THE CRISIS HIT, NOT IN THE southern part of Texas in the town of San Antone but on U.S. 83 somewhere between Abilene and Childress. My siblings and I were driving along a few years back, belting out the “Ballad of the Alamo” at the top of our lungs, when our vocalizing suddenly came to a screeching halt: None of us could think of the lines that follow “Travis answered with a shell/And a rousing rebel yell.” We had to la-la-la our way through the rest of the verse before resuming the song and intoning the last line in appropriately dirgelike fashion (“To the thirteen days of glory at the siege of Al-a- mo-o-o”).
As a kid I had listened over and over again to Marty Robbins’s version of the song popularized in John Wayne’s The Alamo. No decent Anglo Texan of my generation should forget those lyrics, right? Fortunately, I knew the perfect person to ask when I got home: William Chemerka, the Google of Alamo buffs, who obligingly e-mailed me the complete lyrics. The missing lines? “Santa Anna turned scarlet/’Play “Degüello,”’ he roared./’I will show them no quarter/Every one will be put to the sword.’”
Chemerka, you see, is a Serious Alamo Guy—one of a small, tight group of