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Texas Pride, the Stamp, and the Alamo—by Don Adair

Alamo, Wayne (1) Twenty-six years before I designed the Texas stamp, my immense love and fascination for the Alamo found its genesis when my father took our family to a movie set in south Texas.

At the age of twelve, I was full of awe as we strolled through   John Wayne’s Alamo movie set near Brackettville, a day after filming was completed.

Except for a couple of extras who were still hanging around, the mission and town of San Antonio were virtually deAlamo, S. Wall (1)solate.  In the mission, the chapel was still showing the burn marks from the explosion that occurred at the end of the last battle in the film.

The cannon were still there, along with ladders and other props. A lot of Styrofoam rocks and pieces of walls were lying around and I began making sport of seeing how far I could kick these large “rocks.” One of them was the real thing, and my foot was sore for days. I also found a flat piece of Styrofoam that was in the shape of a human head. 

The visit to the set, and later, seeing the movie, made a lasting impression in my life. I visited the set twice while I was in college and the theme of the Alamo has been a favorite subject for my easel.

Designing the stamp

As a commercial illustrator, I have had the privilege to do a number of high profile projects over the years. None have meant more to me than the design of the U.S. postage stamp, honoring the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986. It was a commission that embodied my love for Texas history, and especially,  the Alamo.

In early 1985, Ron (my twin brother) and I were busy at our drawing boards, when we got a call from the United States Postal Service. They asked if we would like to join a competition for the design of the commemorative postage stamp, honoring the Texas Sesquicentennial, in 1986. We would join eight other professionals. All of the illustrators had stamp credits to their names, including my brother, who had done two stamp designs already. I had none.

We were given strict instructions not to tell anyone of our participation in the project. Also, they gave us a list of items they did not want us to use in our designs. Some of the items included the Alamo, Sam Houston, blue bonnets, windmills, armadillos, etc. One of the designs I submitted was a spur sitting on top of a Texas flag. A very simple design.

DKH_16 Ron and I mailed our comps to the postal service, and waited. A few weeks later, I received a call from the stamp coordinator. He asked if the spur was Santa Anna’s spur. I said “No, it’s just a generic spur.” He said “Fine” and hung up. It was a very brief and somewhat strange call, I thought.

A few more weeks passed and I got another call. He said “We think someone might think it is Santa Anna’s spur. Could you leave the flag the same way and do us two more designs, one with a portrait of Sam Houston and the other with the Alamo.” Those were two items that they had told us not to use in our designs. Even so, I hurriedly knocked out two more comps, with the flag staying the same and including one with a portrait of Sam Houston and the other with a rendering of the Alamo.

A month later, I got the call I had hoped for. “Mr. Adair, congratulations. Your design has been chosen for the stamp.” I said “Great! Which element are you going to use, Sam Houston or the Alamo?” He said “Neither. We are going back to the spur, and we want it to be Santa Anna’s spur.” The Dallas Historical Society had the actual spurs that the defeated Santa Anna gave to Houston, after the battle of San Jacinto. I went down and examined the spurs and shot some photos for reference for the stamp. The finished design that I used for the stamp has Santa Anna’s spur on it.

A short time later, the stamp coordinator told me that my brother and I were the only brothers in U.S. Postal history that have ever designed stamps. When the Postal Service went public about the stamp in February of 1986, there was an avalanche of publicity that hit. It was also neat to go to the first day of issue ceremony on March 2, in San Antonio, next to the Alamo. Dignitaries spoke, and I was honored as the stamp’s designer.

Deborah here: What a great treat—to roam all over a movie set with your brother. Not just any movie set either, but John Wayne’s 1960 production of The Alamo.  On Monday, Don will tell about visiting a second movie set—Disney’s 2004 production of The Alamo.

See Don Adair’s website at http://don-adair.com/

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The Alamo Mindmap

At the beginning of the From the Alamo series, I promised to share the mind map I created of the events. Using MindManager Pro 7 allowed me to pull information from several resources and mesh it all together in chronological order. Otherwise, I would still be confused.

The map is very large when opened up, but it had to be or you couldn’t move around in it and read the notations. I experimented and the map size is 2000×1500 pixels, so you will have to scroll left and right, up and down since most computer screens are 1024×768 (as a reference point).

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Mindmap of the 1836 Siege on the Alamo

If you click on the map to enlarge to its full size, remember the image close button is at the far-bottom-right of the image. And yes, after creating this image and uploading the file, I noticed the wrong century on February 26th. Sorry.

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From the Alamo—Rise of the Texas Heroes

March 6, 1836—Sunday

The Alamo It was all over by 8:30 in the morning.

Santa Anna ordered a quiet approach to surprise the Texians, and caught the outside sentries asleep. As they approached the walls, several enthusiastic troopers yelled, "Viva Santa Anna!" and "Viva la Republica!" wakening the sleeping Texians.

Santa Anna’s troops were divided into four columns, which attacked from different directions. The Texians repulsed the first wave, and wiped out a large number of troops with cannon fire. The Texians turned back the second attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the Mexican army. Santa Anna’s third wave broke through the repaired north wall, flooding the compound with enemy soldiers.

Still causing heavy losses to the Mexican army, the Texians fell back from the north wall to the long barracks, while Crockett’s riflemen headed for the chapel.

The Mexicans turned the overrun cannon upon the barracks and the Texians, losing their defensive position, were put to bayonets. Hand-to-hand combat inside the long barracks was brutal, and the Mexican soldiers took no prisoners.

In three hours, it was over. The Alamo defenders—182 men—were killed, but at an enormous loss of life to the Mexican army.

