The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001 Page: 119
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introduction, afterword, bibliographic essay. ISBN o-87565-150-X. $22.50,
On January 27, 1940, Robert Ripley showcased Texas hero Lorenzo de Zavala
in his nationally syndicated column "Believe It or Not." Ripley, that chronic col-
lector of the noteworthy and bizarre, was not easily impressed. What had Zavala
achieved that prompted Ripley's interest and respect? According to Ripley,
"Lorenzo De Zavala [sic], 1789-1836 was elected to the parliaments of three dif-
ferent countries! Spain 182o--Mexico 1821-Texas 1835 [sic s/b 1836]." Such
service was notable even by Ripley's lofty standards.
Even so, today most Texans have forgotten, if they ever knew, the name and
service of Lorenzo de Zavala. Accordingly, Professor Henson's new biography is
especially welcome. Those familiar with her earlier biographies of Samuel May
Williams (1976) and Juan Davis Bradburn (1982) will not be surprised that her
treatment of Zavala is convincing, scholarly, and enormously readable.
In these pages Zavala emerges as a liberal dedicated to the principles of feder-
alism, but sensible enough to recognize that it was probably doomed in the
morass that constituted Mexican politics in the 183os. That discernment allowed
him to reationalize his role in wrenching Texas away from his motherland. He
not only signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, but also served as the
Texas Republic's ad interim vice president. Henson portrays Zavala as a brilliant-
ly complex statesman who constantly weighed principle against self-interest.
Readers north of the Rio Grande will find much to admire in the man and the
book. It is not, however, likely to convert Mexicans who consider Zavala a repre-
While Professor Henson clearly admires her subject, she never allows that
regard to subvert scholarly objectivity. Discussing Zavala's participation in a
dubious land scheme, for example, she explains: "Zavala's need for money over-
came his earlier idealism about colonization and resident land ownership. He
doubtless convinced himself that he was doing nothing that others had not
already done" (p. 50). Henson's ability to censure her subject is as admirable as
it is vital.
Professor Henson offers a bonus in her afterword. Therein she discusses the
fortunes of the Zavala family throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. Most prominent of Zavala's heirs was his granddaughter, Adina Emila,
who was to play a central role in saving the Alamo from the wrecking ball.
Henson solved a mystery that has long plagued students of the Zavala family.
Both Lorenzo senior and Lorenzo junior consistently signed their names "de
Zavala." It was Adina who altered the spelling to "De Zavala," believing, as
Henson explains, that "it defined the family's aristocratic roots" (p. 121). The
new spelling stuck and today public buildings erected in Zavala's honor bear a
name he never used.
Henson's bibliographic essay begins with an abjuration: "This essay is
arranged more or less by the chronology of the narrative so that, in lieu of foot-
notes, readers can match the sources used for each section" (p. 125). Her inten-
tions were laudable, but the result is less than satisfactory. One senses the
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001, periodical, 2001; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/m1/147/: accessed March 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.