Posts Tagged With: Davy Crockett

The Fall Of The Alamo by Captain R. M. Potter…1860

The Fall Of The Alamo
Captain R. M. Potter

The fall of the Alamo and the massacre of its garrison, which in 1836 opened the campaign of Santa Ana in Texas, caused a profound sensation throughout the United States, and is still remembered with deep feeling by all who take an interest in the history of that section; yet the details of the final assault have never been fully and correctly narrated, and wild exaggerations have taken their place in popular legend. The reason will be obvious when it is remembered that not a single combatant of the last struggle from within the fort survived to tell the tale, while the official reports of the enemy were neither circumstantial nor reliable. When horror is intensified by mystery, the sure product is romance.

A trustworthy account of the assault could be compiled only by comparing and combining the verbal narratives of such of the assailants as could be relied on for veracity, and adding to this such lights as might be gathered from military documents of that period, from credible local information, and from any source more to be trusted than rumor. As I was a resident at Matamoros when the event occurred, and for several months after the invading army retreated thither, and afterwards resided near the scene of action, I had opportunities for obtaining the kind of information referred to better perhaps than have been possessed by any person now living outside of Mexico….

Before beginning the narrative, however, I must describe the Alamo and its surroundings as they existed in the spring of 1836. San Antonio, then a town of about 7,000 inhabitants, had a Mexican population, a minority of which was well affected to the cause of Texas, while the rest were inclined to make the easiest terms they could with whichever side might be for the time being dominant. The San Antonio River, which, properly speaking, is a large rivulet, divided the town from the Alamo, the former on the west side and the latter on the east. The Alamo village, a small suburb of San Antonio, was south of the fort, or Mission, as it was originally called, which bore the same name. The latter was an old fabric, built during the first settlement of the vicinity by the Spaniards; and having been originally designed as a place of safety for the colonists and their property in case of Indian hostility, with room sufficient for that purpose, it had neither the strength, compactness, nor dominant points which ought to belong to a regular fortification. The front of the Alamo Chapel bears date of 1757, but the other works must have been built earlier. As the whole area contained between two and three acres, a thousand men would have barely sufficed to man its defenses; and before a regular siege train they would soon have crumbled. Yoakum, in his history of Texas, is not only astray in his details of the assault, but mistaken about the measurement of the place. Had the works covered no more ground than he represents, the result of the assault might have been different.

Thus the works were mounted with fourteen guns, which agrees with Yoakum’s account of their number, though Santa Ana in his report exaggerates it to twenty-one. The number, however, has little bearing on the merits of the final defense, with which cannon had very little to do. These guns were in the hands of men unskilled in their use, and owing to the construction of the works most of them had little width of range. Of the buildings above described, the chapel and the two barracks are probably still standing. They were repaired and newly roofed during the Mexican war for the use of the United States Quartermaster’s department.

In the winter of 1835-6 Colonel Neill, of Texas, was in command of San Antonio, with two companies of volunteers, among whom was a remnant of New Orleans Greys, who had taken an efficient part in the siege and capture of the town about a year before. At this time the Provisional Government of Texas, which, though in revolt, had not yet declared a final separation from Mexico, had broken into a conflicting duality. The Governor and Council repudiated each other, and each claimed the obedience which was generally not given to either. Invasion was impending, and there seemed to be little more than anarchy to meet it.

During this state of affairs Lieutenant-Colonel Wm. B. Travis, who had commanded the scouting service of the late campaign, and had since been commissioned with the aforesaid rank as an officer of regular cavalry, was assigned by the Governor to relieve Colonel Neill of the command of his post. The volunteers, who cared little for either of the two governments, wished to choose their own leader, and were willing to accept Travis only as second in command. They were, therefore, clamorous that Neill should issue an order for the election of a Colonel.

To get over the matter without interfering with Travis’ right, he prepared an order for the election of a Lieutenant-Colonel, and was about to depart, when his men, finding out what he had done, mobbed him, and threatened his life unless he should comply with their wishes. He felt constrained to yield, and on the amended order James Bowie was unanimously elected a full Colonel. He had been for several years a resident of Texas, and had taken a prominent part in the late campaign against Cos. His election occurred early in February, 1836, about two weeks before the enemy came in sight; and Travis, who had just arrived or came soon after, found Bowie in command of the garrison, and claiming by virtue of the aforesaid election the right to command him and the reinforcement he brought. They both had their headquarters at the Alamo, where their men were quartered, and there must have been a tacit understanding on both sides that conflict of authority should as far as possible be avoided. This, however, could not have continued many days but for the common bond of approaching peril.

