--by Jon Johnston
On the morning of March 6, 1836 an army of 1500 to 2000 soldiers under the command of Mexican President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna attacked approximately 180 rebels at the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. The attackers sustained heavy casualties and the defenders were killed to the man. Santa Anna sent the only North American survivors of the attack to the Texas military commander, General Sam Houston, at his encampment in Gonzales. Santa Anna wanted the story of the massacre told to demonstrate his wrath and to elicit fear in the rebel Texans. Houston decided to retreat east, to gain time and gather reinforcements. The story of the massacre and Houston's retreat caused panic across the state and settlers fled before the advancing Mexican Army in the "Runaway Scrape." By the time Houston's army defeated Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto a mere six weeks later, the story of the siege and massacre had spread across the United States from New Orleans to Boston. Over time, the story grew from a factual account to a nation-building myth that revealed more about the storytellers than the battle itself. 
The Battle of the Alamo should never have happened. In January 1836 the commander of the Texas Army, General Sam Houston, sent James Bowie to assess the situation in San Antonio. Houston expected Bowie to abandon and burn the fort. But Bowie felt the Alamo was too important to leave and decided to make a stand. He did not expect an attack until the following spring and thought there would be ample time to fortify. Santa Anna's generals advised him to bypass San Antonio altogether and strike into more populated East Texas and capture or disperse the rebel government. Santa Anna ignored his generals and decided to crush the rebels who had defeated and embarrassed his brother-in-law, General Cos, at San Antonio in December 1835. After a forced winter march in February 1836, Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio on February 23. The surprised defenders hurriedly raced from town into the ill-prepared fortress. On February 24, William Barrett Travis, co-commander with Bowie, wrote an impassioned letter that he addressed to, "The People of Texas and all Americans in the World," requesting aid in defending the Alamo. It contained the heroic line "I shall never surrender or retreat," and ended with "Victory or Death."  Thirty reinforcements from Gonzales arrived on March 1st, but that was not nearly enough. On March 3, Travis sent out a last, desperate plea for help to the President of the Convention gathered at Washington-on-the Brazos, but it was too late. 
Copies of Travis's letter of February 24, 1836 and his final plea for aid on March 3, were widely dispersed, arriving in New Orleans by mid-March and New York and Washington D.C. by March 30. The letters generated much interest in the affairs of Texas, an effect that was enhanced by the presence and subsequent deaths of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. Crockett was a former U.S. Congressman and was known nationally for his real and imagined frontier exploits. Following his defeat in the congressional election of 1835 he left his wife and daughter and went to Texas. He arrived at the Alamo in early February with a small group of volunteers from Tennessee.  Jim Bowie was less well known nationally than Crockett, but his exploits as a slave trader, smuggler, land speculator and brawler, made him and his namesake "Bowie Knife" legendary in the Southwest. Bowie grew up in what was at the time Spanish Louisiana. He spoke Spanish, French and English and had been in Texas since 1828. Though a long time citizen of Mexico, Jim Bowie was involved with the rebellion from the beginning and played a role in the "Battle of Concepcion" and the "Grass Fight" in the fall of 1835. Sam Houston sent him to San Antonio in early January 1836 to assess the situation. He decided to stay and was soon sent a group of reinforcements under the command of William Travis.
William Barrett Travis left his pregnant wife, young son and failed law practice in Alabama to begin a new life. He arrived in Texas as an illegal immigrant in 1831. He began a law practice but within a year of his arrival he was under arrest in Anahuac for suspicion of rebellion. He was freed from captivity following a near revolt and later moved to San Felipe. As the Texans became increasingly unhappy with the Mexican government in early 1835, Travis organized and executed a successful attack on the Mexican garrison at Anahuac. Colonists across Texas condemned the attack, but by the autumn of 1835 relations between the colonists and the Mexican government deteriorated to the point of open warfare. Travis was an early volunteer in the Texas Army and was sent to the Alamo in mid-January 1836 to reinforce the garrison Bowie had decided to defend. The deaths of Crockett, Bowie and Travis at the Alamo linked them forever as the story spread, grew and changed. 
