Here’s a clue:
My daughter, an Alabama football fanatic, makes a big to-do about it each year with a party. Bruce Roche, a retired University of Alabama professor, for many years has hosted a lunch to commemorate the event. The clue is this: They’re both proud NATIVE TEXANS.
The event: Texas Independence Day.
If you’re not from Texas, that may mean very little to you — but Alabama played a critical role in Texas’ fight for independence. In fact, of the soldiers killed in the Texas Revolution, one-fifth were from Alabama.
As background, here are a couple of basic historical facts for those who — as my daughter says — don’t know history as well as they should.
In October 1835, Texas, then a province of Mexico, rebelled, and on March 2, 1836, it declared its independence. After such battles as the Alamo and Goliad, the “Texians” defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto on April 21.
Starting in the early 1820s, residents of Alabama and other southern states, lured by cheap land, began moving to Texas in droves. The slogan “Gone to Texas” appeared on house doors across the South as the migrants, often because of debt, headed off to the promised land. By 1830, the Texas population was 20,000. On the eve of the revolution, in 1835, the Anglo-American population was 30,000.
When Texas began its rebellion, some Alabamians who were already there joined the fight. One of them was my great-great-great-grandfather (on my mother’s side), James Gillenwater Wright.
In 1831, he and his wife had moved to Texas from Madison County, Ala., and in 1833 he was a delegate to a convention that paved the way for Texas’ declaration of independence. During the revolution he served as an army surgeon.
Much more important and famous was William Barrett Travis. In 1830, suspecting his wife of infidelity, he killed the paramour and moved from Claiborne (now a ghost town in southwest Alabama) to Texas.
When the revolution began, he took command at the Alamo. The Mexican army besieged the old mission, which the Texians had turned into a fort in an effort to slow the Mexican advance. The defenders were outnumbered 5,000 to 189 but still held out for 13 days.
The mission fell on March 6, 1836, and Travis and the other defenders were all killed. Among them were at least six from Alabama, including James Bonham, one of Travis’ lieutenants in whose honor the city of Bonham, Texas, is named.
The battle has been made famous by many songs and movies, most recently in 2004. Texas schoolchildren, though, learn about it early.
Still in my memory from when our seventh-grade history class studied it is the letter that Travis wrote during the long siege. He addressed it “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World.” In Texas it is still considered one of the bravest statements in the face of overwhelming odds that anyone has ever produced.
“I am besieged,” Travis wrote, “by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna … The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion. Otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword … I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days.
“If this call is neglected,” he concluded, “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH.”
When fighting had begun back in 1835, volunteers from the States rushed to aid the Texas cause. Companies of Alabama volunteers formed as the Mobile Greys, Huntsville Volunteers, Montgomery Volunteers and Red Rovers from Courtland.
In Texas, the Alabamians were put under the command of Col. James Fannin. He was headed, too late, to relieve the Alamo.
In the face of a Mexican army 5,000 strong, he retreated with his small force to the village of Goliad. Heavily outnumbered and with no water and few supplies, Fannin surrendered, with assurances that the Mexicans would treat him and his men as prisoners of war.
General Santa Anna, though, would have none of it and ordered all the prisoners shot.
At sunrise on a foggy Palm Sunday, March 27, guards divided the prisoners into three groups, marched them outside the town and executed them all. They threw the bodies into shallow trenches and burned them. The corpses were covered with so little dirt that coyotes dug up some of the remains and gnawed the bones.
Of the 343 massacred at Goliad, approximately 125 were from Alabama — all four companies of the volunteers.
News spread, and the slogan for the revolution became “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”
During the revolution, 630 soldiers on the Texas side died. At least 130 of them were from Alabama — more from any state other than Tennessee.
March 2 is a day to commemorate the losses and celebrate Texas’ victory. So next Saturday, if you see some people celebrating who look as if they’re proud of their heritage, show them you know exactly what they’re doing. Give them a ’Bama yell: “Remember the Alamo!”
David Sloan is a retired journalism professor at the University of Alabama.