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A Highlander and his Books

A Chat with Carl Peterson
By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

Q: The title of your new book is NOW’S THE DAY, NOW’S THE HOUR. Why did you choose that title, what is its origin, and who wrote those words?

A: The words were part of Robert Burns’ poem "Scots Wha Ha'e" which was put to a tune that at that time was known as Hey Tuttie Taitie, a Jacobite song from the early 1700s. In Scottish tradition, it is believed to be the tune that was played by Robert the Bruce's musicians the night before the start of the Battle of Bannockburn, which was fought over two days, June 23rd and 24th, 1314. Sam Houston was of Scottish ancestry and, as it turns out, was an avid reader of Robert Burns and quoted a lot of Burns' poetry to his son, Sam Jr., throughout his life. When Sam Houston was Commander in Chief of the forces for the district of Nacodoches in October of 1835, he wrote out an appeal for volunteers with the heading:

Freemen of Texas
To Arms!!! To Arms!!!
Now's The Day, & And Now's The Hour.

Burns' song must have been tremendously popular at that time for no less than 13 songs were written to that tune during the course of the Texas revolution.

Q: You refer to Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron throughout your book and quite often. Could you give an example of each of these writers as to their influence on the men at the Alamo?

A:  Well, not only was "Scots Wha Ha'e" a popular song by Burns at that time, but other songs by Burns and Sir Walter Scott were being sung and listened to and used to write Texas songs about the Alamo and the Texas revolution. Also Scott's Waverley novels had a great deal of influence, especially on the southern States. It has often been said that the chivalry and romance of the southern folk come from the Waverley novels. William Barrett Travis had in his possession several of Scott's novels, including Ivanhoe, Waverley and The Black Dwarf, and once again many historians believe that Travis may have emulated Scott's fictional heroes. I try to illustrate this connection by comparing battle scenes in the Waverley and battle scenes from the Alamo that are hauntingly similar. I truly believe that Travis saw himself as at least one of Scott's swashbuckling heroes. These songbooks and novels, by the way, were published in the USA in New York and Philadelphia mostly, which once again might be indicative of the influence of the Scottish immigrant's success over here. Lord Byron's works were read a great deal, but as to his influence in a revolutionary spirit, he was not as strong as Burns or Scott. 

Q: Most people naturally think of Byron as an Englishman, and rightly so, but did “Scotch” (your word, and I like it) blood run through his veins?

A: Byron may be regarded as an Englishman, but he classifies himself as being born half a Scot and bred a whole one. His mother was a Scot, born in Aberdeen, and Byron spent his early years in Aberdeen up until the age of eight. 

Q: In a few sentences, what is the primary reason for your book?

A: When I found out just how Scottish the period music was in the South and in Texas, I realised that this was more or less a continuation of the Scottish way of life in the States. It wasn't enough for me to be told that these people were of Scottish ancestry, but at that time they were Scottish in just about everything but being born there.

Q: Did Travis really draw a line in the sand and ask his men to cross over, knowing it meant certain death?

A: The answer to that question will never really be known for certain, but having read as much as I could about it, I am of the opinion that he did. It is a hotly contested debate, and I know most Alamo historians think not, but I can't agree. I do believe that had they surrendered they would have been executed anyway, as they were in Goliad days later. There are many similar questions concerning the Alamo such as did Crockett die fighting or did he surrender, did he wear a coon skin cap, was there really a bagpipe playing Scot and a fiddle playing partner, what flags were flying over the Alamo and so on, that we will probably never know the truth about. I think that this is an aspect that makes the story of the Alamo so intriguing.

Q: What is the tie-in with your CD, Scotland Remembers the Alamo, and your book, Now’s the Day, Now’s the Hour?

