On March 6, 1836—186 years ago today—the thirteen-day siege of the Alamo ended when the mission’s defenders were overrun and killed by Mexican general Santa Anna’s troops. If you have lived in Texas long, you know the place that the Battle of the Alamo occupies in the lore of Texas.
But in this age of Twitter, smartphones, and nonstop cable newscasts, it is hard to imagine how slowly news traveled in 1836. If today news travels at the speed of light, in 1836 news traveled at the speed of boots and hooves and paddle wheels, disseminated by soldiers on foot, by riders on horseback, by passengers on steamboats. There was no telegraph in Texas until 1854. For days, even weeks after March 6, 1836 newspapers were slow to confirm the fall of the Alamo and unwittingly continued to print outdated reports that the siege was continuing, that a victory by the outnumbered Alamo defenders was still hoped for.
For example, this report of March 17 by a New Orleans newspaper was reprinted April 6 in a Connecticut newspaper. The report noted that the Mexican army had retreated temporarily, that reinforcements were being rushed to the Alamo as the siege continued.
The following report appeared in the National Banner and Nashville Whig on April 8, more than a month after the fall:
Even for Commander in Chief Sam Houston, writing on March 11 from Gonzales, just sixty miles from San Antonio, news of the fall was not confirmed, although Houston feared the worst.
The Nashville newspaper in that same edition of April 8 reprinted the March 29 report of a New Orleans newspaper confirming the death of Davy Crockett.
This account in the Vermont Phoenix was published more than a month after the fall of the Alamo. And contrary to this “bulletin,” Fannin and his men had already been massacred at Goliad. (Among the survivors was John C. Duval.)
Today, 186 years after the fall of the Alamo, the front of the iconic Spanish mission, with its curvilinear parapet, is as instantly recognizable as the flag of the Lone Star State or the shape of the state of Texas. To help us “remember the Alamo” today, here are some examples of Spanish mission architecture seen around town:
Apartment house on Lipscomb Street.
Building in Heritage Park downtown.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on Thornhill Drive.
Babcock Building (1925) on Florence Street downtown.
Even if you don’t recognize the parapet of the Solomon Building (1903) on Houston Street, you’d probably recognize what is mounted below the parapet: the Red Goose sign of Solomon’s Juvenile Shoe Store.
A two-fer: the current sanctuary and the porch of the former sanctuary of Gethsemane Presbyterian Church on Bluff Street.
Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church on East Terrell Street.
Wade-Rall house (1913) on College Avenue. Among the early occupants was Mary Smith, widow of Fort Worth city father John Peter Smith.
House on 5th Avenue.
At Dr. Pillow Park in North Richland Hills. The park is named for local physician Dr. David J. Pillow. (Thanks to Gary Yeary for telling me about this one.)
North Side Coliseum (1908).
Hyatt Place Hotel (2005) and the coliseum.
Horse and mule barn (1911) at the stockyards.
Merchants Exhibit Building (1921) at the stockyards.
Livestock Exchange (1903).
Livestock Exchange again.
Stockyards National Bank (1910) on Exchange Avenue.
Saddle and Sirloin Club (1910) on Exchange Avenue.
On Goldenrod Avenue (1930) in Riverside. One of my favorite “little” houses.
The Couch-Sanders house (1914) on Elizabeth Boulevard.
On West Broadus Street (1913).
On Forest Park Boulevard, the Alma Turner Building (1929) was built by former Fort Worth Postmistress Ida Turner and named for her daughter, who was a debutante in 1896.
On College Avenue, the Sandidge house (1921). George Sandidge was a cattleman.
Filter building (1932) at the water treatment plant.
And now some bonus Alamo minutia: On December 21, 1917 the Star-Telegram reported the death in San Antonio of Enrique Esparza, eighty-nine, the last survivor of the Alamo (photo from Texas State Library and Archives Commission). After the Alamo fell, Santa Anna’s troops found a group of Mexican women barricaded in the mission. With the women was Esparza, then a boy of eight. He was the son of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza, who was killed in battle.
Yet more Alamo minutia: Shhh. Don’t tell anyone, but . . . Marty Robbins’s 1960 song, “Ballad of the Alamo,” was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Webster also wrote the lyrics of “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Green Leaves of Summer,” “April Love,” “Friendly Persuasion,” “The Twelfth of Never,” and “Somewhere, My Love.” Tiomkin scored too many classic movies to list—mostly westerns and Hitchcocks, even It’s a Wonderful Life.
The two men won a total of seven Oscars.
Most of the defenders of the Alamo were born outside of Texas, in birthplaces such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, even France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. And the birthplaces of the two creators of “Ballad of the Alamo,” among the most goosebump-breeding of songs about Texas? Tiomkin was born in Russia. Webster was born in New York City.
Marty Robbins sings “Ballad of the Alamo”: