For well over 150 years, popular culture has placed the 1824 Flag flying from the walls of the Alamo during those fateful thirteen days when a handful of determined men stood before the might of the Mexican army and shouted "Liberty or Death." The idea that the defenders of the Alamo flew the 1824 Flag is rooted solely in the belief that the defenders were fighting for the restoration of the Mexican Constitution of 1824. That belief and all conjecture that flows from it, are unfounded. Indeed, the idea that the defenders would have considered flying the 1824 Flag from the walls of their fortress is, at the very least, farfetched and, at the most, demeaning to their cause and their memory.
There is no empirical evidence to prove that the green, white and red tricolor with the black numerals 1824 supplanting the central Mexican eagle was ever used at the Alamo. The flag was not captured and preserved by the victors nor recorded in the military accounts of the day. The few people who survived the battle were never asked about the flags the Texians flew. Those citizens of Béxar who were asked about the subject were questioned some seventy years after the fact and gave answers that are open to very broad interpretations. That leaves only the desire to restore the Mexican Constitution of 1824 to bear the full weight of evidence for the idea that the Alamo defenders would fly the 1824 Flag.
While there were many colonists who, at the outset of hostilities in 1835, were fighting for restoration, the number of these colonists soon began to decline. The polarization of the Texian fighters into two distinct parties, those for constitutional restoration and those for independence, reached its peak in December, 1835. Two leaders of the constitutional restoration faction, F.W. Johnson and Dr. James Grant, left the Alamo in early January of 1836, in an abortive attempt to conquer Matamoros and link up with other Mexican Federalist supporters of the Constitution of 1824. When Johnson and Grant left the Alamo they took with them over 200 men and almost all of the Alamo supplies. It is reasonable to assume that the volunteers favoring restoration of the constitution went with them. In all the letters, reports, and notes which were written by the men who gave their lives at the Alamo, I have not found a single instance of support for or interest in restoring the Mexican Constitution of 1824. It is reasonable to deduce that any of the men who might have written such sentiments were on their way to Matamoros with Grant and Johnson.
It is clear by their writings that the men who stayed in Béxar to defend the Alamo wanted no part in restoring the Mexican Constitution. From the very start, they had joined the volunteer army to fight for Texas Independence and they were frustrated with the provisional government of Texas for its temerity in declaring it. I think it best to let the men who died defending the Alamo express their own sentiments. The following are excerpts from their letters:
In addition to these letters, I found that at least four of the Alamo defenders - Charles Despallier, Christopher Parker, Isaac Robinson and David Wilson - signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence on December 20, 1835. A fifth defender, Jerry Day, was the son of one of the Goliad Declaration of Independence signers, Jeremiah Day. The Alamo was filled with men who, far from supporting the Constitution of 1824, were committed to the cause of Texas Independence and willing to sacrifice their lives to that end. Out of more than 180 Alamo defenders we have solid evidence from thirteen of them showing their determination in gaining independence. We have no evidence expressing the desire for reconciliation. Indeed, the letters of Amos Pollard and G.B. Jameson would lead us to believe that anyone even proposing reconciliation with Mexico would have been in grave physical danger.
The evidence is clear. To the men within the Alamo walls, the only thing worth sacrificing their lives for was the total and absolute independence of Texas.
There is one source that is cited repeatedly by those who wish to perpetuate the myth of the 1824 Flag and which must be dealt with. This source has been referred to and quoted to such an extent that it must be considered one of the most important elements in the longevity of that myth. The source I refer to is one of the earliest and best Alamo historians, Reuben Marmaduke Potter.
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, R.M. Potter did extensive research on Santa Anna's Texas Campaign and the Battle of the Alamo. He interviewed many Texas veterans and, while living in Matamoros, interviewed several of the Mexican soldiers who took part in the campaign. He wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on the subject and is considered by many to be the first true historian of the Texas Revolution, and rightly so.
