"To the people of Texas and all Americans in the World: I shall never surrender or retreat ... I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what it is due to his honor and that of his country-VICTORY OR DEATH." This was a letter sent by William Barret Travis during the siege of the Alamo on February 24, 1836. It was a cry for help to anybody and everybody willing to listen. It all started in 1830 with Stephen Austin, a leader of American pioneers in the wild, living in Texas, under the rule of the Mexican government, who had solved two major problems that the settlers had with the government. The colonist were now allowed to keep slaves in Texas, even though no other areas under Mexican rule owned slaves and the second was the government made sure that Texans would be protected by the Mexican government from suits to collect debts that they had contracted in
before their immigration to Texas. All over the South were signs on bankrupt homes homes saying "Gone to Texas" were they did not have to pay off their debts (Downey 42). Austin and his followers were very hot tempered and ready to start up with any government that they disliked. They soon found a chance to stir up trouble under the changeable Mexican rule. Mexican authorities began to worry that too many Americans were coming into their country. About thirty thousand settlers came to Texas in a ten year span after Austin had established his settlement. The Mexican government under the urging of President Bustamante made harsh laws against arrival of new immigrants into Texas in 1830. Trade was also restricted with America. All borders were closed to newcomers but the border could not be patrolled and settlers continued to arrive in Texas. American settlers were put into jail for the ruckus they caused due to these new laws, among them was Stephen Austin. On July 1833 Austin traveled to Mexico City to plead the cause of the colonists. The colonists wanted to obtain full Mexican statehood and have total control over themselves. Mexican officials would not listen to the Texans. On his way home Austin was arrested for treason on January 3, 1834. The government had intercepted a letter from Austin that said that if his appeal had failed the Texans should establish themselves as a separate state of Mexico. He was jailed for eighteen months. The Texans protested and soldiers were sent to control the mobs. After the release of Austin on September 1, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had been elected President of Mexico. In the fall of 1835 Santa Anna had sent more troops, under the leadership of his brother in law General Martin Cos, to Texas in order to enforce the immigration laws. Austin and some soldiers had surrounded settlements in Mexican territory and were considered by the government to be rebels. Mexico had no choice but to attempt to use military forces. Thirty thousand Texans were willing to fight against a nation of seven million. They did not receive any government aid from the United States but sympathetic Southern states secretly sent troops. The war began with the battle of "the Lexington of the Texas revolution" (Downey 46) which occurred on October 2, 1835. This little battle involved one hundred Mexican troops who were sent to Gonzales, a town east of San Antonio, to order the settlers to surrender their only cannon. The soldiers said "come and take it" (Fisher 26) and eventually they killed one Mexican soldier. The war had begun. More and more Texans answered the call to arms such as Ben Milan a soldier of the War of 1812, James Bowie who was known for his knife, Sam Houston and Stalwart Davy Crockett both former soldiers and congressmen. The man that would lead them all was Wiiliam Barret Travis. On October 9, 1835 Ben Milan led an attack at Goliad. The Mexicans were surprised and surrendered to the pioneers who ended up with numerous weapons and ten thousand dollars. Later that month Austin sent troops under Bowie to San Antonio. While camping, they were attacked by Mexican troops. The Texan solders dominated this fight coming out with only one fatality. They could have gone on to capture San Antonio but Austin said that they needed to reorganize themselves. The siege continued for an additional six weeks. During this time the Texans gathered outside the city of Bejar and fifty seven Texans signed a Declaration of Causes explaining why they were now going to war for their independence. The word came on November 7, 1835: "Whereas, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, and other military chieftains, have by force of arms overthrown the federal institutions of Mexico, and dissolved the social compact which existed between Texas and other members of the Mexican confederacy; now the good people of Texas, availing themselves of their natural rights, Solemnly declare: 1. That they have taken up arms in defense of their rights and liberties, which were threatened by the encroachments of military despots, and in defense of the republican principles of the federal constitution of Mexico, 1824. 2. That Texas is no longer morally or civilly bound by the compact of union; yet, stimulated by the generosity and sympathy common to a free people, they offer their support and assistance to such members of the Mexican confederacy as will take up arms against military despotism. 