San Antonio, Texas — Remember the Alamo: Both the Heroic Sacrifice and Historical Uncertainties



A position of the Travis letter of 4 February, 1836 from the Alamo.







History and myth
combine to paint a canvas
brushed with heroes’ blood
o’er thirteen days of glory
at the siege of Alamo

Of the defenders,
only six are Texas born
Others find just cause
Travis, Crockett, and Bowie
Texians and Tejanos

Time and tales obscure

what is real from symbolic
Victory or Death!
Travis’ words drew the line
His sword need not part the sand
Against hopeless odds,
valiant men to be consumed
sacrificed their lives



As with many great battles in history, fact mixes with myth concerning the battle of the Alamo.

Historians and other writers who utter certainties about many events–for example, whether Travis literally drew a line in the sand with his sword–are hacks you should dismiss. Honest historians (i.e., scholars and writers not driven by an overarching ideology) who are well grounded in primary sources and intellectually capable of weighing evidence of varying credibility will honestly say, “We’ll never know,” or offer their opinion regarding many of the events associated with the Alamo with a level of confidence far from certainty.

About the Alamo and the mythology surrounding Lt. Col. William Barret Travis’ famous “line in the sand,” for example, historians still labor over whether Travis literally drew a line in the sand with his sword. Scholarly sentiment has swayed back and forth over the years, but the truth is that we will never know for sure.

I argue that it does not matter because Travis essentially drew a more important, and equally dramatic, metaphorical line in the sand for himself and the men under his command with his triple underscoring of ‘Victory or Death’ in his letter from the Alamo dated 24 February, 1836.

The only certainty one can offer about the Alamo is that an honest accounting of all sources, when objectively weighed, leads to the same conclusion. While interpretation of evidence can lead to substantial variations in the narrative (even the number of the Alamo’s defenders and who was fit for duty on 6 March, 1836 are uncertain), all those narratives ultimately lead to the same place: a heroic tale of sacrifice that led to Texas independence.

If you read otherwise, the historian or writer is either incompetent, ideologically driven, or trying to sell you something with an incendiary interpretation.

For those interested in historical truth, I recommend the following books as a start to serious study about the Alamo and the Texas Revolution. There are many fine books omitted from this list, but these are all excellent reading, as well as historically balanced:

“Alamo Sourcebook, 1836: A Comprehensive Guide to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution” by Timothy J. Todish, Terry Todd, and Ted Spring

“Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution” by Stephen L. Hardin

“The Alamo Reader” by Todd Hansen

“The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo–and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation” by James Donovan

“Alamo Traces: New Evidence and New Conclusions” by Thomas Ricks Lindley

“The Alamo: A Primary Source History of the Legendary Texas Mission” by Don Nardo

Photo and content by K. Lee Lerner. East side of the Alamo Cenotaph. San Antonio Texas, ca 2010. ©LMG CC BY-NC-ND Otherwise: All Commercial Rights Reserved

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