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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The True Hero of the Alamo

The True Hero of the Alamo

I remember seeing an interview with a Medal of Honor recipient who denied being a hero. He did what he had to because there was no choice. The act was thrust upon him.

When people talk about the Alamo, the names of the heroes that first leap to mind are Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. Usually in that order. And they were heroes, but not the only ones. The other hundred and eighty who died there also deserve the honor.

To me, the major player in the saga of the Alamo was Travis, William Barret Travis,
age 26.

Much has been written of him by those much more capable than I. I’ve researched him a great deal, and I found him to be a typical American male, possessing an all-consuming drive for the prominence and recognition that comes with success. That drive took him to Texas for a fresh start. This ambition ultimately landed him in an untenable position from which his pride and sense of duty would not permit him to flee.

Travis practiced law in Alabama, then moved to Texas, deliberately settling in Anahuac where he would be the only lawyer, which he knew would result in a profitable practice. He became involved in politics and eventually, the revolution.
Santa Anna set up a Custom House at Anahuac and staffed it with a hard and unforgiving officer to collect the exorbitant tariffs levied on the Texicans.

Travis promptly raised a company of twenty-five men and marched on the Custom House, taking it over and arresting the officer.

By now, there was no escaping his fate. Eventually, Houston sent him to the Alamo with orders for Bowie and Colonel Neill, the garrison commander, to destroy the church and retreat.

Of course, Bowie was well known throughout the country as was Crockett, who, fresh from losing the election that would send him back to Congress, set out to find a new conquest to regain his glory. “You can all go to hell,” he had exclaimed. “I’m going to Texas.”

And he did, along with fifteen or sixteen Tennesseans. At the Alamo, he took the rank of private.

Ill with consumption, Bowie was nothing like ‘the most dangerous man alive’ label that had been pinned on him. He spent the last eleven days in his sick bed.
Travis wasn’t supposed to remain at the Alamo.

Before he arrived, Colonel Neill and Bowie had already decided to disobey any orders to destroy the church. Being the impetuous risk-taker, upon his arrival, Travis jumped into the affairs of the Alamo with enthusiasm.

Colonel Neill took an unexpected leave of absence, and Bowie took a turn for the worse. Travis was left in command, a command he had not sought, nor particularly wanted, but one he would fulfill to his dying breath.

So there the twenty-six year old South Carolinean stood, leader of a pitifully small force with which he hoped to derail a juggernaut called the Mexican army.

He knew Houston needed time to raise an army. He hoped to hold Santa Anna at the Alamo.

Santa Anna was a cruel tyrant. Had he been a better tactician, he would have bypassed the Alamo and caught the entire rebel congress on the banks of the Brazos.

Instead, in his obsession to make the rebels pay, he did what Travis hoped. For thirteen days, the dictator battled the defenders of the Alamo, thirteen days that gave Congress time to sign a Declaration of Independence, draw up a Constitution and provide Houston precious days to begin raising an army.

Travis’s gamble paid off. Although he died early in the final battle at the North Battery from a bullet in his forehead, he died a hero. He had been faced with a situation thrust upon him, and he committed all he possessed to the task.

And, as in all stories, there are many ‘what if’s’. One is what might have happened if the horse belonging to Trinidad Coy, one of Travis’s scouts, had not eaten locoweek. But, that’s another story for another time.

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