Illinois to Texas students: We’re keeping Santa Anna’s fake leg

Sketch of Antonio L pez de Santa Anna, leader of the Mexican army in the fight against Texas independence.
Sketch of Antonio L pez de Santa Anna, leader of the Mexican army in the fight against Texas independence. TEXAS STATE LIBRARY

Illinois has a message for some Texas college students: Hands off our leg.

Last week, dozens of St. Mary’s University students went to Illinois to ask the state to return Gen. Antonio Santa Anna’s artificial leg to Mexico from its current location at a military museum, KSAT reports.

Illinois soldiers captured the prosthetic leg at the Battle of Cerro Gordo in 1847 when the unit surprised Santa Anna, and he left it behind.

The Illinois unit took the leg back with them, and it now rests at the Illinois State Military Museum.

“To us it’s non-negotiable,” Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, public affairs director for the Illinois Department of Military Affairs, told the Springfield State Journal-Register. “They say they want to start a conversation. That conversation has been made before. We’re not interested in a conversation. The answer is no. The leg is where it belongs and it’s staying here.”

St. Mary’s history professor Teresa Van Hoy told the San Antonio TV station that the leg has a deeper meaning for Mexico and emphasized that soldiers on both sides of the war were fighting for their countries.

“There is a really rich history here and unfortunately, so far in my view, it has been reduced to a freak-show exhibit which doesn’t do full honor to the people of Illinois or the veterans of Illinois,” she told the Springfield paper.

Van Hoy said that because Abraham Lincoln was a critic of the Mexican War, it doesn’t make sense to house a leg that was taken in that war less than a mile from his resting place.

She suggested holding a vote for Illinoisans to decide whether to send it back to Mexico or keep it there.

“We paid for that leg with Illinois blood,” Leighton told the newspaper. “It honors our soldiers; it honors their service, and it was put in our public trust by our troops to keep in perpetuity. And that’s where it’s going to stay.”

This isn’t the first time that Texans have tried to get the leg moved.

The Chicago Tribune reports that in 2014, a failed online White House petition sought temporary display at the San Jacinto Museum of History.

“It’s not going anywhere,” the Illinois museum’s curator Bill Lear told the newspaper. “… This is a centerpiece of the museum and a very important artifact to tell the story of Illinois soldiers and the sacrifice that they have made in service of this country.”

According to the Texas State Historical Association, Santa Anna died June 21, 1876, and is buried at Tepeyac Cemetery in Mexico City.