Santa Anna: Mexico’s president 11 times – just not consecutively

Time Before Now,  June, 1876 Gen. George Armstrong’s days were numbered when he left Fort Lincoln on May 17 to face Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne on the banks of the Little Big Horn River.  Alexander Graham Bell had successfully summoned his assistant on his new-fangled telephone and England’s Bass Pale Ale was issued the world’s first trademark. (Right) 

June 21, 1876

On this day Mexico’s technicolor general, villain of the Alamo and inadvertent father of modern chewing gum, Lopez de Santa Anna, died in Mexico City after being exiled three times.

Arguably the most controversial Mexican leader ever, the scorecard on Santa Anna (left) is checkered, at best. Historians attribute 11 non-consecutive terms as Mexico’s president, perhaps a world record, and nearly as many betrayals and dictatorships.

    While some sources date his death a day later, June 22, all agree he was born February 25, 1705, to a wealthy land-owning family in Xalapa, Veracruz, New Spain.   He rose to prominence fighting against Mexican independence before abruptly changing sides in 1821.  He became a general after driving the Spanish out of Veracruz to the benefit of Augustin de Iturbide, (right) who became the independent nation’s first Emperor.

Santa Anna’s personal fortune coincided with his rise in the military.  In 1825 he married Inés Garcia, the daughter of a wealthy Spanish couple.  The young general did not attend the wedding himself, however, empowering the bride’s father to act as a proxy. confirming the suspicion that the match was contractual.  The arrangement granted the Garcia’s entrée into the new Iturbide regime and aided Santa Anna financially.  

Santa Anna appeared to benefit most from the bargain.  His mercurial political allegiances were again evident when a year later he and other military leaders plotted to overthrow Iturbide, to end monarchies and establish a republic.  New president Guadalupe Victoria appointed Santa Anna governor of the State of Yucatan.  But four years later Santa Anna turned on Victoria’s successor, Manuel Pedraza, helping to orchestrate a coup.  Pedraza was deposed in favor of liberal reformer, Vincente Guerrero. (Right)

Guerrero was quickly undone by a trifecta of trouble.  Americans living in Texas opposed his anti-slavery edict; Mexico’s wealthy elite feared the rise of mixed race peasants and Spain once again tried to take the country back.  Spain’s do-over failed.  Santa Anna defeated the Spanish army at Tampico and he  was hailed as the savior of the republic and elected president by the Congress in 1833.  

Three years later, Santa Anna, ever the camilion, changed his colors again.  He dissolved the Congress, establishing a military dictatorship.  Opposed by nearly the entire population by then,  the republics of Yucatan, Rio Grande and Texas declared themselves independent.

Santa Anna personally rode out to put down the rebellions, arriving at the Alamo on March 6, 1836, where his forces killed 189 Texans, including America’s favorite folk hero, Davy Crockett.  Just 21 days later on Palm Sunday, another 342 captives were executed at what became the Goliad Massacre.  Hoping to terrify the opposition, Santa Anna instead solidified their resolve.

Depiction of the Battle of the Alamo.

The  Texans had surrendered following the Battle of Coleto Creek, held at Goliad’s Fort Defiance under General José de Urrea.  But Santa Anna denied Urrea’s request for clemency for the captives, prompting Urrea to exit, leaving an unfortunate colonel in charge to take the blame.  Only 40 prisoners survived, most escaping by feigning death.

It was left to General Sam Houston (left) to avenge the Texans.  Santa Anna’s army was decisively defeated at San Jacinto.  Santa Anna was captured and a treaty between Texas and the General guaranteed him safe passage to Veracruz.  

But Mexico informed the U.S. Santa Anna was no longer president, calling the treaty null and void, forcing the general into exile in the United States.  Having not learned their lesson, however, Mexican officials allowed the deposed president back into the country in 1837 where he ostensibly retired to his home in Veracruz.  Just not for long.  

Enter France.  King Louis Phillipe, upset that French pastry chef, known to history only as Monsieur Remontel, had not been compensated for the loss of his shop in Mexico City and other French citizens had also suffered losses, Louis Phillipe (left) decided to attack Mexico in Veracruz.   In another huge blunder, Mexican officials gave Santa Anna control of the military.  Roundly defeating the French, he re-entered politics, becoming the provisional president and, of course, dictator again.  

After sacking the treasury and leading a failed expedition into Texas, he stepped down in 1844 and fled the country, reportedly leaving behind his 16-year-old bride, María de Los Dolores de Tosta.  A year later he was captured and sent packing into exile again, this time in Cuba. 

But wait, there’s more.  When the U.S. declared war on Mexico in 1846, the exiled general offered to help defeat the Yankee invaders.  Surprise, he broke his word and declared himself dictator.  When the war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, Santa Anna was exiled for the third time.

After a two-year tour of the Caribbean and South America, he was back in Mexico, declaring himself “Most Supreme Highness” for life.  His Highness was replaced and exiled for the third time and tried for treason in absentia.  He wound up in Staten Island, New York, where at last he made a noteworthy contribution to the confectionery world, the formula for chewing gum.

In an ill-conceived get-rich-quick scheme Santa Anna imported a boat load of chicle in hopes of funding a triumphant military return to Mexico.   Chicle, a tropical evergreen, produces a natural tacky substance which Santa Anna hoped could be used as a substitute for rubber.  It didn’t work, but his partner in the venture, Thomas Adams, (right) eventually founded Adams Chewing Gum introducing “Black Jack”  in 1884 and Chiclets in 1899.  

Adams got rich and Santa Anna got amnesty.  He returned to Mexico, living on the charity of relatives and the kindness of strangers until he died of a stroke at age 82.  

The Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, is one of the nation’s most iconic landmarks.  Open year round, it was  listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.   It is owned by the people of Texas and managed by the state’s General Land Office. Included on the grounds, Alamo Church and the Long Barrack Museum.  The Living History staff provides demonstrations daily and a short film covers the Alamo’s 300-year history from mission to fortress to battlefield.  It’s open 9 to 7  from May 25 to September 3 and 9 to 5:30 September 4 to March 4.   Closed only Christmas Day.

Fees may apply for some audio and guided tours but admission to the church and grounds is free.   Visitors are asked to observe the “rules of reverence” listed on the Alamo website.  For more information go to, e-mail or call (210) 225-1391, Ext 145 for tours, Ext 164 for events and Ext. 145 for field trips.  

In accordance with CDC guidelines and local ordinance the Alamo is currently closed.  Visit the website listed above for the most up-to-date information.

© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.