If you’re like me, the only thing you really knew about Santa Anna before this article was that he destroyed the Alamo. I had a vague idea that Santa Anna was a troublesome figure in history, both revered by some and hated by others (this is true, by the way), but no real picture of Santa Anna: the man.
Turns out, Santa Anna the man was quite the character. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his turbulent legacy and troublesome decisions, it can’t be argued that Santa Anna lived a colorful, interesting life.
Let’s take a look at four things you might not know about General Santa Anna.
#1: He Once Held a State Funeral For His Leg
Was there any way we weren’t going to lead with this one?
There are many interesting (and plenty downright troubling) facts about Santa Anna, but one that is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing is that the general held a state funeral for his leg.
Here’s the backstory:
Two years after the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna led some forces in what would come to be known as the Pastry War (yes, we agree, that deserves its own blog post). During one battle, Santa Anna was hit by grapeshot from a French cannon. (The war was against the French, in case we didn’t say that before).
Doctors were forced to amputate his leg, which he insisted on keeping and burying at his hacienda in Veracruz. The doctors probably thought that keeping his diseased and disfigured leg was a pretty weird request, but they went along with it.
Six years later, Santa Anna became the president of Mexico once again. What was his first priority? No, not establishing peace or ensuring financial stability.
He wanted to hold a state funeral for his leg.
Santa Anna had the leg exhumed, brought to Mexico City in its own coach, and buried under a monument. The leg even had its own funeral ceremony, complete with cannons and poems.
The leg didn’t rest in peace for long, though. When Santa Anna lost power in 1844, an angry mob dug it up and paraded it through the streets of Mexico City hanging from a rope.
#2: He Idolized Napoleon
This one shouldn’t be that surprising, considering Santa Anna was himself a despotic and insane conqueror. He came by it honestly, though, by way of a long-running obsession with Napoleon.
Like everything else in his life, Santa Anna’s obsession with Napoleon was pretty darn extra. He had tons of portraits of the French emperor on the walls of his home and modeled his military’s uniforms after the French army. Which might have made it confusing when they clashed with France in the aforementioned Pastry War, but we’re not too sure.
He even went so far as to mimic Napoleon marching formations, placing himself, you guessed it, at the front of the troops.
Unfortunately for Santa Anna, life did indeed imitate his art and he lost his offensive in Texas, just like Napoleon had lost in Russia in 1812.
#3: He Was Exiled to Staten Island Shortly Before His Death
If you ever wondered, “Who lives in Staten Island?” the answer is Santa Anna. Well, at least for a time.
He gained and lost control of the Mexican government a whopping 11 times. That kind of whiplash would have confused anyone, but it was especially challenging because Santa Anna was often displaced from Mexico at times when he was out of power.
During one of his banishments, he encountered some con men on the island of St. Thomas. These con men told Santa Anna that the United States was supporting his bid to regain power (it wasn’t) and that he would be able to depose Emperor Maximilian (he couldn’t). Needless to say, when he arrived in New York City in 1866, he was understandably upset.
Not only was he not meeting with US officials to gain back the power he so desperately wanted, he was left without a pot to piss in, as they say. Santa Anna ended up spending years living on Staten Island, which, while it may not have paid the piper for all of his atrocities, certainly was a punishment of some kind.
#4: He Helped Bring Chewing Gum to the United States
Without Santa Anna, many of us would be (more) nervous about having bad breath on first dates. During the years he lived on Staten Island, he brought in chicle, a chewy, rubbery substance that comes from Mexican sapodilla trees.
Santa Anna showed the material to the inventor Thomas Adams, who failed to create a rubber substitute from the substance, but did manage to add sweetener and flavoring to it, create a “rubber chewing gum.”
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Shakespeare said it best when he wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
We can’t definitively say where Santa Anna’s legacy lands (though the evil he did has certainly lived after him), but we can say that, if he did do any good, it’s probably disinterred and living in a museum now, too, just like his leg.