Monday, July 3, 2017

13 Days to Glory by Lon Tinkle

The Siege of the Alamo (Non-Fiction/History)

This book was more about the destination for me. I chose to read this non-fiction history book about the battle at the Alamo because we planned a trip to San Antonio, Texas which is, of course where the Alamo is located.  I wanted to buff up a bit on the history of the great defeat of 182 Texans against thousands of Mexicans.

In thirteen chapters I learned about the background and the people involved in the siege that began on February 23, 1836. 

There was the wild and daring Jim Bowie, after whom the Bowie knife is named. As a child, he rode on the backs of alligators in Louisiana. Before coming to the Alamo and before tragedy struck, he was a land scammer and slave trader.  

Davy Crockett, the renown frontiersman, legendary marksman, and congressman came to the Alamo in his buckskin outfit with a dozen Tennessee volunteers. When he wasn’t elected for his fourth campaign in congress, he famously said something to the effect, “You can go to hell, I’m going to Texas.” That’s when he took up “Old Betsy,” his favorite rifle, and moved on.

Colonel William Barret Travis, a young South Carolinian lawyer, had his own reasons for heading west—murder. He admitted to killing a man and fled leaving his wife and children behind. Until Jim Bowie’s accident and illness, the 27-year-old struggled for control with him in commanding the Alamo.

Another attorney at the Alamo was Travis’s friend Jim Bonham.  He once hit the opposing counsel for insulting his female client, then tossed him out of the courtroom.  When the judge rebuked him for it, Bonham threatened to tweak his nose. Probably not a good idea. That got him a little jail time. Not to worry though, after word of his gallantry got out, ladies around town sent him loads of chicken and flowers to make his stay a little more comfortable.

John W. Smith came to Texas to collect a debt.  He loved the area, the hot summers, and mild winters and decided to stay. He wanted his wife and kids to join him in this new land, but that’s when she must echoed Crockett and told him to go to hell. She divorced him instead.

Among the few survivors was Mrs. Susanna Dickinson.  She was only 13 or 14 when she married Captain Almeron Dickinson and followed him to the Alamo with their small daughter five years later. She watched as her husband and almost everyone around her was killed and her daughter was injured. When the men knew they would likely not survive, they starting giving letters and mementos for her to pass on to their loved ones, though every one of those precious items were taken from her after the defeat. 

Let’s not forget the Mexican general leading the forces against the foreign invaders, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.  He directed the attack on the Alamo. Commanding his troops from a small adobe house, he had regimental bands play continuously during the entire battle.  He even took time on the second day of the attack to stage a quick fake wedding to a local girl.  The nuptials appeased the girl’s mother who wanted the honor of marriage before giving her daughter up to the randy general. He was, in fact, already married to a woman in Mexico City. Maybe he considered it a victory romp. He knew without a doubt that his troops would decimate the small number of fighters holed up in the Alamo.  Six weeks later he wasn’t quite so confident. In a total of twenty minutes, he was defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto led by General Sam Houston, where the cry “Remember the Alamo!” filled the air. 

Admission to the Alamo and four other missions in San Antonio is free.  They were all built in the 1700s.  All have been restored to a certain degree, and except for the Alamo, all still offer church mass.  We drove to see the four missions, but the Alamo was walking distance for us, right in the heart of downtown where we stayed on our vacation.  Besides touring the Alamo chapel, there is a museum, an area showing a film on the history of the Alamo, and a gift shop, of course. In the courtyard there was a living history display with three areas in which actors in time period costumes explained about everyday life at the Alamo.  We stopped and learned about the soldiers' illegal gambling in their idle time and how silver coins were cut into pieces to make “bits” or smaller coins.  Very interesting!

Missions: Concepcion and San Jose
Missions San Juan and Espada

The River Walk in San Antonio is probably just as popular if not more than the Alamo.  What a gorgeous area!! The walkways that flank the San Antonio River are truly beautiful. Lush landscaping intertwines with restaurants and shops in a lively and stunning setting. At night many of the restaurants have mariachi bands playing, which adds to an already vivacious scene. River boat cruises seem to be particularly busy in the evenings.  

We took our river boat cruise early in the day and it was much less crowded at that time.  The tour was entertaining and informative. We learned from our guide, Alfred, that San Antonio has a large German influence that began in the 1800s.  He also informed us about a laser show projected onto the San Fernando Chapel in the Historic Main Plaza on certain evenings. And what a show that was! Set to music, the history of San Antonio was depicted on the church through a kaleidoscope of images and colors. It was like a firework display, where the images burst, splashed, dripped, slid and danced across the 150-year-old cathedral for almost a half hour. Spectacular!

Before and During the Light Show

Another fun spot we went to a couple times was the Historic Market Square. This place is a tourist's shopping mecca with store after store of Mexican pottery, jewelry, leather goods, and fun geegaws.  It reminded me of the many vacations we took to Ensenada, Mexico growing up.  

Sternewirth tavern and club room at the Hotel Emma.
One of the highlights of our trip was meeting with my husband's cousin and his wife at this swanky bar in the boutique Hotel Emma.  What an amazing place! The bar used to be a brewery and the huge room has been converted into an extraordinary tavern and club room with various seating areas in a posh setting. It exudes rustic elegance with lots of leather, wood, textiles, and metal accents. On one side there are still three giant brewtanks that reach to the dramatic 25-foot high ceilings. For a price, you can reserve the brewtanks, which have been transformed to private, intimate seating areas with padded walls and circular seating that seemed to have the vibe of a genie’s bottle. We didn’t sit there, but were comfortably happy in one of the cozy couches. While we were sipping our drinks and nibbling on our appetizers, we were treated to a show. An all-female mariachi band came in and played while couples in authentic Mexican dress danced and swirled to the music. It was an unexpected bonus, especially since we found out that this is not an ordinary event.  What luck for us!  It was a perfect ending to our vacation. 

Oh, one more thing I have to mention is the private library this hotel has for its guests.  After drinks, our relatives showed us around the hotel and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I peeked into the magnificent library! Oversized black, glass-paned doors open to a room of rich, dark paneled wall-to-wall bookcases.  On either end two stair cases lead up second level where guests can choose from thousands of books and look over the seating area below. It’s an avid reader’s ultimate dream library.

Photo from Hotel Emma website,
There you have it.  A little history of the Alamo, and a quick peek into our wonderful vacation in San Antonio, Texas!

Happy Reading,


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