Friday, February 25, 2011

Victory or Death

The siege of the Alamo began 175 years ago, February 23rd. And it was on this day, two days in, that Col. Travis wrote his famous letter.

When I was a kid, Alamo was a favored game. Most kids wanted to be Crockett, as did I, though I never objected to being Travis (we all considered Bowie to be a big hero too, but you had to lay there with a rag around your head till the battle was nearly over). Jerry Jones (a kid on my block I'll write more about one of these days) actually enjoyed being Santa Anna, which was handy, and all the 4 year-olds on the block were happy to be the Mexican troops. The reading of the letter was a big part of the game-ritual, as was the line in the sand, and the desertion of the "coward" Moses Rose (also portrayed by Jerry Jones).

When the mission fell, and we died our heroic deaths, Jerry would mug and preen insufferably. "No quarter, you damn Texicans," he would hiss, as we writhed on the ground, with our hands on our hearts, and Texas on our lips. Then he'd order the 4 year-olds to run us through again (to make sure we were really dead), and he would wax poetic about being the Napoleon of the west. "Today, Texas. Tomorrow, the world!", he would scream, arms stretched toward the heavens, which made the ensuing game of San Jacinto oh-so-much more satisfying. ("Why, who is that stranger wearing a dress, and trying to sneak away?" "El President-ay, el president-ay," the 4 year-olds, on their knees with their hands behind their heads, would exclaim on cue.)

I'm not gonna try and persuade you about the truth regarding what happened there, at the Alamo, or about the men who died there. When I grew a little older, and learned more about David Crockett and James Bowie, I was disappointed, to be sure. I have learned, though, that people and events are complicated, and that it can be terribly unfair to separate them from their times. For good or ill, the myth is part of who I am, an inextricable part of my consciousness, and my character. As such, I remain inspired by their sacrifice, and moved by their heroism, of which the letter is a symbol, and perhaps the most precious of all Texican artifacts.

Here is the text—still gives me goosebumps:

(Page 1)
Send this to San Felipe by Express
night & day

The People of Texas
All Americans

(Page 2)
Commandancy of the Alamo—
Bejar, Fby. 24th 1836—

To the People of Texas &
all Americans in the world—

Fellow citizens & compatriots—
I am besieged, by a thousand
or more of the Mexicans under
Santa Anna—I have sustained
a continual Bombardment &
cannonade for 24 hours & have
not lost a man—The enemy
has demanded a surrender at
discretion, otherwise, the garrison
are to be put to the sword, if
the fort is taken—I have answered
the demand with a cannon
shot, & our flag still waves
proudly from the walls—I
shall never surrender or retreat
Then, I call on you in the
name of Liberty, of patriotism &
& every thing dear to the American
character, to come to our aid,

(Page 3)
with all dispatch—The enemy is
receiving reinforcements daily &
will no doubt increase to three or
four thousand in four or five days.
If this call is neglected, I am deter
mined to sustain myself as long as
possible & die like a soldier
who never forgets what is due to
his own honor & that of his
country—Victory or Death
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. comdt
P.S. The Lord is on our side—
When the enemy appeared in sight
we had not three bushels of corn—
We have since found in deserted
houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into
the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves—

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