It was was an old Franciscan Mission, dating from the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. It was surrounded by walls three feet thick, and eight feet high. It covered, altogether, an area of nearly three acres. It contained a roofless church of hewn stone, and several other buildings, and was defended by fourteen guns. The garrison consisted of one hundred and forty-five men, besides some non-combatants, and these were increased on the 1st of March, 1836, or, according to Crockett, on the 24th of February, by about thirty men from Gonzalez. There was a plentiful supply of water from two aqueducts, which quickly became the special object of the enemies’ attack. Colonel Travis is said to have been most careless from the first; it was to his own surprise that a large store of provisions was discovered in the Alamo after the siege had begun. But listen to the ring of one or two of his latest letters: ” I am still here, March 3rd, in fine spirits, and well to do. With one hundred and forty-five men, I have held this place ten days against a force variously estimated from fifteen hundred to six thousand ; and I shall continue to hold it till I get relief from my countrymen, or I will perish in its defence. We have had a shower of bombs and cannon-balls continually falling among us the whole time, yet none of us have fallen.” And again: ” Take care of my little boy. If the country should be saved, I may make him a splendid fortune; but if the country should be lost, and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country.” The members of the garrison were insubordinate, and of a quality more willing to die with their young commander than to obey him.
There is a tragical completeness and grandeur about the story of the defence and of the fall of the Alamo, which makes me unwilling to give any fragments of it here. We have the journal of the gentle David Crockett until the 5th of March, and his details bring the last days of these devoted Texans very close to us. It is only the story of one hundred and seventy-five bad-mannered backwoodsmen perishing for their disobedience of General Houston’s orders; and yet there is a divine irradiation over it all. The Alamo was taken in the earliest morning of Sunday, the 6th of March, 1836, and Travis, Bowie, Crockett, with all their companions, were butchered by Santa Anna’s particular command.
The Convention, which was sitting at Washington on the Brazos during these days, was driven almost mad by terror and by Travis’s reiterated messages for help. General Austin was in the United States; one is tempted more and more to believe that General Houston was the one man in Texas not altogether demented. On the morning of Sunday, March 6th, the latest express ever sent out by Colonel Travis reached the Convention, crying for help. One mad member moved that the Convention should adjourn and march to the relief of the Alamomore than one hundred and fifty milesfifty men against eight thou-sand! The Convention was proceeding to adjourn accordingly, and it strained all Houston’s personal influence to stamp out the proposition. For what followed we must trust the words and the authority of Mr. Lester:
” Houston stopped speaking, and walked immediately out of the Convention. In less than an hour he was mounted on his battle-horse, and with three or four brave companions was on his way to the Alamo. Men looked upon it as an idle and desperate attempt, or surely more would have followed him. The party rode hard that day, and only stopped late at night to rest their horses. They were now in the open prairie. At break of day Houston retired some distance from the party and listened intently, as if expceting a distant signal. Colonel Travis had stated in his letters that as long as the Alamo could hold out against the invaders, signal guns would be fired at sunrise. It is a well authenticated fact that for many successive days these guns had been heard at a distance of over one hundred miles across the prairie; and being now within the reach of their sound, Houston was anxiously waiting for the expected signal. The day before, like many preceding it, a dull, rumbling murmur had come booming over the prairie like distant thunder. He listened with an acuteness of sense which no man can understand whose hearing has not been sharpened by the teachings of the dwellers of the forest, and who is awaiting a signal of life or death from brave men. He listened in vain. Not the faintest murmur came floating on the calm morning air. He knew the Alamo had fallen, and he returned to tell his companions. The event confirmed his conviction, for the Alamo had fired its last gun the morning he left Washington; and at the very moment he was speaking in the Convention those brave men were meeting their fate.”