“I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat.”
Lt. Col. William Barret Travis, commander of a small band of Texian defenders at the Alamo, wrote a fateful cry for help as he and his men braced within the beaten walls of the old Spanish mission, bombarded by the massive Mexican army surrounding them in the fields just outside.
Last Friday, we visited the Dawn at the Alamo in San Antonio, a sunrise ceremony at the battlefield that not only honored the men of that history-defining fight 184 years ago, but also reminded all of us Texans what we still face even here at home today.
Dawn at the Alamo
Travis and his some 200 men looked from their outpost to see some 3,000 soldiers of General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army approaching their small fort. Santa Anna was a dictator and marched into the disputed-Texas territory to crush those who would oppose his rule.
“I have sustained a continual bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword if the fort is taken,” Travis wrote in his letter, which he addressed to “the People of Texas & all Americans in the world.”
“I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch,” Travis continued. “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.”
Travis’ call was not answered. But he still chose to answer the enemy himself.
“In the early morning hours of March 6, 1836, at least 189 men met their fate defending the Alamo,” one speaker at Friday’s ceremony said. “This ceremony’s purpose is to pay homage to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and to ensure that the world never forgets.”
Re-enactors fire a volley to honor the Alamo defenders
Indeed, because Travis and his small group of fighters answered, the entire world has never forgotten. Travis’ letter and news of the battle and Santa Anna’s cruelty—he executed survivors and burned all of the defenders—provoked a swarm of Texian volunteers to rise against the Mexican dictator. Less than two months later, with battle cries of “Remember the Alamo!”, a Texan force clashed with Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto and defeated them in just 18 minutes. The Texians captured Santa Anna and effectively secured their triumph over the dictator’s oppressive regime, and Texas became its own free nation.
Re-enactor portraying Santa Anna
Today, though we as Texans don’t currently face the same type of wartime consequences, we certainly have similar threats. Rather than an army trying to seize our property, uncontrolled government taxes threaten to kick Texans out of their own homes. Rather than a dictator trying to strip away our right to self-defense and restrict our freedom of speech, government laws attempt to do the same.
And for us, answering the call looks different than Travis firing a cannon shot back at the enemy. For us it can mean contacting an elected official over an important issue affecting us, and simply showing up to vote for those who will protect—not take away—our hard-won freedoms and opportunities at prosperity.
A wreath laid at the battlefield with a "Remember the Alamo" banner
And lest we forget and don’t answer the call, our way of life and the rights we enjoy can easily be captured all the same, even without massive armies or a single shot fired.
“The history of this place and this time will forever be remembered,” Alamo CEO Doug McDonald told the crowd at the battlefield ceremony. “May we always come together at this day, at this hour, to remember the Alamo.”