Travis brought with him a company of regular recruits, enlisted for the half regiment of cavalry which the Provisional Government had intended to raise. J. N. Seguin, a native of San Antonio who had been commissioned as the senior Captain of Travis’ corps, joined him at the Alamo and brought into the garrison the skeleton of his company, consisting of nine Mexican recruits, natives, some of the town aforesaid and others of the interior of Mexico. The aforesaid company and squad of enlisted men and the two companies of volunteers under Bowie formed the garrison of the Alamo, which then numbered from a hundred and fifty-six to a hundred and sixty. Of these the volunteers comprised considerably more than half, and over two-thirds of the whole were men who had but recently arrived in the country. Seguin and his nine recruits were all that represented the Mexican population of Texas. Of that nine, seven fell in the assault, the Captain and two of his men having been sent out on duty before that crisis.

David Crocket, of Tennessee, who had a few years before represented a squatter constituency in Congress, where his oratory was distinguished for hard sense and rough grammar, had joined the garrison a few weeks before, as had also J. B. Bonham, Esq., of South Carolina, who had lately come to volunteer in the cause of Texas, and was considered one of the most chivalrous and estimable of its supporters. I pair them, a rough gem and a polished jewel, because their names are among the best known of those who fell; but I am not aware that either of them had any command.

The main army of operation against Texas moved from Laredo upon San Antonio in four successive detachments. This was rendered necessary by the scarcity of pasture and water on certain portions of the route. The lower division, commanded by Brigadier-General Urrea, moved from Matamoros on Goliad by a route near the coast, and a short time after the fall of the Alamo achieved the capture and massacre of Fannius command.

The advance from Laredo, consisting of the dragoon regiment of Dolores and three battalions of infantry, commanded by Santa Ana in person, arrived at San Antonio on the afternoon of February 22. No regular scouting service seems to have been kept up from the post of Bowie and Travis, owing probably to division and weakness of authority, for, though the enemy was expected, his immediate approach was not known to many of the inhabitants till the advance of his dragoons was seen descending the slope west of the San Pedro. A guard was kept in town with a sentinel on the top of the church, yet the surprise of the population was so nearly complete that one or more American residents engaged in trade fled to the Alamo, leaving their stores open. The garrison, however, received more timely notice, and the guard retired in good order to the fort.

The confusion at the Alamo, which for the time being was great, did not impede a prompt show of resistance. In the evening, soon after the enemy entered the town, a shot from the 18-pounder of the fort was answered by a shell from the invaders; and this was followed by a parley, of which different accounts have been given. According to Santa Ana’s official report, after the shell was thrown, a white flag was sent out by the garrison with an offer to evacuate the fort if allowed to retire unmolested and in arms, to which reply was made that no terms would be admitted short of an unconditional surrender. Seguin, however, gave me a more reliable version of the affair. He related that after the firing a parley was sounded and a white flag raised by the invaders. Travis was not inclined to respond to it; but Bowie, without consulting him, and much to his displeasure, sent a flag of truce to demand what the enemy wanted. Their General, with his usual duplicity, denied having sounded a parley or raised a flag, and informed the messenger that the garrison could be recognized only as rebels, and be allowed no other terms than a surrender at discretion. When informed of this, Travis harangued his men and administered to them an oath that they would resist to the last….

On the night of the 22d of February the enemy planted two batteries on the west side of the river, one bearing west and the other southwest from the Alamo, with a range which no houses then obstructed. They were the next day silenced by the fire of the 18-pounder of the fort, but were restored to activity on the following night. On the 24th another body of Mexican troops, a regiment of cavalry and three battalions of infantry arrived; and then the fort was invested and a regular siege commenced, which, counting from that day till the morning of the 6th of March, occupied eleven days. By the 27th seven more besieging batteries were planted, most of them on the east side of the river, and bearing on the northwest, southwest, and south of the fort; but there were none on the east. As that was the only direction in which the garrison would be likely to attempt retreat, Santa Ana wished to leave a temptation to such flitting, while he prepared to intercept it by forming his cavalry camp on what is now called the Powder House Hill, east of the Alamo….

