Recreating Texas history - with camels
Three generations of the Hegman family will dress in period costume to participate in the battle reenactment at the San Jacinto Day Festival April 21, the same date in 1836 that Texas won its independence from Mexico during the crucial 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto.
This year Mark Hegman, a Baytown resident, plays Sam Houston, the general who led the Texian army to victory. His son-in-law is a soldier. His wife, daughter-in-law and 4- and 5-year-old grandchildren help portray what happened during the Runaway Scrape, when Texas residents gathered their possessions and fled upon learning Mexican President Santa Anna was progressing on Gonzalez.
Hegman said kids who watch the reenactment, part of the all-day, free festival, love the action of the 400-cast-member presentation. Galloping horses, cannon fire, pyrotechnics, weaponry and “the commotion and confusion” that were part of the day serve as a theatrical hands-on educational lesson, he said — “like a Texas History classroom” come to life.
The actors stay in character all day. Festival goers can stroll through the Mexican and Texian camps to take in what life was like in 1836. They’ll view tools used for daily chores and see how the soldiers prepared for war. Hegman said his family goes so far to eat only what would have been available in the time period.
“I’m always amazed how in depth these children get into what we do in the camps,” Hegman said. “They’re very inquisitive.”
The festival’s other family-friendly attractions include a petting zoo, hands-on snake exhibit, archery, a medicine show wagon and camel rides. And, yes, the camels are historically relevant. For a brief period, the U.S. Army used camels to usher supplies across West Texas.
Teachers from Deer Park ISD will man the crafts station where children can try writing with a feather dipped in ink, make bolo neckties, finger-paint bluebonnets and create bobcat face masks. There is country-western music, a mariachi performance by The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, zydeco music, flamenco dancers, Native American performances and a show by the Mixteco Ballet Folklorico. Larry Spasic, president of the San Jacinto Museum of History, said he hopes the performances represent the spectrum of musical tradition in Texas.
Food vendors at this year’s festival will offer a more diverse variety, Spasic said, in an effort to represent Houston’s long-standing immigrant population. Blacksmiths, weavers, spinners and quilters are also on hand. Spasic said the different forms of historically-accurate living history help children “remember vividly” the importance of the fight for Texas’ independence.
For his part, Hegman will travel with his family travel across the state to be part of similar reenactments this year. It’s the 14th year he’s been part of this particular Battle of San Jacinto reenactment, but only the third time he’s played the role of Sam Houston, posing with families who wait their turn to take a picture with the pivotal player in Texas history and ask questions of his bravery. “I feel like Spider-Man,” he said.