Crockett, Bowie, Travis and the Battle of the Alamo
The 13 day siege of Alamo and the famous names involved
We've heard about the famous names in the legendary battle of the Alamo. We've seen films of their bravery and heroism. Were the men of the Alamo really as altruistic and noble as they seem in the movies or did they have more personal reasons for fighting so hard to win independence for Texas.
Mexico had won its independence from Spain and took over the territories that had been New Spain. The former province of Spanish Texas became the newly created state of Coahulia y Texas. Since Mexico was practically broke after their war with Spain, their army was weak. They set up the Texas area as a buffer zone between Mexico and the USA, fearing attacks from Native American Indian tribes. Many North American settlers, (Looking for new land) as well as indigenous Spanish people, were used by Mexico as a first line of defense. Texas militias were armed and set up. Texans were ready to fight.
Immigrants from the United States began to outnumber the Spanish locals, which made Mexican authorities nervous. They feared that this was the first step in a United States plot to take power in the Texas territory. Many people in the United States already felt that the Louisiana Purchase included Texas, so it was a sore point to begin with.
The Mexican authorities prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States. They also discouraged settlers by adding higher taxes, and placing tariffs on goods shipped from the United States. There was also an anti-slavery law in Texas and many of the rich settlers who came to Texas to buy land owned slaves.
Texan settlers wanted to raise cotton, which was valuable, to sell to America, but Mexicans demanded they grow corn instead. This was a big source of conflict between US settlers and the Mexican government.
Texans began to ignore the laws set down by Mexico. The new Mexican constitution was very different from the US Constitution, and many settlers who were used to the US laws considered Mexican laws unfair. And they weren't the only disgruntled people in Mexico. Many ex-Mexican prisoners were given the choice between joining the Texas militia or going to jail. They reluctantly joined the militia but resented the Mexican government. Hostilities were brewing all around.
The final straw was that the Texans wanted better representation in government. Led by influential, wealthy settler Steve Austin, Texans called a convention to discuss immigration and other political issues. Among them was statehood for the province of Texas. Newly elected leader of Mexico General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was willing to negotiate on some issues but he refused statehood to Texas.
Texans staged a minor revolt against customs duties in June of 1935. This increased Santa Anna's paranoia that the United States was setting up an internal rebellion to take over Mexico. He felt he had to take action.
Santa Anna ordered the dissolution of all militias in Texas and sent armed troops to collect unpaid taxes. Settlers raising cotton instead of corn were arrested, as was the rabble rousing Steve Austin. Austins arrest became a rallying cry for people who wanted to rebel against Santa Anna. Austin was released, in a gesture meant to prevent an all-out revolution, but it was Austin himself who proposed a revolution. And he got it! The former Texas militias were reformed as the Texas revolutionary army, led by Austin and Sam Houston. (Even the former Mexican prisoners joined the Texans in their revolt.)
Battles began! Texans managed to drive Mexican forces out of the city of San Antonia de Bexar, but they knew the Mexicans would be returning to reclaim the city. In 1836, the local settlers and freedom fighters hunkered down in the Alamo Mission. (Alamo means Cottonwood), which was an old Spanish outpost. Approximately 100 troops and some civilians were garrisoned at the Alamo, awaiting the arrival of Santa Anna's troops.
So who were these men of the Alamo? Let's look at some of the more famous names.
Davy Crockett: Born in Tennessee to an overly strict father who never attained the wealth he'd sought all his life, Crockett left home at age 15 and had a series of minor adventures on the frontier. (Which he would later exaggerate...the beginning of his notorious capacity for hyperbole.) He returned home at 17 and helped his father out of debt. He got married a year later. Crockett fought in the War of 1812. He attained some fame as being the sole survivor of a fierce battle but in reality, there was no proof he was ever actually there. (Possibly another example of his self-promotion skill.)
When his wife died, he got remarried to a local widow, who owned a farm and a paper mill which was not too successful. But what he lacked in business skill he made up for in charisma.
Due to his gift for rhetoric, his "war hero" reputation and genius for self-promotion, (Becoming known as the "King of the Wild Frontier") Crockett was elected to several local offices in Tennessee, including being one of the Tennessee Congressmen in the House of Representatives. He would hold political offices on-and-off for years.
He took his last defeat hard. He had also just divorced his wife and lost his paper mill. He left Tennessee forever. He was looking for a new start.
Hearing rumors that Texas may become become independent, Crockett headed there, hoping to restart his political career. The new nation would need politicians with Crockett's experience. He involved himself in the fight for Mexican independence, hoping to gain new "war hero" status and become a celebrity in Mexico, as he was in the USA.
Jim Bowie: Born of a successful immigrant family in Kentucky, Jim Bowie and his brother Rezin ventured out in their teens to make their own fortunes. They had several ventures, with varying degrees of success. They finally became involved in the slave trade. This was what made them rich.