The stern resistance which had sprung up in the demoralized band within, and the comparative unity and order which must have come with it, were ushered in by a scene which promised no such outcome. The first sight of the enemy created as much confusion with as little panic at the Alamo as might be expected among men who had known as little of discipline as they did of fear. Mr. Lewis, of San Antonio, informed me that he took refuge for a few hours in the fort when the invaders appeared, and the disorder of the post beggared description. Bowie with a detachment was engaged in breaking open deserted houses in the neighborhood and gathering corn, while another squad was driving cattle into the enclosure east of the long barrack. Some of the volunteers, who had sold their rifles to obtain the means of dissipation, were clamoring for guns of any kind; and the rest, though in arms, appeared to be mostly without orders or a capacity for obedience. No “army in Flanders” ever swore harder. He saw but one officer, who seemed to be at his proper post and perfectly collected. This was an Irish Captain named Ward, who, though generally an inveterate drunkard, was now sober, and stood quietly by the guns of the south battery, ready to use them. Yet amid the disorder of that hour no one seemed to think of flight; the first damaging shock, caused by the sight of the enemy, must have been cured by the first shell that he threw; and the threat conveyed by Santa Ana’s message seems to have inspired a greater amount of discipline than those men had before been thought capable of possessing. The sobered toper who stood coolly by his guns was the first pustule which foretold a speedy inoculation of the whole mass with that qualification.

The conflict of authority between Bowie and Travis, owing probably to the caution in which neither was deficient, had luckily produced no serious collision; and it was perhaps as fortunate that, at about the second day of the siege, the rivalry was cut short by a prostrating illness of the former, when Bowie was stricken by an attack of pneumonia, which would probably have proved fatal, had not its blow been anticipated by the sword. This left Travis in undisputed command….

On the following night, the 1st of March, a company of thirty-two men from Gonzales made its way through the enemy’s lines, and entered the Alamo never again to leave it. This must have raised the force to 188 men or thereabout, as none of the original number of 156 had fallen.

On the night of the 3d of March, Travis sent out another courier with a letter of that date to the government, which reached its destination. In that last dispatch he says: “With a hundred and forty-five men I have held this place ten days against a force variously estimated from 1,500 to 6,000, and I shall continue to hold it till I get relief from my countrymen, or I will perish in the attempt. We have had a shower of bombs and cannon-balls continually falling among us the whole time, yet none of us have fallen. We have been miraculously preserved.” As this was but two days and three nights before the final assault, it is quite possible that not a single defender was stricken down till the fort was stormed. At the first glance it may seem almost farcical that there should be no more result from so long a fire, which was never sluggish; but if so, this was a stage on which farce was coon to end in tragedy, and those two elements seem strangely mingled through the whole contest….

On the 4th of March Santa Ana called a council of war, and fixed on the morning of the 6th for the final assault. The besieging force now around the Alamo, comprising all the Mexican troops which had yet arrived, consisted of the two dragoon regiments of Dolores and Tampico, which formed a brigade, commanded by General Andrade, two companies or batteries of artillery under Colonel Ampudia, and six battalions of infantry, namely, Los Zapadores (engineer troops), Jimenes, Guerrero, Matamoros, Toluca, and Tres Villas. These six battalions of foot were to form the storming forces. The order for the attack, which I have read, but have no copy of, was full and precise in its details, and was signed by General Amador, as Chief of Staff. … Santa Ana took his station, with a part of his staff and all the bands of music, at a battery about five hundred yards south of the Alamo and near the old bridge, from which post a signal was to be given by a bugle-note for the columns to move simultaneously at double-quick time against the fort. One, consisting of Los Zapadores, Toluca, and the light companies, and commanded by Castrillon, was to rush through the breach on the north; another, consisting of the battalion of Jimenes and other troops, and commanded by General Cos, was to storm the chapel; and a third, whose leader I do not recollect, was to scale the west barrier. Cos, who had evacuated San Antonio a year before under capitulation, was assigned to the most difficult point of attack, probably to give him an opportunity to retrieve his standing. By the timing of the signal it was calculated that the columns would reach the foot of the wall just as it should become sufficiently light for good operation.

