Excerpt from The Gates of the Alamo

In this excerpt from The Gates of the Alamo, the Texian forces at the Alamo, under the command of Jim Bowie and William Travis, have suffered the first cannon attacks from the newly arrived Mexican army.

Excerpt from The Gates of the Alamo

The following scene takes place as the Texian forces at the Alamo, under the command of Jim Bowie and William Travis, have suffered the first cannon attacks from the newly arrived Mexican army. Mary Mott, an innkeeper who has come to the Alamo in search of her son, is attending to the ill and bedridden Bowie, who is entering the last stages of his life before the siege of the fort has even begun. The Texian forces are so badly outnumbered that Travis is forced to send out letters begging for reinforcements throughout the rebels' camps elsewhere in the state. When he finds Bowie in an alarming state of sick hallucination -- arguing about the forgery of nonexistent land grants -- it becomes clear that he must lead the forces entirely on his own. Mott, however, is not so convinced of his powers.

The door opened, and Travis and Crockett walked in. Seeing Mary, Travis greeted her with a merely civil nod of the head, but Crockett introduced himself with a broad smile, inquiring about her health, her origins, her present circumstances, complimenting her on what a fine son she had -- he'd met Terrell only briefly, but looked forward to a closer acquaintance -- and finding her own courage and fortitude to be of the most admirable and inspiring sort.

She smiled in return, for the first time in a week. She recognized Crockett's pleasantries for the habitual politicking they were, but it was a tonic to meet a man who put a value in reaching out to people.

"Colonel Bowie," Travis said when Crockett had finished with his effusions. Bowie stared up at him, squinting, as if Travis were standing a far distance away.

"Yes?" he said.

"Congressman Crockett is here too," Travis said.

"Those grants have the seal of the King of Spain on them. They are real as real, and you will be dead as dead, by God, if you think you can --"

"Jim!" Crockett said.

"What!" Bowie answered in the same sharp tone, and then seemed to recognize his visitors for the first time.

"Don't surrender," he said in a slurry, defiant voice to Travis. "Let the sonsofbitches try to come on and take us."

"I believe we can get a courier through, Colonel." Travis answered. "The Mexicans haven't completely surrounded us yet, and we believe the Gonzales road is open beyond the powder house. I've written a letter for general circulation. If there is anything you would like to add, a letter of your own you would like to send, please tell me. Due to your illness I've had to take over command of the garrison, but I am sensible to the fact that you and I agreed to share the position and --"

"Read the letter," Bowie muttered.

Travis produced a sheet of paper, unfolded it, and lifted the candlestick from Bowie's bedside to illuminate the letter as he read.

"To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world," went the audacious salutation. The letter was succinct, defiant, bombastic, somehow brilliant. "I shall never surrender or retreat," Travis pronounced, and Mary shuddered at the arrogance of that "I," this young man ready to doom them all in order that "all Americans in the world" would not forget his heroism.

"Victory or death," he declared at the end, and then folded the paper again and leaned down to Bowie.

"Is there anything you wish to add, Colonel?" he repeated.

"What?" Bowie said.

"Is there anything --"

"Give me the goddam paper," Bowie bellowed, reaching out as if to grab the letter from Travis's hand, "and I'll prove it ain't no forgery."

But Travis held the letter back, away from Bowie's grasping hands. He looked at Mary and then at Gertrudis, and then shifted his eyes to Crockett. The two men communicated with a silent look that was plain enough for Mary to read: there was no longer any necessity to consult with Bowie about the leadership of the Alamo.

"It is a ringing letter," Crockett said to Mary afterward, after Travis had gone off to consult with his couriers. On hearing she was on her way to the church, the congressman had insisted on accompanying her. "Travis knows how to tickle a phrase."

"It is a proclamation of suicide," Mary countered.

"I do not think so, Mrs. Mott. The language is excitable, but perhaps it needs to be to cause excitement in others. A man could not read that letter and fail to come to our aid."

She was not nearly so convinced, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself ... end story

From The Gates of the Alamo, by Stephen Harrigan, copyright © 2000 Stephen Harrigan, reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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