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Why is General Santa Anna’s leg in Illinois?

August 06, 2021 - 08:41
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General Santa Anna had two good legs when he was found the day after the Battle of San Jacinto. He was hiding in the tall grass near Buffalo Bayou. Though his two legs were as good as new, he still complained and was given a horseback ride on the back of Texian Joel Robison’s horse to where General Sam Houston lay wounded under a tree.

So, how is it that Santa Anna had a prosthetic leg that for going well into the second century, is displayed in the Illinois State Military Museum at Springfield, Illinois?

It all began in the Mexico and France “Pastry War” that started baking early in the 1830s, a few years before the Battle of San Jacinto and the Velasco Treaty freed Santa Anna to return to Mexico.

Back in the early 1830s a Frenchman operated a bakery on the outskirts of Mexico City. It was vandalized by Mexican soldiers, thus the Frenchman sought monetary damages from the Mexican government. Over the period of Texas finally overcoming Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836, the Mexican government became indebted to France for approximately 600,000 pesos including just 60,000 pesos for the Frenchman’s pastry shop.

In the spring of 1838, the Mexican government rejected an ultimatum from France for payment. The French Navy crossed the Atlantic Ocean and began a blockade with over two dozen “ships-of-war” of key Mexican Gulf Coast sea ports. The blockade extended from the Yucatan Peninsula up to the Rio Grande River. The Republic of Texas Navy, though minimal in strength and further decimated by the hurricane on Oct. 7, 1837, sent a schooner as a token of supporting France.

Again, Mexico’s President Bustamente, rejected an ultimatum to pay the debt by Nov. 27, 1838. On the morning of the 28th the French began bombardment of the Vera Cruz ancient fort and castle to breach the walls and take possession. President Bustamente, on the point of surrender, remembered Santa Anna resided nearby. Santa Anna was aroused from his bed in his night shirt to join the fight.

During the battle, Santa Anna’s lower left leg was struck by grapeshot injuring it to the point of amputation at the knee. The Pastry War struggle continued until the spring of 1839 when British diplomats negotiated a peace agreement and Mexico finally paid the 600,000 pesos (Historians consider that the extended Pastry War helped deter Mexico during those fragile Republic years from reclaiming Texas).

Meantime, Santa Anna first buried his amputated lower left limb at his Vera Cruz property. When he again became president of Mexico in 1842, he exhumed the leg and in an ornate coach, took it to Mexico City for an elaborate state funeral. Two years later, Santa Anna again lost power and rioters tore down Santa Anna’s statues, dug up his leg and drug it through the streets.

The leg story continues: When the Mexican-American War began in 1846, Santa Anna again regained military power. It was at the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847, while Santa Anna was resting during a lunch break, he had removed his prosthetic leg. A surprise Illinois Infantry attack caught him off guard. In a rush to escape, he left his prosthetic leg.

Illinois soldiers captured it and kept it as a trophy returning with it to Illinois. Today it is verified to continue as a prominent display in the Illinois State Military Museum at Springfield.

Santa Anna had more political lives than the proverbial cat. He was president of Mexico 11 times. Historically no one is believed to have failed in power to claw back and regain it that many times. Texas Co-op Power, May 2021, W. F. Strong, The Hero of Cinco de Mayo.

Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. See www.tworiversheritage for more info and membership.