When the hour came, the south guns of the Alamo were answering the batteries which fronted them; but the music was silent till the blast of a bugle was followed by the rushing tramp of soldiers. The guns of the fort opened upon the moving masses, and Santa Ana’s bands struck up the assassin note of “deguello,” or no quarter. But a few and not very effective discharges of cannon from the works could be made before the enemy were under them, and it was probably not till then that the worn and wearied garrison was fully mustered. Castrillon’s column arrived first at the foot of the wall, but was not the first to enter.

The guns of the north, where Travis commanded in person, probably raked the breach, and this or the fire of the riflemen brought the column to a disordered halt, and Colonel Duque, who commanded the battalion of Toluca, fell dangerously wounded; but, while this was occurring, the column from the west crossed the barrier on that side by escalade at a point north of the center, and, as this checked resistance at the north, Castrillon shortly after passed the breach. It was probably while the enemy was thus pouring into the large area that Travis fell at his post, for his body, with a single shot in the forehead, was found beside the gun at the northwest angle. The outer walls and batteries, all except one gun, of which I will speak, were now abandoned by the defenders. In the meantime Cos had again proved unlucky. His column was repulsed from the chapel, and his troops fell back in disorder behind the old stone stable and huts that stood south of the southwest angle. There they were soon rallied and led into the large area by General Amador. I am not certain as to his point of entrance, but he probably followed the escalade of the column from the west.

This all passed within a few minutes after the bugle sounded. The garrison, when driven from the thinly manned outer defenses, whose early loss was inevitable, took refuge in the buildings before described, but mainly in the long barrack; and it was not till then, when they became more concentrated and covered within, that the main struggle began. They were more concentrated as to space, not as to unity of command; for there was no communicating between buildings, nor, in all cases, between rooms. There was little need of command, however, to men who had no choice left but to fall where they stood before the weight of numbers. There was now no retreating from point to point, and each group of defenders had to fight and die in the den where it was brought to bay. From the doors, windows, and loopholes of the several rooms around the area the crack of the rifle and the hiss of the bullet came fierce and fast; as fast the enemy fell and recoiled in his first efforts to charge. The gun beside which Travis fell was now turned against the buildings, as were also some others, and shot after shot was sent crashing through the doors and barricades of the several rooms. Each ball was followed by a storm of musketry and a charge; and thus room after room was carried at the point of the bayonet, when all within them died fighting to the last. The struggle was made up of a number of separate and desperate combats, often hand to hand, between squads of the garrison and bodies of the enemy. The bloodiest spot about the fort was the long barrack and the ground in front of it, where the enemy fell in heaps.

Before the action reached this stage, the turning of Travis’ gun by the assailants was briefly imitated by a group of the defenders. “A small piece on a high platform,” as it was described to me by General Bradburn, was wheeled by those who manned it against the large area after the enemy entered it. Some of the Mexican officers thought it did more execution than any gun which fired outward; but after two effective discharges it was silenced, when the last of its cannoneers fell under a shower of bullets. I cannot locate this gun with certainty, but it was probably the twelve-pound carronade which fired over the center of the west wall from a high commanding position. The smallness assigned to it perhaps referred only to its length. According to Mr. Ruiz, then the Alcalde of San Antonio, who, after the action, was required to point out the slain leaders to Santa Ana, the body of Crocket was found in the west battery just referred to; and we may infer that he either commanded that point or was stationed there as a sharpshooter. The common fate overtook Bowie in his bed in one of the rooms of the low barrack, when he probably had but a few days of life left in him; yet he had enough remaining, it is said, to shoot down with his pistols more than one of his assailants ere he was butchered on his couch. If he had sufficient strength and consciousness left to do it, we may safely assume that it was done.

The chapel, which was the last point taken, was carried by a “coup de main” after the fire of the other buildings was silenced. Once the enemy in possession of the large area, the guns of the south could be turned to fire into the door of the church, only from fifty to a hundred yards off, and that was probably the route of attack. The inmates of this last stronghold, like the rest, fought to the last, and continued to fire down from the upper works after the enemy occupied the floor. A Mexican officer told of seeing one of his soldiers shot in the crown of the head during this melee. Towards the close of the struggle Lieutenant Dickenson, with his child in his arms, or, as some accounts say, tied to his back, leaped from the east embrasure of the chapel, and both were shot in the act. Of those he left behind him, the bayonet soon gleaned what the bullet had left; and in the upper part of that edifice the last defender must have fallen. The morning breeze which received his parting breath probably still fanned his flag above that fabric, for I doubt not he fell ere it was pulled down by the victors.

