THE GHOSTS OF THE ALAMO
San Antonio is a haunted city, full of ghosts, and most of these dwell in the Alamo.
For many years, people have reported strange apparitions wandering its blood-soaked grounds, eerie lights dancing on the stone walls, unexplained sounds--the screams of dying men, explosions, the chilling trumpet call of Santa Ana's band playing the Deguello.
To this day, guards, janitors, and other employees of the popular Texas tourist attraction avoid certain rooms of the battle-scarred mission at night.
One reason for all this paranormal activity is that the Alamo is a graveyard. According to Spanish records, nearly a thousand persons were buried in Alamo Plaza between 1724 and 1793. And, in 1836, 1600 Mexican soldiers and 200 Texans were killed there in one of the bloodiest battles of the Old West. The disposal of their bodies is a story in itself.
The bodies of the Mexican soldiers were at first buried in mass graves. But, when this proved too time consuming, many hundreds were thrown into the nearby San Antonio River, where for weeks they rotted in the sun, attracting flies and flocks of buzzards and spreading disease--which in turn killed more people.
As for the Alamo defenders, their bodies were piled together in three mounds in different parts of the plaza, and burned.
There was a young boy who lived in San Antonio in those days, who never forgot the sight of those funeral pyres. Many years later, as an old man, he could still recall in vivid detail the sickening stench and hideous sight of melted flesh on charred bones.
A year after the battle, Texas hero Juan Seguin visited the site and found some of these bones. They were entombed in San Fernando Cathedral, a short walk from the Alamo; the marble casket containing these remains can be seen to this day.
The first ghost sighting at the Alamo was recorded by one of Santa Ana's officers, General Andrade.
When Santa Ana departed San Antonio, he left the Alamo under Andrade's guard. Later, after his defeat by General Sam Houston at San Jacinto, Santa Ana sent word to Andrade to destroy the Alamo chapel.
Santa Ana had two reasons to hate the Alamo. For one, he had lost 1600 men there; for another, his brother-in-law General Cos had been humiliated there the previous year, when his 1100 troops were chased away by 300 Texans.
Andrade sent Colonel Sanchez to carry out the order. But, shortly afterward, the Colonel and his men returned to camp, white-faced with fear.
They said they had been met by six "diablos," or devils, at the front door of the Alamo. These spirits were brandishing flaming swords and yelling, "Depart! Touch not these walls."
Some believe these were the ghosts of deceased Spanish monks. Others believe they were the ghosts of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis, and other Texan defenders.
Whover they were, or whatever, their presence was enough to frighten away the men. Thereafter, no one could be persuaded to approach the chapel, and so it was saved from destruction.
Other spirits have been spotted there over the years. One of the best known is the image of a small blonde boy, which every February appears for a few nights in one of the windows of the chapel. The window is high and there is no ledge for him to stand on, leading many to believe it cannot be a real boy, but a ghost.
This spirit is believed to belong to a boy who was evacuated before the battle and who now returns, again and again, to the place where he lost his father.
Then there is the ghost in the long black coat.
An Alamo Ranger, guarding the place late one summer night, saw this figure walking behind the chapel.
"What kind of idiot would wear a warm coat like that on a night like this?" wondered the Ranger. Then he noticed the old fashioned style of the coat--nineteenth century.
The Ranger called out to the figure. It did not respond, but kept moving steadily in the direction of the library.
Then, suddenly, it merged with the gloom and was gone.
It has been seen many times since.
The Alamo is a solemn place, a haunted place, a place of horror and mystery. The old stone walls have seen much tragedy, and hold many secrets as well.
One of these secrets is how its most famous defender, Col. David Crockett, met his end.
Tomb of the Alamo defenders
at San Fernando Cathedral
in San Antonio.
Mrs. Andrea Castanon de Villanueva ("Madame Candeleria"), an Alamo survivor, claims that Crockett was among the first to fall. He was walking, unarmed, on some unknown errand, from the chapel towards the wall or rampart which ran from the end of the stockade, when a sudden volley fired by the Mexican soldiers caused him to fall forward on his face, dead.
Yet, there are others who say he was among the last to die. Sergeant Felix Nunez of the Mexican Army recalled a tall American in a coonskin cap whom he believed to be Crockett. Throughout the battle, this man killed and wounded many Mexican soldiers. None of his shots ever missed. Finally, a Mexican lieutenant dealt him a blow with a sword, just above the right eye, after which he was pierced by some twenty bayonets.
Another Alamo survivor, Susanna Dickenson, said that as she was evacuated by Mexican soldiers, she saw Crockett's body lying dead and mutilated in front of the chapel, his "peculiar" cap by his side.
Capt. Juan Almonte's black servant Ben, who had been a steward on steamships back east and remembered seeing Crockett when he was a U.S. Congressman, is reported to have identified Crockett's body to Santa Ana.
A Mexican officer named Saldigua stated that Santa Ana looked at the famous frontiersman for a few moments, then thrust his sword into the body, and turned away in contempt.
There are also stories that Crockett survived the battle, only to be executed. This was first reported in The New Orleans Post-Uniononly a few weeks after the battle. It was also described in Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas, a mostly fictional book published in the summer of 1836.
In fact, this was the most widely accepted version of events for years, until it was displaced in the popular imagination by various film versions--chiefly Walt Disney's Davy Crockett and John Wayne's The Alamo--in which Crockett goes down fighting.
In 1975 the story of Crockett's surrender and execution resurfaced in the public eye, to much controversy, when the diary of Lt. Jose Enrique de la Pena, an officer under Santa Ana, was published.
Pena writes that, despite Santa Ana's order that no prisoners be taken, Crockett and six others were captured when Mexican troops took the Alamo around six o'clock that morning:
"Some seven men survived the general carnage and, under the protection of General Castrillon, they were brought before Santa Ana. Among them was one of great stature, well proportioned, with regular features, in whose face there was the imprint of adversity, but in whom one also noticed a degree of resignation and nobility that did him honor. He was the naturalist David Crockett, well known in North America for his unusual adventures."
According to this account, Crockett tried to talk his way out of the predicament. He explained he was merely a tourist who had been exploring the area and sought refuge in the Alamo when hostilities began.
Santa Ana, angered that Castrillon had disobeyed his orders to take no prisoners, immediately ordered the execution of Crockett and the others.
Pena stated that several officers, eager to ingratiate themselves with their commander, then fell upon the men with swords in hand. "Though tortured before they were killed," Pena writes, "these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers."
Many historians believe this account to be true. Others, however, dismiss the diary as a forgery. Some believe the diary may be authentic, but surmise there may have been a case of mistaken identity. Anyone could have claimed to be Crockett, perhaps hoping Crockett's notoriety as a Congressman and possible U.S. repercussions might offer protection, and the Mexican soldiers would most likely not know the difference.
An account by another Alamo survivor conflicts with the story of Crockett's surrender. Joe, William Travis' slave, stated that only one man, named Warner, was captured and executed after the battle. Joe also said that Crockett's body was found in an angle made by two houses, lying on his back, his knife in hand, with a dead Mexican soldier lying across his body.
The answer to the controversy of Crockett's death is only one of the secrets kept by the Alamo. There are others, such as whether or not William Travis committed suicide shortly before Santa Ana's army attacked, or whether or not Jim Bowie buried treasure from his legendary San Saba silver mine somewhere on the Alamo grounds.
If only those old, bullet-pocked stone walls could talk, they might answer these questions.
And there are some who say the walls do talk, at night. But the wooden doors are locked at sundown, and none dare go inside.