I have stood on the street that was just a dirt lane that all the leaders of the Alamo traveled up and down every day: Lt. Colonel and Commanding Officer William Barret Travis, Colonel James Bowie, and honorary Colonel David Crockett. In fact, the hotel I’m staying in is on this path now known as Houston Street. I have to admit I’m a little confused about that because Houston was a wee bit late in showing up. But, he did have the overall picture in mind. He sacrificed the brave men at the Alamo for the bigger picture of winning Texas.
I’ll admit that I’ve always been curious about the Alamo, having grown up on Davy Crockett television shows, but when my good friend, Bard Selden, told me that I was actually kin to one of its heroes, my curiosity escalated. It seems that Mr. Cloud, who was a supervisor with my father, Paul Battle, told “Pop” how we were kin to Daniel William Cloud.
All of the men at the Alamo were ordinary men with extraordinary courage. Cloud himself was a lawyer. There were two medical doctors, a hatter, several farmers, a poet, a jockey! The average age was 29 and several were reported to have left their wives and children behind; whether to get away from them or just for the adventure or patriotism is very unclear.
Here is my account of the Alamo. When the Spaniards came to what is now Texas in the 1680s, they found the land occupied by the Papaya Indians. They were a friendly bunch and were eager to learn building, farming and ranching skills.
The first settlers were from the Canary Islands, a Spanish province off the coast of Africa. They came with all the rights and privileges of Spanish landowners and the title of hidalgo, an order of Spanish nobility. They laid out the town site with a plaza (now Main Plaza) and locations for their church, which became San Fernando Cathedral. They elected the first mayor and council.
By 1731, five missions had been established, an irrigation system had been established by running canals from the San Antonio River to the more arid areas and the missions were successfully growing their own crops.
The missions were built to convert the Indians to Christianity but, by the early 1800s, Mission San Antonio de Vellero became known as the Alamo (meaning Cottonwood), changing from mission to fortress.
I guess most everyone knows about the Battle of the Alamo. Sleep deprivation, starvation, and a very sick James Bowie were just a few of the hardships suffered from Santa Anna’s army. They were to take no prisoners. Calling himself the “Napoleon of the West” Santa Anna was a self proclaimed dictator of Mexico.
But what I found more interesting were the things that I DIDN’T know about the Alamo:
In the movies it doesn’t mention that all of the Alamo defenders were burned on a funeral pyre. Colonel Juan Seguin was one of seventeen messengers sent for help. When he got to Sam Houston, Houston ordered him not to return, very much against Seguin’s wishes. Almost a year later to the day that the Alamo fell, Seguin returned to pay honor to the remains. He found two piles of ashes. He carefully and reverently placed then in a coffin, neatly covered in black with the names Travis, Bowie and Crockett engraved on the inside lid and carried it to the parish church of Bexar. That afternoon on February 25, 1837, he made an eloquent speech in Castilian that I cannot NOT record.
My companions in arms!
These remains, which we have had the honor to carry on our shoulders, are the remains of those valiant heroes who died at the Alamo. Yes, my friends, they preferred to die a thousand times than to live under the yoke of a tyrant.
What a brilliant example; one worthy of inclusion in the pages of history. From her throne above, the spirit of liberty appears to look upon us and with tearful countenance points, saying, “Behold your brothers, Travis, Bowie, Crockett as well as all the others. Their valour has earned them a place with all my heroes.” Yes, fellow soldiers and fellow citizens, we are witness to the meritorious acts of those who, when faced with a reversal in fortune, during the late contest, chose to offer their lives to the ferocity of the enemy. A barbarous enemy who on foot herded them like animals to this spot, and proceeded to reduce them to ashes.
I invite all of you to join me in holding the venerable remains of our worthy companions before the eyes of the entire world to show it that Texas shall be free, and independent. Or to a man, we will die gloriously in combat, toward that effort.
The burial site is yet another mystery of the Alamo.
The story of Travis drawing a line in the sand is true. There were living witnesses. Only one man decided to leave; Louis “Moses” Rose, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars. I guess he thought he had been through enough, although I can’t imagine that lone walk out of the mission. James Bowie, who by then was bedridden, had his cot carried across the line.
