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The Alamo in the 1970s

Overview

The Alamo was and is the symbol of San Antonio. In the 1970s The Alamo was arguably more well-known than San Antonio. The iconic view of the Alamo’s façade was a symbol of Texas independence and American “no surrender” tradition. In the 1970s a visit to the Alamo reinforced some myths and exploded some misconceptions.

The Alamo is open every day except Christmas. It opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5:30 p.m. From September 4 – May 24. It stays open until 7 p.m. from May 25 – September 3.

Background

For many Air Force veterans their first, and for some only, visit to the Alamo was when they were in basic training. About a week before graduating basic training the trainees received a town pass. This was normally the only time basic trainees were allowed off Lackland AFB, the only Air Force basic training base in the 1970s. In September 1972 a Military Training Instructor told the trainees the Alamo is normally a disappointment.

United States elementary and high schools, outside of Texas, gave the battle of the Alamo and the war for Texas independence a passing mention. Additional knowledge for the Alamo was from the 1960 movie “The Alamo”. This John Wayne movie had many historic inaccuracies.

The area around The Alamo, in the 1970s, was seedy. Being in the middle of a major city was different from the John Wayne movie depiction of a mission in the middle of nowhere. San Antonio had been the capital of the province of Texas for many years before the battle. Some of the nearby structures that existed before the battle such as the San Fernando Cathedral, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, and the Mission Concepcion still stand.

The Alamo in the 1970s

The Alamo Cenotaph is on Alamo Plaza in front of the Alamo. It was erected for the Centennial of Texas Independence, 1939. The Alamo Cenotaph is to honor the Alamo’s defenders. The Alamo’s façade is the front of the Alamo Shrine. The shrine is stark. It has some memorial plaques and flags. This includes an array of the six flags that represented the nations that ruled Texas. The grounds were well kept. The Long Barrack told the story of the Battle of the Alamo. There was an audio recording that told the story. It was the traditional version of the story where all the defenders died in the battle. The museum had a plaque that mentioned the reinforcements from Gonzales. They were the only reinforcements to reach the Alamo before its fall. There was a storyboard that explained escape would have been possible had the defenders chosen to do so. Couriers were often sent out during the siege.

There was at least one article in a major San Antonio newspaper that claimed the Mexicans captured David Crockett and some others Alamo defenders. The article claimed Santa Anna had David Crocket and the other prisoners executed. In 1975 there was the first English translation of the José Enrique de la Peña diary. The diary mentions the Mexicans captured 7 Alamo combatants alive and General Santa Anna had them summarily executed. [i]

An excavation at the time uncovered the remains of someone who died during the Battle of the Alamo. The remains were of a man about 19. They couldn’t determine which side of the battle he was on but he was definitely one of the participants.

[i] Remembering the Alamo (and the death of Davy Crockett), by Cecil Adams, May 14, 2004, http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2508/remembering-the-alamo-and-the-death-of-davy-crockett/, last accessed 1/5/20.

The Battle of The Alamo

On December 9, 1835, after house-to-house fighting in San Antonio, Mexican General Cós raised the white flag over the Alamo. Most of the Texan soldiers went home. The remaining Texas garrison was 80 men, commanded by James C. Neill.[i]

When General Santa Anna learned of the defeat, he put together an 8,000-man force. This Mexican force included many Europeans and Americans. General Sam Houston, ordered Colonel Jim Bowie and 25 men to San Antonio to destroy the Alamo and leave San Antonio with the garrison’s artillery. Colonels Bowie and Neill realized it would be impossible to move the 24 artillery pieces from San Antonio. Colonel Bowie decided it was best to reinforce the Alamo. An illness in the family caused Colonel Neill to leave the Alamo. Colonel William Travis and a cavalry company arrived in San Antonio on February 2, 1836. Colonels Travis and Bowie competed for command and it was agreed Travis would command the regular army and Bowie would command the volunteers. On February 9 David Crockett with 14 volunteers, only 3 were from Tennessee, arrived.[ii]

General Santa Anna took possession of San Antonio on February 23. He raised a scarlet flag over the bell tower of San Fernando Church. The scarlet flag was an indication the enemy would receive no quarter. The Mexican army arrived a month sooner than Colonel Travis expected. Colonel Travis sent Captain Albert Martin to General Houston with a message for reinforcements on February 24.[iii]

General Sana Anna ordered a cannon and rifle barrage. The reasoning was to make it unable for the defenders to rest. Captain Martin returned on March 2 with 31 men from Gonzales and DeWitt’s Colony. These were the only reinforcements to come before the Alamo’s fall. The defenders were between 180 and 190.[iv]

At 0400 on March 6, 1836 Santa Anna’s army marched to within about 200 yards (meters) of the Alamo. The defenders repulsed two charges on the Alamo. The third charge was a three-pronged attack. One column attacked a breach on the north wall. Another column attacked the area of the chapel. The Toluca Battalion attempted to scale the walls. The battle lasted 90 minutes.[v] Mexican loss estimates range from 600 to 1,600.[vi]

Legend has it that all the defenders died in the assault. After the battle some men were hailed as surviving defenders of the Alamo. Besides women and children, some non-combatant men survived the Battle.[vii] Some defenders were sent out as couriers during the siege and were not at the Alamo during the final assault. Brigido Guerrero went into the chapel where the women were. He survived by convincing the Mexican soldiers the Texans were holding him prisoner. Joe, Colonel Travis’s slave, fought alongside Travis. He took cover in a room. He was wounded by Mexican soldiers. They assumed he was a noncombatant. He was taken prisoner and later released. Slavery was illegal in Mexico. Louis Moses Rose survived by escaping through a window. He told the story of Colonel Travis’ line in the sand.[viii] Henry Warnell was mortally wounded during the battle. He may have been wounded at the Alamo or while being a currier. He died at Port Lavaca.[ix]

