I’m ne of those people who has the bumper sticker that says, I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I can. My late husband was a sixth generation Texan and it wasn’t five minutes after retirement that we were packed and on our way to the land of his ancestors. I fell in love with Texas instantly. The Lone Star flag flies in my yard. I drive an F150 pickup with a sticker that says “Texan and proud of it.” I have a concealed carry license and practice regularly at the range. And I live in the Hill Country surrounded by beautiful ranches and sexy cowboys. What’s not to like?
I’ve been reflecting back on it this week as Fiesta San Antonio, an annual celebration of the city’s heritage is in full swing. We always attended as many events as we could, including the two fabulous parades. But the opening event was always (and still is) the one that lives in my heart and reminds me what it means to be a Texan, to live in the only state that was a country before statehood.
Because his ancestors came here before the Republic of Texas, my husband was eligible for membership in The Sons of the Republic of Texas. I think he was prouder of that than anything else. Each year, at the opening of Fiesta San Antonio, all of the Texas genealogy groups march in The Pilgrimage to the Alamo.
You all know about the Alamo, right? The cradle of Texas liberty? The compound, which originally consisted of a sanctuary and surrounding buildings, was built by the Spanish Empire in the 18th century for the education of local Native Americans after their conversion to Christianity. In 1793, the mission was secularized and soon abandoned. Ten years later, it became a fortress housing the Mexican Army group, the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras, who likely gave the mission the name Alamo.
Mexican soldiers held the mission until December 1835, when General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered it to the Texian Army following the siege of Bexar. A relatively small number of Texian soldiers then occupied the compound. Texian General Sam Houston believed the Texians did not have the manpower to hold the fort and ordered Colonel James Bowie to destroy it. Bowie chose to disregard those orders and instead worked with Colonel James C. Neill to fortify the mission. On February 23, 1836 Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna led a large force of Mexican soldiers into San Antonio de Bexar and promptly initiated a siege. The siege ended on March 6, when the Mexican army attacked the Alamo; by the end of the Battle of the Alamo all, or almost all, of the defenders were killed. When the Mexican army retreated from Texas at the end of the Texas Revolution, they tore down many of the Alamo walls and burned some of the buildings.
The Kingston Trio (do any of you remember them) memorialized the event in song and I’m going to quote form it here:
“A hundred and eighty were challenged by Travis to die
One line that he drew with his sword when the battle was nigh
The man who would fight to the death cross over
But him that would live better fly
And over the line went a hundred and seventy nine.”
The main building still stands as a memorial to that battle and to remind people of the importance of freedom and liberty, the spirit that created the great state of Texas. And this is what the Pilgrimage honors. Standing four abreast, the genealogy groups march down Commerce Street, let by two motorcycle policemen, in complete silence and solemnity. Stationed in front of the Alamo itself is a man at a podium. When the first line makes the turn onto Alamo Plaza he reads in slow measured tones, accompanied by a steady drum roll in the background, the names of every man who dies on that fateful day in1836. And as each group reaches the front of the building, they lay a memorial wreath on the lawn.
I’m always a mess when I watch it. My kids tease me because I start crying the minute I see that motorcycle. In fact, I’m crying as I write this, because it’s such an emotional moment in time.
So today, whatever you’re doing, pause for one moment to remember all of those brave men. And Sam Houston’s battle cry, “Remember the Alamo.”