A: When I had finished researching and recording the material (which took me about 15 years off and on), I found myself having to explain the songs and the entire concept of the title Scotland Remembers the Alamo, so I decided to do a companion music book which turned into a history/music book. Once again, it was to show just how Scottish the people still were at that time and why, but I couldn't help straying into other aspects of the Alamo story that maybe were not so Scottish (like the line in the sand). Once one has read about the controversies surrounding the story, I think you feel compelled to add your two bits worth.

Q: Your CD has two tartans on its cover and six men across the top.  Which tartans are they, why were they chosen, and who are the men?

A: The two tartans are the Macgregor and the Texas Blue Bonnet, so named for a Texas flower. I chose the MacGregor for piper John Macgregor, of course, but there are alleged ties to James Bowie being a member of Clan Gregor also. The faces on the CD cover are Bowie, Travis, Crockett, Houston, Scott and Burns. The spirit of the latter two were present in Texas.

Q: What part did music play at the Alamo, and what were a few of the Scottish songs?

A: There was music from within and without. The Mexican camp had its own musicians playing for Santa Anna's amusement. In fact I read somewhere that Santa Anna had up to 1200 musicians in his army and no real medical staff. The music inside the Alamo, according to Susanna Dickinson, consisted of a fiddler, whom she says was Crockett, which I personally doubt. I think it was Micajah Autry. She is also the one responsible for the story of piper John MacGregor joining the fiddler in duels of music and noise. Susanna identifies only one tune that she names as The Flowers of Edinburgh. The Mexican music would have been a mix of military and social music, while I think most of what would have been played by our Alamo musicians would have been social. There were no real soldiers in the Texas army, what one might call a citizens' army. Evidence points to Scottish music being prevalent in the South and Texas at that time. Music, though, is a major presence in peace and war. Robert the Bruce had his at Bannockburn.

Q: What was your favorite song at the Alamo and on your CD?

A: Of my favorites, I'd have to say, I like the song The Flower of Edinburgh. We know it today and even back then as a country-dance tune, and I was excited to find the song version from the 1700s, something that had slipped through the cracks of time. The same for The Dashing White Sergeant. If you listen close enough you hear Dixie in that song. It's well known that a lot of the songs from the old country were either used to write new American songs or were plagiarised by writers to write "new" songs. The Anacreonic Song and its two Texas versions are other favorites. The tune, of course, was used to write The Star Spangled Banner. I also love Will you Come To the Bower.

Q: Were there any Gallic speakers at the Alamo?

A: Not that I'm aware of and there is no mention by Alamo historians of any. However, one Alamo historian collected a series of stories in the oral tradition taken from relatives and descendants of the Alamo defenders, and he mentions John MacGregor as being hard to understand. This may have been because he had a very thick Scottish brogue or broke out into speaking Gallic every so often. With a Highland name like MacGregor and him being a piper, it seems natural to assume he could have been a Gallic-speaking Highlander. The Highland Clearances were taking place in Scotland during that time. I also feel that Alamo historians in general, without knowing Scottish history, miss a lot of those subtle connections.

Q: Who is your favorite Scottish author and why?

A: I would have to say Sir Walter Scott because of the range he had. Not only a novelist and poet, but like Burns, a collector and writer of songs. If he were alive today, he would be the most sought after Hollywood writer ever with so much of every human emotion in his stories. He also did a great deal to preserve Scotland's history not only in his novels but also in such things as his Tales Of A Grandfather. But goodness knows Scotland had so many great writers, and in America today and around the world, we delight still in Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, Kidnapped, Treasure Island and so on.

Q: Is there a final word from you about the book, the CD, or the men at the Alamo that you would like to leave with our 70,000+ Family Tree subscribers?

A: Just that I hope you understand that as far as I can see, Scots born in Scotland or Scots born in America were not that far removed from their homeland, their culture, music, history, ideals and that's what the men at the Alamo were all about. Land and freedom that had been denied them in Scotland was what they were so fighting for at the Alamo.  (4-29-04)

Return to June/July 2004 Index Page  |  Visit Frank Shaw's Page


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