Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón – known as General Santa Anna – was a Mexican politician and military general who fought for the independence of Mexico in the mid 1800s. And while much is known about him, less is known about the ongoing “fight” between Illinois and Texas for custody of Santa Anna’s leg.
When did Santa Anna lose his leg?
Santa Anna was a controversial figure who gave up Mexican territory to the U.S. but continued to be a hero to his troops nevertheless.
In the little-known Pastry War (1838-1839) against the French, he lost his left leg.
French troops shot Santa Anna in the leg at the Battle of Veracruz (1838). They used a French grapeshot (a bag of smaller caliber rounds bound together rather than a single piece of ammunition), which damaged the leg so badly that doctors had to amputate it. Later, Santa Anna used the moment not only to hold a full military funeral for the leg but to use it as propaganda to gain back power after retiring a few years earlier.
The leg funeral took place in Mexico city. However, protestors later dug up the limb and dragged it through the streets.
But this is not the leg at the heart of the controversy.
The battle for a wooden leg
Santa Anna had a wooden prosthetic made to replace his leg. Today, it’s in Illinois of all places.
According to the Chicago Tribune:
“In 1847, the United States and Mexico fought what Americans call the Mexican War and Mexicans call the Invasion of Mexico. During that conflict, his forces were surprised by a gallant Illinois infantry unit. He fled on horseback, leaving the prosthesis behind.
Our troops took the abandoned appendage into custody and transported it to Illinois, prudently assuring it would never again be put to warlike purposes. It has resided here since, and is currently among the holdings of the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield.”
Over the last few decades, Texas has tried to claim ownership of the wooden leg. Illinois will not relinquish it.
In an editorial in 2016 (cited below), the Tribune’s board wrote: “A museum at the San Jacinto Battlefield, where he was captured and forced to give up his claim to Texas, has petitioned the White House to get the leg moved there, where it would keep company with his knee buckle and tent stake. Students at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio think they should get the leg so they can give it to Mexico.”
The answer to Texas’ request has been a resounding “no” from Illinois. “At San Jacinto, Santa Anna still had the legs he was born with. Texans didn’t inflict the injury that necessitated the replacement, and Texans didn’t capture it or preserve it for 169 years. As we all know, possession is nine parts of the law,” noted the editorial board. — WTF fun facts