by Heather E. Robinson
Through a simulation, in which Canadians try to seize the state of Maine, students will gain an understanding of the circumstances surrounding the Battle of the Alamo, February 23–March 6, 1836, between approximately 200 Texans and 4,000 Mexicans.
San Antonio, the second most populated city in Texas (Houston is the first), is home to the beautiful Riverwalk, Spanish Missions, and one of the most famous clashes in the history of the United States.
In 1836, Texas was part of Mexico. Tensions were high between American colonists and native Mexicans, due to differences in language and culture. The Mexican government, in an attempt to assert control over the region, had reaffirmed its Constitutional prohibition against slavery, established a chain of military posts occupied by convict soldiers, restricted trade with the United States, and decreed an end to further American immigration. As a response to these issues, a volunteer army was formed. When news came that the Mexican army was marching north with 7,000 soldiers to crush the revolt, approximately 180 Texas rebels decided to defend the city of San Antonio and made their stand at an abandoned Spanish mission, the Alamo. On March 6, 1836, the Battle of the Alamo reached its dramatic conclusion, as Mexican troops scaled the mission’s walls. After a morning of fierce fighting, most of the defenders lay dead—including several Mexican defenders who had fought for Texas independence.
If the Alamo was a military defeat, it was a psychological victory. The Mexican troops suffered 1,550 casualties—eight Mexican soldiers died for every defender. "Remember the Alamo" became the battle cry of the Texas war of independence, and the defeat gave the Americans time to raise and train an army. On April 21, an army of around 800 men surprised the Mexican army as it camped out on the San Jacinto River, and forced General Santa Anna to sign a treaty granting Texas its independence.
What motivated a small group of Texans to defend the Alamo against the powerful Mexican Army?
The absurd idea of Canada trying to claim Maine, one of the United States, will intrigue the students. Students will be placed into three groups: Group 1: Canadians, Group 2: Americans, and Group 3: Undecided.
- Students will participate in an simulation that illustrates the Battle of the Alamo.
- Students will read the grievances listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence and explore the conflicts between the Mexicans and the Americans living in Mexican Texas in 1836.
- Students will examine primary documents to gain further understanding of the events that took place during the fight for Texas Independence.
- Texas Declaration of Independence, LSJunction.com
- Map of Maine (a map from a textbook or Google Maps would work well)
- Mind Battle Worksheet for the simulation (PDF)
- "Remember the Mind Battle!" Placard to hold up at the end of the simulation (PDF)
Additional Primary Sources
- Documents of Early Texas, LSJunction.com, includes William B. Travis’ Appeal from the Alamo, Texas Declaration of Independence, and the Treaty of Velasco
- General Santa Anna’s letter, Texas State Library and Archives
- The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Yale University, Avalon Project
Announce to the students that some Canadians are angry that the state of Maine, prominently located between Quebec and New Brunswick, is part of the United States, and should be given up to Canada immediately. Many Canadians live there. Indicate the boundaries on the map of Maine
Divide them into disproportionate groups, and have them stand on different sides of the classroom. In a class of twenty-five, for example, there should be two "Canadians," twelve "Americans," and eleven "Undecideds." (This will later be applied to illustrate the number of Texans versus Mexicans.) Note: You should select particular students to portray the "Canadians." These two students should thrive on role-playing and representing the opposing viewpoint. Let them know you expect them to "Fight for Canada!"
Put the following questions on the overhead, and give the groups a few moments to discuss before sharing. Simple yes or no answers are not permitted:
- Should the United States give Maine to Canada? Why or why not?
- Does Canada have the right to take Maine? Why or why not?
Instruct the "American" and "Undecided" groups to take their seats, and let the "Canadians" pick a place in the room to sit together. Announce that the fate of Maine will depend upon each country’s performance in a Mind Battle. (The "Undecided" group will play the Mind Battle, but their scores will only count later once they are assigned a side.)
Distribute the Mind Battle worksheet—five simple multiple choice questions. Students may work together within their groups. Five minutes is sufficient time for all to finish. Set up an area for each group to stack their papers. The correct letters will spell OMALA (Alamo backwards) so it is easy to grade quickly.
Tally the answers, and determine the winner based upon the side that has the most correct papers (which will be the "Americans," since they have the most people in their group). Point out that the "Canadians" put up a great fight, but didn’t have a realistic chance of winning. Don’t indicate that you haven’t included the "Undecided" group’s scores. Announce that Maine will continue to be part of the United States of America, and ask the "Canadians" to return to their seats. (15 minutes to this point.)
Now tell the students about the events leading up to the Battle of the Alamo. As the information unfolds, students will immediately understand the relationship between the simulation (Canadians seizing Maine) and what actually happened (Americans seizing Mexican Texas). Take time to review this, including the differences between the two situations.
Continue with the history, and describe the later Battle at San Jacinto, where the Texan Army of approximately 800 volunteers, led by Sam Houston, attacked the sleeping Mexicans with shouts of "Remember the Alamo!"
Reveal the nationality of the "Undecided" group. They are also "Canadians"!
Because of this, their scores are added to the original Canadian score, and Maine suddenly becomes a part of Canada. Hold up the placard and ask the newly identified group to shout the words, "Remember the Mind Battle!" Again, ask them to relate this to the simulation: The additional Mind Battle points surprised the "Americans," and in return they were forced to surrender Maine.
Ask for opinions about which side was right. Inform the class that they may not have enough information to decide this point. During the next class period, however, they’ll look over primary documents relating to the subject.
Today you will concentrate on primary documents that will add to student understanding about why Texans wanted independence from Mexico.
Group students in pairs. Have each pair focus on one of the grievances in the Texas Declaration of Independence. There are thirteen grievances.
As a large group, summarize the information on the board or overhead projector, and discuss the complaints by the Texans.
Pass out copies of William B. Travis’ appeal from inside the Alamo and General Santa Anna’s explanatory letter of why the Alamo defenders had to be killed (1874). Examine these letters, then select one to respond to, as if you were the real recipient. The response is a good homework assignment.
There are two final primary documents: the Treaty of Velasco of May 14, 1836, in which General Santa Anna relinquished Texas after losing the Battle of San Jacinto, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of February 2, 1848, which ended the war with Mexico. Select sections, examine and discuss.
We’ve studied about the Alamo and the fight for Texas independence over the last two days. Do you agree that the Texans deserved independence from Mexico? Support your answer with at least two details.
- Border disputes are not an event of the past. Use an online search engine to produce examples, throughout the world, where boundaries are currently challenged.
- Compare the US Declaration of Independence with the Texas Declaration of Independence.
- Just two years after the Battle of the Alamo there really was a struggle between Canada and the United States for the state of Maine. This little-known conflict is called "The Aroostook War" (OnWar.com) and was bloodless.