President Thomas Jefferson's purchase of Louisiana from France in 1803 effected a monumental change in the American psyche. In short time, the notion that the United States would someday be a two-ocean country became as matter-of-fact as blue sky and green grass. The outcome of the War of 1812 opened the door for "inevitable fulfillment of the general law which is moving [the] population westward" to commence. In other words, no obstacle, however formidable, would ultimately deny America from overwhelming the half continent west of the Mississippi River all the way to the Pacific Ocean. By the mid-1820s, the movement which would come to be known as "Manifest Destiny"was well underway; it reached full fruition during the 1840s, when more than one million square miles of land came under jurisdiction of the United States government. A prized chunk of this frenzied territorial acquisition was Texas.
The United States once maintained that Texas was included in the Louisiana Territory, but officially relinquished that claim in 1819 under the Adams-Onís Treaty with Spain. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the new government encouraged American emigration to its northernmost province of Texas through a system whereby empresarios (proprietors) would receive enormous tracts of prime territory on the condition that they enlist a hundred or more (the number varied per each contract) families for settlement.
The planned colonization, reasoned Mexican officials, would produce several benefits. Texas would be converted from a relatively unpeopled region into a valuable economic asset; additionally, the settlers would act as a buffer zone between Mexico City and marauding Comanche Indians of the southern Great Plains; and finally, the new communities would be formed of upstanding people, largely ensured by self-interest of the empresario himself because the value of his own premium lands would be dependent on the character of the colony he built. Settlers were enticed by promises of practically free land and exemption from taxes for a number of years. In return, the immigrants had to become citizens of Mexico, practice Catholicism, and disavow slavery.
The first agent to be granted land under Mexico's empresario plan was 27-year-old Stephen Austin. By 1824, he had recruited 297 familiesknown later in Texas lore as the "Old Three Hundred"to settle between the lower Colorado and Brazos rivers. Thanks in part to Austin's success, the empresario system grew immensely popular. In all, 26 such licenses were approved. Ironically, the immense success of Mexico's grand colonization scheme created conditions that would cause it to implode.
By the end of the decade, American settlers vastly outnumbered the incumbent Tejanos (Mexican residents of Texas). The expectation that diverse nationalities would head to Texas did not materialize. Ninety percent of the new American arrivals were from the South; hence, most were Protestant and eager to extend the cotton industry and its adjoining slave-labor system into the inviting soil and climate offered by Texas. Clearly, the newcomers considered Texas a natural extension of Louisiana and the rest of the Lower South. The fact that the United States government had thrice made offers to purchase Texas further concerned Mexico. And, with Andrew Jacksonan ardent expansionistnow occupying the White House, the status of the Texas region seemed precarious, at best.
In 1828, a fact-finding commission headed by General Manuel Mier y Terán confirmed the Texas settlements' political affinity with the United States. As a result, Mexico completely reversed itself two years later, prohibiting any further immigration from the United States and placing a stiff tax on imported American goods. Soldados (soldiers) were stationed throughout Texas to enforce the policy change. Nonetheless, the flow of Americans into Texas continued steadily. But whereas the settlers of the 1920s had no alarmingly rambunctious agenda, most of the post-1830 infiltrators were openly antagonistic toward Mexico City. In their hearts and minds, the reigning force in Texas was not Mexico's President Anastasio Bustamante, but America's King Cotton.
In early 1833, delegates from the Texas colonies entrusted Austin to deliver a petition of greater autonomy to the newly-elected President Antonio López de Santa Anna. After stalling for several months, Santa Anna finally agreed to see Austin and consider the Texians' demands. Somewhat satisfied, Austin began his return trip, but was arrested along the way and charged with inciting insurrection. It seems that while in Mexico City, Austin had written an angry letterpartly fueled by his extended waitin which he urged Texas to form a provisional constitution and Santa Anna be damned. Somehow it fell into the wrong hands. For his indiscretion, Austin was detained for 18 months.
Meanwhile, Texian resistance mounted. Upon Austin's release and return to Texas in mid-1835, the situation was critical. Even Austin, an advocate of conciliation two years earlier, now favored more aggressive measures. Ensuing skirmishes between Texians and Mexican soldados prompted Santa Anna to march his army northward to deal directly with any further insubordination by the unruly Texians.
On February 23, Santa Anna's force of 3,000 arrived at San Antonio, where a relatively small group of about 150 Texians under joint command of Colonel James Bowie and Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis had taken refuge in the Alamo, an abandoned Catholic mission built in 1718. Among the Alamo rebels was the storied backwoodsman Davy Crockett. Santa Anna demanded immediate surrender. Travis ordered a cannon shot in reply. The Mexicans then hoisted the red flag of "no quarter" for all the Alamo defenders to contemplate during the coming days.
