When I first started writing about the state flags, I didn’t want to write about them in any specific order. My only plan was to write about all the other states before writing about the state flag of Texas.
But now we are in the middle of the 171st anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, which lasted for thirteen days, from February 23 (including February 29, Leap Day) to March 6, 1836. And today is March 2, Texas Independence Day.
On Feb 24th, Lt.Col. William Barret Travis, in full command at the Alamo, wrote a letter asking for help. Here in part is what he said, ” … The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls—I shall never surrender or retreat …”
Here is where the story of the flag gets confusing. No one knows for certain which particular flag it was. There is no doubt however, that the men inside the compound were fighting for independence from Mexico. They all knew that nearly two hundred miles east of the Alamo, the delegates to the constitutional convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos would soon be voting on the question of independence. Indeed, they had sent out their own delegate on February 7.
On March 3, Travis sent a letter out from the Alamo, writing,
“Let the Convention go on and make a declaration of independence, and we will then understand, and the world will understand, what we are fighting for. If independence is not declared, I shall lay down my arms, and so will the men under my command.”
Independence was declared, on March 2, 1836, the day before Travis sent his letter out. And on March 6, the Alamo defenders fell in a furious dawn attack that lasted no more than ninety minutes. Santa Anna may have won the battle, but he lost the war.
For a long time it was believed that the “Constitutional Tricolor of 1824” was the battle flag of the Alamo. That flag represented and called for a restoration of Texan rights under the Mexican constitution of 1824. But by the time the Battle of the Alamo occurred, the Texans were long past a reconciliation with Mexico. There was no turning back. Travis’s exultation over the flag would not have referred to the 1824 Tricolor (in my opinion).
Another flag likely flown at the Alamo was the Two Star Tri-Color, but while it may have been flown by the Tejanos (Texas-born Mexicans) in the compound, it probably would not have been used as a flag of independence either.
The blue silk flag of the New Orleans Grays was at the Alamo, but it was a volunteer company’s flag, and would not have been used as a flag of independence. After the battle it was recovered in good condition and removed to Mexico as a souvenir. It was photographed in 1980, but its location now is unknown.
I think the most likely flag to have flown over the Alamo was the flag flown by Texas ships, the Lone Star and Stripes. Flown since at least 1834, its legality was unquestioned for use on the high seas. Travis, who was educated as a lawyer, and lived initially in Anahuac on east side of Galveston Bay, would have seen this flag often on the ships coming in and out of the bay.
When the trouble started at Gonzales, Travis joined up, and by January 23, 1836 he was ordered to the Alamo. It is recorded that he stopped to buy a flag for five dollars, the design of which was not recorded.
But the Lone Star and Stripes was already recognized by other countries, and commonly used, and would have been readily available for purchase. It was unquestionably NOT a flag of Mexico, and in fact had obvious roots in the U.S. flag. A single star was already a popular motif used in Texas flags, and pairing it with the red and white stripes of the U.S. flag was a stirring design.
Happy Texas Independence Day! I hope this flag is flying today at your house. In a few days I will write more about the Lone Star of Texas, and how it came to be one of the most recognized flags in the world.