Shortly after the battle, Santa Anna gathered the North American survivors, Susanna Dickinson, her infant daughter Angelina and Travis’s slave Joe. Santa Anna’s cook Ben, a black servant, escorted the survivors to Gonzales to meet with Sam Houston and tell the story of the massacre. There were other witnesses to the battle, the Tejano survivors within the walls and Santa Anna's soldiers, but their stories appeared later. The accounts of the battle varied with the teller, and differences in the descriptions of the deaths of Crockett, Travis and Bowie appear in the earliest historic accounts.
Remarkably, the first historical treatment of the Battle of the Alamo and Texas Revolution was at the press in May and published in November 1836. Mary Austin Holley, the cousin of Stephen F. Austin, included an account of the battle in her book, Texas. She published a series of letters describing Texas in 1833 to generate interest in her cousin's colony. The letters were met with great interest and she was compiling information for a book on the region when the revolution broke out. She hurried her book to completion adding a description of the Battle of the Alamo, Travis's letters for aid and Sam Houston's official account of the Battle of San Jacinto. She described the Battle of the Alamo in heroic terms. "A desperate contest ensued, in which prodigies of valor were wrought by this Spartan band, which garrisoned the fort until daylight, when only seven of them were found alive." She continued, "These seven cried for quarter, but were told there was no mercy for them. Of this number were Col. David Crockett, Mr. Benton, and the gallant Col. Bonham of South Carolina." She described Travis as, "wounded and dying, was attacked by a Mexican officer," Travis gathered his last ounce of strength and, "the brave Travis met and plunged his sword in the breast of the advancing enemy, and fell the victor with the victim, to rise no more." According to Holley, "Bowie was murdered in his bed where he had been confined for a length of time by a severe illness." Holley's description of Travis and Bowie’s deaths was soon part of Alamo lore, but the story of Crockett's surrender was soon drowned out by a version more fitting his status as a frontier hero.
In the spring of 1837, the Reverend Chester Newell traveled to Texas to spend a year to improve his health. He spent three months in the capital researching the revolution. He was provided access to documents from the War Department and spoke with several veterans of the war including Sam Houston, Mirabeau Lamar and Santa Anna's former cook Ben. In 1838 he published A History of the Revolution in Texas. In it he includes a description of the Battle of the Alamo, based on his talks with Ben and other unnamed "authorities." He described the death of Travis in even more heroic terms than Holley. Again a Mexican Officer is described attacking the mortally wounded Travis, "who, collecting all his expiring energies, directed a thrust at his inhuman foe, which changed their fortunes, - for the victim became the victor; and the remains of both descended to eternal sleep --- but not alike to everlasting fame." Newell briefly mentioned Bowie as being murdered while lying sick in his bed. He saved his most heroic description for Davy Crockett. "The end of David Crockett, of Tennessee, the great hunter of the West, was as glorious as his career in life had been conspicuous." He continues, "He and his companions were found with heaps of dead around them, whom they had immolated on the altar of Texan Liberty." Newell closed the account of Crockett with, "Texas, with pride, numbers him among the martyrs to her cause." Newell never named the source of this information about Crockett, but he mentioned that Ben was told to identify the bodies of Crockett and Bowie. According to Newell, Ben was living in Bexar when the siege began and became a cook for Generals Santa Anna. He was familiar with both Bowie and Crockett. Ben escorted the American survivors of the Alamo to Gonzales to meet with Sam Houston, where he began sharing his story. In addition to the deaths of Travis, Bowie and Crockett, Newell adds the story of "Major Evans, of the artillery, who was shot when in the act of setting fire to a train of powder to blow up the Magazine." 