Throughout the next two weeks, Santa Anna's artillery bombarded the insurgents while Alamo sharpshooters pestered the Mexicans. It was said the bullet which struck dead the first soldado casualty was fired from the rifle of none other than Crockett himself. Travis dispatched several couriers in various directions with appeals for rapid reinforcements. The only arrivals were 32 men from Gonzales who made their way through enemy lines on March 1, increasing the Texian ranks to 184. Meanwhile, Mexican troops continued to pour in, bolstering Santa Anna's army to at least 4,000, although some estimates go as high as 6,000.
Shortly after midnight on March 6, over 3,000 Mexican troops bearing scaling ladders, picks and spikes, and muskets with fixed bayonets moved into positions to attack the Alamo from four sides. Santa Anna held another 400 soldiers in reserve. Some 300 cavalrymen stood ready to challenge any riders who might bolt from the Alamo. In the pre-dawn darkness, a Mexican bugler sounded Degüello (throat-cutting) to signal the attack. What unfolded over the next hour and a half made the Battle of the Alamo one of those rare events in America's past which today captivates even the person otherwise indifferent toward history.
The Alamo was released in 2004. There have been other Alamo movies. The most memorable earlier effort is a 1960 film of the same title starring the great Hollywood ultra-hero John Wayne as Davy Crockett. The newer version is considerably more faithful to actual history. Bowie, Crockett, and Travis are all de-mythologized, including the manners of their deaths. Also worth noting is the absence of the "hump" at the top of the Alamo's facade. This familiar feature was not in place when the battle occurred; it was added years later during a restoration. The Alamo is rated PG-13 due to moderate violence and rough language.
Dennis Quaid stars as General Samuel Houston, appointed commander of the Texas revolutionary army in 1835. Houston lived among the Cherokees during two stages of his lifeas a runaway teenager, then again years later upon failure of his brief marriage and sudden resignation as governor of Tennessee. The Indians called him "Big Drunk" because he resorted to heavy and frequent doses of alcohol to numb his misfortunes away. Eventually he journeyed to Texas in 1832 and emerged at the forefront of the revolutionary movement. Houston's striking physique and passionate temperament were illuminated by his flamboyant flair for clothes. A favorite ensemble included a waistcoat of panther skin, large sombrero, and gold-headed cane; he once appeared at a ball donned in a black velvet suit lined with white satin, augmented by a large hat trailing plumes of feathers.
The crushing defeat of General Santa Anna at San Jacinto in April by Houston-led forces avenged the slaughter of Americans at the Alamo (and Goliad later) and secured Texas its independence from Mexico. Houston's triumph, however, is somewhat clouded by mild historical scrutiny of his actions as commander. There is some scholarly thought that Houston unduly delayed reinforcing the Alamo until it was too late, hence betraying the Alamo occupants who kept the faith that help was on the way; that his meandering prior to engaging Santa Anna demonstrated not so much superior tactical planning as it did simple uncertainty of action; and that the victory at San Jacinto was due more to a combination of Mexican military ineptitude and Houston's able subordinate officers than the overall command prowess of Houston himself. The Alamo exposes these controversies.
Houston was elected president of the Lone Star Republic (soundly defeating Stephen Austin) and became the prime mover in its annexation to the United States, though various circumstances would delay statehood for a nearly a decade (Houston's friendship with President Jackson wasn't enough to tip the scales in favor of immediate absorption of Texas). After 1845, Houston would serve the new state of Texas as senator, then governor.
As the impending crisis of secession and possible civil rebellion loomed, Houston's refusal to be blinded by sectional ties would affect his political career. Though himself a slaveholder, Houston's primary loyalty was to the Union. He denounced both the "fanaticism of the North" and "ambition of the South" as equally mad. In 1860, Houston narrowly missed nomination for the presidency by the National Union Party, attracted to his widespread recognition as a prominent, slaveowning Unionist. Accordingly, as governor of Texas, he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. "I know neither North nor South; I know only the Union," proclaimed Houston. To avoid undue violence in Texas, Houston respectfully declined President Abraham Lincoln's offer to send 50,000 troops there to protect his governorship and block the state's secession from the Union. He was subsequently deposed, hardly an ending fit for the man who did so much for Texas. His eldest son, Sam, Jr., joined the Confederate Army, fell badly wounded at the bloody Battle of Shiloh, and was imprisoned at the notorious Camp Douglas in Illinois. Houston died in 1863, the fate of his beloved Texas undecided. Today he is revered by Texans as much as any patriarch of any state.
