A line in the sand – The fall of the Alamo and the Rise of Texas – David Skillen – 25th July 2016.

David Skillen is a battlefield guide for the Towton Battlefield Society where one of Britain’s bloodiest days occurred at the Battle of Towton in 1461 during the War of the Roses.

Today’s talk from David was about the second biggest State in the U.S.A., Texas, which is over twice the area of the UK, and has less than half its population. A huge land between the Rio Grande and the Red River. It borders Mexico and has a coastline on the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas had been nearly always Spanish, ever since Spain claimed it in 1519, when the Indians roamed free. When Mexico broke with Spain in the early 1800s, a new Constitution was written by the Mexicans in 1824 to include Texas with Mexico. The people of Texas were not happy.

By 1835, the population of Texas was around 20,000, and Texas was pushing for independence from Mexico, for the right to govern themselves, and to join the U.S.A.  Many people were coming into the territory, because of cheap land, no taxes for 10 years, minimum government, and the Catholic religion. This created 2 distinct types of people – the Tejano of Spanish origin and the Texans from other origins.

The Alamo became the rallying point for the fight for independence which was brewing. It was originally a Catholic mission station built in 1716, but had served its purpose and closed by 1793: it re-opened as a fort in 1803. The name came from the name of a company not a place. What remains of the fort, which includes the church and the inner courtyard are now a Heritage site and shrine with 2.5 million visitors each year, in the middle of todays San Antonio (7th biggest city in the U.S.A.)

In 1835, the Alamo was defended by an insufficient force of 200, who were a motley crew, but motivated to fight for independence. Davy Crocket, a country backwoods man, who was naïve but an honest good speaker and who had been in Congress until 1835, also joined them that year.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, an opportunist Mexican General came across the Rio Grande and arrived at The Alamo on 23rd Feb. 1836 with 1800 men who were good soldiers.

Jim Bowie, a man who had been affected by the loss of all his family to cholera, and who had become a drunk, a fighter, fraudster, slave trader etc., and was probably escaping from the law, was initially in charge of the forces in the fort, but fell ill and retired to his bed.

William Barret Travis, a modest, charismatic man, took command.

He drew a line in the sand and asked the men who wished to fight to step over the line. Only one refused, Moses Rose.

Battle commenced at 5am on 6th March 1836, and with only 30 reinforcements being able to gain access to the fort and Travis killed whilst leading the defence, Davy Crocket took command. With superior numbers and continued cannon fire aimed at the walls, the Mexicans gained access to the outer fort. The Texans did not spike their own guns, so these were used against them on the inner fort and the Mexicans were able to overcome  Jim Bowie and Davy Crocket, whilst they were defending, in heroic circumstances. At 6.30, the battle was over. 20 people escaped but eventually, all the defenders were killed. The Mexicans lost 400 to 600 men. However, the women and children were spared, along with the slaves. One of the women lived until she was 70.

General Santa Anna then rode eastwards to try and conquer Texas. At Goliad he came across James Walker Fannin and his men, who had been unable to reach the Alamo in time to help, but they were captured whilst defending their position and were all executed.

Anger amongst the Texan people now mounted sufficiently for the impresario founding fathers of Texas, Stephen Austin and Sam Houston to gather a force and counterattack to beat Santa Anna at San Jacinto, where there is a monument. Santa Anna was well beaten there and retreated to Mexico.

Texas then became a state of the U.S.A.27

Santa Anna tried again in the 1840s to conquer Texas but was this time beaten by the U.S. Army.

Texas joined the Confederate Army during the American Civil War in 1861, and then re-joined the U.S.A. after the war.

With our knowledge of this bit of history mostly confined to a John Wayne/Davy Crocket film and song, it was a most entertaining and enlightening morning with a promise of further talks by David.