Saturday, March 30, 2013

March 30, 2013, column:
Texan pride has deep roots

By Mike Haynes
            Most non-Texans don’t get it.
            Residents of the other 49 may have pride in their states, but that of Texans seems to well up from a deeper level. Maybe it’s the fact that we once were our own country. The Indian wars, the cowboy mystique and the Texas revolution against Mexico all play into it.
This illustration by San Antonio artist Wade Dillon shows William B. Travis in his Alamo headquarters about to write his "Victory or Death" letter on Feb. 24, 1836.
            The outcome of that revolt was determined at San Jacinto in April 1836, but the heart of the conflict was what Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna called “a small affair” six weeks earlier. The Alamo in San Antonio, where around 200 Texas rebels were killed by a large Mexican army, is called “the Shrine of Texas Liberty” in part because the slaughter inspired the defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto.
            And a huge factor that turned the Alamo siege and fall into a legendary event was a piece of paper with just over 200 words on it that a courier sneaked out of the fortress – a document that didn’t return to the location where Col. William Barret Travis wrote it until this February.
            My wife and I stood in line for three hours on March 1 to see the Travis letter for about three minutes. For me – and I think even for Kathy – it was worth it to see the actual paper and ink that Travis used to fashion the words, “To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world,” “I shall never surrender or retreat” and “Victory or Death.”
            Our eyes were a foot from those famous words, protected by glass and armed guards, before we exited the Alamo chapel and received stickers that said, “Saw the Letter!” That was on a Friday. On the weekend, the wait was four hours and up, and the lines stretched around three sides of a downtown San Antonio block.
            That letter played a role in placing the Alamo into the imaginations of Texans but also others around the world. The help Travis asked for didn’t come, but within days, his words were published in Texas newspapers. The 26-year-old lawyer-turned-commander had a flair for the dramatic, and it inspired many to join Sam Houston and the victory weeks later.
This 2.25-inch sticker was given to each person who viewed the "Travis Letter" exhibit at the Alamo Feb. 23 to March 7.
The impact of the Alamo and the letter certainly stirred patriotism, and I wonder whether a spiritual element also was involved.
            Travis added a P.S.: “The Lord is on our side,” explaining that his men had been short of food but providentially found 80 or 90 bushels of corn and “got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.”
            God probably doesn’t take sides in wars any more than he does in sports, and some of the Catholics in the Mexican army must have thought they were the ones with a divine advantage.
            But Travis most likely was not being cavalier in his mention of “the Lord.” His uncle Alexander was a passionate Alabama preacher who, according to biographer William Davis, had much influence on the young Texas adventurer.
After leaving his wife in Alabama – not a particularly scriptural action – William Travis had become a community and political leader in Texas. He supported visiting ministers and wrote to the Christian Advocate and Journal in New York, urging its editor to publicize the need for preachers in Texas.
He joined those who protested the Mexican government requirement that settlers be Catholic.
During that 13-day Alamo siege, a highly literate man such as Travis, familiar with the Bible and faced with the prospect of death, must have prayed for everything from military aid to personal deliverance. His P.S. proves that God was on his mind.
            He also must have been aware that not all prayers are answered as we would like, writing that he was prepared to “die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country.”
            Such stirring prose is part of the reason why, 177 years later, people take their hats off when entering the Alamo church and why the 13-day display of a piece of paper drew 20,000-plus people to those hallowed grounds. And it helps explain why Texas is different.