Alamo History: Legends Of The Alamo
Learn about the history of the Alamo and the legends surrounding it. Crockett, Bowie and Travis are the three most famous heroes.
Colonel William Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie are names associated with American history and legend. They all died at the Alamo, that world famous battle for Texas' freedom in 1836. There are some stories that filtered out of the heroic struggle that cannot be verified but which are firmly ensconced in American culture. A mere 189 men bravely defended the mission walls against Santa Anna's army of up to 4,000 soldiers.
One of these legends recounts how Col. Travis, when all seemed hopeless, drew a line in the sand with his sword and asked all that were willing to die for the cause to step over it. This may be true because Travis knew that the odds were heavily stacked against the Alamo. 189 defenders were surrounded inside an old mission and Mexico's Santa Anna had prepared an army of 8,000 to attack. Although probably half of the Mexican army may not have survived the trek from Mexico to San Antonio, that's still 4,000 soldiers against a rag tag crew of 189 army regulars, cavalry and volunteers.
Travis gave the men a chance to bail out and save their lives. The line is remembered as "The Grand Canyon of Texas" because it meant so much to Texas' very survival as an independent territory. One man did not cross that line and indeed escaped from the fort and avoided capture. He wasn't caught by the enemy but, sustained many leg wounds from cactuses and thorns. His name was Louis Rose, a French man who had already served as an officer in Napoleon's army. It is Rose that told the story of the line in the dust that has become legend.
Two of Santa Anna's early foes were Erasmo Seguin and his son Juan, of San Antonio. Juan became one of the staunchest fighters for Texas freedom, forming his own band of Tejanos to stand alongside the Texas freedom fighters. Juan Seguin was on a mission for Travis when the Alamo fell, but he promised to honor the Alamo dead in a church ceremony, a ceremony that had been denied by Santa Anna. Legend claims that Seguin collected the ashes and placed them in a casket and had the names of Travis, Bowie and Crockett engraved inside the lid. He buried the casket but no one knows where. Juan Seguin stated before he died that he had buried the casket outside the sanctuary railing, near the steps in the old San Fernando Church. A box was unearthed there in 1936 that contained bones, rusty nails, shreds of uniforms and buttons, pieces of coal, and crushed skulls. Are they the remains of the Alamo defenders?
David Crockett was the most famous defender of the Alamo. Shortly after the defeat of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, rumors circulated that Crockett had not died alongside his men in the Alamo. Conflicting accounts claimed that Crockett and a few others rode back into the Alamo on March 3 and survived the siege, only to be executed on the orders of Santa Anna a few minutes later. No one will ever really know. Most people prefer to believe that Davy Crockett died a heroic death during the siege. As news of former Congressman Crockett's death swept across America. Some stories portrayed him as standing in the heaviest fighting, using his trusty flintlock "Old Betsy" like a club, until being killed by Mexican bayonets and bullets.
General Cós told Dr. George Patrick that Davy Crockett had survived the battle. According to Cós, Crockett had locked himself in one of the rooms of the barracks. When the Mexican soldiers discovered him, Crockett explained that he "had accidentally got caught in the Alamo after it was too late to escape." Cós said that Crockett wanted him to ask Santa Anna for mercy. The Mexican leader refused Crockett's request. In 1878, writer Josephus Conn Guild told a similar story in which Crockett and five others survived the siege but Santa Anna ordered them instantly put to death. "Colonel Crockett fell with a dozen swords sheathed in his breast." The same story appeared as far back as 1836, when the diary of Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña was published in Mexico City. Published in English in the 1970s, it stirred up many Americans who felt that Crockett never would have surrendered.
There is also a story about legendary figure Jim Bowie. That story says that Bowie was the last to die in the fighting at the Alamo. Bowie left for Texas in 1828 to settle in San Antonio de Béxar. Bowie became a Mexican citizen and married into the Mexican aristocracy, which gained him the friendship, confidence and support of the Mexican population. By 1831, he was fluent in Spanish. He had been a colonel in a Texas Ranger company and carried this title when he answered the call for Texan volunteers.
Bowie decided to help construct a lookout post along one of the walls. Most accounts say that he lost his balance on the scaffold and fell to the ground, breaking either his hip or his leg. Bowie's incapacity left Travis in charge of the whole garrison. Bowie took to his sick bed in the low barracks early in the siege. On the final day of the 13-day siege, legend claims that Crockett went into Bowie's room and gave him two pistols to be used for defense. One report claims that as the funeral pyres blazed high some soldiers carried out a man on a cot, "no other than the infamous Bowie." Although he was still alive, Santa Anna ordered him thrown into the fire along with the rest. Would Santa Anna do that? Well, Bowie was a Mexican citizen fighting in the Texas army…