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1836: The defenders of the Alamo, much remembered

March 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1836, Mexican forces commanded by President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna overran the Alamo — and executed those few of its defenders who survived the day’s battle.

“Remember the Alamo!”

This most memorable battle of the Texas Revolution has since retained its place in the founding mythology of Texas and its draw as a tourist destination in San Antonio, no matter the complexities on the ground. (You can watch the earliest surviving film treatment, The Martyrs of the Alamo, free online. D.W. Griffith made it the same year he made Birth of a Nation.)

That Alamo of blood and legend, and the countervailing interpretations it eclipses, are much beyond our scope here, but we are attracted to notice the reputed summary execution of five to seven defenders who had surrendered or otherwise been captured during the fight. (A few dozen mostly civilian noncombatants in the former mission also survived, and were not executed.)

According to Robert Scott, Santa Anna was empowered by a Mexican resolution holding (not without cause) that

“foreigners landing on the coast of the Republic or invading its territory by land, armed, and with the intent of attacking our country, will be deemed pirates.”

Who counted, at this moment, as “foreigners” among the Anglo settlers trying to break away from Mexico and their supporters among from the United States to which Texas would eventually attach poses a historiographical riddle. But then, Santa Anna wasn’t there to write a dissertation, but to win a war — and he was said to be sorely annoyed at the defenders having tied him down for a week and a half.

King of the Wild Frontier

Covered by most any definition of “foreigner” would have been the Alamo’s most famous defender, Tennessee frontiersman and former U.S. Congressman Davy Crockett. He had arrived in Texas just a few months before, on a rendezvous with destiny.*

It’s a matter of dispute whether Crockett was among those last few executed; in an event this emotionally remembered, every version of the Crockett death scene — from “found dead of injuries amid a heap of Mexican casualties” to “cravenly bargained for his life” — gores someone’s ox.

Even if the account of Crockett’s presence among the executed derives from a disputed source — well, this blog has not scrupled to highlight the fictional and the mythological, those executions whose resonance transcends factual accuracy.

And even if Davy Crockett was not among those anonymous souls put to death this day, it is by his name that they have their tribute, as in the 2004 film** The Alamo:

* Destiny by way of Walt Disney.

** This Disney film diddles with the Crockett legend that Disney helped to inflate in the 1950’s — to the annoyance, of course, of traditional-minded Alamo partisans.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Known But To God,Language,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mexico,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Texas,Treason,Wartime Executions

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10 Responses to “1836: The defenders of the Alamo, much remembered”

  1. 1
    ravensdottir Says:

    I lived in Austin, TX, in the late 1970’s. At that time, I distinctly remember a furor that old Davey C had not in fact died in defense of the Alamo, but rather his grave had been found and remains somehow identified somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee. The uproar was so rabid that the staid scientists/historians reporting simply what they found were forced to recant. Everything was hushed up and Heaven forfend were anyone to sully the Legend of the Alamo. This from the same crew that had duels in high school (it escalated, from fists to knives to Confederate duelling pistols. No one died. I know, I was a Canadian-style Yankee in a TX school suffering through their re-enactments of the Glories of the Old South.)

  2. 2
    ExecutedToday.com » 1860: (William) Walker, Nicaragua Ranger Says:

    [...] Texas, which was pelted with Anglo filibustering expeditions in the early 19th century, helping set the table for the revolution that severed the Lone Star state from Mexico; arguably, the Texas Revolution [...]

  3. 3
    ExecutedToday.com » 1836: Goliad Massacre Says:

    [...] widely celebrated than the Battle of the Alamo preceding it by a fortnight, the Battle of Coleto on March 19-20 had seen Mexican troops surround [...]

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1843: 17 who drew the black beans Says:

    [...] the Republic of Texas (it would join the United States in 1846) had won its independence from Mexico a few years before, hostilities between the two [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » 1824: Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico Says:

    [...] freshly-minted emperor had himself had promoted, one Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — yes, the Alamo guy — declared against Iturbide by the end of 1822, and come the following spring, Agustin I was [...]

  6. 6
    John Thomas Anderson Says:

    You will have to forgive me if I seem a little putirbed with (ravensdottir) of posting #1, our “Canadian Styled Yankee” friend who once lived in Texas “suffering (through) re-enactments of the Glories of the Old South. I am sure that you suffered terribly and I apologize for my Texas friends who (by your account) expressed their displesure that anyone would “sully the Legend of the Alamo.” The so called “rabid uproar in your school escalating from fists, knives and to confederate dueling pistols causing the “recantment of scientist/historians who claimed that “old Davy C” (you didn’t even have the respect to spell Crockett!) had not in fact died in defense of the Alamo. I submitt to all that the recantment from the scientist/historians came due to the fact that David Crockett’s bones had not been discovered in a grave in “Tennessee or Kentucky” but they they were in fact in Texas burned to ashes with the other Hero’s of the Alamo.

    One other comment to our Canadian-Styled Yankee friend. If half of your (so called) Legend of the Alamo were found to be totally false there is still enough true facts to secure March 6, 1836 a solid and honorable place in World History for ever and evermore! “Remember The Alamo!!!

  7. 7
    Lostlake Says:

    In submitting the previous posting I failed to mention that my great-great-great Uncle, Dolphin Ward Floyd (along with David Crockett and James Bowie) was killed fighting for Texas Independance at the Alamo. Dolphin Floyd left North Carolina in 1822 and made his way through 7 states stopping for a while in Alabama as he answered the call “go west young man go west.” He arrived in Texas around 1832 and rode to the Alamo through Mexican lines with the 32 Gonzales Rangers who reinforced Col. Travis’s small force on March 1. Dalphin Ward Floyd was born March 6,1804 and was killed at the Alamo on his 32nd birthday. We are hoping that an article about my relative will appear in a new magizine to come out in February 2011 called Embracing History, a sister publication to the magazine American Digger.

  8. 8
    ExecutedToday.com » 1843: Ewen Cameron, black bean leftover Says:

    [...] Scottish immigrant, Cameron arrived in Texas just as it broke free of Mexico. His reputation for martial prowess on the frontier earned him a newsman’s tribute as [...]

  9. 9
    1836: Goliad Massacre - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum Says:

    [...] [...]

  10. 10
    ExecutedToday.com » Themed Set: Americana Says:

    [...] who’s about to be a 2012 campaign issue, and all the many martyrs, patriots, traitors, and legends in [...]

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