The first widely published Tejano account of the battle was in the 1860 version of the Texas Almanac. Francisco Antonio Ruiz was the mayor of San Antonio at the time of the battle and witnessed the attack from town. Following the battle, he was directed by Santa Anna to collect carts to carry the bodies of the fallen Mexican soldiers to the cemetery. He was also asked to identify the bodies of Travis, Crockett and Bowie. Ruiz states that Travis's body lay on a gun carriage on the north wall of the fortress, "shot only in the forehead," a wound that would seem to prevent any follow on swordplay. Crockett was found in the fort and Bowie was found dead on his bed. There was no mention of piles of bodies surrounding Crockett, but there also would be no reason for Crockett to be identified if he was brought before Santa Anna and executed.
An 1864 textbook, The New Texas School Reader, presented a similar version of the battle, but contained a few additions. Bowie was murdered in his bed, but his body was mangled. There was also mention of an attempted surrender, "Some few cried for quarter, but no quarter was given," but no names or details are given. In this version both Travis and Crockett, "fell with piles of dead Mexicans around them." The heroic Major Evans was given his due, being shot down "in attempting to set fire to the magazine." An interesting addition is the death of Major Dickinson, the husband of Susanna who, "in attempting to leap from the wall with his child tied on his back, was instantly killed." The account closed with the following disclaimer, "we shall never know the full particulars of that desperate struggle."
In the 1873 edition of the Texas Almanac, a new chapter was added to the legend of the Alamo. William P. Zuber, son of Abraham and Mary Ann Zuber, related an account of a visitor to his parent's home in late April of 1836. The visitor was Moses Rose, a self-proclaimed deserter from the Alamo, who arrived at the Zuber home in poor physical condition following his arduous journey from San Antonio to Nacogdoches. Rose, a family friend remained for several weeks while Mary Ann nursed him back to health. He told the Zubers of William Travis's dramatic speech to the Alamo defenders that occurred, "About two hours before sunset, on the third day of March, 1836." During a lull in the Mexican cannon bombardment, Travis had all the men in the Alamo assemble on the parade grounds. He made an impassioned speech, informed them that help was not forth coming, and provided them with a choice. He drew a line in the sand and exclaimed, "I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line. Who will be first? March!" Every man in the fort crossed the line, including the bed-ridden Bowie who asked the men to carry his cot across the line. Every man that is, except Moses Rose. According to Zuber, Rose gathered his clothes and climbed the wall. He crept undetected through town, under the cover of darkness, and made his way back to his home in Nacogdoches. The published account caused controversy from the beginning and was much debated by historians for the next several decades. This was not the first mention Travis's "line in the sand." "The story first appeared in the summer of 1836 with the publication of Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas." The book was allegedly based on the diary of Davy Crockett and never considered a reliable source. The story was regarded with suspicion until 1938 when a newspaper editor found court documents in which a Louis Rose verified land claims of citizens who had died in the Alamo. According to the documents Rose left the Alamo on March 3, 1836. Based on the corroboration of the court documents, many legitimate historians accepted the “line in the sand story” as fact. Another cornerstone of the Alamo legend was in place.
The "line in the sand story" caught on quickly and was included, almost verbatim, in an account of the Battle of the Alamo written in the early 1870s by poet Sidney Lanier. A footnote mentioned that Rose visited the home of the Zubers on his way to Nacogdoches. Lanier waxed poetic about the battle, "The Mexicans swarm into the fort," "The Texans club their guns; one by one they fall fighting." "Now Travis yonder by the western wall, now Crockett here in the angle of the church-wall, now Bowie butchered and mutilated on his sick-cot, breathe quick and pass away." The "the line in the sand story," was repeated again in April 1881, when Susan Hannig, the former Susanna Dickinson, visited San Antonio for the first time in 45 years. She was taken to the Alamo and shared her recollections with gathered reporters. An account of her words appeared in the San Antonio Express. "Noble Travis called upon his men, drew a line with his sword and said..." It is interesting that there was no mention of this event in any of Dickinson/Hannig's previous accounts.
