Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remember The Alamo?

I was looking at the back issue of Texas Monthly today to see an article I skipped about the new Richard  Linklater film and saw their summer book article again, noticing that I was reading two of the titles. One is the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s ‘The Years of Lyndon Johnson’ that he’s been writing for thirty-five years, surpassing even Edmund Morris’s laboring on Theodore Roosevelt. The other is James Donovan’s ‘The Blood of Heroes.’ 

I enjoyed Donovan’s “A Terrible Glory” last year, his Custer at the Little Bighorn book. This year he’s published another history of mayhem from which few survived to tell the tale. He introduces the well-known characters and sets the scene, including the little-known 1813 Battle of Medina that was certainly in the memory of those involved. Donovan draws from Mexican officer Jose Enrique de la Pena’s book, which went unpublished until 1955, and was scorned by many Texans as blasphemous. His book is a page-turner, uncluttered by citations (the notes are in the back.) I was impressed by the case he made that the sacrifice of those at the Alamo was essential to the winning of Texas independence, from the three-to-one ratio of American adventurers to Texas settlers at the Alamo to the reversal of that ratio at San Jacinto, as Texians saw their peril and united to face it; to the new focus given to squabbling politicians by the nearby invading army. The three-week delay of Santa Anna’s army also brought the spring rains into play, making Texas rivers into formidable obstacles, and forcing the Mexican to operate in a ‘sea of mud.’ It also seems clear that once surrounded, relief of the Alamo by irregular Texian forces may only have brought larger disaster. Sam Houston, once in command, needed time to bring order to his volunteer army. The massacres at the Alamo and Goliad may have got the Texian’s blood up, but they were still outnumbered, undisciplined and ill-equipped. Houston explained “There are but few of us, and if we are beaten, the fate of Texas is sealed. The salvation of the country depends upon the first battle had with the enemy. For this reason, I intend to retreat, if I am obliged to go even to the banks of the Sabine” (where U.S. troops waited to prevent Mexican incursion.)

Two things caught my eye in this book. First was the mention of Davy Crockett cradling his rifle, “Old Betsy.” According to Stephen Harrigan, author of the excellent “The Gates of the Alamo” and “Challenger Park” (set here in Clear Lake,) Old Betsy wasn’t at the Alamo. Sources on the web say that Crockett left this rifle with his son Robert in Tennessee, but that it is now displayed at the Alamo. I’ll have to look for it next time I visit. I seem to visit this shrine in one hour installments, telling whoever I’m with “I’ll just stay an hour.” It was just last year that the graffiti scratched in the rock face of the chapel was brought to my attention. I know that it’s not all the work of eighteenth-century vandals, but..

The second was the story of Moses Rose, the man who declined to cross Travis’s line in the sand and slipped over the walls to take his chances escaping. I think I heard of this story being apocryphal fifty years ago. Donovan takes this up in an afterword, citing San Jacinto veteran William Zuber, who told in 1871 of his parents sheltering Rose after his escape, and survivor Susanna Dickinson, who confirmed the line in the sand story in an 1877 interview. It is arcana such as this that keeps the ‘siege mentality’ percolating.


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