In a final call for reinforcements, the men who held the Alamo had given themselves a binary choice: “victory or death.” Nearly two hundred years later, we know the framing of their choice, and their decision to make it publicly known, helped ensure that victory for Texas would be the result.
When William Barret Travis sent his famous letter from the Alamo, the choice had already been made. That line in the sand had already been crossed. Mexican troops were amassing, and it was generally understood that everyone in the Alamo would die without an unconditional surrender.
Travis and his men chose to fight.
Let’s be clear: once the seize began, there was not much of a chance for them to win without quick and overwhelming aid. The defenders were a ragtag bunch, just shy of 200 men, facing the mightiest military power in the western hemisphere under the command of Antonio López de Santa Anna – known as the Napoleon of the West.
Too often in life we attempt to engineer success, when what is required of us is faithfulness. Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and the others at the Alamo certainly had no death wish, but they also understood the importance of being faithful to their mission. They understood the importance of being faithful to the cause of Texas and liberty – faithfulness even when facing death at the end of a Mexican cannon, bayonet, or rifle.
That happened in the early hours of March 6, 1836. They were slaughtered that day when Mexican forces stormed the Alamo.
They died, but the cause of liberty bloomed. When our Texas forefathers shouted “Remember the Alamo” in the battles that followed, they didn’t exactly mean the place – they meant the men. They meant how those men died. And they meant how those men faced that death: faithfully, and with honor.
Perhaps Texas’ war of independence would have gone differently if rather than putting the garrison to the sword Santa Anna had merely taken them prisoner. Perhaps, were it not for the barbarism, the loss of the Alamo would have dampened the spirits of Texans rather than fueled their passion.
But that’s not how history unfolded. The grounds of the Alamo became the final resting place for the Alamo defenders. The resolve of patriots was hardened by the horror.
Rather than surrender, or commit suicide, the defenders of the Alamo became something more: they became heroes of a fledgling republic. Not only did their death gave birth to a nation, but the way they faced their final hours provides for us even today a model for honorable action.
Most of us aren’t called to man the walls of an old church, outnumbered by superior forces, but all of us are called to face a hostile world.
How we respond is our choice. We can surrender, we can cower, we can slink quietly into silence.
Or, like William Travis and his men at the Alamo, we can stand and fight, faithful to end.
Remember the Alamo!