SEC. 9. All persons of color who were slaves for life previous to their emigration to Texas, and who are now held in bondage, shall remain in the like state of servitude, provide the said slave shall be the bona fide property of the person so holding said slave as aforesaid.
–The Republic of Texas Constitution, 1836
For many strange reasons, I attended a reunion in San Antonio this month. Just to be safe and make sure I didn’t bring back any Texas ideas or diseases, I did receive a Covid test upon my return. (I can say I didn’t bring back Covid but as for bad Texan ideas, we’ll have to see).
As with most visits to San Antonio, our group visited the Alamo. It was very convenient since we were staying at the Menger Hotel on Alamo Plaza. Just walk across the street and you can channel Davey Crockett (or Fess Parker) and actually buy a coonskin hat in the Alamo gift shop.
This was my fourth visit to the Alamo and I always learn something new either through lack of attention or the fact that I’m just two steps north of assisted living. Here’s what I learned or relearned this time:
- The Texas patriots were largely young men from places as far away as Ohio and New York who had no prospects in Ohio and New York who were thus lured to the Alamo with the promise of 640 acres of land. And they only had to “enlist” for two weeks and nothing much was going to happen in those two weeks. Now the fact that Sam Houston or Stephen Austin didn’t have control over land that was part of Mexico was irrelevant. This was sort of an early Darwin thinning of the herd test.
- That one of the singular heroes of the Alamo, William Travis, 27, originally from Sparta, SC, a failed newspaper owner/editor, a failed lawyer, and a failed husband who had recently abandoned his wife and two children and struck out to make his fortune in Mexico, sent a message to General Santa Ana with a phrase that has become famous in Texas lore: “Never Surrender.”
- That one James Bowie, famous knife fighter, unreformed alcoholic, slave catcher, and mercenary for hire, on his deathbed within the walls of the Alamo, having learned what kind of message his second-in-command, Mr. Travis, had sent to Santa Ana said something to the effect, “Are you nuts, it’s 3500 to 189 you moron…”
- Nowhere within the now hallowed sacred space of the Alamo (which had one time had been converted to a pigsty) is the word slave or slavery mentioned. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas have done their job very well.
But here’s the rub. The mercenaries fighting at the Alamo were fighting to keep slavery in Texas. That’s why the Republic of Texas Constitution was an exact word-for-word copy of the U.S. Constitution with the exception of Section 9. When Mexico banned slavery in 1829, the American slave owners who lived in what is now Texas were not happy. The fact that Mexico had encouraged slave owners to populate the sparsely populated areas of what is now Texas was irrelevant to the government. To the slave owners, though, it was relevant. Mexico was thwarting their future fortunes.
Thus the myth of the Alamo lives on at least in the Texas psyche. The same psyche that gives us heartbeat abortion restrictions, open carry without permits, and voting restrictions so only good, white Christian people can vote. These are all done in the spirit of the Alamo and the patriots that made it sacred ground (a phrase that was repeated at least every two minutes I was there). So let’s not let facts get in the way. It might ruin a good story.
And for those who believe in Karma, a man named Joe was the only adult male who survived the Alamo massacre. Joe had been William Travis’s slave…