Notes and Documents
The Thermopylae Quotation
JOHN H. JENKINS*
44THERMOPYLAE HAD HER MESSENGER OF DEFEAT; THE ALAMO HAD
. none." This has been one of the best-known and most-quoted
mottoes in Texas history, yet controversy has raged for years as to who
was the first to say it, when it was first spoken, and where. W. P. Bal-
linger over a century ago pointed out that regarding "the true history
of [this] expression ..., as a gem of Texas literature, it is no puerile
matter to endeavor to trace [it] to its rightful source."'
Although many candidates have been presented, the person most
often mentioned as originator is Edward Burleson. The problem with
Edward Burleson as the source of the motto, however, is that he had
neither the education nor the cultivation of mind to have conceived it.
Nevertheless, many early accounts credited its conception to Burleson.
For example, Dr. Rufus C. Burleson, the Baylor theologian, edu-
cator, and historian, in an address to the Texas Veterans Association in
Waco, April 21, 1894, said Burleson "made them a speech, in plain,
rough English, that fired every soldier's heart. In conclusion he used,
for the first time, these immortal words: 'Thermopylae had her mes-
*John H. Jenkins was a renowned bookseller, editor, publisher, and history ian of Texana. A
precocious writer, his first book was published when he was eighteen, and by age twenty-six he
had been elected a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association. Well known as editor of
Recollection of Early Texas and Papers of the Texas Revolution, his 1985 work, Basic Texas Books, has
quickly become a classic. Jenkins died in April 1989 while working on a biography of Edward
Burleson. This volume, Edward Burleson: Texas Frontzer Leader, written with coauthor Kenneth
Kesselus, is scheduled for publication in November 1990 by the Jenkins Publishing Company
Editor's note: Like the Alamo, the battle at Thermopylae is surrounded by myth. In 480 B.c.,
during the Persian Wars, the vast Persian army invading Greece was held back at Thermopylae
by a small Spartan force headed by Leonidas. The three hundred legendary Spartan soldiers
died to a man holding the pass at Thermopylae. Other nearby Greek forces, not involved in the
last stand, survived to return and tell the tale of heroic defeat At the siege of the Alamo in
1836 all of the combatant defenders were killed A number of women, children, and at least
one male slave inside the Alamo were spared and later related fragmentary stories of the thir-
teen day siege and battle.
Undated clipping headed "Disputed Authorship," Galveston News, ca. 1874, Edward Burle-
son Bioglaphical File (Eugene C. Barker Texas History Center, Univeisity of Texas, Austin).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 94, July 1990 - April, 1991. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101214/. Accessed May 24, 2015.