3. That they hold it to be their right during the disorganization of the federal system, and the reign of despotism to withdraw from the union, and to establish an independent government... (Fisher 28). Finally after one hundred and fifty soldiers were wounded General Cos and his troops surrendered to the Texans and among the things acquired by the Texans was the Alamo. This building was originally used as a Catholic missionary built by Padre Olivares in 1718. It consisted of a monastery and church that were enclosed by high walls. The original name was San Antonio de Valero. It was later called the Alamo due to the cottonwood trees surrounding the mission. But this victory was a very costly one. While the siege was going on nearly ten thousand more settlers assembled outside the city. The one problem was that these soldiers were getting bored and had nothing to do. Many started to return home either out of boredom or belief that the war was over. Only one hundred and fifty men were left to face the winter under the leadership of Sam Houston. The soldiers assumed that the Mexicans who now were driven South were very unlikely to return for the duration of the winter months. Sam Houston ordered a concentration of men on the theory that the Mexicans would return. He also recommended the destruction and abandonment of San Antonio. For this cautious counseling Houston was deposed from command. Thus lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis a twenty seven year old lawyer from Edgefield, South Carolina was now in command with James Bowie. Santa Anna was infuriated by his brother in law's loss and took command of about four thousand soldiers. They arrived at San Antonio on the afternoon of February 23, 1836. Travis immediately ordered the town to be abandoned and the Alamo occupied. Travis, Bowie and the soldiers packed into the Alamo waiting for Santa Anna. Captain Almaron Dickenson, his wife and baby also went into the fort. Travis sent out couriers with appeals for help. It was dated February 24,1836 and said: To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world, Fellow citizens and compatriots, I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna - I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannonade for twenty four hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise the Garrison are to be put to the torch, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch- the enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country. The letter was signed in Victory or death (Fisher 7 ). The day after the battle had commenced Bowie was deathly sick with pneumonia and had to be carried everywhere on a stretcher. He surrendered his leadership solely to Travis. Besides Bowie nobody had been injured just yet. A week later after receiving Travis' plea for help, thirty two soldiers from Gonzales slipped through the Mexican lines and arrived safely at the Alamo. Four hundred men also attempted to releave the Mexicans but they had equipment trouble on the way. Santa Anna continually bombed and fired at the Alamo and the Alamo fired back until the garrison was extremely low on ammunition. On March 2, 1836 delegates from all fifty nine towns in Texas declared independence and signed a Declaration of Independence. They formed a provisional government and David Burnet, President. The people at the Alamo had no idea that independence had been declared and continued fighting. Travis knew that they were being destroyed and the next day he called for a fight to the death. He took his sword and drew a line in the dirt and said, "Whoever wants to fight to the death should step over it". Everybody did. They all fought valiantly and bravely but there were only four survivors; Mrs. Dickinson, her child and two male slaves. All the others were massacred by the Mexican army. From that point on the Texans used the battle cry " Remember the Alamo!"( Downey 57 ). A brief description was given by the mayor of Bejar Antonio Ruiz of the scene after the battle: " On the North battery of the fortress lay the lifeless body of Colonel Travis on the gun carriage, shot only in the forehead. Toward the west, and in a small fort opposite the city, we found the body of Colonel Crockett. Colonel Bowie was found dead in his bed, in one of the rooms of the south side...." ( Fisher 41 ). The loss at the Alamo sent a panic through Texas. Extremely angry Houston gathered an army together and six weeks later began to search for Santa Anna and his men. Houston marched his troops toward Anna screaming " Remember the Alamo!" ( Downey 57 ). With that cry they defeated Anna at San Jacinto capturing Anna and forcing him to sign a treaty granting independence to the Texas republic. The words spoken by Travis were very important as they created a strong bond between the rest of Texas. The Texans attacked the Mexicans with all their might charging at the enemy screaming " Remember the Alamo" ( Doweny 57 ). Their incentive in winning was the one hundred and eighty deaths at the Alamo. This inner strength that they obtained from the defeat at the Alamo helped the others defeat the Mexicans and finally win their freedom from the yolk of the Mexican government. Eventually, they were accepted as the twenty eighth state in the United States of America. But the acceptance would not come easily. They had problems being accepted because they used slave labor and the North did not want to accept more slave states. Eventually on February 19, 1846 they were accepted as a state.