Today, March 6, marks the 179th anniversary of the ending of the siege at the Alamo in Texas. This event has gone down in American mythology as a stirring sacrifice for liberty against a repressive Mexican government. The battle and site are etched in Texas memory, being regarded as the cradle of Texas liberty, akin to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The siege lasted about two weeks, with a handful of Texans (numbers vary from 185-260) battling the Mexican army, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who commanded 1800 men. The Texans held out against the odds as long as they could, until the Mexican forces finally stormed the mission, at present-day San Antonio, killing the defenders, including William Travis, Davey Crockett, and Jim Bowie, among the well-known defenders.
The Texans had come to settle under provisions of the General Colonization Law, which allowed foreigners to acquire land in Texas and be exempt from taxes for four years, with no requirement to become a Mexican citizen, or Catholic, which was the state religion. Mexico had reasons for attempting to attract settlers to Texas, as the land was sparsely populated and they hoped that settlement would spur economic growth in the area. Immigrants enjoyed a federalist system of government under Mexico’s Constitution of 1824. However, the growing American population eventually alarmed the Mexican government, who began efforts to restrict such immigration and eventually rescinded the law, and Santa Anna’s centralist government and its policies, which angered Texans, used to federalism from previous governments and the United States, chose to revolt and fight for independence.
With the small force at the Alamo engaged, attempts were made by Travis to get reinforcements from Col. James Fannin, but failed, leaving the force to face off against Santa Anna’s army, which was a formidable force. After several days, Santa Anna overwhelmed the garrison and captured the Alamo, with the loss of all Texan soldiers. After the battle, the Texas army faced a brief panic, but soon rallied around the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo” and defeated Santa Anna on April 21 at the Battle of San Jacinto, which forced Mexico to recognize the independence of the Republic of Texas.
This event has been commemorated in many ways since its actual occurrence, including a song by Marty Robbins, the series Davey Crockett, which inspired a coonskin cap craze among baby boomer children in the 1950s, and the John Wayne movie The Alamo (1960). These portrayals often jarred with reality, and, recent attempts to dramatize the battle in the movie The Alamo (2004) have garnered great praise. The Alamo has sparked controversy as well, including whether or not all the combatants were killed, and the nature of Texas as a state.
However, one thing is certain. the defenders fought against long odds and went to their graves defending in a cause they believed in. They gave their lives to maintain the way of life they had known and to resist attempts to curtail their freedom. For that, the siege of the Alamo and its fall must be remembered for their influence on the eventual creation of one of our largest states, as well as their impact on the long history of Mexican-American relations. The Alamo remains the largest tourist attraction in Texas and a reminder to succeeding generations to remember what happened there.
Remember the Alamo!