The Myths of Texas Heroes
At the very moment you are reading this, one hundred and seventy four years ago, thousands of Mexican soldiers stood in siege of the Alamo in San Antonio.
Although the Gunfight at the OK Corral will run it a close second, the battle of the Alamo is probably one of the most well known battles in America.
At least it is to us Texans, and I’d be surprised if most countries throughout the world hadn’t heard about it.
The Alamo probably fits easily into that old western journalism admonition ‘when the fact becomes legend, print the legend.”
There are probably been more lies, legends, and folklore regarding the Alamo than any battle in history. I’ve seen figures from 500 to 15,000 Mexican dead; from 180 to 260 defenders dead. I’ve seen the battle climax at night, at dawn, at noon, and in the evening. I’ve seen Jim Bowie’s incapacitation blamed on everything from booze, illness, having a cannon fall on him, and combinations of them all. I’ve seen everything about Crockett’s death from bayonets to blowing up the ammunitions dump to spitting in Santa Anna’s face.
And I could go on and on and on. Even the ‘de la Pena’ manuscript, purportedly penned by an obscure Mexican officer in the battle, has parts proven to be forgeries.
But the one truth not to be denied is the battle took place and over 180 defenders died. Their bodies were burned, an indication of Santa Anna’s disrespect for the Alamo defenders.
Consensus has it that the ashes were placed in a small casket and buried at the San Fernando Cathedral, at least the ashes that could be gathered from the three pyres. Some rumors have it the ashes were buried in deep holes, others that they were left to nature, some even that they were thrown into the San Antonio River.
Many if any of the myths, legends, rumors, or folklore will ever be verified.
One of the more interesting, yet less discussed questions is whether Sam Houston ordered the Alamo blown up. His distracters say no. This was just another way of Houston covering up his own mistakes.
And the orders he sent Travis on January 16 to do so were destroyed; however on the 17th, Houston did write Governor stating he had ordered the garrison destroyed, and if the governor so wished, all of the cannons and munitions would be destroyed also.
One incident every Texan remembers is the ‘line in the sand.’ Did Travis draw it?
The answer is another enfolded in the blanket of myth. Believe it or not, the line in the sand was never mentioned until 1873 thirty-seven years later when William Zuber interviewed Louis Rose, who fled the Alamo.
Rose verified Travis asked those who wanted to leave to step forward. No one did, but during the night, Rose fled.
Zuber later admitted he made up not only Travis’s’ speech, but came up with the drama of the line in the sand himself.
But, in 1899, a Madam Candelaria, who was held in high esteem by the community for decades, claimed she not only nursed Bowie on his bed of consumption, but also saw Travis draw the line in the sand.
For a while, rumor had it Travis committed suicide by stabbing himself, a version Houston preferred for he never cared for the man. According to Francisco Ruiz, who identified Travis, there was a bullet hole in his forehead. Sort of a difficult spot for one to commit suicide, huh?
And what about the flag? No, it wasn’t the Lone Star like you see at most movies. Probably the thirteen-day siege began under the Mexican Tri Color, possibly with the date 1824 on it.
That was the Mexican flag of Independence, the one under which about thirty thousand Americans came to live the Mexican state that would be known as Texas. Chances were several flags flew, but according to Walter Lord, ‘A Time to Stand’, Santa Anna sent the New Orleans Gray flag back to Mexico City, the only standard remaining under which the men an the Alamo died.
What are they? Myths? Truths? Me, I prefer the myths of my heroes. I don’t want them to change.