Just as a great structure must have a solid foundation, so our knowledge and understanding of the past cannot safely outgrow its basis in reliable primary sources. Interest in the history of Texas during the period 1835-36 has attracted a variety of interpreters from the ranks of many different professions. Academic scholars, novelists, journalists, popular historians, and filmmakers continue to explore the many dimensions of the Texas Revolution without depleting the public's interest or resolving all the controversies. They come also with a wide array of perspectives -- this era is at the core of the Texas mystique and also significant in the history of Mexico and the United States. Further adding to the fascination, several of the leaders associated with that turbulent time and place -- David Crockett, James Bowie, William B. Travis, Antonio López de Santa Anna, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston -- have acquired legendary and often heroic status.
Fortunately, study of this period has never come close to exhausting or otherwise stressing a solid and diverse foundation of primary source materials. Indeed, scholars have been at least as successful in preserving and publishing first-hand accounts as in producing viable secondary works. Government documents have been printed, muster rolls and bounty grants to soldiers compiled, census materials and land grants collated, and official correspondence reprinted. Published editions of memoirs, journals, and letters also exist in adequate numbers.[ 1]
The diary is the most rare of original works from the era of the Texas Revolution. Memoirs are valuable and more numerous but lack immediacy and often have the disadvantageous baggage of hindsight and special pleading. Amidst the turbulence of the times, people were far more likely to write a few letters than to record daily events in a systematic manner. There is one great exception, a rich diary left not by a fabled hero but by an astute visitor who recorded impressions in the candid and almost aloof manner of an outsider. This is the diary of William Fairfax Gray.
A cultured and thoughtful Virginian, Gray stepped onto Texas soil in early 1836, just over a month before representatives gathered to declare independence. He carried in his saddlebags several small volumes filled with daily