General Santa Anna wrote that none of the Alamo combatants surrendered in a letter to Mr. H.A. McArdle on March 16, 1874.[x] The José Enrique de la Peña diary claimed one of the executed prisoners was David Crockett. While de la Peña never met Crockett it’s possible someone could have told him Crockett was one of those executed. That brings up the question of how reliable were these unidentified people who identified Crockett. Claims that Crockett tried to escape the firing squad by telling Santa Anna he would make a valuable prisoner run contrary to the de la Peña diary. De la Peña wrote, “these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers.”[xi]


[i] History Net, Battle of the Alamo, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[ii] History Net, Battle of the Alamo, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[iii] History Net, Battle of the Alamo, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[iv] History Net, Battle of the Alamo, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[v] History Net, Battle of the Alamo, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[vi] History Channel, The Alamo, https://www.history.com/topics/mexico/alamo, last accessed 1/4/20.

[vii] American-Historama, http://www.american-historama.org/1829-1841-jacksonian-era/battle-of-alamo.htm, last accessed 1/4/20.

[viii] Texas State Historical Association, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/froav, last accessed 1/5/20.

[ix] Texas State Historical Association, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwaba, last accessed 1/5/20.

[x] Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Santa Anna to McArdle, March 16, 1874: Letter Explaining Why the Alamo Defenders Had to Be Killed, http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2508/remembering-the-alamo-and-the-death-of-davy-crockett/, last accessed, 1/5/20.

[xi] Remembering the Alamo (and the death of Davy Crockett), by Cecil Adams, May 14, 2004, http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2508/remembering-the-alamo-and-the-death-of-davy-crockett/, last accessed 1/5/20.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on May 30, 2020:

Thank you both for reading, commenting, and your sentiments. I'm OK now. The furough won't hurt me economically. I'm unlikely to get another job, that hurts my pride. It's not the way I wanted to leave the work force.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on May 29, 2020:

Robert are you now OK?

MG Singh emge from Singapore on May 29, 2020:

I remember seeing the movie "The Alamo " starring John Wayne. It is almost like something sacred but I regret I have never been there. This was a nice article and I liked it.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 29, 2020:

You just shared the news about your job on another post. I am so very sorry that you were hit with the virus and now this news. God bless you and your family. Keep your spirits up. You are not in this alone. I hope you find the help you need shortly.

Robert Sacchi (author) on May 29, 2020:

Thank you. It's one of those mixed bags of luck. On the one hand I was lucky it was a mild case. On the other hand I was unlucky to get it in the first place.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 28, 2020:

Hi Robert,

I am glad to know that you survived this beast of a virus. I hope you have fully recovered and are hopefully now immune to another encounter.

Robert Sacchi (author) on April 14, 2020:

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Coronavirus had me down for the count.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 05, 2020:

I agree. We need to listen to the experts on this.

Robert Sacchi (author) on April 05, 2020:

Hopefully they won't be too quick on reopening things. The last thing we need is a second surge.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 05, 2020:

San Antonio, just like other places around our country, is losing out on tourist dollars. I am sure that the Alamo is closed to the public. Since it is a top attraction, I know that it will be reopened as soon as it is safe to do so.

Robert Sacchi (author) on February 11, 2020:

Yes, Texas was growing while I was there and apparently hasn't stopped. At that time there was the "energy crisis" so Houston became super important. Those were the days of "Dallas" so Texas was in the spotlight.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 11, 2020:

Compared to Houston, San Antonio still retains the charm of a smaller city, but that is changing with the times. All of the Texas cities are growing by leaps and bounds each year.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 18, 2020:

Yes the 495 loop use to be around the city. Now I understand the 695 loop was added a few years back. Does it still have that "biggest small city" charm?

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 18, 2020:

Yes, you would be amazed at the changes in San Antonio if you have not been there in many years. It, like all the major cities in Texas, has grown and expanded.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:

Sometimes, on these sites, you have to use a little imagination.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 11, 2020:

San Antonio is a nice place to visit. What separates it from many battlefield sites is there is no open area. It's right in the middle of a major city. It' best to prepare the area isn't going to look like a movie.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 11, 2020:

This sounds like an interesting site. It's fascinating to visit the scenes of previous battles.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 10, 2020:

That is great news and thank you for sharing, I left San Antonio in 1982. Then the Riverwalk was a nice place to visit. In early December they had the Riverwalk lined with candles inside paper bags. It's was a lovely effect. I've seen the missions, and most other tourist spots that were in the city. San Antonio was well worth a visit then and apparently more so now. Good memories.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 10, 2020:

The area around the Alamo has changed radically since the Hemisphere. It is now a safe spot for tourism as is the river that runs through the downtown area. The Alamo is the number one tourist destination in all of Texas. The other missions are well worth visiting also.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 07, 2020:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

MG SIngh - I didn't know the Alamo was famous outside America. Thanks for sharing.

Pamela Oglesby - It is amazing how much that 18 minutes at San Jacinto changed history. I wrote about how it appeared in the '70s because that was the time I was in the area. I visited the Alamo a few times. I know the city has expanded a lot since I left there in 1982.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on January 07, 2020:

Excellent article. The Alamo is famous all over the world and I am glad it is brought alive in this article

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 07, 2020:

This is such a well-written factual article and the timing is so interesting as I just finsished reading, "Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers: The Texas Victory That Changed American History". The facts in your article paralleled the book I read.

Of course, I didn't know about the facts of the 70s. I am glad it has improved since then.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 06, 2020:

Yes hopefully the area near the Alamo is in better shape than it was in the '70s. Other than that yes, a worthwhile place to visit.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 06, 2020:

This was an awesome read filled with details although obviously sad in nature. I would love to visit.