By Gene Hall
6 a.m., March 6: At this exact moment, 177 years ago, the final assault of the Alamo was about at its midpoint. The fort at San Antonio de Bexar was already lost, but the fighting—and the killing—would continue for another half hour or so.
Alamo Commander William Barrett Travis’ original letter, penned during the siege, was displayed at the Alamo recently. The famous letter called for help, and Travis stated his intent of fighting to the last man.
The defenders were mostly from the United States, though 41 of them were thought to be from Europe. An estimated 13 of the defenders were born in Texas, 11 of those of Mexican descent. They were mostly farmers looking for land.
I grew up in a Texas where the Alamo was a sacred shrine, its heroes regarded with mythic status. History now has shined its often harsh light on the men who fought for and died in the Alamo. Their flaws are exposed along with their courage.
The times in which they lived explain, but do not excuse, the fact that some held slaves. They rebelled against the established authority, as did Washington and Jefferson 60 years before. Their motives might not have been pure, but they rose against the heavy hand of a dictator who denied them self-government.
Some historians believe a few defenders tried to escape and a handful, that may have included Davy Crockett, surrendered and were executed. One eyewitness said the legendary Tennessean lay dead in the battle, surrounded by the bodies of his enemies. We will never know for sure about most of that. It doesn’t really matter.
These men, with all their flaws, lived one of those select moments in history when courage rose to an awe-inspiring level. The defenders had to know beyond any doubt that they would die. Yet they stayed. They stayed as General Sam Houston tried desperately to raise the army that would defeat the Mexican dictator Santa Anna at San Jacinto. They sold their lives as the price for an independent Texas.
Today, Texans of European, Mexican and African descent work together to continue the building of Texas. They are not always in agreement, but they are always Texans, and that’s pretty special.
If war ever has a lesson, this one has to be that sacrifice for something bigger is never an idea that goes out of style. When the time comes, we should all reach for that kind of courage.