Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
SAN ANTONIO — The Alamo-or “Mission San Antonio de Valero” to the Spanish-is quiet and peaceful today, but it will always be remembered for a bloody battle in 1836 with which most everybody is familiar.
On trips to San Antonio, I usually take time to browse around the old mission and try to imagine what it must have been like for a gallant band of nearly 200 defenders who believed they could hold off Santa Anna’s Army of 5,000 soldiers. Among those believers was one Bill Malone, a native of Athens.
As I retraced old steps inside the mission, I looked up the names of those who gave their lives to the cause. In addition to Bill Malone, there were three other Georgians who died at the Alamo-Elie Melton, Manson Shied, and William Wells. A small flyer lists all those who became casualties and the sates from which they hailed. They came from places like Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Louisiana, and Texas, naturally. Several were from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Young men seeking adventure, perhaps.
I stood outside under a mesquite tree and watched people scurry about in downtown San Antonio and reflected on the story of the Alamo, which was the focal point of the Texas Revolution. The defenders-which included Davy Crockett, a frontiersman who once was a Congressman from Tennessee-held out for 13 days, with the final assault coming on March 6, 1836. Old news to many, perhaps, but intriguing nonetheless to a visitor.
When Santa Anna’s army staged a predawn attack, charging the Alamo, the gallant defenders, believe it or not, beat back several attacks. Finally the regrouping Mexicans scaled the walls and initiated death and destruction to one and all-including Crockett, Jim Bowie (inventor of the Bowie knife), the commander of the Alamo, and William B. Travis, who drew a line on the ground and asked if those inside the walls would cross over the line and fight to death to defend the Alamo. Sickly and bedridden, Travis asked that his cot be dragged across the line.
For more about Bill Malone, the Athenian who crossed the line, I sought out Stan Henderson of Athens, who is an expert on the young hooligan who Stan says was a “teenage drinker and a brawler.” This was not what his Baptist father, a farmer, had in mind for his son. “One night,” Stan says, “Bill got into a downtown fight, and the little finger of his right hand was bitten off.”
Knowing the circumstances would not set well with his parents, Malone lit out to seek his fortune in New Orleans. His father, whose farm was located in the vicinity of Beechwood Shopping Center, went looking for Bill, but by the time he got to New Orleans, his recalcitrant son had hired on with a ship, headed to Texas. His last stop would be the Alamo.
Nobody knows Malone’s final thoughts, but likely he was thinking that life down on the farm would not have been so bad after all. Knowing about Bill Malone made the most recent visit to the Alamo more illuminating.
“People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds-a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom,” the Daughters of the Republic of Texas proudly say. “For this reason, the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.”
This prompted a toast to the men whose names are listed in memory of that fateful day in 1836. “Remember the Alamo,” I said aloud at a nearby restaurant and raised my glass in tribute to nine-and-one-half fingered Bill Malone.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.