The Alamo had fallen; but the impression it left on the invader was the forerunner of San Jacinto. 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. They died for a Republic of whose existence they never knew. The action, according to Santa Ana’s report, lasted thirty minutes. It was certainly short, and possibly no longer time passed between the moment the enemy entered the breach and that when resistance died out. The assault was a task which had to be carried out quickly or fail. Some of the incidents which have to be related separately occurred simultaneously, and all occupied very little time.

The stranger will naturally inquire where lie the heroes of the Alamo, and Texas can reply only by a silent blush. A few hours after the action the bodies of the slaughtered garrison were gathered by the victors, laid in three heaps, mingled with fuel and burned, though their own dead were interred. On the 25th of February, 1837, the bones and ashes of the defenders were, by order of General Houston, collected, as well as could then be done, for burial by Colonel Seguin, then in command at San Antonio. The bones were placed in a large coffin, which, together with the gathered ashes, was interred with military honors. The place of burial was a peach orchard, then outside of the Alamo village and a few hundred yards from the fort. When I was last there, in 1861, it was still a large enclosed open lot, though surrounded by the suburb which had there grown up; but the rude landmarks which had once pointed out the place of sepulture had long since disappeared. Diligent search might then have found it, but it is now densely built over, and its identity is irrecoverably lost.

In the 2d of March, 1836, the delegates of the people of Texas in general convention at Washington on the Brazos declared their independence of Mexico. Their Declaration of Independence may be read in the appendix to Kennedy’s History of Texas, vol. ii., and elsewhere. On the same day General Samuel Houston, the Texan commander-in-chief, issued a proclamation announcing that war was waging on the frontier, and Bexar besieged by 2,000 of the enemy, while the garrison was only 150 strong. “The citizens of Texas must rally to the aid of our army, or it will perish. Independence is declared: it must be maintained. Immediate action, united with valor, alone can achieve the great work.” But the immediate action was too late. Already Santa Ana and his forces were closing in around the fated little band in the Alamo at San Antonio; and between midnight and dawn on the morning of March 6 came the terrible assault described in the leaflet, from which not one of the 180 Texans escaped alive, although before the last man died 500 of their assailants had fallen. No fiercer or more heroic fight was ever seen in America or in the world. The Texan force was under the command of William Barrett Travis, whose last letter, to the president of the convention at Washington, dated March 3, is given in Kennedy, vol. ii., p. 184. Its last words were: “The bearer of this will give your honorable body a statement more in detail, should he escape through the enemies’ lines. God and Texas! Victory or Death!” Extracts from Almonte’s Journal, on the Mexican side, are also given in Kennedy. Certain details of the massacre were supplied by Mrs. Dickenson, the wife of one of the massacred men, who along with a negro servant was spared.

The account of the battle in Yoakum’s History of Texas should be consulted. In the large new History of Texas by Wooten a special chapter on the “Siege and Fall of the Alamo” is contributed by Seth Shepard, and this is of great value. Judge Shepard pronounces Captain Potter’s account, printed in the present leaflet, “the most accurate account that has yet appeared.” Captain Potter was, at the time of the siege, a resident of Matamoros. He knew many of the leading Mexican officers personally, and his critical investigations were of such a nature that his paper has the value of an original document. It was first printed in the Magazine of American History, January, 1878, and is reprinted here by the permission of the publishers, Messrs. A. S. Barnes & Co.

On the capitol grounds at Austin, Tex., stands a monument to the heroes of the Alamo, erected in 1891, with the inscription: “Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat: the Alamo had none.”

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Commander’s ”Victory or Death” letter finally to return to the Alamo…..

