Perhaps the major historical tourist attraction in all of south Texas is the Alamo, even though it is a monument to defeat rather than victory. Only a short walk from our hotel, it was worth seeing again and remembering. My own childhood memories of the place, which I have visited several times was nonetheless colored by seeing the big budget Hollywood film which was released in 1960 and starred and was directed by ‘Duke’ aka John Wayne who plays Davy Crockett. As recently as 1994 the movie was redone starring Dennis Quaid among others. But the back story is important.
In the first place, in 1836, Texas, and in particular south Texas was part of Mexico. It did not become a state until a decade later, at the end of 1845, which prompted the Spanish-American war which revved up in 1846. In the second place, the ‘American’ immigrants into the region of south Texas were mostly illegal immigrants, though a minority were legally there, and more to the point many of these ‘Americans’ were slave holders, having brought 5,000 or more slaves when they moved there. This is significant because when Santa Anna became the President of Mexico in late 1835 he changed the constitution and banned slavery in Mexico. Sooooo, in part the fight for the Alamo turned out to be a fight by illegal non-Mexican immigrants for the right to legally live in the area of San Antonio and have slaves. This is so ironic considering the attitude today in much of Texas about Hispanic immigrants both legal and illegal.
In the second place, the Alamo was a Christian Spanish mission, not a fort at all, but as the troubles began in 1835 it was turned into a fort where non-Hispanics lost the battle against Santa Anna’s army. There were between 182 and 257 Texans (or their allies killed) in the battle and upwards of 400 Mexicans. Included among the dead was indeed Davy Crockett from Tennessee, Jim Bowie of bowie knife fame from South Carolina, and and interestingly enough a man who is probably one of my relatives— Claiborne Wright, since the Wrights and the Witheringtons were from eastern N.C. were all intermarried, and I still have Wright cousins to this day. Here are the plagues honoring the most well known of the dead. You will notice that absolutely none of the American leaders of this futile battle were from Texas. We might know more about these brave men who were badly out numbered if in fact Santa Anna had not made a policy that all the ‘enemies’ in the battle were to be killed either during or immediately after the battle, and it is probably this policy that inspired the later defeat of various of his forces elsewhere in Texas. In our next post we will consider the structure itself.