In his last letter from the Alamo, Travis stated, "… the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse for him than defeat." Travis was right. The loss to Santa Anna’s troops at the Alamo is credited as an assist at the Battle of San Jacinto just over a month later, April 21, 1836.

The cry of Remember the Alamo and Remember Goliad carried the Texians as they rallied to surprise and defeat Santa Anna and his army, on a drowsy spring afternoon in the marshy woods beside Buffalo Bayou, southeast of modern day Houston.

For those readers interested, here is the link to the official Alamo website.

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From the Alamo—East Wall Breached

March 5, 1836—Saturday

Not long after cannon fire breached the east wall, the bombardment stopped. Silence fell over the mission as we waited to see what would happen next, but there was nothing. The men worked fast to close the hole, while the rest of us kept watch.

The Mexican army drew back at dark which means they will regroup. Mexican troops have continued to arrive in town and encampment, and now they number more than 5000 strong while we are at 182*. I don’t understand why they stopped the cannon fire, as they breached the walls these last two days.

At first the quiet was a relief but after a few hours, the silence is worse than the constant cannon fire. With the dark we can only wonder what is going on in the Mexican camp.

Travis sent several men outside the walls posted as look outs. If the enemy is preparing an attack, our men can sound the alarm before the walls are reached.

Victory or Death!

A.J. Williams

*the exact number isn’t known, but most scholars number the men between 180 and 185.

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From the Alamo—Bonham arrives with news

March 3, 1836—Thursday

Cold and clear this morning. Bonham slipped into today with another message from Col. Fannin. The short message, "They ain’t coming" sent shudders through the group gathered to hear the news.

Never discouraged, Travis wrote another letter, but this time to Houston and the Council gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Surely they will rally to our aid.

Time is running out and Santa Anna will soon attack, but we can hold out for a while longer.

A.J. Williams

 

[editor’s note: This is Travis’s last known letter from the Alamo]

Col. Fannin is said to be on the march to this place with reinforcements, but I fear it is not true, as I have repeatedly sent to him for aid without receiving any … I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms, I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor and desperate courage, heretofore exhibited by my men, will not fail them in the last struggle; and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse for him than defeat.
I hope your honorable body will hasten reinforcements, ammunition, and provisions to our aid as soon as possible. We have provisions for twenty days for the men we have. Our supply of ammunition is limited … God and Texas. Victory or Death.

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From the Alamo—Increased cannon fire

March 2, 1836—Wednesday

The Mexicans have increased cannon bombardment to the walls if that is possible, and I don’t see how they keep standing with all they’ve taken. Don’t know if this means an attack is soon, or if Santa Anna knows we took in men yesterday and he’s sending a welcome. Either way, the damage to the walls is great and we are constantly working to shore them up.

A.J. Williams

[editors note: Unknown to the men in the Alamo, the signing of Texas Declaration of Independence took place on March 2, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos.]

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From the Alamo—Gonzales Volunteers arrive

March 1, 1836—Tuesday

Excitement was high today. Lt. Kimball arrived with reinforcements. 32 men is not as much as we’d hoped for, but the Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers will give us some relief and we’re glad to have them.

The excitement began in the middle of the night when a rifle shot brought us sentries to alert. That was followed by a bunch of shouting from outside the walls and I saw the gates swing open and shut fast. I knew that no one had gone out, so this was something else. The disappointment must have showed on our faces as we realized there were so few men, but they were welcomed like long-lost brothers even as Doc tended to Kimball’s man wounded from the rifle shot. 

As morning broke, we gathered around for news from outside our barricade of Mexican army.

They left Gonzales 22 men strong last Saturday, picking up 10 more on the way. They arrived after dark last night, and were much taken by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of campfires. The big storm gave cover as they worked their way around guards and sleeping men for most of the night, finally getting up close after midnight. When they moved along the walls, that’s when one got shot.

Crockett, always looking for a chance to have fun, broke out his fiddle again and even John McGregor joined with his bagpipes.

So far, I’ve met Lt. Geo. Kimball, Johnnie Kellogg, John W. Smith, Isaac Millsaps, and Wm. P. King—the rest I’ll meet later. 18 of these men held out for days in Gonzales, against hundreds of dragoons—until help arrived, and now they have come to stand with us. Brave or crazy … I’m sure glad they’re here.

A.J. Williams

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From the Alamo—I’m ready

February 29, 1836—Monday

I’ve done all I can do for what’s coming. I’ve cleaned my guns and my powder’s dry and ready. I sharpened my knife and shaved this morning. If I could get some sleep now. Rest is hard to come by with those blasted cannon hitting the walls day and night. It never stops.

Looks like rain again, off to the south.

A.J. Williams

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From the Alamo—My dear Samantha,

February 28, 1836—Sunday

My dear Samantha,
We are surrounded by thousands of Mexican troops commanded by Santa Anna. They have bombarded our walls for five days straight, not even stopping at night. There is no rest and sleep is not possible. We’re anxious about what is to come. The mission compound is large, but I don’t like being penned in here. Yet our walls keep us safe for now.

We are hopeful that reinforcements will arrive soon, and the watch are ever vigilant. Travis has written several times to Houston and Fannin, but none have arrived. Our ranks are thin, and not enough men to cover the walls if the Mexicans decide to attack. We are standing our posts without relief now. The cold and rain are taking their toll, making it almost unbearable.

Our advantage lies with men like Bowie and Crockett. Yes, even Col. Travis. I know I haven’t been kind about him, but he is a fighter. I wasn’t sure because of his young age, but he has proved himself worthy.

If God wills, I will see you soon.

Love A.J.