Growing up in southern Texas, Georgia Southern University history professor, Craig Roell, Ph.D., used that experience to help write “Matamoros and the Texas Revolution.” And Dr. Roell’s inside knowledge combined with research and hard work paid off – his book earned the 2015 Presidio La Bahia Award.
The honor is bestowed upon the best published book for outstanding contribution in the field of Spanish Colonial Period of Texas History. The Presidio La Bahia Award has been administered since 1968 by the Sons of the Republic of Texas through the generosity of the Kathryn Stoner O’Connor Foundation.
Roell, the author of six other books, hails from Texas and received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas in 1986. His Texas roots created a passion for all-things-Texas, especially the recent book that discusses the role of the city of Matamoros in the Texas Revolution.
“I grew up in the area of south-Texas where much of this story took place,” Roell said. “So I’ve always been intrigued by it, and as a native Texan, I love Texas stuff.”
He chuckled and added, “Hey, I wear Lucchese boots!”
Continuing seriously, Roell explained, “Years later, as a professional Ph.D. historian working as a scholar for the Texas State Historical Association in Austin, I researched and wrote an article on the “Matamoros Expedition of 1835-36” for the “Handbook of Texas.” That’s when I realized the story was a quagmire.”
Roell continued his research at the encouragement of others, presenting at various symposiums and events.
“In all this and in my research especially in Spanish language sources, I finally realized that the city of Matamoros held the key to understanding so much of what happened during the Texas Revolution,” he said. “Yet from this angle, the story was either not known or had been dismissed in traditional English language histories.”
Roell’s published work is unique in that he is the first to show the crucial geographic and economic context that made control of Matamoros truly advantageous and desirable for both sides during the Texas Revolution.
Roell said, “It is my argument that the multiple and competing Texan expeditions to occupy the city proved foremost in the tragic events leading to the defeat of Texas forces at the battles of the Alamo, San Patricio Agua Dulce Creek, Refugio and Coleto – disasters that led to the infamous Goliad Massacre.
“In addition, I show how the Mexican government and army had their own Matamoros campaign, which contrasted sharply in its success compared to the Texan failure. But this success required the temporary cooperation between otherwise belligerent sides in the civil war that was plaguing Mexico, in order to defeat the predominately Anglo rebellion in Texas who were assisted by volunteers from and funded by the United States – which makes this a story of international and multiracial intrigue.”
Roell admits it’s a very messy and confusing story and said that’s why he argues in his book that the city of Matamoros was not just important but pivotal in the story of Mexico and the Texas Revolution.
Complicated history, for certain – no wonder it took Roell years of research before the book was completed.
The time spent on the book coupled with his passion for history, especially Texan history, made the award even sweeter.
According to Roell, “I was having a stressful time last November, dealing with some ‘life stuff’ when I got an email from my editor, telling me that it looked like I had won a La Bahia Award. About a day or so later – not by coincidence it was during the Thanksgiving holiday – I got a letter officially telling me that my book had been awarded first place.
“The letter made it real. I remember feeling absolutely thrilled and lifted above my troubles, yet almost believing it wasn’t really happening. You know, too good to be true – pinch me, I’m dreaming. I felt so thankful.”
Roell was unable to attend the presentation of the award in person, but his mom, sister, and editor stood in for him to receive a certificate, check and medal, as well as be present for the firing of two cannons to honor the event.