In 1877 the first railroad rolled into San Antonio, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Texas Revolution arrived 1886. Interest in the Alamo was high and tourists wanted to see the site of the famous battle. Newspapers reported numerous and highly varied "eyewitness" accounts of the action. A journalist raised in San Antonio, Alexander Sweet, wrote humorous articles about Texas in the Galveston Daily News in the 1870s and 80s under the pen name "The Sifter." He wrote of an encounter with an "expert" on Alamo history on a visit to the site. "Here, to the left, was the spot where Travis fell dead, bayonetted." "In the next room I recognized the place where he (Travis) breathed his last, with a smile of triumph on his brow, a bullet in his brain, and a Mexican officer of rank impaled on his sword." Sweet goes on to describe the "sacred spot where Crockett stood in the doorway, and choked the passage with the remains of the dead Mexicans he brained with the butt of his gun." Sweet's accounts differed only slightly from the "true" stories circulating at the time.
John S. Ford wrote a more serious history of the Alamo for the Committee of the Alamo Association in 1896. In it he used the Zuber account of the "line in the sand" story and lists Madame Candelaria as a witness and last survivor of the battle. He did not include any of her stories of the battle in his brief history, but instead relied on the accounts of Sergeant Francisco Becerra of the Mexican Army. Becerra served with Santa Anna at the Alamo and was later captured at San Jacinto. He was labeled by later historian Walter Lord as, "perhaps the most unreliable of all the Mexican participants who spun yarns for Texans in years to come." Ford shied away from the deaths of any of the participants and instead relayed Becerra's account of the carnage wrought on the Mexican Army by the courageous Texans. He numbered the Mexican casualties at 2000 dead and over 300 wounded. These numbers, along with his fawning descriptions of Texans in combat, were the primary reasons Becerra was dismissed by later historians.
On February 10, 1899, Andrea Castanon de Villanueva, known as Madame Candelaria, passed away. She was famous in San Antonio as the last survivor of the Alamo and claimed to be 113 years old when she died. Her last of many, often contradictory accounts of the battle, was published on February 19, 1899 in the San Antonio Light. According to her story, Sam Houston wrote a letter asking her to enter the Alamo to attend the ailing Jim Bowie. She complied with his request and was within the walls when Santa Anna started his siege. She confirmed the story of Travis's line in the sand, and the presence of Susanna Dickinson with her infant daughter (though Dickinson claimed that Candelaria was a fraud and was never in the Alamo). She described Crockett as "one of the strangest-looking men I ever saw. He had the face of a woman and his manner was that of a young girl. I could not regard him a hero until I saw him die." Crockett died, she claimed, with "a heap of dead Mexicans at his feet." According to her account Crockett was outside Bowie's door, defending him against hordes of Mexican troops. Candelaria would help Bowie sit up so he could fire his rifle out the window. When Crockett fell, and the Mexican soldiers poured into the room, Bowie fired his pistols then drew his knife. Madame Candelaria put herself between the charging troops and sustained bayonet wounds on her chin and arm before she was pushed aside (she showed the interviewer the scars) and a dozen bayonets mutilated Bowie's body.
With Villanueava's death in 1899, the last alleged survivor of the Alamo siege was gone, and the canonical book on the battle was closed for a time. The story would remain virtually unchanged for the next 60 years. As the new century dawned, the voices of the Mexican and Tejano participants faded away. The Battle of the Alamo was cast as a triumph of white Anglo American ideals, against a brown skinned, mixed blooded despot. Democracy defeated a tyranny, Protestantism defeated Catholicism and Anglo American whites defeated the mulatto Mexican mongrels. The story fit well within the Progressive Era racial hierarchy of the early twentieth century. Santa Anna was an evil dictator, bent on destroying the budding democracy on the Texas plains. The Alamo defenders were akin to Leonidas and the Spartans, who gave their last breaths to stop the Persian hordes. When all hope was lost, Travis drew his line in the sand and the heroes threw their lot with destiny. The only exception was the cowardly Rose, a Frenchman and probably Catholic. Even the bed-ridden Bowie had his cot carried across the line to the boisterous huzzahs of his comrades-in-arms. Travis died bravely manning the cannons on the wall, using his last remaining strength to impale a Mexican officer. Crockett died surrounded by a large pile of Mexicans he had "immolated on the altar of Texan history." Last, but not least, mortally ill Bowie, a fighter to the last, fired his brace of pistols and brandished his namesake knife before being savagely butchered. The 1900 story of the Battle of the Alamo was above all, told as a triumph of the Anglo American race over their racial inferiors.
