Saturday, November 20, 2010

The line-in-the-sand metaphor gets its power because it represents something that is absolutely true: Making a courageous decision with a high price.

In a draw of my old Scotish Dresser is a t-shirt that Deb go me many years ago.
On the front of it are the words:

"I regrete that I have but one life to give to Texas"
-- Tapley Holland

The fact is that Tapley Holland died at the Alamo.
My father did not think we were kin, and that is good enough for me.
...However, my family (counting both my mother and father relations) have been in Texas for now eight generations... dating back to before the Republic.
We are about as Native to Texas as any family can be.

My wife and her clan of relatives is EVEN MORE SO... Richey, Cox and Edwards ties her to the Austin 300 list (and there there are a couple of Hollands on it as she noted earlier this week... Tapley Holland's kin for sure.) As in Edwards Plateau for example. And, as she will bring up.. the first woman to be tried for murder in the Republic of Texas was a McAlister.

However... the facts tend to get in the way of the story.

The Legend....

Ballad Of The Alamo
by Marty Robbins

In the southern part of Texas, in the town of San Antone,
There's a fortress all in ruin that the weeds have overgrown.
You may look in vain for crosses and you'll never see a one,
But sometime between the setting and the rising of the sun,
You can hear a ghostly bugle as the men go marching by;
You can hear them as they answer to that roll call in the sky:

Colonel Travis, Davy Crockett and a hundred eighty more;
Captain Dickenson, Jim Bowie, present and accounted for.

Back in 1836, Houston said to Travis:

"Get some volunteers and go fortify the Alamo."
Well, the men came from Texas and from old Tennessee,
And they joined up with Travis just to fight for the right to be free.

Indian scouts with squirrel guns, men with muzzle loaders,
Stood together heel and toe to defend the Alamo.
"You may never see your loved ones," Travis told them that day.
"Those that want to can leave now, those who'll fight to the death, let 'em stay."

In the sand he drew a line with his army sabre,

Out of a hundred eighty five, not a soldier crossed the line.
With his banners a-dancin' in the dawn's golden light,
Santa Anna came prancin' on a horse that was black as the night.

He sent an officer to tell Travis to surrender.
Travis answered with a shell and a rousin' rebel yell.
Santa Anna turned scarlet: "Play Deg├╝ello," he roared.
"I will show them no quarter, everyone will be put to the sword."

One hundred and eighty five holdin' back five thousand.
Five days, six days, eight days, ten; Travis held and held again.
Then he sent for replacements for his wounded and lame,
But the troops that were comin' never came, never came, never came.

Twice he charged, then blew recall. On the fatal third time,
Santa Anna breached the wall and he killed them one and all.

Now the bugles are silent and there's rust on each sword,
And the small band of soldiers lie asleep in the arms of The Lord.

In the southern part of Texas, near the town of San Antone,
Like a statue on his Pinto rides a cowboy all alone.
And he sees the cattle grazin' where a century before,
Santa Anna's guns were blazin' and the cannons used to roar.
And his eyes turn sort of misty, and his heart begins to glow,
And he takes his hat off slowly to the men of Alamo.
To the thirteen days of glory at the seige of Alamo.

*180 Texians,including DavidCrockett, Jim Bowie and William B. Travis,died at the Battle ofthe Alamo,San Antonio,Texas. March 6,1836.

However, history might be different...

Line in the Sand
by Mike Cox

By March 5, 1836, Col. William Barrett Travis had known for several days that his situation inside the old Spanish mission called the Alamo had become hopeless.

Several thousand soldiers under the command of Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had Travis and some 189 other defenders surrounded.

The young Texas colonel - only 26 - was a lawyer, not a professional military man, but Travis knew enough history to understand that in a siege, the army on the outside usually prevails over the army on the inside.

So he gathered his fellow defenders that Saturday afternoon and gave them a speech.
"We must die," he began. "Our business is not to make a fruitless effort to save our lives, but to choose the manner of our death."

He saw three possibilities: Surrender and summary execution, trying to fight their way out only to be "butchered" by Mexican lancers or "remain in this fort…resist every assault, and to sell our lives as dearly as possible."

Then, with a flourish, Travis drew his sword and slowly marked a line in the dirt. "I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across this line."

Young Tapley Holland made his decision quickly, proclaiming "I am ready to die for my country!" as he jumped over the line. It's hard to picture it as a stampede - the men knew they were voting to die - but all but two of them walked over the line. Co-commander Jim Bowie, lying sick on a cot, asked some of his men to carry him across. Only Louis Moses Rose, a French soldier of fortune, remained behind.

That night, Rose slipped out of the Alamo and managed to make it through the enemy lines. He ended up in Louisiana and supposedly lived until 1850.

Every Texan knows what happened the morning after Rose made his escape. In the predawn of March 6, Santa Anna's forces breached the walls and killed every Texas combatant.

No one disputes the outcome of the battle, but historians are still fighting over whether the sword story is true. Unfortunately for die-hard Texans, the current thinking is that it probably did not happen. On the other hand, so far as is known, anyone who could have vouched for the story died in the final assault that morning 170 years ago this March 6.

The dramatic tale did not appear in print until 1873, nearly 40 years after the battle. The man who wrote the story for the Texas Almanac - William Physick Zuber - later admitted that while he reconstructed major portions of Travis' speech, he included only one paragraph of fiction. Unfortunately, he did not say which paragraph that was.

Zuber might have been inspired by what happened in December 1835. Ben Milam, during the Texian siege of San Antonio de Bexar, did draw a line and urge his fellow revolutionaries to follow him in attacking the soldiers of Mexican Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos.

"Who will follow old Ben Milam?" he asked.

The Texans won the battle but Milam lost his life in the effort.

But other than Zuber's telling of the tale, which he said he heard from his parents, who had given Rose shelter for a time after his escape from the Alamo, no documentation has been found to support it.

What is irrefutable is that the story of Travis drawing a line with his sword - be it truth or legend - gave Texas, America and eventually, the world, one of its most enduring metaphors.

Travis' line in the dirt - people did not start saying sand until the first President Bush used the term in 1990 before the first Gulf War - is a story equal to Homer or Shakespeare, as compelling as almost anything in the Bible or from the best Hollywood screen writer.

As J. Frank Dobie put it, "It is a line that not all the piety nor wit of research will ever blot out. It is a grand canyon cut into the bedrock of human emotions and historical impulses."

The line-in-the-sand metaphor gets its power because it represents something that is absolutely true: Making a courageous decision often comes with a high price.

On the upside, that courageous decision usually proves to be the right one, even if it takes years for people to appreciate it. Think Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. It might cost your life or your office, but chances are, someday you will be remembered for doing the right thing by crossing that figurative line in the sand.

© Mike Cox

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