1836: The defenders of the Alamo, much remembered

10 comments 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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