Historical Tales: 2—American - Charles Morris

The Heroes of the Alamo

On a day in the year 1835 the people of Nacogdoches, Texas, were engaged in the pleasant function of giving a public dinner to one of their leading citizens. In the midst of the festivities a person entered the room whose appearance was greeted with a salvo of hearty cheers. There seemed nothing in this person's appearance to call forth such a welcome. He was dressed in a half-Indian, half-hunter's garb, a long-barreled rifle was slanted over his shoulder, and he seemed a favorable specimen of the "half-horse, half-alligator" type of the early West. But there was a shrewd look on his weather-beaten face and a humorous twinkle in his eyes that betokened a man above the ordinary frontier level, while it was very evident that the guests present looked upon him as no every-day individual.

The visitor was, indeed, a man of fame, for he was no less a personage than the celebrated Davy Crockett, the hunter hero of West Tennessee. His fame was due less to his wonderful skill with the rifle than to his genial humor, his endless stories of adventure, his marvellous power of "drawing the long bow." Davy had once been sent to Congress, but there he found himself in waters too deep for his footing. The frontier was the place made for him, and when he heard that Texas was in revolt against Mexican rule, he shouldered his famous rifle and set out to take a hand in the game of revolution. It was a question in those days with the reckless borderers whether shooting a Mexican or a coon was the better sport.

The festive citizens of Nacogdoches heard that Davy Crockett had arrived in their town on his way to join the Texan army, and at once sent a committee to invite him to join in their feast. Hearty cheers, as we have said, hailed his entrance, and it was not long before he had his worthy hosts in roars of laughter with his quaint frontier stories. He had come to stay with them as a citizen of Texas, he said, and to help them drive out the yellow-legged greasers, and he wanted, then and there, to take the oath of allegiance to their new republic. If they wanted to know what claim he had to the honor, he would let Old Betsy—his rifle—speak for him. Like George Washington, Betsy never told a lie. The Nacogdochians were not long in making him a citizen, and he soon after set out for the Alamo, the scene of his final exploit and his heroic death.

The Alamo was a stronghold in the town of San Antonio de Bexar, in Western Texas. It had been built for a mission house of the early Spaniards, and though its walls were thick and strong, they were only eight feet high and were destitute of bastion or redoubt. The place had nothing to make it suitable for warlike use, yet it was to win a great name in the history of Texan independence, a name that spread far beyond the borders of the "Lone Star State" and made its story a tradition of American heroism.



Soon after the insurrection began a force of Texans had taken San Antonio, driving out its Mexican garrison. Santa Anna, the president of Mexico, quickly marched north with an army, breathing vengeance against the rebels. This town, which lay well towards the western border, was the first he proposed to take. Under the circumstances the Texans would have been wise to retreat, for they were few in number, they had little ammunition and provisions, and the town was in no condition for defence. But retreat was far from their thoughts, and when, on an afternoon in February, 1836, Santa Anna and his army appeared in the vicinity of San Antonio, the Texans withdrew to the Alamo, the strongest building near the town, prepared to fight to the death.

There were less than two hundred of them in all, against the thousands of the enemy, but they were men of heroic mould. Colonel Travis, the commander, mounted the walls with eight pieces of artillery, and did all he could besides to put the place in a state of defence. To show the kind of man Travis was, we cannot do better than to quote his letter asking for aid.

"FELLOW-CITIZENS AND COMPATRIOTS,—I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. The enemy have commanded a surrender at discretion; otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword if the place is taken. I have answered the summons with a cannon-shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism, and of everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all despatch. The enemy are receiving reinforcements daily, and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. Though this call may be neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible, and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor or that of his country. Victory or death!


"Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding."

"P.S.—The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found, in deserted houses, eighty or ninety bushels, and got into the walls twenty or thirty head of beeves.