The most famous Alamo casualty is the legendary Davy Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thornton. Crockett was a rugged frontiersmanbear hunter, rifleman, scout, and Indian fighterelected to Congress twice from Tennessee. He preferred the name "David," though plenty of historical matter would have us believe everyone called him by the more folksy-sounding "Davy." Crockett once attended a menagerie exhibition in Washington with a few of his congressional colleagues. As he viewed some caged monkeys, he remarked how similar the animals looked to one of his least favorite political brethren. No sooner had Crockett made the comparison than he was surprised to see that very congressman standing near and listening. Seizing the moment, Crockett faced him squarely and said, "I suppose that I ought to apologize, but I can't tell whether to you or the monkey!"
Crockett's political career was not overly distinguished; perhaps his most notable action was opposition to the enthusiastic Indian Removal policy embraced by President Jackson. When Crockett decided to butt heads with Jackson, he effectually committed political suicide. Angry after his re-election defeat in 1835, Crockett told his Tennessee constituents they could "go to hell" and he would "go to Texas," whereupon he did just that. Crockett, leaving his wife behind, led a modest partythe Tennessee Mounted Volunteersto aid the Texas independence movement. Offered the rank of colonel in the Texian army, he refused and decided instead to serve as a lowly private.
Contrary to myth, the 50-year-old Crockett did not fight to his death, madly bonking Mexican onrushers with his rifle, "Old Betsy," as his last brave, desperate act. Instead, he was among a handful of Alamo defenders captured, possibly abused, and then executed by Santa Anna over the protest of General Manuel Fernandez Castrillón, one of Santa Anna's chief officers (and Crockett's likely captor). Whether or not Santa Anna knew the identity of Crockett before ordering his death is questionable. Crockett's body was found in a small barricade on the west side of the Alamo. His sarcastic wit, partial literacy, unabashed boastfulness, constant optimism, and steadfast courage are aptly scripted in The Alamo.
Jason Patric is cast as Colonel James Bowie. The intemperate Bowie (it's BOO-ee, not BOW-ee), popular in Louisiana and Mississippi for his skill with the knife he invented, was last employed as a slave smuggler. He went to Texas in 1828 and married into a wealthy Spanish family. When his pregnant wife, Ursula, and two children succumbed to cholera five years later, Bowie took refuge in liquor. He arrived at San Antonio in mid-January with about 30 men, assigned by Houston to assist in the evacuation of the Alamo. For reasons unclear, Bowie decided to ignore Houston's orders and instead remained to help fortify the garrison in preparation for attack.
Bedridden owing to severe illness (probably typhoid fever) in a south-side room on the Alamo's historic day, Bowie was savagely bayoneted when the Mexicans stormed the fortress. The details of his moment of demise are impossible to know. The most popular account has Bowie sitting on a cot with his back braced against the wall, blasting away with his pistols until empty at the first soldados to break into the room; then, forced to resort to his knife, being overwhelmed by a second wave of intruders. This account certainly matches the devil-may-care reputation of Bowie. However, because Bowie was later described by some of his killers as cowardly, another version of his death seems probable. When the soldados came upon Bowie he was isolated from the rest of his Alamo comrades and huddled under a blanket, simply too delirious to offer any resistance (if even cognizant of what was happening). Perhaps a shiver or a moan betrayed his presence, and he was immediately stabbed by the Mexicans, leaving no reason to interpret their famous victim's circumstances as anything but cowardly. However he behaved during his final moments, history has never questioned Bowie's courage. When his mother was informed of his death, she reportedly stated, "I'll wager no wounds were found in his back." Bowie was 41 years old.
Three of the Alamo's few civilian survivors were related to BowieGertrudis Navarro, 15-year-old adopted sister to Bowie's wife; Juana Navarro Alsbury, sister of Gertrudis, and Alijo Perez, 18-month-old son of Juana. Bowie's slave, Sam, was also spared by the Mexicans.
Patrick Wilson portrays Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis, Bowie's rival for command of the Alamo forces until Bowie fell sick. Travis was a fiery 26-year-old Alabama attorney who once killed a man for making advances on his wife. Shortly thereafter, Travis left his pregnant wife and infant son to emigrate to Texas in 1831 where he eventually joined the struggle against the Mexicans. (His estranged wife, towing the two children, managed to track him down in Texas to effect a divorce.) Itching for a fight, he led a band of 40 hotheads against a Mexican garrison at Anahuac in mid-1835; the fact that the fort surrendered without bloodshed notwithstanding, it was an action thought by many Texians to be premature. Travis arrived at the Alamo with 30 cavalrymen to reinforce Colonel J. C. Neill. When Neill later took leave, he named Travis acting commander until his return, hence creating some dissention within the garrison because many favored the older, more experienced Bowie. Several days before the Mexican onslaught of the Alamo, Travis wrote his last of several letters appealing to the Texas people for "reinforcements, ammunitions and provisions...so soon as possible."
