The Run Up to the Alamo
In early 1836, the wheels were turning toward the momentous battle for liberty at the Alamo. At the beginning of the year, James C. Neill was in command of a small contingent of men there, the Texans having held the Alamo since the December 9, 1835 surrender of the government troops garrisoned there to the Texans.
Over time, the number of fighting men at the Alamo grew. James Bowie and James Bonham had arrived with 30 men on January 19. Bowie brought a discretionary order to Neill from Sam Houston that he blow up the Alamo and abandon San Antonio. Neill had fought at Gonzales and had risked his life in the assault on San Antonio in December that had taken the Alamo. He rejected Houston’s order.
William Barrett Travis arrived on February 3 with 30 more. Five days later, Davy Crockett arrived with 12. On February 11, James Neill left command and the Alamo to go handle a family illness, making Travis commander. There was dissension about who should command, Travis or Bowie (who had ably led in the Siege of Bexar at the Battle of Concepcion). By February 14, Travis and Bowie had agreed on a joint command. I do not know exactly when Juan Seguin arrived at the Alamo, but we know he was there when Santa Anna arrived on February 23.
The men at the Alamo did not know it, but Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande on February 16, heading right at them.
The leaders assembled at the Alamo in early February were accomplished and famous.
William Travis, an attorney, was famous for participating in both Anahuac Disturbances. The first when he was imprisoned and a group of armed men came to rescue him, and the second time in 1835, when he came to the rescue of two imprisoned smugglers, driving the military and customs collectors out of Texas.
Jim Bowie had attended West Point two years before dropping out, and was a larger than life man, famous for his use of the knife his brother had invented and he had used to deadly effect. Bowie had risen to the top of Texas society through business and marriage to the high society of San Antonio. He was credited for his cool leadership in the Battle of Concepcion during the Siege of Bexar that had eventually put the Alamo in Texan hands.
Juan Seguin was the dashing alcalde of San Antonio that had joined the Texan cause and led the Tejano natives in cooperation with the others in the taking of San Antonio from the government troops.
But the largest rock star of them all was Davy Crockett. Crockett, the son of an American Revolution veteran, had fought with Andrew Jackson in the Indian Wars. He had served in the Tennessee legislature and in Congress for multiple terms. Exaggerated stories about his hunting exploits had propelled him into national fame. He had toured the northern cities to great acclaim, the city of Philadelphia having presented with his beloved rifle, Betsy, which he brought with him to Texas.
Crockett was committed to liberty and justice and fairness. He lost his seat in the Congress in large part because he opposed the Indian removal policy of President Jackson. Crockett showed independence in his thought and action by going up against his former military commander and the president of his own political party.
About his disagreements with Jackson, he said, "It was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson... even at the expense of my conscience and judgement. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles." And, "I am no man's man. I bark at no man's bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the white house, no matter who he is. And if this petty, un-patriotic scuffling for men, and forgetting principles, goes on, it will be the overthrow of this one happy nation, and the blood and toil of our ancestors will have been expended in vain."
Crockett told a beautiful story about how a constituent of his educated him about original intent and the Constitution in a story called, “Not Yours to Give.” The story is available in audio and written form on the Internet. Every Texan should listen to or read that wonderful story.
Crockett had left for Texas on November 1, 1835 acclaimed by crowds in towns along the way. He arrived in Nacogdoches on January 5, 1836. There he signed on with the Texas Army. He insisted on modifying his oath of allegiance, by inserting the word “republican” in his oath of allegiance to the “Provisional Government of Texas or any future republican Government that may be hereafter declared.”
The men who fought and died at the Alamo knew that Santa Anna was a brutal dictator who had destroyed the federal Mexican Constitution of 1824. He had decreed the dissolution of all state legislatures in Mexico the day after the Texas Revolution started. He had already brutally repressed the resistance to his centralization of power into one government and to himself in other Mexican states. They knew the reality of the fight before them was a fight of liberty versus tyranny.
May Texans never forget their sacrifice and forever stay committed to a free Texas.