Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Texans, El Degüello means no quarter given in tough times

A fellow Texan and good friend of mine, Sarita Oertling, sent me a link to a video on YouTube featuring a Mexican cavalry tune, “El Degüello.” Here is the URL since Blogger won't let me embed it.

Ordinarily, I’d wait until early March, the anniversary of Texas independence, to write about this particular topic, but Sarita’s link haunts me to the point that the only way to exorcise the ghost is to write about it.

I must write about it.

If you know your Texas history, then you know that “El Degüello” was the last thing the defenders of the Alamo heard before they were slaughtered by the Mexican army. To hear the tune bugled is to know that the army playing it means to wreak havoc.

According to an online history source I consulted, “El Degüello is a bugle call of Moorish origin notable for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo. ‘Degüello’ is the first-person singular present tense of ‘degollar,’ a verb that means ‘to cut the throat.’ More figuratively, it means ‘give no quarter.’ It signifies the act of beheading or throat-cutting and in Spanish history became associated with the battle music, which, in different versions, meant complete destruction of the enemy without mercy.”

I’ve heard “El Degüello” many times. It is a bright, lilting brass piece that caused Davy Crockett to say to Col. William Travis, “Kinda pretty,” in the 2004 film, “The Alamo.”

It is pretty.

And it is chilling.

If you are not a Texan, then you probably did not take a Texas history class in seventh grade, so you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. But if you are and you did, then you know that General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana allegedly had fourteen military bands surrounding the Alamo playing “El Degüello” on March 6, 1836 so that the “Texians” (as we were known then) knew beyond any doubt that they would die that day.

In these uncertain times, I have thought a lot about the Texians. Uncertain times are a fact of life and every era in history is pock-marked by them; they are nothing new. But they are good for us to remember in that we look back on them and remember that tough times do not last, and sometimes tough people do not last either, but they go down swinging, and in the end, they usher in better times.

In the 1830s, Texas was in the grip of incredible tyranny. I sincerely doubt that the Texians had any intention of splitting from Mexico when they came to Texas, but as the government of the time proved ever harsher, it became apparent that change had to happen if for no other reason than the survival of the common man. During the 13-day siege of the Alamo, about 260 Texians stood up to more than 2,400 Mexican soldiers. In the end, 258 Texians died, but the Mexican army’s losses counted nearly 600. The Texians, though annihilated, certainly got their licks in on Santa Ana’s military might.

More than a month later, and against very similar odds, the Texas army dealt Santa Ana a decisive blow and scored a victory for a new nation: the Republic of Texas. We won, of course, by surprise, in 18 minutes. I’m not sure who was more surprised, Texas or Mexico.

And it changed a tune forever.

For me, and probably for many Texans, those first few measures of “El Degüello” make our spines stiff, causes us to form lumps in our throats and our hearts to swell. It’s less about the massacre of Texas heroes by tyrants than it is about having courage in the face of impossible odds; kind of ironic since the tune was meant to spell our doom. Now, it’s an anthem that means we need to get our boots and our bravery on, and get to work.

The news in the media about our current times is dim. It’s ugly. And, as with media hype and small dogs barking, it probably sounds much worse than it actually is. So let the bugles of “El Degüello” play. Play it loud. Heck, add a fiddle to the tune, because it is amazing what a little harmony will do. Remember the Alamo. And remember, though we might not come through this unscathed, we can survive this, because better times really are ahead.

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