Doubts remain about authenticity of account of Battle of the Alamo
By Barry Shlachter
Knight Ridder Newspapers
FORT WORTH, Texas - On the eve of an auction that could fetch $250,000
to $300,000 for a rare account of
the Battle of the Alamo, doubts about the manuscript's authenticity remain.
The auction has attracted widespread attention because the diary, purportedly
by a Mexican officer, contains a
myth-shattering revelation that Davy Crockett was captured, then summarily executed.
Attributed to Lt. Col. Jose Enrique de la Pena, who served in Gen. Antonio
Lopez de Santa Anna's army, the
684-page manuscript goes under the hammer Wednesday with bidders from around the country linked by
satellite. Butterfield & Butterfield auctioneers in San Francisco said they have received inquiries from Texas
institutions that want to keep the papers in the state.
The papers are owned by San Antonio resident Ruby Peace, 74.
California illustrator Joseph Musso, who has spent decades studying another
Alamo hero, Jim Bowie, Bowie
knives and Alamo history, said the document is a forgery, citing an analysis by handwriting expert Charles
Hamilton. The auctioneers had used Hamilton to authenticate another offered item, an 1832 Jim Bowie letter.
But Greg Shaw, who stressed that his firm stands behind the manuscript's
authenticity, disputed Musso's
assertion and suggested that someone might have forged the statement by Hamilton, who died two years ago.
"It's most ridiculous," Shaw said from Los Angeles. "... I just can't understand
what these people are up to. It's a
forgery of Charles Hamilton's signature, possibly. This is all conspiracy nonsense by amateurs who don't have
any training or ability."
Musso, who earns a living by illustrating movie story boards for Hollywood
studios, writes frequently on Bowie
and the Alamo. He found several errors about the battle in the latest edition of the Handbook of Texas, which its
editors later acknowledged. Various organizations including Butterfield & Butterfield have consulted with him on
Jim Bowie-related matters, Musso said.
Hamilton's statement attributed the Alamo diary forgery to John Laflin,
alias John Lafitte, who the expert profiled
in his book "Great Forgers and Famous Fakes," which was reprinted in 1996.
"We know Charles Hamilton never mentioned it to anybody and didn't refer
to it in a new edition of his book about
Lafitte," Shaw said.
Hamilton did not examine the actual document but a photocopy of a reproduction
contained in the 1975 English
translation, published by Texas A&M University Press, Shaw said.
"This was inappropriate," Shaw said. "No handwriting expert can authenticate
anything from a photocopy. You
have to examine the document."
Hamilton's statement said: "I certify that I have carefully examined the
document allegedly written by Jose
Enrique de la Pena, entitled 'Personal Narrative with Santa Anna in Texas,' and find that it is a forgery by John
Laflin, alias John Laffite."
Although Shaw earlier insisted there was no need for a forensic examination,
he had the diary's paper tested
before he appeared on NBC's "Today" show last month. Tests showed the paper had been manufactured in
Portugal a decade before the 1836 battle. If ink had been applied this century, he said, there would have been
tell-tale "feathering" - ink spreading out as if on blotting paper.
Musso said Hamilton gave him an oral report for $250, then sent him a written
one calling the manuscript a
forgery for another $250. Musso faxed the signed certification and canceled checks that purportedly carry
Hamilton's signature to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The diary triggered an uproar when the English translation appeared two
decades ago. Diehard Crockett
advocates denounced it as a 20th century forgery, an elaborate hoax that disputes their belief that the
coonskin-capped frontiersman went down fighting at the Alamo in March 1836.
But many academics accept it as a narrative penned or dictated by de la
Pena while he was jailed for backing
the wrong general-politician after the Texas War of Independence. Only one page is devoted to Crockett's
demise; the rest outline de la Pena's complaints about his superiors' incompetence and cruelty during the war.
Nothing was known of the diary until a Mexico City rare coin dealer published
a book based on it in 1955. The
Mexican military archives authenticated de la Pena's signature, Shaw said.
Peace's late husband, former state Democratic Party Chairman James Peace, bought the papers in 1974.
"I think the weight of evidence is on the side of authenticity," said Stephen
Hardin, a Victoria College historian and
author of the "Texas Iliad," which quotes the diary.
Hardin then cautioned: "I hope whoever gets it puts the document through
not just one test, but through a whole
battery of tests to prove its authenticity."
(c) 1998, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.