By Jim O’Neal
When William B. Travis and 29 other men joined “Texian” freedom fighters at the Alamo on Feb. 2, 1836, they brought the total number of volunteers inside the tiny mission to 130. The arrival of Antonio López de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico and General of the Centralist Army, was only three weeks away. Accompanying him north into San Antonio de Béxar and the Mexican controlled state of Coahuila y Tejas were 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers. Santa Anna could never have foreseen how this small force would help bring an end to his country’s rule over Texas.
The Texas Revolution began on Oct. 2, 1835, with the Battle of Gonzales – actually more of a skirmish – called by some the “Lexington of Texas.” It exploded on Dec. 10, 1835, when 100 Texian colonists drove a Centralist division from its Alamo garrison. Instead of following orders to blow up the Alamo and retreat, they stayed and waited for Santa Anna. When the uprising’s original leader, Col. James C. Neill, left the Alamo, the 26-year-old Travis, a poet and lawyer, took command.
He had no formal military training.
On Feb. 23, the Mexican Army finally reached San Antonio and General Santa Anna wasted no time in declaring if the colonists inside the Alamo did not surrender, they would be put to the sword. The Texians knew they were overwhelmed, yet even after Travis explained the odds, they remained. The day after Santa Anna’s warning, Travis sent out a messenger with a letter to supporters. It read, “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his honor and that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH!”
But neither Travis nor his men were suicidal. They were looking for help from any quarter as the wide net of a Travis’ salutation suggests: “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World: I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.”
The final 32 men to join the Texas rebels arrived a week later on March 2, the same day Texas delegates seceded from Mexico. The volunteers now totaled 187. Just before dawn on March 6, the Alamo came under attack. Despite an intense battle, by sunrise every Texian was dead or captured. Two months later, an army of inspired colonists defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and won independence for Texas. I guess Travis was wrong in the end. Both death and victory were possible, at least for some.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].