Friday, March 20, 2009

Did William Barrett Travis really draw that line 173 years ago?

I visited San Antonio recently and, as I always do when there, drove downtown to the Alamo, which observed the 173rd anniversary of the famous battle on March 6.

I had first met Travis, Bowie, Bonham, Crockett and the other Defenders of Freedom while teaching five years of seventh grade Texas history.

I became fascinated with the events preceding and following the massacre at the old Spanish mission called San Antonio de Valero.

One point of interest I really enjoy is watching the movie about the battle. The “Price of Freedom” is shown continuously at the IMAX Theater, across the street from the Alamo in the River Center Shopping Center.

The movie is factually accurate in depicting such events as the women and children who were spared and permitted to leave, the defender Louis Rose electing to depart before Santa Anna attacked, Bowie’s illness and method of execution, the location where Crockett fought and fell, and the disposal of the Heroes’ remains.

One moving moment in the movie is when 29-year-old William Barrett Travis assembles the men and tells them Bonham’s lonely rides to rally assistance from nearby troops has been unsuccessful. He tells them help isn’t coming and they are destined to die in the Alamo.

Unless, of course, anyone chooses to leave.

Standing before them, he takes out his sword and traces a line in the sandy soil. The line separates Travis from the others.

Next, Travis asks for all who will stay and fight to step across the line. Anyone who doesn’t is free to leave and there’ll be no hard feelings. All step across except Rose.

Their fate sealed with one step of defiance, they raise a shout of final determination.

After the massacre, after the final pyre has become smoldering ashes, and Santa Anna declares it was “just a minor inconvenience,” the movie’s final scene is the Alamo as it looks today.

Suddenly, the scene of the Defenders shouting defiance is superimposed on the screen and you think they’re just outside, still hoping Fannin will arrive.

It also hits you just exactly what they did.

My eyes get teary and sniffles start.

The first year, I told the seventh graders I was simply tired. In subsequent years, after the lights went down and the image of 29-year-old James Butler Bonham appears on the screen, riding alone through hostile territory to report to Travis, I headed for the back to sit alone.

I know what’s going to happen when the final scene appears.

Recently, there has been speculation Travis really didn’t draw that line in the sand. It is only a legend; it isn’t true.

I think about what those men stood for, and how generations of other Americans, male and female, have made the same sacrifice so I can have the freedom to write this column.
Friday was one such day to remember them.

I am glad recent movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” and books like “Flags of Our Fathers” remind us of the horror they endured and the price they paid.

Regardless of where they were at the time, their stores are just as heroic and there fate is just as certain.

It could have been in Vietnam, or Korea, on the sands at Iwo Jima, or a beach called Omaha.

Did they really do the courageous things we hear about?

Did William Barrett Travis really draw that line?

Of course he did.

Paul Gnadt is the editor for the Keene Star. He can be reached via e-mail at

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