Monday, September 8, 2014

Into the Valley of Death: Texas's Immortal 32

By Kathleen Rice Adams

Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World—

Fellow Citizens & compatriots—

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat.  Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.

William Barrett Travis.
Lt.  Col. comdt.

The Alamo, 1854
At dawn on March 1, 1836, the only reinforcements to respond to Travis’s urgent appeal fought their way into the Alamo. The Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers, a hastily organized cadre of boys and men ages 16 to 54, forged through a line of 4,000 to 6,000 Mexican soldados, dodging fire from their compatriots atop the mission’s walls.

All but three of the rangers rode into history as the Immortal 32.

The story started months earlier in Gonzales, a settlement in DeWitt’s Colony, one of the original empresario land grants in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. Established in 1825, Gonzales became known as “the Lexington of Texas” when the first shot in the Texas Revolution was fired there Oct. 2, 1835. The Battle of Gonzales began over a cannon the Mexican government had given the Texians in 1831 so they could protect themselves from frequent Indian attacks. In September 1835, as disputes between the Texians and the Mexican government heated up, the governor of Coahuila y Tejas sent 100 Mexican soldiers to retrieve the cannon.

The men of Gonzales — all eighteen of them — refused to give up the artillery. Defiant to the core, they told the soldados to “come and take it.” The Mexicans tried, the men of Gonzales — later known as the Old Eighteen — held their ground until reinforcements arrived, and the resulting skirmish went to the Texians.

The Mexican Army did not take the defeat well.

This cannon, displayed at the Gonzales Memorial Museum,
may be the disputed artillery. (courtesy Larry D. Moore)
Four months later, when Travis, already besieged, sent his final appeal, the men of Gonzales and the surrounding area felt honor-bound to go to the defense of the Alamo defenders. Twenty-five men left Gonzales on the evening of Feb. 27. More joined the group as it traveled. When they reached San Antonio de Béxar, they spent two days trying to figure a way past the sea of Mexican troops. At 3 a.m. on March 1 — knowing their chances of survival were slim — the rangers made a mad dash for the mission gates, braving the fire of Mexican soldiers and Alamo sentries who mistook them for enemy combatants.

The Immortal 32 fell with the Alamo on March 6, never to see the wild land for which they died become an independent republic. They composed about 20 percent of the Anglo casualties. Mexican troops burned the bodies of all the Alamo defenders, whom they considered traitors.

A crypt in the San Fernando Cathedral purports to hold the
ashes of the Alamo defenders. Historians believe it is
more likely the ashes were buried near the Alamo.
The majority of the Immortal 32 were husbands, fathers, and landowners. Five had been among the Old Eighteen, and one was the younger brother of an Old Eighteen member.

The Immortal 32

Isaac G. Baker, 21
John Cain, 34
George Washington “Wash” Cottle, 25 (brother of an Old Eighteen member)
David P. Cummins, 27
Jacob C. Darst, 42 (Old Eighteen)
John Davis
Squire Daymon, 28
William Dearduff, 25
Charles Despallier, 24
Almaron Dickinson (Old Eighteen)
William Fishbaugh
John Flanders, 36
Dolphin Ward Floyd, 32
Galba Fuqua, 16
John E. Garvin, about 40
John E. Gaston, 17
James George, 34
Thomas Jackson (Old Eighteen)
John Benjamin Kellogg II, 19
Andrew Kent, 44
George C. Kimble, 33
William Philip King, 16
Jonathan L. Lindley, 22
Albert Martin, 28 (Old Eighteen)
Jesse McCoy, 32
Thomas R. Miller, 40 (Old Eighteen)
Isaac Millsaps, 41
George Neggan, 28
William E. Summers, 24
George W. Tumlinson, 22
Robert White, 30
Claiborne Wright, 26

Three men who rode into the Alamo with the Immortal 32 survived because they were sent out March 3 as couriers or foragers. All three were attempting to return to the Alamo when it fell.

Byrd Lockhart, 54, later served in the Texas army.
John William Smith, 44, became the first mayor of San Antonio.
Andrew Jackson Sowell, 21, became a Texas Ranger.

A monument in the Alamo Shrine commemorates the valor of the Immortal 32, as does an entire cemetery in Gonzales's Pioneer Village.

A stone memorial on the Alamo grounds honors
the Immortal 32. (courtesty TheConduqtor)


  1. Kathleen, what a beautiful, heart-breaking post. You can't help but honor such bravery. What was the makeup of these men, what drove them and their families? These are the stories that make the myth of the West and Westward expansion so powerful. Thank you for sharing their story. Doris

    1. You're welcome, Doris, and I agree about the tale being heartbreaking. With stories like these in our history, it's no wonder Texans are a bit brash. ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by, sweetie!

  2. Wow, Tex, what an great post. There's so much pride, bravery, loyalty and honor displayed by the gallant members of the Immortal 32, and like all at the Alamo what a tragic loss. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Texas's tales are always big and heroic, Rustler. But yeah, these men really stood out, even among Texans.

      One of the things that keeps the legend of the Alamo alive, at least for Texans, is that without the atrocities that occurred there and at Goliad, Texas may never have been.

      Thanks for stopping by, Wyomingite...I think. ;-)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks, Savanna! Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  4. Kathleen,

    Marvelous article, marvelous research!


  5. Thank you, Charlie! Every time someone mentions research, I think about your novel WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE FORTY-NINERS. Now that was impressive research -- a little stomach-turning in spots, but impressive. :-D

    One of the thinks I learned from that book -- in addition to how to skin buffalo, which is a skill everyone should possess ;-) -- is how that era must have smelled. I don't think I'll ever forget how you wove that info into the story. I learned quite a bit from that book, but two things stand out: it must have been terribly "fragrant" back then, and olfactory info, done well, can add a lot to fiction. :-)

    HUGS, darlin'!

  6. Thanks for such a well-written and in-depth retrospect about such a key historical event, Kathleen. Well done.

  7. Thank you for the kind words, Tom. As a transplant to Texas, you need to know these things. ;-)

  8. Great post, Kathleen. Thanks for writing it.

    1. Thanks for reading it, Keith! You're a doll. HUGS!!!!

  9. As for Charles Despallier, a recent study proves he was not 24 but not even 21 years old when he died at the Alamo. He was sent as courier from the already besieged Alamo and had the bravery to return with the 32 men from Gonzales.
    If you want to read his story (non-fiction book) and his family history (1610-1914) just google "From Martin to Despallier - The Story of a French Colonial Family".

    1. Wow. How wonderful that there's a book about that family. Are you the author? Give us a clue, Anonymous. :-)

      Whether or not you're the book's author, thanks for letting us know about this. I love it when folks have more information about a historical event than I do and are kind enough to share their research in a polite way, as you did. You have my gratitude, sir or madam. :-)

  10. Terrific post, Kathleen! To bring in a question on fiction, what are the best (say top five) novel not just about the Alamo, but the 32?

    1. Oh lord, Rich. You are asking the wrong person. Off the top of my head, I can't name ANY fiction specifically about the Immortal 32. Maybe someone needs to write that book. ;-)

  11. So much is written about the Alamo, and so much still needs to be written. Thanks for a terrific post, Kathleen.