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Alamo is a major symbol of Texas history and one of the cultural heritage sites of the nation. It is also the subject of numerous books about its history, many seeking to restate the facts in order to overcome the influence of distorted media presentations of the story or of the many myths that have developed around the story of what occurred in that place. The Alamo by John Myers was published in 1973 and addressed the history of the Alamo in terms of what part the Alamo played in the expansion of territory for Europeans and then as a site where several Great Men came and acted in a certain way that helped create Texas and the nation.
To some degree, then, Myers subscribes to the Great Man theory of history, that certain individuals and their behavior decides issues of great moment and advance history. At the same time, though, he also sees certain movements as taking place in which individuals are caught up so that they contribute but do not determine the outcome so directly. The trend that Myers begins with is the spread of Christianity by means of Franciscan friars who came to Texas and other pats of the Southwest and established missions to preach to the Native American population, becoming in effect an outpost of European civilization in a less civilized land.
Myers points out a limitation of his study at the outset. He has included no footnotes, so any assertions he makes of fact or fiction cannot readily be checked for veracity or traced back to its origin. Myers certainly knows this and knows how difficult it is to trace this information anyway, for he says that information about this fort has been difficult to find. Having taken the effort to find it, though, Myers does not tell the reader where he got it. He does provide a bibliography at the end, but this does not say what information came from what source. The bibliography is a good mix of primary and secondary sources, with primary sources seeming to predominate. If Myers made good use of these materials, he has done the correct thing by seeking the origins of information about the Alamo and not just read the historical record as written by others. Again, though, with footnotes it is impossible to say what source provided him with different facts or even what sources he used the most or gleaned the best material from in his research.
At any rate, in his "Foreword," Myers discusses the nature of the story of the Alamo and why it is difficult to find a coherent story in the various sources. For one thing, it was an event that took place out of the sight of outside observers. The name has become larger than the fort itself, and Myers notes, "Outside of Texas even contemporaries of the siege had little accurate information" (11). Those who did know the story were not writers and were not sought out later by any historian. What they saw was at best recorded in private journals or letters, or perhaps in the notes of someone they spoke to at a later date. Some of those killed managed to send letters first or leave behind journals, and Joe, a black servant to Travis, was spared and was interviewed a few days after the siege. Myers says his words have been ignored, which may be a racial issue, though Myers does not say so. He does say putting Joe's account aside is unwarranted. A number of people left the garrison before the siege began and so also had stories to tell. Mexican officers wrote about the siege, but Myers says they were not too stringent with the facts and were writing as a defeated army (defeated after the Alamo, of course) and so were dispirited in what they wrote.
Another reason why there is so little direct data is that so little attention was paid to what happened by the news media of the day. We live in an age when every actions is chronicled and examined from a myriad of perspectives, but that was not the case in 1836 or for many decades thereafter. This was also the period in which if a reporter did not have the facts, he invented new facts, so a number of the myths and legends about the Alamo and its garrison were created and disseminated then and have persisted.
Myers gives his own history the aura of myth when he opens it with,
Those who doubt the greatness of men can leave this book alone or read and recant. This that follows is the story of the siege of the Alamo. It is one of the mightiest tales that the history of this or any nation has to offer. It includes as much of folly in the beginning as it does of magnificence at the end, and is all the better for it (19).
He traces the story back at least to the arrival of Columbus, and he says that it also took 150 years for a minor religious structure, which was the beginning of the Alamo, to achieve "international fame as a fortress" (19). The missions were an arm of colonization, for in addition to the mission there would be a garrison to prevent trouble. The system worked well so that more and more Europeans could move into these regions and more and more natives could be Christianized in a process called "reducing." Many of the settlements initially failed. For Spaniards, the classical style of settlement was the colony consisting of a mission, a presidio, and a villa, but only one of these was ever established in Texas, known by the name of Bexar on the Bexar River. The name was late changed to San Antonio de Valero, and this would become the Alamo. Myers says one of the problems the Spanish had with colonization was that in Texas, unlike anywhere else they settled, they were never able to dominate the Indian tribes so that "in Texas force was as great a failure as religion" (25).
The Louisiana Purchase made contiguous territory part of America and so brought more and more Americans into Texas. Battles began between American groups and Spanish forces, and the Louisiana Purchase was again one of the reasons for this. The spanish did not want to leave the Louisiana Territory, though they finally did. Myers covers the history of the next thirty years to show how Texas developed, what different forces were involved, and what conflicts developed as a consequence.
One of the more interesting stories told about this period is the story of Fredonia, an attempt to declare independence from Mexico some time before the period of the Alamo. The men who founded Fredonia proved to be honorable, but the Mexican government reacted badly. The citizens of Fredonia "were quickly vanquished and soon pardoned; but the comic episode left a bitter train" (52).
The period that followed was a period of increasing conflict between Mexico and the Texians. Myers gives a good account of the population, the geography, and the political tensions in the Texas region leading up to the Alamo. The specific story of the Alamo and the siege involves a shift in the way Myers tells his story, since he first examines the four Great Men who battled at the siege -- Jim Bowie, William Travis, David Crockett, and Mexican General Santa Anna.
The siege itself is given two chapters which try to detail as much as possible what happened over the period of the siege, and here in particular footnotes would be useful in understanding what sources were used so the reader could better judge what might be true and what might be fiction. One chapter involves the beginning of the siege, and one addresses the final assault in which all inside the garrison were killed. Myers gives a very good description of the Alamo, the various areas comprising it, the different rooms, and a description of the surroundings.
Myers provides a chapter as to the results of the siege, indicating that the siege gave the rest of Texas twelve days to prepare and regroup, while it also reduced the power of Santa Anna's army, or as Myers puts it, "Santa Anna's army had been so badly mauled that it wasn't able to sweep ahead as planned but had to pause for a complete reorganization of its principal units" (227). Santa Anna did get new recruits, but they were not as well-trained as the old.
Myers writes well and keeps the story moving as he develops his version of the historical record. The lengthy section on the earlier history of the region and how the Alamo came to be built is material many writes ignore in favor of the more glorious story of the siege and the way the men of the Alamo sacrificed themselves. Yet, the earlier period is vitally important to understand the forces operating in…[continue]
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