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The Tale of Santa Anna

Painting - The Surrender of Santa Anna by William Huddle

The Surrender of Santa Anna by William Huddle

Few people were more colorful than Mexican General Santa Anna, the villain of the Alamo. Do you know anyone else who has insisted on having his own leg buried with military honors?

It’s true. After being injured during the French Pastry War, he had his leg amputated below the knee. When he became Mexico’s president, he had the leg exhumed and gave it an elaborate state funeral.

Would you believe two of his prosthetic legs are in Illinois? I used to live there and have seen one of them, maybe both. Soldiers from Illinois brought them home after the Mexican-American War. The most famous is in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The lesser one, a peg leg, is in the Oglesby Mansion in Decatur. Richard J. Oglesby served in both the Mexican-American and Civil Wars and held office as Illinois governor and United States senator.

Other interesting details about him:

  • A political chameleon, Santa Anna shifted allegiance anytime it suited him and usually ended up on the winning side.

  • The president of Mexico on multiple occasions (between 5 and 23 depending on how you count them), he often turned the reins of government over to a subordinate and retired to his estate. Some historians believe Santa Anna lacked interest in governing. Others presume he didn’t want to make unpopular decisions.

  • His actions as a general and as president resulted in Mexico losing half its territory to the United States.

  • Soon after the Gadsden Purchase, the Mexican people ousted Santa Anna from power for the last time.

  • He spent many years in exile.

  • He died a pauper in Mexico.

  • His leg has inspired artists and authors. The most memorable piece of fiction was an episode in 1998 of the cartoon King of the Hill.

  • Texans and Mexicans have tried repatriating the leg to their home territory, but Illinoisans have said, “No way.”

  • Folk history claims Lieutenant Abner Doubleday used the peg leg stored in Decatur as a baseball bat.

  • Santa Anna and his leg get mentioned in Legacy of an Uprising.

Maybe now, Santa Anna’s leg is more famous than he is. You can see a picture of the wooden leg at the link below. The accompanying editorial is pretty funny too.

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