Brother Rezin pulled out of the business after a while due to an ethical conundrum, but Jim continued as a slave trader until he gave it up to invest in the Louisiana land boom. He was successful in it, and even ran for Senate there. But since he was being investigated for land fraud, he lost the election, and ultimately lost all the money he'd made in Louisiana.
With what little cash he had left, he headed to Texas to open a cotton mill. (He managed to convince his old friend Sam Huston to invest in the project.) He never got the mill up and running due to the Mexican mandate that settlers raise corn instead of cotton. Angered at this, Bowie joined with this friend Houston in protesting against the Mexican authorities.
Bowie was appointed land commissioner by the Texans but was arrested by the Mexicans. He managed to escape, which added to his reputation. Houston asked Bowie to help round up a group of Texas militia men who were "going over the hill". They didn't want to fight, feeling the status quo was safer. Bowie led a group of men to bring them back. Although outnumbered, Bowie bluffed the deserters into thinking he had a much larger force than he did. The men surrendered and Bowie was awarded a position as a colonel in the Texas military.
He became a Mexican citizen and married into a wealthy local family. (Although his wife died very young.) He inherited her land, which he would have lost if the revolution failed. Bowie led raids to seize weapons and secret dispatches from the Mexicans. He started to become a local hero and was appointed the military commander of Nacogdoches Texas by the locals. Huston appointed Bowie to his advisory council. Bowie had business contacts who were able to get messages to every territory in Texas.
He asked to be more centrally located, to a more vital position (And thus more glory, which would lead to a better position in government when the war was over.) He was sent to help General Fanin in the defense of San Antonia de Bexar. They successfully drove out the Mexicans and set up a defensive position in the Alamo, awaiting a counter attack.
William Barret Travis: He was born of humble farmer parents in Virginia. The family moved to Alabama, looking for land to claim. Travis benefited from Alabama's progressive attempts to create public school education. He went to the Sparta Academy. With that taste of education, he convinced his father to send him to Professor McCurdy's Senior Academy. He eventually became a teacher and then a school master. (He later married one of his students.)
He eventually switched careers and became a lawyer. He got involved in politics. For a time, he ran his own newspaper, "the Herald". He also joined the Militia. This left him little time for his paper which folded in 1829. His son was born and he had many debts accumulating, so he went back to his law practice.
His young wife couldn't deal with the financial insecurity, a morose husband and a son. The marriage was falling apart. Travis became depressed and emotionally cold. He wasn't making very much money as a lawyer and his debts were mounting.
He decided to get a fresh start in Texas, which would need Lawyers and teachers if it was to become an independent state. He left his family in Alabama and headed south for Texas, promising to return one day when he was more secure.
Travis started a law practice in Texas, and wrote articles for a local paper. When he started to speak out against the Mexican government, he became a wanted man and had to hide. He was welcomed by Austin and Huston who were setting up their revolt. Travis managed to get a position in the military. Austin appointed him the head of a local volunteer cavalry. He soon captured a group of Mexican soldiers who were separated from their army. His success allowed him to become the permanent head of a mounted regiment. His men hated the strict, humorless Travis, but everyone acknowledged he knew what he was doing. They respected his ability.
Austin had no plans to include Travis in the taking of Bexar, but Travis ended up there anyway when they needed a cavalry to reconnoiter.General Neil made Travis a part of his war cabinet. (Neil was the Texan military commander in charge of Bexar.) Travis became one of Neil's most trusted men. As his other advisers were transferred or killed, Travis moved up to second in command. When Neil had to travel temporarily (He never did come back to Bexar) Travis was left in command.
The Battle of the Alamo:
Travis and Bowie were put in duel command of the Alamo. The two men didn't like each other. Crockett showed up at the Alamo leading a group of Tennessee volunteers. Santa Anna arrived in February 1835 with 15,000 troops. The 100 men at the Alamo were already doomed. They managed to hold out for 13 days.
Through the last few day, Jim Bowie wasn't able to participate because he was ill with an undiagnosed sickness. Travis was killed on the 12th day (He was shot in the head while standing top the parapets, firing his gun) and wasn't there for the final assault, when the Alamo was overrun. A colonel named Dickinson took over for the ultimate battle but he was killed, too. People looked to Crockett as the leader in the final hours. It isn't clear how Crockett actually died. Jim Bowie was found laying in his sickbed, too weak to defend himself when Mexican soldiers killed him.
The men at the Alamo were overrun and lost the battle. Only two civilians survived to tell the tale and relay the tragic news. But the legacy of the Alamo is that it became a rallying cry that motivated the Texans to fight harder and ultimately gain independence.
As for the men involved (Travis, Crockett and Bowie) were they heroes or merely opportunistic men who were at the center of a great moment in history?
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