The only reinforcements received in response to this appeal were thirty-two gallant men from Gonzales, who made the whole number one hundred and eighty-eight. Colonel Fannin, at Goliad, set out with three hundred men, but the breaking down of one of his wagons and a scarcity of supplies obliged him to return. Among the patriot garrison were Davy Crockett and Colonel James Bowie, the latter as famous a man in his way as the great hunter. He was a duelist of national fame, in those days when the border duels were fought with knife instead of pistol. He invented the Bowie knife, a terrible weapon in the hands of a resolute man. To be famed as a duelist is no worthy claim to admiration, but to fight hand to hand with knife for weapon is significant of high courage.

Small as were their numbers, and slight as were their means of defence, the heroes of the Alamo fought on without flinching. Santa Anna planted his batteries around the stronghold and kept up a steady bombardment. The Texans made little reply; their store of ammunition was so small that it had to be kept for more critical work. In the town a blood-red banner was displayed in lurid token of the sanguinary purpose of the Mexican leader, but the garrison showed no signs of dismay. They were the descendants of men who had fought against the Indians of the South under like conditions, and they were not likely to forget the traditions of their race.

On the 3rd of March a battery was erected within musket-shot of the north wall of the fort, on which it poured a destructive fire. Travis now sent out a final appeal for aid, and with it an affecting note to a friend, in which he said,—

"Take care of my boy. If the country should be saved I may make him a splendid fortune; but if the country should be lost and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country."

The invading force increased in numbers until, by the 5th of March, there were more than four thousand of them around the fort, most of them fresh, while the garrison was worn out with incessant toil and witching. The end was near at hand. Soon after midnight on the 6th the Mexican army gathered close around the fort, prepared for an assault. The infantry carried scaling-ladders. Behind them were drawn up the cavalry with orders to kill any man who might fly from the ranks. This indicated Santa Anna's character and his opinion of his men.

The men within the walls had no need to be driven to their work. Every one was alert and at his post, and they met with a hot fire from cannon and rifles the Mexican advance. Just as the new day dawned, the ladders were placed against the walls and the Mexicans scrambled up their rounds. They were driven back with heavy loss. Again the charge for assault was sounded and a second rush was made for the walls, and once more the bullets of the defenders swept the field and the assailants fell back in dismay.

Santa Anna now went through the beaten ranks with threats and promises, seeking to inspire his men with new courage, and again they rushed forward on all sides of the fort. Many of the Texans had fallen and all of them were exhausted. It was impossible to defend the whole circle of the walls. The assailants who first reached the tops of the ladders were hurled to the ground, but hundreds rushed in to take their places, and at a dozen points they clambered over the walls. It was no longer possible for the handful of survivors to keep them back.

In a few minutes the fort seemed full of assailants. The Texans continued to fight with unflinching courage. When their rifles were emptied they used them as clubs and struggled on till overwhelmed by numbers. Near the western wall of the fort stood Travis, in the corner near the church stood Crockett, both fighting like Homeric heroes. Old Betsy had done an ample share of work that fatal night. Now, used as a club, it added nobly to its record. The two heroes at length fell, but around each was a heap of slain.

Colonel Bowie had taken no part in the fight, having been for some days sick in bed. He was there butchered and mutilated. All others who t were unable to fight met the same fate. It had been proposed to blow up the magazine, but Major Evans, the man selected for this duty, was shot as he attempted to perform it. The struggle did not end while a man of the garrison was alive, the only survivors being two Mexican women, Mrs. Dickenson (wife of one of the defenders) and her child, and the negro servant of Colonel Travis. As for the dead Texans, their bodies were brutally mutilated and then thrown into heaps and burned.

Thus fell the Alamo. Thus did the gallant Travis and his men keep their pledge of "victory or death." Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, the heroes of the Alamo did not retreat or ask for quarter, but lay where they had stood in obedience to their country's commands. And before and around them lay the bodies of more than five hundred of their enemies, with as many wounded. The Texans had not perished unavenged. The sun rose in the skies until it was an hour high. In the fort all was still; but the waters of the aqueduct surrounding resembled in their crimson hue the red flag of death flying in the town. The Alamo was the American Thermopylae.