rangers and Comanches would have plenty more encounters in Texas, but Walnut Creek was the first serious engagement.
Of course this book also covers Gonzales, the Alamo, Goliad and San Jacinto. Is there anything new to be learned there?
I try to give the reader a little insight into the mindset of General Sam Houston during the six-week San Jacinto campaign. He has often been labeled as a coward during that time, refusing to engage Santa Anna’s army for many weeks. Houston held no councils of war with his men, keeping his intentions to himself and perhaps only George Hockley and Deaf Smith. That April, however, he received conflicting messages from the Texas government. President David Burnet ridiculed him, while Secretary of State Samuel Carson [suggested] Houston should, if possible, continue to fall back toward the Louisiana border to rendezvous with U.S. troops. Scouts Deaf Smith and Henry Karnes captured a Mexican mail courier on April 18 with important documents that finally gave General Houston the upper hand as to General Santa Anna’s troop movements. This important event was critical in the final San Jacinto battle.
Who are your favorite historical characters of the period?
I enjoy Mirabeau Lamar and Deaf Smith. Lamar arrived in Texas and joined the army as a mere private. At San Jacinto he was promoted to colonel of cavalry for his actions on the battlefield. Days later he became the senior military commander in Texas. Smith, a trusted confidant of Sam Houston, was probably the most able scout, Ranger and horseman in Texas at the time. He was fearless in battle, managed to help capture key Mexican couriers and still maintained a lighthearted sense of humor with the men who looked up to him.
What’s the biggest misconception about the Texas Revolution?
Some believe it was largely fought by volunteers from the United States, when in fact such men only comprised a small percentage of those who won the ultimate victory at San Jacinto. The majority of those present had been in Texas for quite some time, some having been born there. We tend to remember the more famous Americans like Crockett and Bowie who came to fight for Texas, but the lion’s share of the revolution was fought by men who had already settled in the Texas region.
And the biggest misconception about the Texas Rangers?
Some probably believe they were well armed and prepared for the challenges they would face on the frontiers. Truth be told, few of them had any proper military training. They were teenagers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, legislators, merchants, farmers and, in some cases, people just looking for vengeance. They were self-armed in many cases and had to supply their own horses. There were no uniforms, and any payment promised to them was often years from being fulfilled. They were most often common men rising up to defend their home region and their fellow settlers from attacks by the Mexican army or Indian tribes.
How hard is it to research the early Rangers and early Texas?
Honestly, it has become much easier with time and the Internet. The Texas Land Office has recently digitized countless land documents, including papers related to the Texas Army and Texas Rangers service. Years ago I had to spend time in the archives in Austin or order reels of microfilm via interlibrary loans. Now millions of these pages are available through online sites, such as those housed by the Texas State Archives.
Talk about Jack Hays and his legacy to Texas and the Rangers.
By 1843 Captain Jack Hays and his Ranger company were the last military force in operation for a period of time. The army, militia and other Ranger companies had been allowed to lapse. His men, through the use of the Colt repeating pistol, changed the nature of frontier warfare. He learned valuable techniques from his Indian comrades and was the most fearless when it came to frontier combat. Some of his opponents came to call him “Devil Jack.” Hays would continue to serve on the Texas frontiers and was a key leader during the subsequent Mexican War.
Can a non-native Texan write about Texas history?
Sure, there have been good bodies of work put out by non-Texans. Robert Utley (born in Arkansas and now living in Arizona), for example, has turned out two very well-researched volumes of Texas Rangers history in addition to his numerous other frontier histories. Those of us reared in Texas might have a little more pride for our home state, but you don’t have to be from a particular area to be able to write about it if you have developed a passion for that history.
You write a lot about Texas, but what draws you to World War II?
I’ve studied World War II history since I was a kid, and it was the subject of my first book, a squadron history called The Buzzard Brigade. I have had the honor of interviewing hundreds of World War II vets who are now gone. Their firsthand stories die with them unless someone spends time to talk with them.
What’s The Battle for Hell’s Island about?
It is more of the Dauntless dive-bomber story of 1942, picking up from where my Pacific Payback leaves us after the Battle of Midway. I cover the first carrier battle in the Coral Sea in Hell’s Island, and then follow the splintered carrier air groups as they rebuild for the Guadalcanal campaign. Many of these airmen end up flying from the dirt strip of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal during the climax of that campaign. WW
BOOKS BY MOORE:
His Texas books include Taming Texas: Captain William T. Sadler’s Lone Star Service (2000), Eighteen Minutes: The Battle of Jan Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign (2003), Last Stand of the Texas Cherokees: Chief Bowles and the 1839 Cherokee War in Texas (2009) and Texas Rising (2015). His latest World War II book, The Battle for Hell’s Island: How a Small Band of Carrier Dive-Bombers Helped Save Guadalcanal, was published in November 2015.