Eric's Reviews > Three Roads to the Alamo: The Saga of Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, & William Travis

Three Roads to the Alamo by William C. Davis
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's review
May 28, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, non-fiction, books-i-own
Read in May, 2001

Everyone has heard about the Alamo. Everyone has heard about David Crockett and Jim Bowie, and perhaps William Travis. These men are forever enshrined in glory and legend, thanks to the tragic event of March 6, 1836, the day the Alamo fell to Santa Anna’s army.

While Crockett was a legend, or at least a celebrity (perhaps the first true American celebrity) before the Alamo, Bowie and Travis were not well-known. Their lives were a rough mix of fact, exaggerations, and legend. William C. Davis fixes that.

In this well-written historical narrative, Davis traces the lives of each man, from birth to the Alamo. It’s a fascinating tale.

Of the three, Crockett is by far the most likeable. Always poor, he used his extraordinary wit and good humor to win three terms in the House of Representatives. As good as he was on the stump, though, he was a lousy politician. His major goal, a land bill making it easier for poor farmers to buy land, failed, due to his incompetent management of it. He was naïve about the political situation of his times. For example, he backed Andrew Jackson, yet feuded with the Democratic members of his own Tennessee delegation.

Despite his failures in Congress, he grew very popular all over the country. Several books and plays were made with his character as the model. The Whigs even thought about running him for president against Martin Van Buren.

But Crockett’s early support of Jackson turned to opposition. He became obsessed with Jackson, railing and ranting against him from the House floor, while producing no legislation for his district. In the end, it cost him a fourth term and his chance at the Presidency.

However clumsy his political efforts, he stayed true to his convictions. Although he played up his backwoodsman image, he strived to be a gentleman, and largely succeeded.

After losing his final run for Congress, he went to Texas, mostly on a whim, to hunt for game and land. He toured several cities before ending up in San Antonio and the Alamo, at the worst possible time.

James Bowie is a fascinating figure. Brave, loyal to his friends, and a natural leader, he was a dishonest land speculator in Louisiana. He forged several Spanish land grants that showed him as the owner of several thousand acres of prime land. He hoped to then sell “his” property for huge profits, but it never worked. The government slowly got wise to his scheme, so he went to Texas to search for more land.

Travis fled to Texas to escape crushing debt. He also abandoned a failed law practice, newspaper, wife and two young children. Young, hot-blooded and impetuous, Travis tried again at practicing law and succeeded.

Of the three, Bowie was the first at the Alamo in late January 1836, sent to relieve and reinforce the garrison already there. It was a shambles, poorly equipped with little money. A survivor of some prominent battles, in which he was outnumbered, he was already a hero to Texans, and his arrival boosted morale.

Travis showed up with a small contingent of cavalry just a few days later, and Crockett shortly after that.

Shortly after Santa Anna’s two to three thousand soldiers arrived, Travis sent several urgent requests for aid. Sam Houston, who led all armed forces in Texas, thought that Travis was making everything up and trying to co-opt his command. So he did nothing.

The provisional government published Travis’ letters to attract recruits, but few volunteered. In essence, Texas abandoned the Alamo.

When the battle finally occurred, Travis died right away, defending the north wall, with a bullet in the forehead. Bowie, weak and delirious with typhoid, was bayoneted while lying on a cot. To make sure, the soldiers shot him in the head, splattering his brains against the wall (the stain would be visible for over a year). All the bodies were burned, and the ashes and bone lay scattered on the ground for another year, until finally they were gathered into a coffin and buried. However, no one marked the burial spot, and it has now been lost.

So no one knows where the heroes of the Alamo lie.
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