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The San Jacinto Battle Monument with storm clouds in the background
The San Jacinto Battle Monument

A Great Place to Be Yourself - Page Two

Forget the Alamo - Remember San Jacinto!

The other place you have to go, on top of all those other attractions I mentioned, is the San Jacinto Monument and Museum. It was here that Sam Houston rallied his ragtag band of Tejanos, after a strategic retreat lasting five weeks, and defeated the dictator Santa Anna, winning independence for Texas.

You hear a lot about the Alamo in San Antonio where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and 200 other Texans died in battle or were executed (Santa Anna murdered more than 400 prisoners during the course of the war). But the Alamo was not a great place to take a stand, as Houston and others had said.

Facing a vastly superior and better-equipped force, Houston knew he had to win a decisive victory and capture Santa Anna, otherwise Santa Anna would go back and get another army.

So Houston drew the "Napoleon of the West" far from his sources of supply with a five-week retreat of nearly two hundred miles, all the way to San Jacinto on the Buffalo Bayou.

Sam Houston's First Marriage

Then, according to legend, Sam Houston saw a raven.

After his first marriage in Tennessee, about which next to nothing is known except that it ended, Houston lived among the Cherokee and was adopted into their tribe under the name of -- you guessed it -- The Raven.

Turns out Santa Anna had failed to post sentries at his camp on the Buffalo Bayou. Maybe the raven noticed this.

Anyway Houston attacked the makeshift parapet the enemy had erected, leading the charge on horseback while the men around him were on foot. That made him a great target and he had two horses shot from under him and took a bullet in the ankle.

The view from the San Jacinto Battle Monument shows the very spot where Sam Houston defeated and captured Santa Anna. At right is the USS Texas. 
The Battleship Texas saw service in World War I and World War II and participated in the bombardment of the Normandy beaches during the D-Day Invasion.

But he won the Battle of San Jacinto. It lasted 18 minutes.

He was sitting under a tree having his wound treated when his men brought in Santa Anna, who had tried to get away wearing a private's uniform. With the dictator in Houston's hands, the war was over and Texas won its independence.

What a story! And that's just a sketch. You can find out all about this historic battle -- even watch the movie -- at the museum and see real weapons, uniforms (such as they were) and other artifacts from the period. And there are lots of other exhibits about Texas history.

A Distinguished Veteran

From the top of the monument you can get a raven's-eye view of the battleground, and as a bonus, you can visit the Battleship Texas, built in 1914, which saw combat in World War I and World War II, and took part in the bombardment of the Normandy beaches as part of the D-Day Invasion.

It was the first US warship to launch an airplane -- a Sopwith Camel took off from its deck in 1919 -- and the first battleship to carry anti-aircraft guns.

Arcadia Lopez of Ninfa's on Navigation, our guide on a Tex-Mex culinary adventure
Arcadia Lopez of Ninfa's on Navigation, our guide on a Tex-Mex culinary adventure

This distinguished veteran was decommissioned in 1948 and turned over to the State of Texas and has been designated a National Landmark.

Oh Wait! I Forgot the Food!

From personal experience I can attest that Houston is a great place to dine. On our visit we started the day at the Breakfast Klub, which is famous for its wings and waffles, although you can get just about anything else you want.

Owner Marcus Davis, a former history teacher, says the idea started after an all-night jam session in New York City when some people wanted breakfast and some wanted dinner. He calls it "neo-soul food."

It has proved to be a winning formula, because the Breakfast Klub has patrons lined up around the block.

After a great day in Sam Houston Park watching the Art Car Parade (see GoNOMAD's Art Car Photo Gallery) and a visit to some really fantastic exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art, we dined at Ninfa's on Navigation. Ninfa's is a chain now, and they're all good, but Ninfa's on Navigation is the original.

Our waitress was Arcadia Lopez, who has been working there more than thirty years (although you'd never guess it).

She led us on a Tex-Mex culinary adventure with tacos, enchiladas, tortillas and burritos with all kinds of fillings and sauces.

A soft-shell crab at Ninfa's on Navigation
A soft-shell crab at Ninfa's

Then there were the hard- and soft-shell crabs and on and on... And on top of that I had my first mango margarita.

Texas barbeque is legendary, of course, and there are lots of great barbeque restaurants. We went to Goode Company, where I got a roast beef sandwich made from just the end pieces. I've always loved the end pieces.

We also had a nice lunch at Cedar Creek, a neighborhood bar in "the Heights" with an outdoor patio.

A Hotbed of Individuality

What I took away from my visit to Houston was the city's relaxed atmosphere that allows everybody to be themselves.

You don't find a lot of Texans here boasting about how everything's bigger and better than everywhere else. Most of the people are from somewhere else. And you don't see a lot of ten-gallon hats or snakeskin boots either, except on Connecticut transplants like Dubya.

Postman Jeff McKissack created the Orange Show as a tribute to his favorite fruit.
Postman Jeff McKissack created the Orange Show as a tribut to his favorite fuirt.

I was really inspired by the stories of Jeff McKissack and his Orange Project and John Milkovisch and his beer can house and art car pioneer Willard Watson (aka the Texas Kid), and the artists whose work we saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art; and I was struck by the way each of these artists has inspired other people to express themselves.

Being yourself sounds like a simple proposition, but in my experience, it's not, and it is through literature, music and the arts that we learn from others how to do a better job of it.

Jeff McKissack said he wanted to make art accessible to ordinary people. I think he would be mighty pleased to watch a spectacle like the Art Car Parade which does exactly that on a grand scale.

It was the foundation started in his memory that created the Art Car Parade and many other community art projects.

And I know he'd be pleased to see this entry on the Orange Show website about one of their school programs:

"Roxanne has done a complete turnaround since she started working with the Orange Show. Now she says she wants to be an artist. Her grades have improved dramatically; she is so much happier." It's signed "Roxanne's teacher."

Way to go, Roxanne!


Stephen Hartshorne

Stephen Hartshorne is the associate editor of He writes a blog called ArmchairTravel about books he finds at flea markets and rummage sales.



Read more GoNOMAD stories by Stephen Hartshorne:

Family Fun: The Texas Gulf Coast Has It All

New Hampshire Summer Stock Theatre: "The Magic That's Born in the Heart"

Soaring Around in Alternative Reality: A Press Trip to New Holland

Rockland Maine: Fine Art and Family Fun

Elko County, Nevada: Where the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day

The West of Ireland: Stories in Stone

View Stephen Hartshorne's Art Car Parade Photo Gallery


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