This month, Jerry Tubbs will slip into his dark wool uniform, strap his tall, round shako over his long, gray hair, and emerge from his tent, before failing, once again, to put down an armed Texian rebellion. It will mark the 27th time that he has fought in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Each spring since the 1980s, a variety of enthusiasts—some dressed as Texian revolutionaries, some sporting the white pants, short, navy-blue coats, and conical hats of the Mexican Army—have gathered near the San Jacinto Monument to recreate the 18-minute battle back in 1836, during which an outnumbered and outgunned band of revolutionaries managed to rout Mexican forces, securing Texas independence.
A former Katy Steel employee, Tubbs has always had a deep regard for his Texas heritage, and as a child he used to wander the woods pretending to be Daniel Boone. He was 29 when he rented a polyester Davy Crockett costume and sweated his way through his first event, a Fourth of July celebration at Sam Houston Park hosted by the Texas Army, a state-sanctioned group charged with representing “the Texas mystique.” Now 66 and retired, he’s a commissioned Texas Army reenactor.
In the early days, Tubbs was ardently pro-Texian, but nowadays, he mans a four-pound brass cannon for the Mexican side (hence the fancy uniform). Some combination of spending 43 years married to the daughter of Mexican immigrants, devouring dozens of history books documenting both sides of the war, and fighting for each army himself over the years has gradually given Tubbs a balanced take on the battle. He’s concluded that the Texians were fighting for what they believed in, but the Mexicans were just trying to restore order. “I’m in the middle,” he says.
The reenactors try their best to be faithful to history, which can be a tall order, Tubbs acknowledges. General Sam Houston led his ragtag band of fighters from the banks of Buffalo Bayou nearly a mile through coastal prairie grasses “as tall as a horse’s belly” to surprise the Mexican forces, attacking them with the famed cannons known as the Twin Sisters, which unleashed a rain of buckshot and broken glass and whatever else the Texians could find upon the scrambling forces of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who quickly cried uncle.
Today’s landscape, however, favors short, scrubby grass and groves of pin oaks and other craggy trees. That’s to say nothing of the 567-foot monument protruding from the middle of the battlefield, or the crenulated skyline of the surrounding chemical plants. But the soldiers still do their best to give spectators a taste of what that brief, frantic conflict must have been like via a “postage stamp version” of the event, which is limited to a small area adjacent to the San Jacinto Monument’s reflecting pool.
About 60 Texians (standing in for Houston’s 900) in dirty, mismatched uniforms will besiege the camp of roughly 40 Mexican soldiers (a far cry from Santa Anna’s 1,200, partly because reenactors tend to prefer the Texian side). And not long after it starts, Tubbs and his amigos will surrender to the victorious Texians while an annual audience of roughly 35,000 looks on through a cloud of gunpowder smoke. (The rebels don’t act out the hours of brutal killing that reportedly followed Santa Anna’s surrender.)
The battle plays out with startling efficiency and coordination. But Tubbs says no one should think they’re watching an elite fighting force. “Let’s just say, if the actual army has to call us up, we’re all in a heap of trouble.”