According to story, on the eve of Santa Anna's final assault, Travis assembled the entire Alamo force on the commons. He then solemnly etched a line in the dirt with his sword, directing the men who wished to remain in the garrison and face the Mexicansand die, presumablyto step across the line, while those who wanted to make their escape that night should stay in place. All but one took the fateful step. Even the ailing Bowie, laid out on a stretcher, was there to listen to what Travis had to say, and when the time came, had some of his men lift him over the mark!
The line-in-the-dirt incident is not included in The Alamo. It's one of those larger-than-life episodes in history that scholars generally concur is more folklore than reality. Still, even if the event didn't unfold in such dramatic fashionadmittedly, the stretcher-occupied Bowie portion of the tale seems far-fetchedthere's no compelling reason to doubt something like it might have happened in one form or another. That is to say, perhaps Travis held a similar meeting with his subordinate officers only, or circulated around the Alamo talking with the men in groups to boost their morale, or assembled the entire Alamo guard to issue final battle instructions and offer words of inspiration. Certainly the story, historically enhanced that it is, illustrates the valiant spirit of the ragtag Alamo army. Truth or tale, the incident is tailor-made for Hollywoodcredit the filmmakers for resisting what had to have been a real temptation to deviate from their commitment to realism and write the scene into The Alamo.
Travis, manning the north wall the next morning, was one of the first Alamo defenders to be killed. Struck square in the forehead by a 3/4-inch lead ball, Travis fell back, probably dead before he landed, still grasping his shotgun. Travis's slave, Joe, survived the Alamo massacre.
Jordi Molla plays the role of Captain Juan Nepomuceno Sequín, the leading Tejano who supported the American uprising against Santa Anna's regime. He joined the movement for independence with a company of vaqueros (cowboys). Initially stationed at the Alamo, Sequín was not there on the day of reckoning because he and some of his men had been earlier dispatched to garner reinforcements. Stopped by Mexican sentries, Sequín exclaimed loyalty to Mexico: "¡Somos paisanos! " His shout created just enough diversion to allow him and his men to dash safely away amidst a hail of enemy bullets. In April, Sequín led a regiment of Tejanos in the decisive San Jacinto battle.
About a year after the Alamo massacre, Sequín returned to the scene and conducted funeral services. His men gathered the remaining ashes and bone fragments from the body pyres ordered by Santa Anna and purportedly buried them during ceremony at the Cathedral of San Fernando in San Antoniothe same church from which Santa Anna raised the "no quarter" flag and positioned cannon to fire upon the Alamo in the days prior to the final assault. Sequín ordered a gunfire salute and requested the church bells to peal. In 1936, during renovation of the church, a box containing charred bones, nails, and shreds of uniforms was unearthed at the very spot where some sources report that Sequín interred the coffin. Historians argue about whether the remains within were in fact of the Alamo casualties, but regardless, today they are housed in the back of the cathedral and identified as such.
Considered a hero of the Texas Revolution, Sequín fell victim to the same anti-Mexican prejudice that spurred the revoltin 1842, he was driven off his land by Anglo-Texians, many of whom had been his comrades a few years earlier. Embittered by the betrayal, he later fought against the United States in the Mexican War.
James Butler Bonham, portrayed by Marc Blumes, was a young lawyer from South Carolina who arrived in Texas three months prior to the Alamo attack. Like Sequín, Bonham was a courier for Travis, but unlike Sequín, Bonham perished at the fort. Some scholars believe Bonham returned to the Alamo under the assumption that adequate reinforcements were forthcoming. In fact, it's quite conceivable that the reason many of the Alamo defenders, Travis and Crockett included, remained long enough to be killed by Santa Anna was because they fully expected additional Texas militia to arrive soon; had they known otherwise, there might have been considerably more departures from the Alamo.
Emilio Echevarría is General Antonio López de Santa Anna, president of Mexico and commander-in-chief of its military forces, who will lay siege to the Alamo, then suffer a humiliating defeat by Houston's forces six weeks later under the battle cry of "Remember the Alamo!" Santa Anna began his military career fighting for Spain to squash ideas of Mexican independence, but later switched his allegiance, supporting the self-declared emperor Agustín de Iturbide once Mexico had defeated Spain in 1821, only to turn against him two years later.
Elected president of Mexico in 1833, Santa Anna soon assumed dictatorial control, declaring himself the "Napoleon of the West." He replaced the Mexican Constitution of 1824 with the Siete Leyes (Seven Laws). All told, Santa Anna spent 35 years alternately serving as president (11 times), leading troops into battle, and living in exile. Historians consider him both ruthless and woeful in his dual role as political leader and military commander. Though the entire cast of The Alamo is solid, Echevarría's performance is exceptional.
Select the best response for each item according to information learned by viewing The Alamo, as well as through lecture and assigned reading.
Choose one of the following. Your response should be 3-5 typed, double-spaced pages and include a list of sources used (minimum of two required).