they paid attention in Texas history class, hundreds of thousands
of male-born Baby Boomers remember two Alamos – the old
mission in downtown San
Antonio and their very own Alamo, the one they played with in
Nearly 60 years later, I can’t recall with clarity to what extent
I had an awareness of the Alamo
prior to the release in 1954 of Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett at
the Alamo,” but from that point on, that battle was part of my childhood.
How bizarre, looking at it logically from a distance, that a bloody
massacre on a cold Sunday morning in March 1836 would become a source
of pleasure for a generation of American boys. Not only did the
Disney film give rise to tin and plastic Alamo playsets, one of
which I counted among my more prized possessions, the Disney empire
made lots of money on many other Crockett-related toys, from an
Old Betsy toy rifle and coonskin caps to tin lunch boxes.
I don’t remember whether I got it for Christmas, my birthday or
just because I had loving parents, but at some point in 1955, I
was given one of those toy Alamo sets. And I felt that my life was
Produced by the Marx Toy Co., the set (which retailed for about
$6 and is now worth $400 or more as a collectible) included a tin
Alamo chapel, tin walls and plastic soldiers – Mexicans cast in
blue, the Texians in brown.
“Don’t cut yourself on that tin,” my grandmother warned whenever
I started putting the set together for yet another small-scale reenactment
of the battle. “You’ll get lockjaw!”
“What’s lockjaw?” I asked the first time she ever said that.
“You get it if you get cut by tin,” grandmother cautioned.
Fortunately, I never contracted tetanus, aka lockjaw, from playing
with my Alamo set. (Just ask all my teachers who called me out for
talking in class.)
One of the first things I remember about my Alamo, other than the
tin chapel with its iconic center hump that never existed at the
time of the battle, is that I used it to change history. How could
the Texans have staved off Santa Anna’s troops I used to wonder?
Duh! All they would have needed were machine guns and hand grenades.
So, altering the course of history on the hardwood floors of our
suburban Austin home,
I dispatched to the Alamo a contingent of modern-day plastic GIs
with their superior armament from another Marx playset I owned.
The Texans thus reinforced, Davy Crockett lived to grin raccoons
out of trees and fiddle once again, bereaved widower James Bowie
recovered his health, quit drinking and remarried and William B.
Travis gave up his womanizing and went on to become a prominent
Five years after Disney had made Crockett and the place of his violent
demise household words, the Alamo again became a happy part of my
young life. When I saw the first previews for John Wayne’s 1960
movie version of the Alamo, I could hardly wait to see that film.
Of course, even with Wayne playing Crockett, the outcome was the
same. The garrison fell, and to a man all were slain. The sets,
costumes, stunts and pyrotechnics were just better than Disney’s
By the time the movie came out, a worldly sixth grader at Austin’s
T.A. Brown Elementary, I don’t think I still had my original Alamo
playset. So I built my own.
Using scrap wood, I fashioned a set of forms under a big pecan tree
in my back yard. Then I mixed mud and broom straw to make adobe.
That done, I poured the brownish concoction into the forms and let
the sun dry them out. Once I removed the wood, I had the walls of
a miniature Alamo.
Once again, with my friends and me acting as snipers with our BB
guns, not to mention the added firepower of miniature cannons made
from empty rifle shell casings and charged with Blackcat firecrackers
and ball bearings, the Texans survived the siege.
Alas, I no longer play with toy Alamo sets or build my own. But
I still remember my Alamos, as well as what I’ve learned over the
years about the actual Alamo, the siege that occurred there and
the events that led to it.
year, I took a little girl and her decidedly youthful grandmother
State Park. On the way, I tried to tell that fourth grader the
story of Texas’s violent quest for independence.
But I couldn’t tell her the story I grew up with, that the Mexicans
were brutal tyrants who gave no quarter at the Alamo
The truth, I had finally come to understand, is that both sides
were doing what they thought was right. Texans, Tejanos and Mexicans
alike died bravely.
Some of the Texans wanted independence, others were just along for
the adventure or the possibility of getting free land. They believed
they were doing a noble thing and hundreds of them died in the process.
In the end, they prevailed and we have the Texas that we have today.
On the other hand, merciless as he was, Santa Anna did the right
thing from his country’s perspective. One of its provinces was in
open rebellion. Mexico’s national government did not want to lose
Texas and used force to try to prevent it. Only 25 years later,
the Civil War would be fought over essentially the same issue.
What I hope
young Alexandria Marcoux and her fellow students will come to understand
is that the Alamo,
and other pivotal events of the past, were not always as we remember
© Mike Cox
March 12, 2015 column
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