In 1860, Potter wrote and published a pamphlet entitled "The Fall of the Alamo, A Reminiscence of the Revolution in Texas". In 1878, Potter rewrote the pamphlet in the form of an article for the Magazine of American History. In the original pamphlet Potter wrote, as a footnote, "It is a fact not often remembered, that Travis and his men died under the Mexican Federal flag of 1824, instead of the 'Lone Star', although the Independence of Texas, unknown to them, had been declared four days before. They died for a Republic whose existence they never knew". Later, in the magazine article, he included the thought in the body of the article by writing "It is a fact not often remembered that Travis and his band fell under the Mexican Federal flag of 1824, instead of the Lone Star of Texas, although Independence, unknown to them, had been declared by the new Convention four days before at Washington, on the Brazos."
Potter was an excellent historian and he knew that the "Mexican Federal Flag of 1824" was the Mexican tri-color with the eagle-snake-cactus motif adopted by Mexico with the 1824 Constitution. As we have seen, the defenders would have never flown the Mexican Federal Flag. He also knew that the Lone Star Flag of Texas was not adopted by the Republic until January 25, 1839. The Alamo defenders could not have possibly flown the Lone Star Flag, as the Battle of the Alamo took place over two years before the adoption of the flag.
The only reasonable explanation of Potter's remarks is that he was using the flags as metaphors for the countries involved and they were never meant to be taken in a literal sense. He was saying that Travis and his men did not know that Independence had been declared and, in their eyes, they died while still under the authority of the Republic of Mexico, not the Republic of Texas. He never said, nor meant to say, that the 1824 Flag flew from the Alamo walls.
In the majority of the accounts where writers cite the 1824 Flag as being flown over the Alamo, R.M. Potter's quote is the root source of their information. Somewhere along the line, someone misinterpreted Potter's metaphor and, as they say, "The rest is History."
There will always be those staunch defenders of myth who will argue that it is possible the men of the Alamo used the 1824 Flag and with them I must agree. There is, and always will be, the slim possibility that they did use the flag. There is also the possibility a pair of lady's bloomers flew over the Alamo, but I seriously doubt it. We do, however, have equal evidence for both possibilities: that being no evidence at all. In studying history we must be concerned less with possibilities than with probabilities. Is it probable the Alamo defenders flew the 1824 tri-color? The evidence says "No" to a virtual certainty.
The myth and legend of the Alamo is a creation story. In Texas, it
our first chapter of Genesis, our Popol Vuh. It is the mythic story of
and demons from which we, as a culture, were born. Wouldn't it be
to be able to incorporate the reality of history with the myth? The
is that the defenders of the Alamo never liked, wanted nor cared for
Mexican Constitution of 1824. The men defending the Alamo were fighting
one thing only: the Independence of Texas. The reality is that the 1824
has a valid place in Texas history but not as a flag of reconciliation
flew over the Alamo. By acknowledging these facts we not only correct a
standing error, we move the myth to a higher, more sacred level.
Chariton, Wallace O., Exploring the Alamo Legends. Plano: Wordware Publishing, Inc. 1992.
Gammel, Hans Peter Nielson, compiler, The Laws of Texas, 1822-1897 . 10 vols. Austin: Gammel Book Co. , 1898.
Gulick, Charles A., Jr., ed., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar . 3 vols. Austin: Texas State Library, 1930.
Historia y Leyenda del Escudo y la Bandera de Mexico, Dirrecion General de Asuntos Culturales, Tamaulipas, 1982.
Jenkins, John H.,ed. The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 . 10 vols. Austin: Presidial Press, 1973.
Johnson, Frank W., A History of Texas and Texans. 5 vols. Edited by Eugene C. Barker. Chicago and New York: American Historical Association, 1914.
Potter, Reuben Marmaduke, The Fall of the Alamo, A Reminiscence of the Revolution of Texas. San Antonio, 1860.
Potter, Reuben Marmaduke, The Fall of the Alamo, A Reminiscence of the Revolution of Texas. Edited by Charles Grosvenor. Hillsdale, N.J.: Otterden Press, 1977
Walraven, Bill and Marjorie K., The Magnificent Barbarians.
Eakin Press, 1993.
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