Eyewitness Reports in History Remember the Alamo Part 1

An eyewitness account of the siege on the Alamo in Texas by the Mexican army, an important moment in American history.

Remember the Alamo

When: February and March, 1836

How: The Alamo, a mission-fortress in San Antonio, had been occupied since December, 1835, by a small force of Texans in the revolution against Mexican dictator Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. In January it was reported that Santa Anna with a sizable army was coming to seize the fort. Santa Anna was determined to subdue the colonial government of Texas quickly, while it remained divided on whether to seek independence peacefully or by war. A decade before, alarmed at free-roaming Indian tribes and unable to encourage enough native Mexicans to move north, Mexico had opened Texas until 1830 to American pioneers willing to abide by its laws. When the colonists refused to accept Mexico's abolishment of slavery and its levying of duties, however, an animosity had begun that would culminate in a nation birthed by war-the Republic of Texas.

William Travis, the man largely responsible for goading many reluctant colonists into fighting, had come to Texas illegally in 1831. He would die at the Alamo, a bullet through his temple, at the age of 26. Tall, his beard reddish and eyes blue-gray, he was called "the gallant Travis," despite his stern demeanor and quick temper. No one doubted his courage, his idealism, or his dislike of Mexicans.

Believing his wife unfaithful, he had come alone to Texas except for a slave who fought at his side. Travis entered the Alamo as a major and expected to assume command when Colonel Neill left due to a family illness. He was angered when the men elected James Bowie as their colonel instead. Within a few days, however, the two men were cosigning papers, and when Bowie broke several ribs in a fall, which aggravated his tubercular condition, he gave his command and his rank to Travis.

James Bowie, 40 years old, was a powerfully built six-footer whose courage made him a living legend. During the early years of the Texas struggle, he had been denied officer rank despite bravery in combat, perhaps because of illegal land speculation which had netted him nearly a million acres of Texas. Furthermore, he had had a wealthy, beautiful Mexican wife. When she and their two children died in a cholera epidemic, Bowie was left grief-stricken.

In duels, Indian encounters, and battles against Mexican troops, Bowie had slain dozens of men with the famed bowie knife, designed by his brother. He had come to the Alamo at Gen. Sam Houston's request, to see if it could be defended. He reported that it could not, yet must be. Its cannons could not be removed, and it stood directly in the path of the army of Santa Anna. When the battle finally reached his sickbed, Bowie would die fighting to the end.

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