In the fall of 1926 a new comic strip appeared in the pages of the Dallas News. The title was Texas History Movies, and its purpose was to provide an entertaining, yet accurate depiction of Texas History. The title derived from the idea that the pictures told the story, like in the movies, and the captions would fill in details, as did the sub-titles on the popular silent movies of the time. The strip was also blatantly racist by modern standards. Native Americans were referred to as "injuns" or "redskins" and shown to be savages. Blacks were depicted with large white eyes, oversized lips and exaggerated accents. According to the text, the Texans abided by the laws of Mexico and freed one tenth of their slaves annually and allowed them to change masters at will. Mexicans officials were corrupt and bent on squelching the strange "democratic" ideas of the colonists. Mexican soldiers, as well as "injuns" were invariably poor marksman and tended toward cowardice. Texans were excellent fighters, brave and desiring only to enjoy the same freedoms they had in the United States. The heroes of the Alamo, Bowie, Travis and Crockett, were introduced in individual strips which depicted men of honor, each heroic in standing up for what he thought was right. The Battle of the Alamo was described in canonical fashion, with Travis drawing his line and Rose slinking away. Piles of Mexican corpses surrounded the bodies of Crockett and Bowie. The comic strip was well received and many Texas history teachers used a comic book version funded by the Mobil Oil Company as a teaching aid into the 1950s.
In 1948, John Meyers Meyers wrote what he called "the first chronicle of the Alamo which seeks to present the story of that historic structure in full." Prior accounts of the battle were contained in books about Texas or the Texas Revolution. Histories that focused on the Alamo, such as John S. Ford's were in the form of papers or articles and were not researched using modern methods. As he sifted through the assorted and often contradictory data, Meyers brought his prejudices with him. He dismissed the accounts of the Mexican officers because they wrote under duress after the failed campaign and "Their intent was primarily to salvage their damaged military reputations and secondarily to cut each other's throats politically." He chose Susanna Dickinson's account over Mrs. Horace Alsbury's, "who in spite of her name was a Mexican. Mrs. Dickinson also accused her of betraying the spent condition of the garrison to Santa Anna," when she was allowed to leave the fort to take refuge in the town before the final battle. Interestingly, Meyers gave much credence to the accounts of Travis's servant Joe, who despite being a Negro was "described as intelligent and was there to see,"  and Sergeant Becerra, "an intelligent Mexican enlisted man." The Zuber account of Rose's tale was also believed because of the corroborating evidence of the court proceedings mentioned earlier.
In summarily discarding the contradictory accounts, all of which were from the Mexican side, Meyers managed to validate the canonical story that had been told for the preceding generation. In Meyer's version, Travis drew his line and Bowie was carried across it on his sickbed while the cowardly Rose ran to tell the tale. In the final assault Travis, mortally wounded by a musket shot to the head, managed to slay a senior Mexican officer with a final thrust of his sword. Crockett died fighting, surrounded by the corpses of his foes. The tale of his surrender was dismissed as a rumor that one Texan admitted to inventing as a youngster "to impress some greenhorns from the States." Major Evans was shot down trying to blow up the powder magazine and of "Big Jim" Bowie's death he wrote, "He had one foot and four toes of the other in the grave, but when Mexican soldiers burst open the door he lifted his pistols. He killed two Mexicans then had to abide their hate." Meyer's book was indicative of the times in which he lived. The United States, victorious over the tyrannical Germans and Japanese in World War II, was the world's best hope against the expanding plague of Communism that had consumed Eastern Europe and China. The image of the heroes of the Alamo, standing resolutely against tyranny was symbolic of how Americans viewed themselves. By the mid-twentieth century, the canonical story of the Battle of the Alamo had reached maturity and was now certified as "history." The dramatic tale became synonymous with Texas and was its foundational myth. It was repeated in history textbooks, encyclopedias and Hollywood films. In the 1950s, Davy Crockett and the Alamo became cultural icons. In just over a century, the spare and disparate stories told by the survivors and eyewitnesses had grown and evolved, becoming larger than life. The Alamo was "The Cradle of Texas Liberty" and William Barrett Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett were its legendary martyrs.
