Founded as a Franciscan mission in 1718, the Alamo has served as military quarters, housing for converted Native Americans, a hospital, a retail space and warehouse, a jail, a park, a filming location, and a tourist attraction and historic site in its nearly 300-year history. Over those same years, it has been in the care of Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. governments and militaries, the Catholic Church, and public and private entities, finally ending up in the hands of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1905, which continues to care for it today. But, in 1836, a battle occurred at the Alamo that would determine its historic legacy as a place where men fought for liberty from oppression with astonishing bravery and integrity.
Upon defeating the Spanish in 1821, Mexico opened its doors to settlers from the United States, allowing them to claim land in what is now present-day Texas. Seeing the potential value in such an opportunity, American adventurers flooded across the Mexican border and twice the U.S. government offered to purchase the Texan state from Mexico. By 1834, it is estimated that more than 30,000 Anglos resided in Mexican Texas, far outnumbering the 7,800 Mexicans in the state. Wary of the Texian’s loyalty to their former U.S. government and way of life, the Mexican president employed Centralist tactics to keep the Anglos in line with Mexican rule, despite being elected as a Federalist. What resulted was a revolution.
Having pushed Mexican forces out of the area in 1835, 100 or so Texians remained garrisoned at the Alamo in present-day San Antonio. When, on February 23 of the next year, President General Antonio López de Santa Anna marched an estimated 1,500 soldiers back to San Antonio to reclaim the old mission, William B. Travis, commander of the Alamo, wrote several letters asking for reinforcements as Texians elsewhere were formally declaring independence from Mexico.
In those letters, Travis famously vowed to “die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country—Victory or Death” (once Santa Anna surrounded the walls of the Alamo, Travis realized it was unlikely that any more help beyond the few men who arrived from Gonzales was coming). Legend also has it that, knowing Santa Anna would give no quarter, Travis drew a line in the sand, asking the well-outnumbered defenders of the Alamo to cross the line and fight to the death with him. And they did.
For two weeks, Santa Anna’s forces surrounded the 3.5-acre plot on which the Alamo sits, effectively cutting off Travis and his men. Within the complex, less than 200 men prepared to defend approximately 1,300 ft. of walls that were never designed to withstand a full-blown military attack.
Then, on the morning of March 6, Santa Anna gave the order and the Mexican Army breached the walls and took the Alamo in 90 minutes. Despite managing to kill 600 advancing Mexican soldiers, Travis and his men were slain without mercy.
Six weeks later, when Sam Houston led his Texian army into battle at San Jacinto in what would be the final battle of the Texas Revolution, it was the cries of “Remember the Alamo!” that fueled the army to definitively claim victory and independence from Mexico and Santa Anna for the Republic of Texas.
To this day, Travis and the defenders of the Alamo are remembered as heroes, and the Alamo itself is regarded as the Shrine of Texas Liberty. The battle is a moment in history when men committed themselves to a greater cause with valor and pride, nearly defining integrity by fighting for a freedom they would never know.