On most days, Mark Hegman is an engineer, but on April 22, he is General Sam Houston fighting for Texas’s independence at the Battle of San Jacinto.
The famous battle that led to the defeat of the Mexican Army, led by Santa Anna, is reenacted every year by the Texas Army. In 1969, Texas Governor Preston Smith recommissioned the Texas Army to act as the official ceremonial and reenacting group in the State of Texas. They organize and perform various reenactments across the state from the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence to the Battle of San Jacinto.
“Our primary goal is to keep alive the memory of those men who fought and died to make Texas free from Mexico,” Texas Army General Jerry Tubbs said. “(We) do whatever we can as often as we can and wherever we can to promote Texas history.”
Hundreds of people participate in the reenactment annually. In order for the event to run smoothly, Tubbs said it is vital that participants wait and listen to their commanding officers for orders.
“I jokingly say that it is like herding cats,” Tubbs said. “(But) out there everyone knows that when Jerry says jump, it is how high and how far.”
In addition to a strict chain of command, the Army enforces many policies to ensure the battle is as safe as possible. In the morning they have a group safety meeting, where the procedures of the battle are fully explained including how the pyrotechnics will work during the battle. In the rare case that someone gets hurt, someone yells “Buster” and everything stops until medical attention arrives.
“If we have any newer reenactors, (then) we go through some drills just to make sure that everyone on this battlefield knows what they are doing and is safe,” Martin Vasquez said. “Accidents can happen, but we want to make sure that we don’t have any.”
Vasquez’s counterpart, Hegman, said he once had to call the state police in order to remove someone from the park because they had not filled out proper registration and fulfilled safety requirements.
“I got a call from some senator about (the incident),” Hegman said. “I told him that even if he showed up or if the governor showed up, without the proper registration, he couldn’t get on the field either.”
Many of the reenactors are history buffs who studied prominent figures in Texas history as a hobby. Though Vasquez has been portraying Santa Anna for about three years, he has been studying him for about 15. When he was a middle school history teacher, he realized first-hand the power of reenactments. On days he dressed up, he said his students performed better than on other days.
“It’s really different when you bring this story to life,” Vasquez said. “You are able to learn so many more things you wouldn’t get from a book.”
They also make it a point to portray both sides of the war truthfully.
“The Texans tell their side of the story, and the Mexicans tell their side of the story,” Tubbs said. “There were no bad guys. It was only people fighting for what they believed in.”
Reenactments like the Battle of San Jacinto allow people to immerse themselves in the world of 1836 without leaving 2017.
“We are not recreating history because if we were we would be killing each other,” Tubbs said. “We are emulating history to best of our ability to give folks the ability to see what life was like during those times for both sides.”