Remembering The Alamo

Awaiting onslaught: Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie and John Wayne as Davy Crockett in United Artists’ 1960 film, The Alamo
Awaiting onslaught: Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie and John Wayne as Davy Crockett in United Artists’ 1960 film, The Alamo

by Ray Setterfield

February 23, 1836 — Native Americans had lived in Texas for thousands of years, undisturbed until Spanish explorers arrived in 1519 and took control. Mexico’s war of independence pushed out the Spanish in 1821 and Mexican Texas was born.

To boost settlement, Mexican authorities encouraged immigration from the United States, the campaign becoming so successful that by 1834, over 30,000 Anglos lived in Texas, alongside 7,800 Mexicans. Having seen the imbalance developing, in 1830 the Mexican Government banned any further immigration by Anglo-Americans.

But in December 1835, a group of Texans who opposed Mexican rule drove Mexican troops out of San Antonio and settled in around the Alamo, a mission compound that had been adapted to military purposes around 1800.

It was an affront to Santa Anna, a soldier and politician, who had become dictator of Mexico declaring that he would crush rebellions in Texas and other Mexican territories. In January 1836, Santa Anna concentrated a force of several thousand men in the area around the Alamo.

Sam Houston, a Tennessee senator, who had moved to Texas in 1832, became commander of the local army and ordered the Alamo to be abandoned.

But Colonel James (Jim) Bowie remained there with his men partly because he realised the fort’s cannons could not be removed before Santa Anna got there, and because he reasoned that holding off Santa Anna would give Houston time to raise an army of reinforcements.

Bowie and his 30 or so men were joined by a small cavalry company under Colonel William Travis, bringing the total number of Alamo defenders to about 140. One week later, the frontiersman Davy Crockett arrived with 14 Tennessee Mounted Volunteers.

On February 23, Santa Anna began bombarding the Alamo with cannon and rifle fire. The siege lasted for 13 days, but on the second day Colonel Travis smuggled out a letter that read: “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World…. I shall never surrender or retreat…. Victory or Death!”

On March 1, another group of Texan reinforcements arrived, bringing the total number of defenders to around 185.

Then in the early morning of March 6, Santa Anna ordered his troops to storm the Alamo. Travis’s artillery repelled two Mexican charges, but after about an hour of savage hand-to-hand fighting the Texans were overwhelmed, even though several hundred Mexicans were killed.

Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken, and so the only survivors of the Alamo were a handful of civilians, mostly women and children.

Six weeks later, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” the Texas militia under Sam Houston launched a surprise attack against Santa Anna’s forces. The resulting Battle of San Jacinto, near present-day Houston, Texas, left the Mexicans routed and hundreds taken prisoner, including Santa Anna himself. In exchange for his freedom, he signed a treaty recognising the independence of Texas.

Texas then became an independent republic, with Sam Houston elected as its first president. In 1845, it joined the Union as the 28th state.

Published: February 12, 2021

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