An 1836 letter penned by the commander of the small force of Texans defending the Alamo, a pivotal battle in the Texas Revolution that led to its break from Mexico, will be displayed for the first time at the San Antonio mission.
With its dramatic ending – “Victory or Death!” – the letter by William Travis, written on both sides of a single sheet of paper, is considered one of the defining documents of 19th century American history.
“I call on you in the name of liberty, patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch,” Travis wrote in the open letter, in which he pleaded for reinforcements, addressing the letter to “the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.”
The letter will be on display from February 23 to March 7 at the Alamo, which typically gets 2.5 million visitors a year.
“It is amazing to think of Travis and 150 men surrounded in that little compound, and he is putting this ink on this paper,” John Anderson, the preservation officer at the Texas State Archives, told Reuters this week as a colleague removed the document from the iron casing where it is carefully preserved.
Travis and his men had been ordered into the Alamo, which at the time was a disused Spanish colonial mission, as Mexican forces arrived in San Antonio to crush what to them was a provincial rebellion. Texas at the time was a part of the Republic of Mexico.
Twelve days after Travis wrote the letter, the Mexican Army stormed the Alamo and Travis and his entire command were killed.
Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, two frontiersmen, had gone to the Alamo before Travis sent the call to arms, and their deaths ensured their places as American heroes.
Six weeks later, the Texan Army under newly appointed General Sam Houston routed the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, and Texas was declared a republic. Nine years later, in 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state.
Mindful of that history, State Conservator Sarah Norris, who is responsible for making sure the 13-by-16-inch letter is not damaged, is taking precise precautions.
“We have to establish very strict guidelines for temperature and relative humidity,” she said. “Paper will very quickly yellow, turn brittle and break down.”
She says the ink used by Travis, called iron gall ink, has already begun to damage the paper. The document has to be kept away from light to avoid further damage.
The letter’s journey from Austin back to the Alamo won’t be as dangerous as the journey it took out.
Travis’ courier, Albert Martin, had slipped through the Mexican Army’s siege lines under cover of darkness. This time it will receive a state police escort from the Texas Archives to San Antonio on February 22, and then be exhibited in a specially built display cabinet, said Mark Loeffler, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Office.
The letter is now valued at $1.2 million.

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Davy Crockett vs. Welfare…everyone should read this…

From The Life of Colonel David Crockett,
by Edward S. Ellis (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1884)

Crockett was then the lion of Washington. I was a great admirer of his character, and, having several friends who were intimate with him, I found no difficulty in making his acquaintance. I was fascinated with him, and he seemed to take a fancy to me.

I was one day in the lobby of the House of Representatives when a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support – rather, as I thought, because it afforded the speakers a fine opportunity for display than from the necessity of convincing anybody, for it seemed to me that everybody favored it. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose. Everybody expected, of course, that he was going to make one of his characteristic speeches in support of the bill. He commenced:

“Mr. Speaker – I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him. This government can owe no debts but for services rendered, and at a stipulated price. If it is a debt, how much is it? Has it been audited, and the amount due ascertained? If it is a debt, this is not the place to present it for payment, or to have its merits examined. If it is a debt, we owe more than we can ever hope to pay, for we owe the widow of every soldier who fought in the War of 1812 precisely the same amount. There is a woman in my neighborhood, the widow of as gallant a man as ever shouldered a musket. He fell in battle. She is as good in every respect as this lady, and is as poor. She is earning her daily bread by her daily labor; but if I were to introduce a bill to appropriate five or ten thousand dollars for her benefit, I should be laughed at, and my bill would not get five votes in this House. There are thousands of widows in the country just such as the one I have spoken of, but we never hear of any of these large debts to them. Sir, this is no debt. The government did not owe it to the deceased when he was alive; it could not contract it after he died. I do not wish to be rude, but I must be plain. Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week’s pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks.”

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt, it would, but for that speech, it received but few votes, and, of course, was lost.

Like many other young men, and old ones, too, for that matter, who had not thought upon the subject, I desired the passage of the bill, and felt outraged at its defeat. I determined that I would persuade my friend Crockett to move a reconsideration the next day.

Previous engagements preventing me from seeing Crockett that night, I went early to his room the next morning and found him engaged in addressing and franking letters, a large pile of which lay upon his table.

I broke in upon him rather abruptly, by asking him what devil had possessed him to make that speech and defeat that bill yesterday. Without turning his head or looking up from his work, he replied:

“You see that I am very busy now; take a seat and cool yourself. I will be through in a few minutes, and then I will tell you all about it.”

He continued his employment for about ten minutes, and when he had finished he turned to me and said:

“Now, sir, I will answer your question. But thereby hangs a tale, and one of considerable length, to which you will have to listen.”

