News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 21, 2013

Bruce’s History Lessons: This week in 1836: Remember the Alamo!

Bruce Kauffman
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This week (Feb. 23) in 1836 a seminal event in American history — and lore — occurred when a Mexican army under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo, a tiny mission in San Antonio, Texas. Losing their lives in defense of this small church were legendary heroes Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and about 150 other less known but no less courageous Americans. Some were long-time settlers in Texas, while others (like Crockett, from Tennessee) joined the fight because they believed Texas should be independent from Mexico.  

The siege of the Alamo was the culmination of a chain of events that began in the early 1800s, when Mexico actually welcomed settlers “from the North” into this sparsely populated Mexican territory. Given the vastness of the land, denizens of both countries lived in relative harmony, until about 1830 when a demographic transformation occurred that profoundly affected relations between the two countries. In essence, Americans began to outnumber Mexicans in the Texas territory, which caused the usual seismic shifts in politics, economics and culture that historically result when Americans become a majority.

On the American side — as often happened during this period of our history — this shift infected the settlers with the “Manifest Destiny” bug, causing them to believe that a land with the great potential (and wealth) of Texas would never fulfill that potential as long as she was associated with a backwoods country like Mexico.

Only independence and an alliance (and later statehood) with the young, energetic, industrious America would allow Texas to fully bloom.

For their part, the Mexicans were horrified at the growing autonomy of these American expatriates, most of whom were slave owners in defiance of Mexico’s longstanding ban on slavery. Thus did the Mexican government attempt to assert control over the lives of these settlers, leading inevitably to American defiance and rebellion.

Which brings us back to the Alamo in 1836, where the Crockett/Bowie/Travis-led band of brothers finally realized they had no hope of defeating Santa Anna and his 8,000-man army, but if they could hold out long enough, they could give another Texan — General Sam Houston — time to raise an army large enough to finally defeat the Mexican general. Sure enough, the Alamo defenders held out until March 6 and inflicted some 1,500 casualties on Santa Anna’s army before succumbing to the numerically superior Mexican force. Six weeks later, Houston’s swelling army of Americans got their revenge on Santa Anna, many of them yelling, “Remember the Alamo!” as they soundly defeated his depleted and weary troops at the battle of San Jacinto. With this battle Texas independence was ensured. Statehood was soon to follow.

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is bruce@historylessons.net.