By Jennifer S. Bennett
Inspired by Janice Wood Windle's book by the same name, True Women" is the story of three women, Sarah Ashby McClure, Euphemia Texas Ashby, and Georgia Lawshe (named after the state in which she was born) whose destinies are intertwined with that of Texas. Respectively portrayed by Dana Delany (of China Beach fame), Angelina Jolie ( Tomb Raider ), and Annabeth Gish ( Mystic Pizza and The X-Files ), the three women are at the same time strong and feminine. The acclaimed film first aired as a miniseries on the CBS television network in association with Hallmark Entertainment. Christopher Lofton wrote the teleplay. The movie is an epic that spans approximately five decades, beginning in 1835 and covering the Texas Revolution through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Though the story is fictionalized, Janice Woods Windle firmly based her book on her own ancestors by using family documents and stories as related by her mother.
The film opens with young "Pheemie" Ashby and Georgia Lawshe (played by Tina Majorino and Rachel Leigh Cook) playing at Georgia's family plantation when they witness a rider, who is actually on his way to announce the death of Pheemie's father to the Lawshes. Bartlett McClure, Pheemie's brother-in-law comes to Georgia to take Pheemie back to Texas to live with him and his wife, Pheemie's older sister Sarah in the DeWitt Colony, present-day Gonzales County. The two girls correspond for some years, but gradually lose touch with one another as their lives take divergent paths. The McClure family becomes involved in the Texas Revolution, the men fight, while the women and children flee from Santa Anna in the Runaway Scrape at the direction of Sam Houston. Georgia Lawshe grows up as a Southern Belle and attempts to keep her Native American heritage (she is one-quarter Cherokee) a secret. As young women, Euphemia and Georgia are reunited in Texas and their families experience the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the fight for women's rights together. In their lives, Sarah, Euphemia, and Georgia witness the settling of Texas amid great societal change.
The film is two and one half hours in length and covers a period of United States history in which there were many momentous events. This review will address the overall quality of the film and focus on the portrayal of the Texas Revolution and the Anglo citizens who were most impacted by the Revolution, particularly women and children. Multiple sources reveal that Sam Houston did stop off at the McClure's home to announce the coming of Santa Anna and formulate a strategy of defense as portrayed in "True Women." General Sam Houston held a meeting under what is now commonly known as the "Runaway Scrape Oak" on the McClure property near Peach Creek. In the film, Sarah Ashby McClure presents the plan for the evacuation of women and children to Sam Houston; she suggests that they head toward the Brazos River. Records of Sons of the DeWitt Colony state that Sarah McClure, her siblings, and her children did participate in the Runaway Scrape, headed toward the Brazos, and camped near enough to Houston's forces to hear cannons and shouting as in the movie. Contemporaries of Sarah McClure had an extremely high opinion of her. John Henry Brown, who knew Mrs. McClure while a young man stated that " A braver or grander-hearted woman never trod the soil of Texas, and all of the survivors of those early days, from San Antonio to the Colorado and from Texana and Victoria to the foot of the mountains, will attest the truth of this statement. Knowing her from boyhood and not having seen her for a little over twenty years I willingly and conscientiously pay this tribute to her." However, the records do not mention that she was in a high position of leadership as in the film, where Sarah McClure is largely responsible for the morale and coordinated the defense of the women and children.
Despite this questionable portrayal, Dana Delany's Sarah McClure is a woman clearly devoted to the welfare of her family, but who is necessarily strong in the face of hardship. In fact, the actress won the award for Best Actress in the Lone Star Film and Television Awards . The movie does accurately portray that two of Sarah's children died during the Runaway Scrape, but both children were older than is evident in the film. The two children should have been approximately three and one years old respectively. In "True Women," Sarah had a child between one-two years of age and gave birth to a stillborn baby on the Runaway Scrape. There is no mention of Sarah McClure giving birth in reality in any documents from the Sons of the DeWitt Colony , which is a major repository for information on the McClure family.
The film does do an admirable job of portraying the severe hardships faced by the contingent of evacuees during the Runaway Scrape, who were generally the wives and children of men fighting with Sam Houston. Many had no form of transportation and were forced to evacuate their homes on foot. A few rode horses, while others drove wagons packed with precious belongings and small children. Many families experienced sickness during the Runaway Scrape, and some even lost loved ones, especially children. The women whose husbands were killed at Gonzales experienced much stress and emotional distress. This is portrayed as the group receives news of the defeat at Gonzales and as they watch men return to their families following Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto after which the settlers returned to their homes. According to DeWitt Colony records, Santa Anna made the McClure home his headquarters for six weeks after they evacuated the region. However, this is not mentioned in the film during Pheemie's account of the Runaway Scrape and its aftermath to Georgia in a letter. The name of the film clearly conveys to the viewer that the film revolves around women, but the absence of male characters, even young boys , is taken to unbelievable extremes. "True Women" does the opposite of what many films have before it - largely ignoring the female role in the settlement of the frontier.
Though there are some historical inaccuracies in the film connected with the portrayal of the Texas Revolution and its aftermath as well as a bias towards women, the film provides a sense of what it must have been like to be a woman in Texas during the Revolution, unlike most other films. The film is well-acted by the entire cast including Powers Boothe, who plays Sarah's husband Bartlett and is the male character seen most often in the film. Weaknesses notwithstanding, the film is extremely enjoyable and is enhanced by being filmed on location in Texas as well as by the majestic musical score, for which the film received an Emmy nomination in 1997. True Women is a praise-worthy contribution to the historical film genre. It is a film that inspires further exploration into the tumultuous years from 1835-1875.
For further information about the Texas Revolution in particular, see the following:
Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Stone Fort Chapter (Nacogdoches, Tex.), Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Records, 1893-[ongoing].
Handbook of Texas Online
"James Mitchener's Texas" (1994) (flim)
Michener, James A. Texas . University of Texas Press, 1986.
Sons of the DeWitt Colony, Texas
Thorn, Susan Wroe Edwards. Journal, 1835-1836 .
Windle, Janice Woods. True Women. Putnam's Sons, 1993.