I listened, and this is the tale which I heard:

Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress, when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast as we could. When we got there, I went to work, and I never worked as hard in my life as I did there for several hours. But, in spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made homeless, and, besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them, and everybody else seemed to feel the same way.

The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done. I said everybody felt as I did. That was not quite so; for, though they perhaps sympathized as deeply with the sufferers as I did, there were a few of the members who did not think we had the right to indulge our sympathy or excite our charity at the expense of anybody but ourselves. They opposed the bill, and upon its passage demanded the yeas and nays. There were not enough of them to sustain the call, but many of us wanted our names to appear in favor of what we considered a praiseworthy measure, and we voted with them to sustain it. So the yeas and nays were recorded, and my name appeared on the journals in favor of the bill.

The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up, and I thought it was best to let the boys know that I had not forgot them, and that going to Congress had not made me too proud to go to see them.

So I put a couple of shirts and a few twists of tobacco into my saddlebags, and put out. I had been out about a week and had found things going very smoothly, when, riding one day in a part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that we should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but, as I thought, rather coldly, and was about turning his horse for another furrow when I said to him: “Don’t be in such a hurry, my friend; I want to have a little talk with you, and get better acquainted.”

He replied: “I am very busy, and have but little time to talk, but if it does not take too long, I will listen to what you have to say.”

I began: “Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and – ”

“‘Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett. I have seen you once before, and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.’

This was a sockdolager… I begged him to tell me what was the matter.

“Well, Colonel, it is hardly worthwhile to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the Constitution to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you. I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said, that I believe you to be honest. But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook, because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred, and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it is the more dangerous the more honest he is.”

“I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional question.”

“No, Colonel, there’s no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings of Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?”

“Certainly it is, and I thought that was the last vote which anybody in the world would have found fault with.”

“Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity?”

Here was another sockdolager; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:

“Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.”

“It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week’s pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution.”

I have given you an imperfect account of what he said. Long before he was through, I was convinced that I had done wrong. He wound up by saying:

“So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you.”

I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go talking, he would set others to talking, and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him, and the fact is, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him, and I said to him:

“Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it, and thought I had studied it full. I have heard many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said there at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law I wish I may be shot.”

He laughingly replied:

“Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote, and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and, perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.”

“If I don’t,” said I, “I wish I may be shot; and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say, I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of the people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbecue, and I will pay for it.”

“No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbecue, and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days, and we can then afford a day for a barbecue. This is Thursday; I will see to getting it up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday, and we will go together, and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.”

“Well, I will be here. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name.”

“My name is Bunce.”

“Not Horatio Bunce?”


“Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before, though you say you have seen me; but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you, and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend. You must let me shake your hand before I go.”

We shook hands and parted.

It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity, and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and had been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before.

Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and, under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept him up until midnight, talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.

I have told you Mr. Bunce converted me politically. He came nearer converting me religiously than I had ever been before. He did not make a very good Christian of me, as you know; but he has wrought upon my mind a conviction of the truth of Christianity, and upon my feelings a reverence for its purifying and elevating power such as I had never felt before.

I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him – no, that is not the word – I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if everyone who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed it as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

But to return to my story. The next morning we went to the barbecue, and, to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted – at least, they all knew me.

In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered around a stand that had been erected. I opened my speech by saying:

“Fellow citizens – I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to seek your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.”

I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation as I have told it to you, and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

“And now, fellow citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that the most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error.

“It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit of it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so.”

He came upon the stand and said:

“Fellow citizens – It affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised you today.”

He went down, and there went up from the crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before.

I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the honors I have received and all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress.

“Now, Sir,” concluded Crockett, “you know why I made that speech yesterday. I have had several thousand copies of it printed and was directing them to my constituents when you came in.

“There is one thing now to which I will call your attention. You remember that I proposed to give a week’s pay. There are in that House many very wealthy men – men who think nothing of spending a week’s pay, or a dozen of them for a dinner or a wine party when they have something to accomplish by it. Some of those same men made beautiful speeches upon the great debt of gratitude which the country owed the deceased – a debt which could not be paid by money, particularly so insignificant a sum as $10,000, when weighed against the honor of the nation. Yet not one of them responded to my proposition. Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”

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