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Lord, Walter. A TIme to Stand. New York: Harper&Brothers, 1961.
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 Walter Lord, A Time to Stand, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), 15-18.
 Mary Austin Holley, Texas, (Austin: The Steck Company, 1935, a facsimile copy of the original published in 1836), 349.
 Jesus F. de la Teja, Paula Marks, Ron Tyler, Texas: Crossroads of North America, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004), 199-207.
 John Meyers Myers, The Alamo, (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1948), 135-152.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 91-113.
 T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968), 202-204; Meyers, 91-113; Lord, 15-18.
 C. Newell, History of the Revolution in Texas, (Austin: The Steck Company, 1935, a facsimile copy of the original published in 1838), 89-91.
 Holley, Texas, 354.
 Holley, Texas, 354.
 Holley, Texas, 354.
 Curtis B. Dall, "Holley, Mary Austin," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 19, 2014, uploaded on June 15, 2010, published by the Texas State Historical Association, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fho32.
 Newell, History, 90.
 Newell, History, 90.
 Newell, History, 91.
 Timothy M. Matovina, The Alamo Remembered: Tejano Accounts and Perspectives, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 44.
 Matovina, The Alamo Remembered, 42-44.
 J.R. Hutchison, The New Texas Reader, (Austin: The Steck Company, 1962, a facsimile copy of the original published in 1864), 56.
 The New Texas Reader, 56.
 The New Texas Reader, 56.
 The New Texas Reader, 56.
 The New Texas Reader, 57.
 Thomas Ricks Lindley, Alamo Traces: New Evidence and New Conclusions, (Lanham, Maryland: Republic of Texas Press, 2003), 178.
 Lindley, Alamo Traces, 181.
 Lindley, Alamo Traces, 202.
 Lindley, Alamo Traces, 173-182, 211-213.
 Sidney Lanier, "Sidney Lanier's Historical Sketch San Antonio de Bexar," in San Antonio de Bexar: A Guide and History, by William Corner, (San Antonio: Bainbridge and Corner, 1890), 190.
 Bill Groneman, Eyewitness to the Alamo: Revised Edition, (Lanham, Maryland: Republic of Texas Press, 2001), 99.
 Groneman, Eyewitness to the Alamo, 98-101.
 Alexander Edwin Sweet, Alex Sweet's Texas: The Lighter Side of Lone Star History, ed. Virginia Eisenhour, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986), 10.
 Sweet, Alex Sweet's Texas, 10.
 Lord, A Time to Stand, 119.
 John S. Ford, Origin and Fall of the Alamo, (San Antonio: Johnson Brothers Printing, 1900), 16-21.
 Groneman, Eyewitness to the Alamo, 137.
 Groneman, Eyewitness to the Alamo, 136-140.
 Newell, History, 90.
 George O. Coalson, "Villanueva, Andrea Castanon," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fvi20), accessed April 27, 2014, uploaded on June 15, 2010, published by the Texas State Historical Association; Groneman, Eyewitness to the Alamo, 98-101; James E. Crisp, Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, 7-25.
 James E. Crisp, Sleuthing the Alamo: Davy Crockett's Last Stand and Other Mysteries of the Texas Revolution, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 7-11; John Rosenfield Jr. and Jack Patton, Texas History Movies, (Dallas: PJM Publishers, 1954), 91-174.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 11.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 14.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 12.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 12.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 14.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 209-225
 Meyers, The Alamo, 15.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 225.
 Meyers, The Alamo, 209-225; A. Garland Adair and Ellen Bohlander Coats, Texas: Its History, (Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1954), 93-99.