At 5:30 a.m. on March 6, 1836, after 12 days of siege, Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and 5,000 troops defeated about 190 Texans barricaded behind the walls of an old Spanish mission named the Alamo. The victory was a costly one. 1,544 Mexican soldiers died taking the mission. Santa Anna declared a “glorious victory.” An aide to Santa Anna wrote in his diary, “One more such 'glorious victory' and we are finished.”
The settlers living in the northern Mexican territory of Texas had rebelled when Santa Anna seized control of the government and nullified the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Unknown to the men inside the Alamo, four days before their deaths a convention had declared the independent Republic of Texas. Ironically, the heros in the Texas fight for independence had died fighting under the Mexican flag defending the Mexican constitution. William C. Davis, in his history Three Roads to the Alamo, recounts the final moments of the Alamo's three most legendary heroes, William Travis, James Bowie and David Crockett:
Leaning over the parapet to take hasty aim, Travis gave the Mexicans both barrels of his shotgun. Out of the milling throng below a spotty volley came back at him. Flying at shattering velocity, a lead ball more than three-quarters of an inch thick struck him full in the forehead and sent him back against one of the cannon. Defiant even after the end, he still clutched his gun in his hand.
By now Bowie was probably in a near-constant delirium, when not actually asleep. Somewhere in the third week of the typhoid, he lay shaking and sweating on his cot. Finding him like this, by himself, covered by a blanket, while his brave comrades fought bitterly and died hard outside, they could only suppose that this Texan was actually trying to hide from them. In a cruel irony at the end of a remarkable life, one of the most fearless men of his generation died at the contemptuous hands of soldiers who mistook him for the worst sort of coward.
“That Crockett fell at the Alamo is all that is known,” a visitor concluded sadly a few months later; “by whom or how, no one can tell.” No one who knew him saw him fall and lived to tell of it. He was the most famous man in the Alamo, yet his death was just like his birth, an event shrouded in complete obscurity.
Or perhaps the opposite was the case. His death, like his life, was simply too big to contain within the normal bounds of mortals. In the best heroic fashion of Nimrod Wildfire, Jeremiah Kentucky, Daniel Boone, and a whole generation of Americans searching for a new identity all their own, Davy Crockett, David of the River, Davy of the West, Loco Davy had died everywhere, because he was a host in himself.
Besides, his end fitted the life of a legend. For when no one sees a legend die, then the legend lives.
This article reprinted with permission from National Review Online.