Bill O'Neal Speaks About Alamo at Shelby County Museum March Meeting

Texas State Historian Bill O'Neal

April 21, 2017 - The Shelby County Historical Society and Museum was honored to host Bill O’Neal, State Historian, for its March meeting. Mr. O’Neal presented the history of the Mission Alamo and the battle of Alamo with Mexican General Santa Anna.

The most spectacular event of the Texas Revolution was the battle of the Alamo, the number #1 icon of the state. San Antonio de Valero, the formal name of the Alamo began in 1718. Spain began to establish missions in the territory by 1692 and continued for about a century. They established 25 missions throughout the territory; more than the 22 established in California. Once the mission Alamo, Spanish for cottonwood, was established, the town of San Antonio began to develop only a few hundred yards away and became the Spanish capitol of Texas. Four other missions were developed in the area. San Jose about 5 miles downstream from San Antonio. San Juan Capistrano, Concepcion, and Espada were missions established on the road known as Mission Road. By the mid 1700’s about 200 Indians were working and living near the various missions. The Alamo mission was closed by 1793 and the roof was never completed. The Spanish Empire soon began to decline. The Spanish had been in Texas since the early 1500’s (3 Centuries of Spanish Control.) Only 3 towns of any size existed, San Antonio with a population of 1500, Goliad about 90 miles southeast of San Antonio, and in East Texas, Nacogdoches.

Coon Skin CapThe early settlement of Texas area was influenced by the great depression of 1819. Many farmers’ families were starving and to aid these families Congress passed the Land Act of 1820 to open land so farmers could purchase 80 acres of land for $1.25 per acre or $100. How would farmers be able to buy land during a depression with no money? In 1821 the Spanish government had contracted with Stephen Austin to bring settlers into Texas. Instead of 80 acres, Spanish government now offered 4,605 areas to anyone who came to Texas and all the settlers had to do was pay the fees and settle and improve the land.

Background: Under President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Mexican government began to shift away from begin a federalist government to become a dictatorial government under the leadership of Santa Anna. 

In October, Texians engaged Mexican troops under the leadership of Santa Anna’s brother-in-law, Martin Perfecto de Cos at Gonzales, which is the first official battle of the Texas Revolution in October 1835. The Texians defeated the Mexican troops already stationed in Texas and de Cos took his men back to Mexico and promised not to fight against the Texians again. But Santa Anna began assembling a large force to defeat the Texians. Santa Anna and his army met de Cos and his group of soldiers as they were traveling back to Mexico and ordered the men to join his army. Santa Anna continued his march to San Antonio to put down the revolution.

Santa Anna and his army of about 4000 began the Battle of the Alamo February 23, 1836 and continued until the Texas force was defeated March 6. The complex sprawled over 3 acres with about 1320 feet of perimeter to defend. The mission interior plaza was bordered on the east by the chapel and to the south by a one-story building known as the Low Barracks. A wooden palisade stretched between these two building. At the northern corner of the east wall was the cattle pen and horse corral. The walls surrounding the complex were only about 9 feet high. Catwalks were constructed to allow defenders to fire over the walls, which exposed the shooter’s upper body.

When the Mexican forces left the fort, they left behind 19 cannons. A large 18 pounder cannon arrived in Texas with a group of volunteers. Jameson positioned the cannon in the southwest corner of the compound. 

Jim Bowie with his famous knife came to Texas about 1820 seeking his fortune. Bowie had clashed with the Mexicans at Mission Concepcion in what was call the “Grass Fight.” Cavalry officer William Travis arrived in Bexar with 30 men on February 3 and five days later, a small group of volunteers including David Crockett arrived to help with the fight.

Probably the first Lone Star FlagNeill was in command of the Alamo but transferred the command to Travis, when he received news that his family was sick. Neill promised to come back to the Alamo to help with the fight but was delayed and never made it back to the Alamo.

Santa Anna’s army finally crossed the Rio Grande on February 12, 1836. In the early hours of February 23, residents began fleeing Bexar. Travis hurriedly herded cattle into the Alamo and others searched the area for food, finding corn. Members of the garrison brought their families with them when they reported to the Alamo including Almaron Dickinson, who brought his wife Susanna and their daughter Angelina. Bowie also had family with him. 

Soon Bexar was occupied by about 1500 Mexican soldiers. They raised a blood-red flag signifying no quarter and the siege had begun. 

Alamo was won by the Mexican Army. General Santa Anna had declared that the Mexican Army would take no prisoners. The rebel Texians knew that they had no hope of winning the siege and that death awaited all of them. Few of the people would survive the bloody siege. Civilian non-combatants such as women, children and cooks were spared including Susannah Dickinson, the wife of Captain Dickinson and her baby daughter Angelina.

Most eyewitness accounts report between 182 and 257 Texians died at the Alamo. The bodies were stacked and burned. Names of some of the fighters at the Alamo were Colonel William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, Almaron Dickinson, and Juan Seguin.

After the 13-day siege, Santa Anna remained in the Alamo area for about two weeks for his army to recover. This time allowed General Houston to gather his army and defeat Santa Anna on April 21, 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto. The men of the Alamo never knew that Texas had declared their independents from Mexico on March 4, 1836.

Fur Cap