If you know me well you know that I’ve been talking about getting back to San Antonio for a visit for some time now. Last week I made it happen. And though I won’t tell you the exact year when I was last there, let’s just say it was some time ago and they were still holding World’s Fairs. A lover of both history and mystery, I especially wanted to return for a visit to an iconic monument; one which portends lessons on news, fame and myth vs. legend: The Alamo.
Though I was not born in time to experience first hand Disney’s 1950s branding/merchandising of Davy Crockett through television, actor Fess Parker’s later TV portrayal of a coonskin capped predecessor, Daniel Boone, coupled with John Wayne’s rendition of Crockett on the silver screen had me hooked (and soon sporting both a fur hat and play rifle from Disney World). I was far from alone. Crockett in Texas was portrayed as a patriot – there for the sole purpose of fighting for freedom.
In later years, I have read much of the trials of Texas’s revolution and eventual separation from Mexico, fueled and inspired by the sacrifices of 200 men against an army of more than 2,000. I learned even more on this trip. It is quite interesting to compare and contrast the transmittal of news then (1836) and now. Through the 13 day siege prior to the final assault, Alamo commander William Travis, just 26, was able to deliver via courier, several letters to Sam Houston on the state of the situation. Many were published verbatim in area newspapers and an army was eventually raised, although not in time. It would take nearly a week for the General to hear of the Alamo’s fall.
At 49 years of age and following two terms in Congress, David Crockett was easily the Alamo’s most famous defender. He was, in fact, one of America’s first true celebrities, immortalized in books and plays of the day and covered in the paper – the mass media of the day. In the wrong place at the wrong time (he came to Texas, despite legend, not to fight but to stake claim to land and reinvigorate his political career), his exact fate – whether perishing in battle or executed afterward – continues to be hotly debated to this day.
At the time, Crockett’s whereabouts were questioned in newspapers across the country days, weeks and even months after the March 6th battle. Some had him back hunting bear in his native Tennessee, others confined to a life of slavery in the Mexican mines. Eventually, eyewitness accounts from survivors settled the debates.
For me and no doubt any history lover it is all quite fascinating: from the dedication of men destined for immortality, to how the story was originally told and reported, to how it continues to be reexamined and oten retold more than 175 years later.