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LONELINESS IN BEXAR
San Antonio, Texas
There is a cost to working on the road - you walk alone. We're like the new guy showing up on the first day of a job - every day. Lunch is spent joking with guys you've never seen before, and may never see again. In the evening you dine alone, until that becomes so tiresome you end up eating with Dan Rather. Alcoholism is the leading cause of job loss; nervous breakdowns occur; the divorce rate approaches ninety percent.
After a year or two, the excitement of continual travel has all but vanished, and the strain of loneliness weighs heavier. But, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, it's great being rational creatures, as it allows us to rationalize anything we wish. When I find myself too alone, as I do today in Bexar, I only have to think of a fellow Massachusetts boy, Johnny Flanders of Salisbury, to rationalize that things could be worse. For you see, Johnny Flanders also found himself almost two thousand miles from home here in Bexar, but he died here. Right where I'm walking now.
Johnny's story is not unusual. He held the mortgage on a house owned by a widow who no longer could make ends meet. Young and concerned with his financial future, he wanted to forclose on the unfortunate widow. His father, however, strongly objected, causing a break in their family which led to Johnny's leaving Massachusetts. He lived for a time in New Orleans before arriving here in south central Texas, the hot, dusty land that General Philip Sheridan once described thus: "If I owned Texas and hell, I'd live in hell and rent out Texas."
Like many young men of his generation whose grandfathers had fought in the Great War, Johnny was a patriot willing to volunteer his time and effort for yet another great cause. Raised in a land which reveled in its history of resisting tyranny by arms, the chance to fight for a new land must have seemed a Godsend to him. Of course, Bexar's full name was San Antonio de Bexar, and the mission where Johnny ended up in is now simply referred to as, The Alamo.
Today the Alamo is a beautifully reconstructed Spanish mission with a walled courtyard lined with flower beds. Huge, sprawling Live Oak trees dot the open space inside the walls, beside the original structures. These include the famous chapel, which is what is commonly seen as a picture of the Alamo, and also the 'long barracks,' where much of the furious fighting of March 6, 1836 occurred. Not surprisingly, the site is smaller today than the original mission, located as it is in downtown San Antonio. Indeed, the lazy river which once flowed through the mission is now part of the famous sunken Riverwalk, one of the truly wonderful inner city attractions in the country today.
It is a marvelously interesting place. The long barracks now houses a museum where I learn that four other Massachusetts men died here with Johnny Flanders; Robert Crossman of New Bedford, Dr. Amos Pollard from central Mass., and Williams Linn and Howell, home towns apparently unknown. Of the one hundred and eighty-seven 'heros', by my count twenty-seven were Yankees, a fact not readily advanced by Texan historians. Nor will you hear that the legendary Davey Crockett's end was somewhat less than heroic. According to recently uncovered Mexican archives, Crockett and five compatriots were executed by bayonet, having been discovered after the battle in the long barracks hiding under mattresses.
Several women and children in the mission survived. There even remotely exists the possibility that a couple of men survived; a researcher has discovered an ancient account in a Nacadoches newspaper reporting the arrival of two wounded men, claiming they had fought in the battle.
I sit down alone in the courtyard of the Alamo as the sun sets in this land of western red. I think of Johnny Flanders, whose body was burned along with his unfortunate compatriots by Santa Anna's troops after the battle, and whose body and soul now rests scattered across the Texas prairie, blown by the winds of change. And I marvel that even as sad and lonely as Johnny's end must have been, had he the vision he would not have needed to look far for his own rationalization.
One of the main sources indicating who actually fell at the Alamo is found in the land court records of Texas. The families of the fallen heroes were entitled by law to compensation from the newly formed Republic of Texas. But one individual who died at the Alamo had no relatives ever show up in court. He was not two thousand miles from home, but four. His name was John McGregor, and he was from Scotland. History has not recorded his story prior to his arrival in Bexar. Once here, however, he made his presence known by playing his bagpipes, by playing the traditional songs from home during quiet times as duty allowed. Not only did no McGregor ever file a claim in a Texas court, but it is doubtful whether his mother, father, sisters or brothers ever even came to know the fate of their son and brother who had wandered across the ocean, seeking his fortune in the New World.
As I sit here in the darkening courtyard under the arms of the sprawling Live Oak, I close my eyes and think of a similar evening, the evening of March 5th, 1836. I sense the tension as muffled drums and bugles sound among the hundreds of campfires springing up around the mission. I hear John McGregor's bagpipes whining through the hot Texas air; I hear the familiar northern accents of Johnny Flanders and his Massachusetts friends. And I'm not so lonely anymore; no, I'm not so lonely.