The Storming Of The Alamo


Travis was a handsome six-footer, ruddy and blond, hardly more than a boy. He had taken part in every vigorous action against “the despotic rule of the usurping military” (as he called it) since 1832, and now, from San Antonio, he too wrote the governor asking for money, clothing, provisions, and men. “We have not more than 150 men here, and they are in a very disorganized state. Yet we are determined to sustain this Frontier Post as long as there is a man left, because we consider death preferable to disgrace. Should we receive no reinforcements, I am determined to defend it to the last, and should Bexar fall, your friend will be buried beneath its ruins.”

Among the 150, Travis counted David Crockett and his twelve “Tennessee boys,” who arrived about February 10. Few it any of these were rude backwoodsmen. Among the twelve were several lawyers, while among the whole force who went into the Alamo there were at least four doctors. Most of the men were young, but it seems they were not unlettered.

Crockett climbed on a goods box in front of a store on Main Plaza and made a speech. He spun some yarns to warm up the crowd, then declared he had enlisted in the “common effort for the common cause,” and wanted to be only “a kind of high private.”

The ragged men at the Alamo had only beef and corn to eat—no coffee, sugar, or salt. The remnant of the council, adjourning in mid-February, denounced them as “insurgents to the government”; it had never sent them supplies of any kind.

Why, then, did they remain at their post?

There is an answer, given a little earlier in a sort of manifesto signed by a few of them:

We, the undersigned, have embarked on board the schooner Santiago, on December 9, 1835, at New Orleans, for Texas, to relieve our oppressed brethren who have emigrated thither by inducements held forth to them by the Mexican government, and rights guaranteed to settlers of that province, which that government now denies them; and in our opinion, their situation is assimilated to that of our fathers, who labored under tyrannical oppression. Resolved, that we have left every endearment, as our respective places of abode in the United States of America, to maintain and defend our brethren, at the peril of our lives, liberties and fortunes.... We declare these as our sentiments and determination.

Seldom in time of war has a garrison so tiny been so isolated.

To the north, as far as the Arctic ice, was Indian country. To the east the sparsely settled American colonies began at Gonzales, seventy miles away, with no habitation in between. To the southeast, one hundred miles away, near the Gulf of Mexico, the stalled Matamoros expedition waited for supplies that never came. Two-thirds of its members joined with groups just arrived from the United States, gathering, through February, at Goliad (an old Spanish fort) under the command of James Fannin, until their number passed 400. The remainder hunted wild horses at San Patricio, an abandoned Irish colony fifty miles south of Goliad.

To the west and southwest of the Alamo stretched 150 miles of mesquite, prickly pear, rattlesnakes, and Indians. Then, along the Rio Grande, a few Mexican towns were scattered. South of the river, beyond deserts and rugged sierras, larger towns were widely separated, and in several of these Santa Anna was assembling, feverishly and not always by gentle persuasion, men, money, and supplies. Early in February he had more than 7,000 troops at points, including Matamores on the coast, from which he could hurl them against Texas.

His darkening shadow in the west was not unperceived by any of the three officers who, in succession, had some charge of the tiny garrison at the Alamo. They were kept informed by certain friendly Mexican citizens of San Antonio who traded across the Rio Grande. In his first reports, early in January, Colonel Neill warned the governor of enemy troop concentrations. Bowie’s warning was more ominous. Travis, in his report of February 12, pointed out accurately the size and progress of the threatening forces.

It has been said that the officers in the Alamo “allowed themselves to be surprised” by Santa Anna. But even with a much larger garrison and many more horses, it would have been impossible to guard all the trails from the Rio Grande.

They could not have known that Santa Anna would drive his troops through a snowstorm and searing heat, across deserts, without adequate rations and without any medicines, the sick being heaped on pack animals, dead men and mules left strewn along the way. They could not have known, yet, the full measure of his contempt for human life, except his own.

Relations had been friendly between the San Antonio Mexicans and the men of the Alamo. They attended fandangos and cockfights together. Travis, proud of his Spanish, wrote: “The citizens have every confidence in me, because they can communicate with me, & have shown every disposition to aid me with all they have.” Some joined the Texas Army, and three more were to die in the Alamo. But the approach of Santa Anna’s army brought with it a chill.