Remembering the Alamo, John Wayne as Crockett
One hundred and seventy-five years ago as you read this, Santa Anna was assaulting the walls of the Alamo in the sleepy village of San Antonio, back then sometimes called Bexar.
Not too many actual facts exist regarding the battle. We know the Mexican army assailed the walls for thirteen days. We know the Alamo fell. We know over one hundred and eighty defenders perished. We know that neither Travis, Bowie, nor Crockett walked away from the battle. We know the bodies were burned.
Other than those few absolutes, the rest of the story is based upon hearsay.
One interesting facet of the story is that the wheels for the battle were set in motion twenty-three years earlier.
According to Lee Paul, on April 6, 1813, Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara spoke to an impassioned crowd of Mexican citizens tired of Spain’s oppression and planted the seed of revolt that led to Mexico’s independence from the tyrant country in 1821, some eight years later.
Upon gaining her freedom, Mexico unknowingly gained another tyrant, Santa Anna, a self proclaimed President and Dictator of all Mexico.
Santa Anna swore to rid Mexico of all intruders, including emigrants from the United States living in Texas. After fifteen years, the dictator still had not rid the country of those he deemed unfit. When he learned his brother-in-law, General Cos had been defeated in San Antonio in December of 1835, he exploded. He swore revenge, and began his arduous trek into Texas.
In his way, stood a rundown church called the Alamo. Behind its wall stood 183 (189) men from dozens of states, all determined that the ‘Napoleon of the West’ should not succeed.
The most well known combatant was Davy Crockett who raced in with seventeen men only a few yards ahead of a Mexican patrol of lancers hot on their tail.
Innumerable stories have been told of his death. None can be verified. So, take your pick from some of the more widely claimed assertions. The truth is, no one will very know how he died.
When news of the massacre spread, rumors raced rampant across the country. One claimed he had not died with his men. Another claimed he along with two others survived but were put to death by the enraged Santa Anna.
Another story has it that Santa Anna instructed Alcalde Francisco Ruis to identify the bodies of the dead Texans, especially the leaders. The mayor said, “Toward the west end, we found the body of Colonel Crockett.”
But, from his prison cell in Anahuac after San Jacinto, General Cos told his doctor that Crockett survived by locking himself in a room, then asking for mercy, but Santa Anna refused.
Four years later, word spread around the country that Crockett had survived the siege and was serving a prison sentence in the Salinas Mine near Guadalajara, says Lee Paul who researched the issue.
Forty-two years later, Joseph Conn Guild claimed Crockett and five others survived. They surrendered to General Manuel Castrillon under promise of his protection, a promise rendered worthless by Santa Anna.
According to Guild, “Crockett fell with a dozen swords sheathed in his breast.”
Probably the most believable story came from the lips of Susanna Dickinson, wife of Almeron Dickinson, Travis’s lieutenant. She knew Crockett on sight. She stated in her memoirs that she saw Crockett and a handful of others lying mangled and mutilated between the “church and the two-story barrack building. She even remembered seeing his peculiar cap by his side as she was led from the scene by a Mexican officer.
So what is the truth?
We’ll never know.
What most of us will always believe the truth to be is the rendering of the heroic figure in the painting that hung on the north wall of the chapel for years. It portrayed Crockett standing in the thickest of the fighting, using his flintlock like a club until Mexican bayonets and bullets cut him down.
That’s how I see him, a John Wayne hurling a torch into the powder room as lances slam into his body.
So maybe legend has supplanted fact.
I can live with that.