Martyrdom at the Alamo
As the prairie voids of the northern Midwest and West began to fill in, the Southwest, still the territory of the Republic of Mexico, was being settled by an increasing number of American colonists. In 1820, Moses Austin secured a grant from the Spanish government to establish an American colony in Texas, but fell ill and died in 1821 before he could begin the project of settlement. On his deathbed, Austin asked his son, Stephen F. Austin, to carry out his plans. Mexico, in the meantime, had won independence from Spain in the revolution of 1.821. Under terms established by a special act of the new Mexican government in 1.824 (as well as additional agreements negotiated in 1825, 1827, and 1828), Austin brought more than 1,200 American families to Texas. Colonization was so successful that by 1836 the American population of Texas was 50,000, while that of the Mexicans was a mere 3,500.
Throughout the 1830s, the American majority chafed under Mexican rule—especially Mexican laws forbidding slavery. Violent conflicts between settlers and military garrisons became frequent. Feeling that his colony was not ready for a full-scale war of independence, Austin repeatedly negotiated peace with the tumultuous Mexican government. He drew up a proposed constitution to make Texas a Mexican state, and in 1833, traveled to Mexico City to seek an audience with Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the country’s new president. For five months, Austin tried in vain to see the president; at last, he gained an audience, only to have Santa Anna reject the statehood demand—although Santa Anna did agree to address a list of Texas grievances. However, as Austin was riding back to Texas, he was arrested, returned to Mexico City, and imprisoned there on a flimsy pretext for the next two years.
When Austin was finally released in 1835, he returned to Texas embittered and broken in health. He urged Texans to support a Mexican revolt against Santa Anna, and this effort triggered the Texas Revolution. Santa Anna led troops into Texas during January 1836 and reached San Antonio in February. There, against the advice of independence leader Sam Houston (1793-1863), a force of 187 Texans under militia colonel William B. Travis took a defensive stand behind the walls of a decayed Spanish mission formally called San Antonio de Valero but nicknamed “the Alamo” because it was close to a grove of cottonwoods (alamos in Spanish).
The tiny Texas band, which included such renowned frontier figures as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett, held off 5,000 of Santa Anna’s troops for 10 days. The band hoped desperately that the American nation somehow would rally and rush to its aid. But that didn’t happen. On March 6, the Mexican troops breached the mission’s wall and slaughtered everyone inside.
This Mexican “victory” turned out to be a disaster for Santa Anna. Sam Houston united Texans under the battle cry “Remember the Alamo! “ and brilliantly led his ragtag army against Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21. The result was decisive, and Texas became an independent republic.