History

Santa Anna and the Lost Legs


SantaAnnaLegAntonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876) lost his leg in the service of his country, and he wanted to make sure no one ever forgot it. He also lost two other legs, and he probably wished no one would remember. Before becoming the 8th President of Mexico, Santa Anna came to prominence as a military tactician. He fought to defend royalist New Spain and then for Mexican independence. He earned the respect of his countrymen and was elected president in 1833.

After enduring an embarrassing defeat against Texan revolutionaries, Santa Anna was forced into early retirement. Just a few years later, however, his country needed their hero again. In 1838 he answered his country’s call to defend Mexico against French aggression in what would become known as the Pastry War. Santa Anna’s exploits restored his reputation, but at a cost. In the course of defending the city of Vera Cruz, he was struck in the ankle by a French round, and his injury necessitated the amputation of his leg.

To make sure no one forgot about his sacrifice, Santa Anna arranged to have his leg buried with full military honors. The state funeral included cannon salvos, lengthy speeches, reverent prayers, and beautiful poetry recited in the general’s honor. The leg was encased in a crystal vase and entombed at the Santa Paula Cemetery.

To replace the missing leg, Santa Anna used a cork prosthetic. He was rather fond of his new leg, but he didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. During the Mexican War in 1847, U.S. troops had Santa Anna trapped. He barely managed to escape with his life, but not with his leg. In his haste to retreat, he managed to lose his prosthetic leg, which was gleefully apprehended by soldiers of the Illinois 4th Infantry.

If that weren’t enough of an indignity, he replaced the beautiful cork prosthetic with a peg leg until he could make more suitable arrangements. That, too, proved impossible to retain. U.S. soldiers — again from the Illinois 4th Infantry —  managed to get their hands on this new leg as well. They celebrated their acquisition by using it as a baseball bat. It ultimately came to rest in the home of Illinois Governor Richard Oglesby, who served in the regiment that apprehended it.

The cork leg is currently on display at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield, Illinois. The original leg remains entombed at Santa Paula Cemetery. Santa Anna’s third attempt at a prosthetic leg remained with him for the rest of his life and can now be found at the Museo Nacional de Historia in Mexico City.

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General Santa Anna’s first prosthetic leg, on display at the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

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