SAN ANTONIO – Dozens of St. Mary’s University History students are beginning a 16-hour bus ride to Illinois.
The trip is meant to not only be educational, but it's also one with a purpose. The students on the trip intend to ask the state of Illinois to consider giving up an artifact it’s held onto for the last 169 years, and give it to Mexico.
The students will not only visit the Illinois State Military Museum to see Mexican General Santa Anna's prosthetic leg, but they also want to spark the conversation about why they feel the leg should be sent back to Santa Anna’s native country.
Santa Anna lost this prosthetic leg in 1847 at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. The Fourth Infantry Regiment from Illinois surprised the general during the battle, forcing him to flee and leave behind several things in his carriage -- including his supper, some money, and his prosthetic leg. After the battle, the soldiers played baseball with his leg and then brought it back to Illinois as a trophy of war. It has remained in the state for the last 169 years.
St Mary's University Professor of History Dr. Teresa Van Hoy said while many times history sees war as good versus bad, one idea she teaches her students is that when you think about it, all the soldiers were fighting for their respective countries.
”I feel like once my students understand how complicated, and painful and tragic this history is and we can sympathize just as much with Gregorio Esparza inside the Alamo as with his brother outside the Alamo, then we really know history," Dr. Van Hoy said.
Van Hoy and her students said the leg may be a trophy of war for the United States, but the leg has a deeper meaning for Mexico. General Santa Anna lost that leg twice defending his country. The students believe if the tables were turned and a president of ours had lost his leg in battle, Americans would want the leg back too.
This is not the first time the discussion of returning Santa Anna's leg to Mexico has come up in Illinois, as President Abraham Lincoln who is from the prairie state, was opposed to the Mexican-American War.
"A lot of people think, it’s just a prosthetic leg, but I think for me to have this knowledge of the history behind it kind of makes it that much more of a special moment to be in its presence," St. Mary’s University sophomore Andre Grajeda said.
Van Hoy and her students are simply hoping to re-ignite the discussion and have the state of Illinois consider giving the leg back to Mexico. They arrive in Springfield Friday.
Links to historic articles about Santa Anna's leg: