“REMEMBER THE ALAMO!”
History & Hauntings of an American Landmark
On the date, March 6, 1836, the defenders of the Alamo mission in what is now San Antonio, Texas were overrun by Mexican army troops. The battle of the Alamo has become one of the pivotal events in American history, although Texas was not a part of the United States at the time. On February 23, 1836, a Mexican army of thousands of soldiers attacked a makeshift garrison of about 200 Texas settlers – including James Bowie, William Travis and former congressman David Crockett – who were holed up in the abandoned mission on the outskirts of town.
The Alamo in 1854
The events that led to the battle began several months before when the Texans drove all of the Mexican troops out of what was then Mexican-owned Texas. After taking over San Antonio, the Texan forces decided to fortify the Alamo in whatever way they could. The chapel was never meant to be a fortress. It had thick walls, but they were made of simple masonry. Colonel James Neill, assigned to command the Alamo, moved 24 pieces of artillery to the walls, but the fort was still undermanned and low on both ammunition and food. Neill complained to General Sam Houston that his men were underfed and exhausted. He sent a message to the provisional government stating: “Unless we are reinforced and victualed (provided with food and stores), we must become an easy prey to the enemy, in case of an attack.”
Soon after, on January 19, Colonel James Bowie arrived with a small company of men. He was impressed with the work already done and he worked well with Colonel Neill. Complaints again went out stressing the lack of horses. There weren’t even enough horses to send out scouts to watch for signs of the Mexican army. Again, a meager number of reinforcements were sent to the Alamo. Colonel William Travis arrived on February 3 with a small contingent of cavalry. Five days later, David Crockett arrived with a small group of American volunteers. Travis was unhappy to be given this post, but as a career army officer, he followed orders. Sadly, they were still significantly low on supplies and ammunition. The number of soldiers positioned at one of the two forts protecting the whole of the Republic of Texas had risen to only 150 men. Among them was one of my ancestors, an Irish immigrant from County Kerry named Joseph Hawkins.
(Right to Left) David Crockett, William Travis and Jim Bowie
At noon on February 23, 1836, Santa Anna and the forward part of his army reached San Antonio. Sentries positioned south of town came riding in hard with the news. With Neill absent with a family emergency, Travis and Bowie took command. Some men were sent to collect what food stores they could find and others worked to drive their few head of cattle inside the fort. Most of the Mexicans living in town were hostile to the Texans, but there were a few people living outside the walls of the Alamo who were invited inside for protection.
Two hours later, after a brief respite, Santa Anna marched his men into town and sent word to Travis, demanding immediate unconditional surrender. Travis answered with a cannon shot. Santa Anna initiated a bombardment of the fort and gave orders that it continue around the clock. Travis sent off an express message to Colonel Fannin in Goliad, 90 miles to the southeast, where Fannin had a contingent of 300 soldiers. Travis described the situation at the Alamo and requested immediate assistance. The 13-day siege of the Alamo had begun.
On February 26, a light skirmish between the fort’s defenders and Mexican cavalry erupted but amounted to nothing. A storm had blown and the temperature dropped to 39 degrees. Santa Anna brought up more reinforcements and posted more guards around the Alamo. But the Texans were able to sneak out for wood and food and return safely. While they were out, they burned a few more houses. The bombardment of the Alamo continued.
Early in the day on February 28, Colonel Fannin and 200 men with four pieces of artillery left Goliad for the Alamo, leaving 100 men to guard the Presidio La Bahía. After marching only 200 yards, a wagon of supplies broke down. They decided to return to the Precidio La Bahia and Fort Defiance in Goliad. They would not be reinforcing the soldiers at the Alamo.
On March 1, Captain John Smith sneaked into the Alamo bringing 32 Texans with him. That brought the number of men inside the walls to 188; outside Santa Anna’s troops numbered 5,000. The defenders were holding but the walls of the fort were weakening with constant bombardments. The Mexican troops were rested and well fed while the Texans were starving and exhausted.
By the tenth day of the siege, March 3, Santa Anna’s men had erected a forth battery to the north of the fort, within musket range. Travis sent off another desperate request for reinforcements and supplies. This was to be his last appeal to the president. By then, he had ceased expecting any help to come.
The final day came on March 6 when just after midnight, Santa Anna pulled his entire force into town and surrounded the fort. His troops had been supplied with scaling ladders and they waited quietly for the word to attack. At 5:00 a.m., they received the word. The troops moved forward and the ladders were placed against the wall, ready to scale. But the Texans were ready and brought down very heavy fire and the Mexicans were driven back. They made a second attempt with the same results, followed by a third and a fourth. Each time, they were repulsed by the Texans. For Santa Anna, the fifth try met with success.
A painting depicting the final battle of the Alamo
The Mexican troops flooded up and over the wall and into the Alamo. Completely overwhelmed, the Texans had no chance, but they kept fighting. Travis was one of the first to be killed but still, the defenders kept fighting. They fought until nearly all lay dead in the dirt inside the Alamo. Santa Anna had given orders that the wounded were to be killed and many bayonets were bloodied that day. The Mexicans then moved through the fort, looking for anyone who might be hiding. During this search, the men came upon Colonel Bowie, still in his sickbed. Knowing he was one of the commanders of the fort, they butchered him.
After twelve days of bombardment, the Alamo was taken by the Mexican army in just 90 minutes. By 8:00 a.m., every fighting man who had defended the Alamo lay dead.
After the dead Texans had been collected and brought into the center of the courtyard, the bodies were looted for valuables. The bodies were then stripped of their clothing and stacked like cordwood and set on fire. Witnesses related that the piles smoldered for three days.
The Mexican army stood victorious but at a tremendous cost. Records vary, but best estimates put the number of dead at nearly 500 and almost as many wounded. The defenders of the Alamo had been wiped out.
The battle that Santa Anna thought would frighten the rebels into submission became an inspiration to the Texans. Their battle cry for freedom became “Remember the Alamo!” But all too soon would come Goliad, another of Texas’ greatest tragedies.
The Alamo and its mission chapel fell in and out of repair as several different uses for the structure were found -- from a military outpost to a police station and jail. In the early 1900s, the land was purchased by the state of Texas and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were appointed as permanent caretakers. The site is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The Alamo was already 93 years old at the time of the famous battle. The first stones for the Spanish mission were laid in 1744. There were several hundred burials in what is now Alamo Plaza. In 1793, the Catholic Church moved the religious artifacts to a nearby mission and turned the property over to the town. It officially became the Alamo, the Spanish word for cottonwood, when it was used as a barracks for Spanish soldiers in 1803. The building was vacant and abandoned between 1825 till 1835, when General Cos of the Mexican Army made it into a military fort. It changed hands between the Mexicans and the Texans three more times, including the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. After that time, a variety of purposes was found for the structure until it was purchased by the state of Texas and opened to the public as a state shrine.
After so many different uses by so many different people, it is not unexpected that the old mission chapel and surrounding property is considered quite haunted. However, the primary reason that the Alamo is so haunted can be linked to the battle that occurred there in 1836, when between 800 and 1,100 people died violent deaths over a period of little more than two hours. Added to that, the bodies of the Texans were stripped, desecrated and burned, with no proper burial. Even the bodies of the Mexican soldiers were mishandled in ways that would have been considered improper in their religion and their culture. They were either burned, thrown into the San Antonio River, or left to rot as carrion for wild animals and vultures.
The land within and surrounding the old mission is essentially a cemetery. After the bodies were burned, their ashes and charred pieces of bone and teeth were raked out and mixed into with the soil. If there were a checklist for events that would most likely to lead to a haunting, the Alamo and Goliad (soon to follow), would certainly tick the top eight or ten.
There is no record of any hauntings or ghost sightings before the battle in 1836, but one of the most prominent paranormal legends stems from just a few weeks afterwards. General Santa Anna and the bulk of his forces stayed on at San Antonio de Béxar for a few weeks before leaving to chase down General Sam Houston and the Republic of Texas Army, leaving a garrison of men at the Alamo under General Andrade’s command.
Shortly before leaving, Santa Anna ordered General Andrade to demolish the Alamo, leaving nothing standing. General Andrade then instructed Colonel Sanchez to get the job done. Colonel Sanchez took his men to the site of the Alamo. After 12 days of constant bombardment, the place was not much more than rubble. The only recognizable structure still standing was the mission chapel. Sanchez ordered the men to begin demolishing of the church and the men complied, although there was some grumbling among the ranks about it possibly being sacrilege to tear down a former Catholic church.
