A Throwback to Last Year ... and Even All the Way Back to the Alamo
With being in Wisconsin last week, and then returning to Texas this week, I’ve been thinking about the travels I was enjoying just before this time last year ... just before the whole “Covid crash.” For the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo (March 6) last year, I had headed out to Palmetto State Park to take in the historical sites around Gonzales, where the Texas Revolution kicked off in earnest in October 1835 when settlers in the area refused to relinquish to Mexican troops a small cannon the community had there . . . and famously told the troops to “come and take it.”
RV Dog and I were camping in the Pryde, the little teardrop trailer we had then (before getting Traveler from the Bosun’s awesome parents when they retired from RV-ing). Palmetto State Park offered us great trails to explore. The park has thick, lush foliage and felt quiet in the middle of the week, like RV Dog and I were in on a secret, enjoying something the rest of the world was missing.
On March 6, I drove into San Antonio at 0-dark-30 to get to the old mission/fort before dawn. I had to wrap myself up in multiple layers against the cold, but my blue nylon jacket and black ballcap gave me away as a tourist; many of the hundreds of people gathered in the dark in front of the fort sported varying iterations of “period” attire, Bowie knives (of course), and some pretty impressive headgear (I remember leather and furs that kinda made an impression).
The Bosun and I had recently finished James Donovan’s The Blood of Heroes, which provides a gripping account of the conflict leading up to the siege and final assault of the Alamo, and the players involved, including participants that sometimes don’t get the attention they deserve. The latter include Joe, who had been William Travis’s slave (and ultimately seems to have escaped slavery some time after the revolution), and Susanna Dickinson, who stayed in the fort with her husband Almeron Dickinson, who was killed in the battle.
While the history of the Texas Revolution (like most significant historical events) is complicated (more complicated than popular myths and retellings may suggest), a look back to the generation before the conflict provides critical insight into the role of Tejano vengeance in the war. Podcaster Brandon Seale (www.brandonseale.com) has some really interesting material on the 1813 Battle of Medina, a clash that occurred near San Antonio between Spanish royalist forces and Mexican republicans before Mexico gained its independence from Spain. Who was on the side of the royalists back then, as a young lieutenant, when the Spanish forces murdered and raped their way through the city? Yep. Santa Anna. So the Texas Revolution some twenty-three years later had a pretty personal aspect for many San Antonio families.
When I visited the fort last year for this anniversary celebration, Covid had already started shutting things down, which meant I didn’t get a full Alamo experience during that visit. I didn’t get to see Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis’s kind-of (at least for me) famous banded-agate ring. Travis went down in history with his cry of “Victory or Death,” but before all that, he was just a young lawyer in Stephen F. Austin’s colony on the Brazos: San Felipe de Austin.
A bit of a firebrand, he ran off to San Antonio in January 1836, when things really started heating up. But he didn’t go without romantic connections. He carried with him a ring his fiancée Rebecca Cumings, also of San Felipe de Austin, had given to him. Before he met his end at the Alamo on that other March 6, the one in 1836, Travis put that ring on a string and looped it around the neck of Susanna Dickinson’s baby, little Angelina Dickinson. Angelina went on to live a life worthy of Greek tragedy, but after a long road through Texas and the Civil War, and on to New Orleans, Travis’s ring found its way back to the Alamo in 1955.
As I stood in the chill at dawn, in front of the old fort last year, I did tear up. The ceremony commemorating the dead hit pretty hard. History is complicated, but the human side of it has so much to it, so many threads to sew us all together and altogether into the mismatched, many-colored, mixed-up, imperfect moment of today ... to sew us into the good, bad, indifferent ... horrifying, uplifting, frustrating ... of what we are now.