March 6, 1836, the date of his death and the day the Alamo and its 187 American defenders were overrun by more than 3,000 Mexican soldiers, should be given at least a passing mention, but no. Today, the only “heroes” our government schools focus on are almost always African-Americans associated with the “civil rights” movement. Travis, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston and even Davy Crockett are nearly unknown in modern America.
“Remember the Alamo” is still a common maxim in our lexicon, yet few know the story behind the slogan.
The story actually starts earlier, when the Mexican people overthrew the government of Spain and established their own government. The new Mexican government actually encouraged immigration into northern Mexico by Americans, and tens of thousands flocked south and west.
However, the predominately Anglo-Saxon Americans soon resented the more oppressive hand of the Mexican government and a movement to establish their own American style republic was born. President Andrew Jackson made an attempt to purchase Texas from Mexico and thus avert the impending war, but his overtures were rejected. The rebellion was on.
On March 2, 1836, the Texas-Americans officially declared their independence from Mexico. General Santa Anna, the Mexican dictator, raised an army of 6,000 men and headed north. War would settle the question.
The Texans appointed Sam Houston as their general, and a small force occupied a strategic location: a mission named the Alamo. Santa Anna and 3,000 soldiers soon surrounded the Alamo, and its brave 188 defenders, including former Congressman Davy Crockett, who rode all the way from Tennessee to join the rebellion, were trapped. Looking out from the rather flimsy mission, certainly never designed as a fort, the sight of those thousands of Mexican soldiers must have been horribly intimidating.
After a brief siege, Santa Anna gave the defenders an ultimatum: surrender or expect no mercy. He raised a blood red flag – a signal understood by all – no quarter would be given the defenders.
Lt. Col. Travis sent a dispatch rider out, hoping for reinforcements. His final words are immortal to any real American: “The enemy has demanded surrender otherwise the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken. I have answered their demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat.”
Brave words, proudly spoken. But despite being proud and brave, the defenders, despite heroic efforts, were soon overwhelmed. Santa Anna, true to his word, slaughtered them all.
But did they die in vain? As word of their defeat spread and of their gallant final stand, thousands of Americans, deeply moved, headed south to fight the Mexicans. The battle cry of “Remember the Alamo!” was on everyone’s lips.
On April 21, 1836, on the banks of the San Jacinto River, Gen. Sam Houston, with a force of only 800 men, made a surprise attack on Santa Anna and his army. Although outnumbered, Houston’s men charged the enemy yelling, “Remember the Alamo!” With deadly rifle fire they quickly killed 600 Mexicans and captured Santa Anna himself.
Santa Anna, in exchange for his life, agreed to sign a treaty recognizing Texas as an independent Republic. The Americans had won. And even today, almost two centuries later, when people question the wisdom of engaging in a noble cause with little certainty of victory, “Remember the Alamo!” still stirs the souls of the timid into action.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.