One of the more edifying aspects of studying American History is stumbling up on information you had no earthly idea even existed. It can be an academically humbling—though beneficial—experience because it forces you to admit just “how little” you know about the subject at hand.
That’s what happened a few days back when a friend and I were discussing the Battle of the Alamo.
The Battle of the Alamo took place near San Antonio de Béxar (now modern-day San Antonio, Texas), February 23 – March 6, 1836. The entire state of Texas once had belonged to Mexico. Many living in the border region of “Texas, Mexico,” though, were U.S. immigrants and had grown tired of Mexican rule, and desired to break away. In early October 1835, “Texians” (Spanish for “Texans”) defeated Mexican troops in what was the first official battle of the Texas Revolution, thus creating the Republic of Texas.
When Mexican troops departed San Antonio de Béxar, Texian soldiers established a garrison at the Alamo Mission, a former Spanish religious outpost, which had been converted to a makeshift fort by the recently expelled Mexican soldiers.
However, Mexico was intent on “retaking” Texas!
After a thirteen-day battle pitting approximately 185 Texians against approximately 4,000-5,000 Mexican soldiers, under the command of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, Mexican forces overtook the Alamo and brutally slew approximately 185 “Texas Freedom Fighters,” as they’ve been called.
When discussing the Alamo, two famous names come to mind right off: Davy Crockett, a.k.a. “King of the Wild Frontier,” and Jim Bowie, legendary fighter and creator of the still-popular, still-manufactured “Bowie Knife.” Though the stories vary, both Crockett and Bowie died fighting at the Alamo.
Born August 17, 1786, in Greene County, Tennessee, David “Davy” Crockett was a true American frontiersman and bear-hunting legend, the visual image of Crockett wearing a coonskin cap and buckskin jacket and totin’ a flintlock rifle is forever etched in American lore and history books. Too, Crockett represented Tennessee in U.S. Congress.
About the Alamo, two other names also are generally mentioned: Sam Houston and William Travis. The name you don’t immediately associate with the Alamo, however, is U.S. President Andrew Jackson . . . and here’s where it gets interesting!
Moving to East Tennessee as a teenager, Sam Houston (born March 2, 1793) ingratiated himself into the Cherokee Indian Nation, even marrying a Cherokee woman. Still, Houston distinguished himself by fighting bravely, under Andrew Jackson, against the British during the War of 1812.
Later, Houston passed the bar exam and practiced law in Lebanon, Tennessee, among other places. A political protégé of Andrew Jackson, Houston represented Tennessee in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Congress. Further, Houston was elected governor of Tennessee in 1827.
However, Houston had a falling out with Jackson over federal mistreatment of the Cherokee Indians (“Trail of Tears”). In 1832, in response to accusations made by fellow U.S. Congressman William Stanberry, Houston nearly beat Stanberry to death with a cane.
His political career somewhat tainted by the Stanberry incident, Houston moved to Texas and was named the Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Texas Army, October 1835.
Houston named William Travis and Jim Bowie as the original commanders of the Texian-occupied Alamo fortress, with Houston’s original orders being for them to “burn down” the Alamo, and vacate the scene. However, Travis and Bowie bucked Houston, saying they’d rather fight and die than surrender and live.
In some American History circles, it is theorized that Andrew Jackson, then president of the United States, whose residence was in Tennessee, purposely saw to it that Sam Houston, who grew up in Tennessee, was named Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Republic Army, because he/Jackson felt Houston still was so popular he posed a threat to Jackson for the U.S. presidency.
Via a litany of books, movies, TV shows, American History classes, etc., it’s well known that Davy Crockett and approximately 12 other Tennessee “volunteers” did perish fighting at the Alamo. However, the state of Tennessee’s connection to the Alamo reaches further than one would’ve thought—at least, that was the case for me.
Again, the “more” you study American History, the more you learn how “little” you know.