You learned all about the Alamo in school. Or did you?
LIKE ALL GOOD TEXANS, YOU remember the Alamo. Or, if nothing else, you remember John Wayne and perhaps a few of those facts thrown out in Texas History class while you passed notes, doodled, and dozed in the back row.
You know the sacred names: William Travis, James Bowie, Davy Crockett, and James Butler Bonham. These are the mythical men you grew up hearing about, reading about, singing about, and watching your film idols portray on the silver screen. You know the story: This legendary battle shaped Texas history and attitudes, not to mention modern-day tourism.
But you may not know about the people. Behind all these Texas-size myths and legends we find the stories of some very real individuals who lived, fought, and died in a very real piece of Texas history. Here are some facts you, the average Texan, may not know about the people who were inside the Alamo when it fell.
Of the estimated 189 men who died in the Alamo, only six were actually born in Texas. Juan Abamillo, Juan A. Badillo, Carlos Espalier, Gregorio Esparza, Antonio Fuentes, and Andrés Nava fought with the Americans and against their native country.
Ten of the defenders were born in England, twelve in Northern Ireland, three in Scotland, two in Germany, one in Wales, and one in Denmark.
Charles Zanco, the Dane, lived in Harris County, where he was a painter. Zanco is credited for creating the prototype of the Lone Star flag.
Roughly eighty of the Alamo defenders were documented residents of Texas, but others traveled from various states, volunteering their services for the revolution. About twenty of the fallen had sailed to Texas as members of the New Orleans Greys. William B. Harrison commanded the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers, of which Davy Crockett may be the most recognized participant. There were also James Butler Bonham’s Mobile Greys, the Louisiana Volunteers for Texas Independence, and others.
The oldest defender of the Alamo was Gordon C. Jennings. The father of four entered the Alamo walls to fight at the age of 56.
The youngest to die fighting was fifteen-year-old William Philip King. The teenager convinced commanding officer George Kimbell to let him join the volunteer military in place of his father, who stayed behind to care for the family that included nine children.
At least two blacks fought in the Alamo. John, possibly a freedman, died in battle. Joe, the slave of William Travis, fought beside Travis until his master was killed. He took cover, and after the siege was released by Santa Anna.
Of the other survivors of the battle, there were estimated to be at least nine women and ten children. Among these, we know the stories of four women.
Susanna Dickinson took refuge in the mission when the siege began, and her husband, Almeron, died in battle. When she and her 14-month-old daughter were brought before Santa Anna, the general wanted to adopt the beautiful baby, take her back to Mexico, and raise her like a princess. Dickinson declined, and she and baby Angelina were released. Accompanied by Joe, she delivered to Sam Houston the tragic news of the Alamo’s fall.
Two nieces of vice governor Juan Martín de Veramendi, James Bowie’s father-in-law, were brought by Bowie into the Alamo for protection. They were Juana Alsbury, with her infant son, and her sister, Gertrudis Navarro. Both women and the child were released after the battle. Navarro later married a wealthy Mexican and moved, ironically, to Mexico.
When the siege began Ana Salazar Esparza took her four children with her to the Alamo to be with her husband, Gregorio. He was the only casualty to receive a proper burial—his brother, a soldier with the Mexican forces, received permission from Santa Anna to locate and properly inter the body. All the other bodies of the men slain defending the Alamo were stacked and burned.