“The Phantom of the Alamo”


            A native Texan, the informant told me that all schoolchildren in San Antonio, Texas are intimately familiar with the story and history behind the Alamo, and she briefly explained that the Alamo Mission was the site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo between Texas and advancing Mexican troops. While the informant understands that the Alamo has now become a historical museum and San Antonio’s primary tourist attraction, the history of the Alamo represents something much deeper for her because she has grown up in the area. She explained that residents of San Antonio are fiercely proud of the Alamo monument and the story behind it (all the Texan defenders were killed whilst protecting it), which is perhaps why several legend-like narratives have been spun from it. She feels that, as a resident of San Antonio, she has a duty to be proud and loving of her city to validate the Texan’s selflessness and sacrifice in protecting the Mission. The informant has also performed theatrical renditions of the story at various summer camps in Texas. While the informant told the story, she wore a small pendant of the Alamo around her neck.


            When you’re in San Antonio, which is where the Alamo is, you’re raised on the Alamo. The first time we had Texas history was in fourth grade, so that’s when you, kind of, like, really start to learn about the Alamo, but the myths just, kind of, come along with it. When I worked at the summer camp, we even put on this play called The Phantom of the Alamo, which spurns off an Alamo ghost story that’s created in a Phantom of the Opera style, but it’s a story that everyone is familiar with.

            I don’t know if you knew this, but there actually only about four Texans that fought at the Alamo―everybody else was just from the Union who came to help. Sorry, this story just needs some historical background. The Battle of the Alamo lasted thirteen days. The main people in charge of the Alamo were William B. Travis, Jim Bowie, and Davy Crockett. None of them were from Texas, but they were helping out Sam Houston’s cause and they needed to hold the Alamo long enough for Sam Houston to gather an army. They didn’t know they would die―they hoped they would live―but they knew it was a very distinct possibility. So, there were thirteen days, this Battle of the Alamo. They’re outnumbered. . .4,000 Mexican troops and 150 people at the Alamo. So, on day twelve, they know no more help is coming. The help that was supposed to come got held up, like, no one’s coming. The Mexicans have almost closed in on them, so William Barret Travis draws a line in the sand―and this part is great because people never know where it comes from―so he draws a line in the sand, and he says, “Men. . .we probably won’t survive another twenty-four hours, so if you wanna to leave, I understand. But if you wanna stay, and if you wanna die for this cause, and you wanna go down fighting, step over this line.” And so Davy Crockett steps over the line. Jim Bowie, who’s sick on his deathbed from an injury, is on his stretcher and he tells his men to carry him over the line. One by one, 149 Texans cross the line. . . and there’s one man that doesn’t. This one man looks around and he decides it’s not his time to die. So William Barret Travis is, like, “Fine, you can leave the Alamo.” And so he leaves, and he’s the only one that leaves, but as he leaves he can hear the sounds of everyone he left dying because they’re all dying behind him.

            The story goes that this one man―and history says it’s not clear but as a Texan, I believe that this man actually did leave the Alamo―ran into an old woman on his way back. She was a witch and said that it was his job to protect the Alamo from falling into wrong hands ever again because he abandoned all his men. And he didn’t believe her! But as he was running away from this woman, who essentially cursed him, he fell into a river and he drowned. From that point on, it’s said that he walks around in the Alamo when you’re coming to visit or any time the Alamo is in danger since his curse is to protect it. So the play Phantom of the Alamo takes that story and turns it into a musical. Basically, in the feature the Alamo has been turned into a theme park and it’s up to this guy who died fleeing the Alamo to restore the Alamo to its former glory. So if you go to the Alamo it’s said that you can feel him lingering around and making sure you don’t disturb anything.


            Highly engaging and dramatic, the informant’s performance of the Alamo legend made it easy for me to imagine the story, as well as its corollary Phantom of the Alamo, performed on a stage. Oftentimes, she recounted parts of the narrative with her eyes closed, as if she were recalling a memory or, in this case, imagining the scene in her head. The informant’s comfort level with the performance led me to believe that she had not only heard and performed it countless times herself―the lack of hesitance or doubt in her voice during her retelling (the pauses were for dramatic effect) made this clear. Moreover her facial expressions were natural and followed the narrative’s plot; the gesticulated wildly with her hands as she described the sickly Jim Bowie who mustered the fortitude to cross the line while on his deathbed. Evidently,  for the informant, the Alamo represents far more than the museum and monument that it is today, and her pride and spirit emerged during the more climactic moments in the story.

            Furthermore, the legend is versatile, perhaps because the story―though embellished―is grounded in history, obscuring the lines of authorship. For example, the haunting end of the man who fled the Alamo only to be cursed lends itself to a nighttime ghost story setting. And although the informant acknowledged the factual events of the Alamo that she and her peers learned in history class, she wholeheartedly admitted that this more fanciful legend is the one they tell when those unfamiliar with the Alamo ask about it. The truth value of “the line in the sand” is irrelevant because, as the informant admitted herself, “as a Texan” she believes in even the more myth-like elements of the legend. Lastly, among Americans, Texans are labeled as proud (the stereotype is that they are obnoxiously so) and this legend clearly utilizes those elements, as the men fight to defend their fatherland knowing that death is imminent. Whether these elements were exaggerated because of the stereotype, or whether the stereotype emerged from legends like that of the Alamo, however, is unclear.