I did not know that James Bowie had already been to San Antonio before the Alamo and had gone into business with Juan Martin de Veramendi in a cotton mill. He also married Veramendi’s beautiful daughter, Ursala. She, and her mother and father died of cholera at their summer home in Monclava, Mexico just two short years after their marriage. When Bowie died in his cot, he had a pocket watch with Ursala’s picture in his hand. When Bowie’s mother was informed of her son’s death, Mrs. Rezin Bowie, Sr. replied, “So Jim is dead?…..I’ll wager they found no wounds in his back.”
I probably should know my history better, but I did not know that David Crockett had left Tennessee after being defeated as congressman for a fourth term. He said, “they might all go to hell, I would go to Texas”. (My son likes to say Little Texas.) Crockett and Second Sergeant John McGregor, to cheer the men, would dual with fiddle and bagpipes. Crockett’s flintlock rifle, “Old Betsy”, was made by James M. Graham and presented to Crockett by the people of Nashville, Tennessee on May 5, 1822. It changed hands many times. After his father’s death, John W. Crockett sold “Old Betsy” to a friend of Crockett’s, Wade Hall. In 1862, Hall’s son, Monrough Hall, sold the rifle in Texas to W. H. Barnett. Mrs. Barnett, with her husband’s permission and right before his capture during the Civil War in Van Buren, Arkansas, sold it to a Mr. Whitton. After the Civil War, Mr. Barnett repurchased “Old Betsy”. By then, the barrel was so rusted that Mr. Barnett cut it off and made her a half stock Percushion lock gun.
Nobody can deny the bravery and stamina of the 189 men that faced an army of 4000, but my hat is also off to the women who fought to preserve it as the sacred place it should be. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed (which I know sounds un-American) but most of the Alamo has been moved to Austin or torn down to build over. I expected to be able to see Daniel Cloud’s letter to his brother, written during the siege, but again, it had been moved to Austin. I could not take pictures, although, I clicked a few before I knew this. It was so crowded and loud. I think they ought to limit the amount of people that can go in at one time and I think they should be told to be quiet. That being said, I want to rewind to the women who saved what is left of the Alamo.
After the battle, the Alamo changed hands many times and became many things. In 1847, the U.S. government leased the Alamo from the Catholic Church and set it up as a quartermaster’s depot. They actually did some improvements on it, such as putting a roof on the chapel. The Long Barrack housed quartermaster, medical stores, offices, a saddler’s shop and a shed for horses.
When Confederate forces moved into San Antonio, the Alamo became an armory. When the war was over, the U.S. government took it back.
In 1877, a merchant, Honore Grenet bought it to become his store and the church, leased from the Catholic Church, became his warehouse.
In 1883, the State of Texas purchased the chapel from the Catholic Church for $20,000 and two years later turned it over to the City of San Antonio. The Long Barrack was sold by Grenet’s estate in 1885 to a general merchandise company, Hugo and Schmeltzer. They retained ownership until 1904.
The State of Texas owned the Alamo Chapel but Hugo and Schmeltzer wanted to sell the Long Barrack. The De Zavaia Chapter of the D.R.T. attempted to raise funds to buy it and was only able to obtain $7000. At the last moment, before it was to be sold for commercial use, Clara Driscoll, the daughter of a very wealthy rancher, stepped forward and bought the Long Barrack.
In 1905, she gave the title to the property to the State of Texas, which reimbursed her and named the Daughter of the Republic of Texas custodians of the Alamo to be maintained. They preserved what was left of it and maintain it to this day.
Another thing that shocked me was that Phil Collins (yes, the singer) is a huge Alamo fan. He owns the largest memorabilia collection of the Alamo in the world. Just across the street from the Alamo is The History Shop. It has a three dimensional replica of the Alamo, which is where I got that heart wrenching feeling I expected to get at the actual site. It had a narration of the battle, told by Phil Collins. Lights came on at certain points, showing where Crockett, Travis and Bowie were attacked and died. There were small red lights for Sana Anna’s army, showing how they advanced every night until the Alamo was totally surrounded.
After we toured the Alamo, we went outside to the courtyard and listened to an historian who went through the siege blow by blow. The statement that stuck with me was at the end of his speech when he looked at each of us from all walks of life and many different countries and said, “If you think the Alamo is not something that is important to you, think again. The Battle of the Alamo is important to everyone in the world because it was about freedom; freedom from a tyrannical dictator who didn’t care at all about his people. His interest was all about power. No one needs to live under tyranny.”