One hundred and seventy-five years ago, last Saturday, March 6, around 1500 (by most counts) Mexican soldiers overran the Alamo, killing every combatant.
Most accounts of the battle place Bowie in a back room of the low barracks, sprawled on his bunk with two pistols in his hand and his knife between his teeth.
Battering rams slam into the door to his room, smashing it open. Mexican soldiers, teeth bared in feral savagery, charge him, bayonets gleaming.
He kills two with his pistols, another with his knife before dozens of bayonets penetrate him.
Whether the story is true or not is uncertain, just as many of the legends that surrounded Bowie and his famous knife, which incidentally was designed by his brother, Rezin.
The Bowie brothers wore many guises, among them land speculators, slavers, gamblers, and devil-may-care ruffians, caught up in adventures from the Sand Bar Fight to the Alamo.
This thirst for adventure probably came from their Scot ancestry and their most famous ancestor, Rob Roy. Jim’s Pa, Rezin Sr, according to Jeff Lee, rode with Swamp fox Francis Marion’s dragoons during the Revolutionary war.
Bowie settled in Mexico in 1828, married, and became a respected citizen of the community despite some shady dealings. In 1830, he answered the call for Texas Volunteers.
When the siege of the Alamo began, Bowie was forty, a seasoned frontiersman and Indian fighter. As researcher Jeff Lee states, Bowie was absolutely fearless. He commanded the volunteers in the Alamo.
Twenty-six-year-old Travis, sometimes moody, commanded the regulars with stern discipline
The difference in their ages and philosophy of discipline portended angry and violent disagreements concerning command of the garrison.
That he was bed-ridden that last day is fact, but what brought about the incapacitation is still argued.
One story is that while helping construct a gun garrison, he fell off the scaffold and broke either his hip or leg.
Others have called this story ‘hogwash’ says Mister Lee.
Some say he suffered from tuberculosis, diphtheria or typhoid-pneumonia.
He went to his sick bed around February 22 or 23 in the Low Barracks.
One fact on which most agree is that he was killed in his bunk except for his nurse, Madame Candelaria. She claimed he died the day before the final onslaught. However, years later in a newspaper interview, she contradicted her initial story when she showed two wounds on her back, swearing she received when she threw herself over Bowie to shield him from the Mexicans.
Bowie, most agree, must have lived until the end of the battle because the Low Barracks was the last to fall. Was he killed in his bunk? Most believe so.
But, according to Jeff Lee, one of the most chilling reports “claimed that as the funeral pyres blazed high and soldiers heaped dead Texans on the pile, some soldiers carried out a man on a cot, a man the captain of the detail identified as "no other than the infamous Bowie." Although the man was still alive, Santa Anna ordered him thrown into the fire along with the rest.”
Would Santa Anna be so cruel?
Probably, if the man were a Mexican citizen fighting in the Texan army. And Jim Bowie was a Mexican citizen, having married nineteen-year-old Ursula Veramendi in April 1831, the daughter of Don Juan Veramendi, the vice-governor of Coahuila-Texas.
In Santa Anna’s eye, Jim Bowie was a traitor. And as such deserved no mercy.
And for most of us, his place as the last to die at the Alamo is firmly entrenched in our beliefs.