According to legend, as the men began to work, six ghostly forms emerged from the chapel walls. The soldiers immediately stopped what they were doing and backed away, crossing themselves and muttering “diablos” (devils) under their breath. The forms, often described as monks, slowly advanced on the soldiers, waving flaming swords and warning the men in inhuman voices, “Do not touch the walls of the Alamo!” Colonel Sanchez and his men ran screaming from the chapel, back to their encampment.
When Sanchez told General Andrade what they had witnessed, Andrade was furious and chastised Sanchez for his cowardice. Taking matters into his own hands, Andrade collected a detail of men and marched them to the Alamo to get the work done. As added protection, he took along a small canon and instructed the gunner to aim it directly at the front doors of the chapel. But before they could blast the doors, the six ghostly monk forms again took shape and issued their warning. Andrade’s horse took fright and reared, throwing the general to the ground. Before following his men in retreat, he turned to look at the building again and saw giant flames blast up from the ground. The smoke curled and twisted into the shape of a huge man. The figure held balls of fire in each hand and threw them at Andrade.
General Andrade affected a hasty retreat and the phantom protectors of the Alamo won out, but this part of the legend is not borne out by fact. Apparently, Andrade was not frightened away for good, since he must have returned to complete his orders. According to official records and archeological investigations, much of what remained of the mission was demolished, including many of fort’s walls.
In the 1890s, the Alamo chapel and some of the old barracks were used as a police station and local jail. Soon after moving into the old buildings, the prisoners and guards began complaining about a variety of unexplainable experiences. They reported that a ghostly sentry walked from east to west on the roof of the police station, formerly the old barracks. This and other events were described so frequently and fervently that the hauntings became news -- literally.
The San Antonio Express News published two articles, in 1894 and again in 1897, about the ghostly goings-on. These articles described several types of “manifestations” that were witnessed within the walls of the police station and jail. They saw mysterious man-shaped shadows moving about the rooms and corridors, and heard strange moaning sounds that could not be explained. According to the newspaper reports, these were frequent and frightening, so much so that many of the guards refused to patrol the area after dark.
As the stories of the hauntings became more well known, complaints were brought to the San Antonio City Council, where councilmen took the position that making the prisoners sleep in a building with ghosts roaming around and moaning amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment” and that it was unsafe for the public because of the guards refusal to walk their patrols after sunset. Shortly after the second article was published, the city moved the police station from the Alamo to a building that was not haunted.
Many of the same types of incidents that were reported in the 1890s are said to continue to happen today, except that now, the ghosts of the Alamo no longer seem to distinguish between night and day, but prefer to conduct their hauntings around the clock.
For decades, visitors, park rangers and passersby have described seeing a mysterious sentry walking his patrol. There have also been countless reports of unexplained noises: men screaming in pain, battle cries, and voices and whispers seeming to emanate from the walls of the chapel. People walking past the Alamo at night have seen distorted and disheveled human shapes forming right out of the exterior walls themselves.
A commonly seen apparition is that of a man dressed in clothing of the early 1800s, walking across the courtyard. Although visitors have described seeing this man many times over the years, the story was validated for Alamo officials by one of their own park rangers. The ranger noticed a man dressed in period costume walking toward the library. The ranger decided to follow him and see what he was up to. To his surprise, the stranger faded away to nothing as he approached the chapel.
Another commonly witnessed ghost is that of a blond boy who has been seen wandering the buildings and courtyard, but is most often seen in the gift shop. He apparently likes to interact with children and has been known to carry on conversations with them. He has told several children that he was present during the battle and believes he died there. He seems to selectively appear to specific people, with children waving goodbye to him while their parents see no one.
One last identifiable individual said to be haunting the site is none other than David Crockett himself. Crockett fought and died at the Alamo, either killed during the battle or slaughtered afterwards by some of Santa Anna’s officers. His ghost is most often described as wearing a full set of buckskins and his famous coonskin cap. He has been seen all over the compound, but most frequently he is seen guarding the old mission chapel.
The story of the Alamo -- and all of the history and hauntings of the Texas Revolution – is included in the book A PALE HORSE WAS DEATH by Troy Taylor and Rene Kruse. The book is available in a print edition from the website or as a Kindle and Nook edition.