Barricaded in a freezing cold, rat-infested room inside the Alamo, the lone defender had gone almost three days without food, water or sleep after armed men had positioned themselves around the compound. Word of the standoff ricocheted across America, prompting a deluge of supportive messages for the fatigued but tenacious holdout.
“Win or lose, we congratulate you upon your splendid patriotism and courage,” read one telegram from New York signed by John B. Adams, a descendant of President John Adams. Editors from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wired San Antonio: “Commandant of the Alamo:—Will you send…a message to the women of St. Louis, who are watching with great interest your own gallant defense of the Alamo?”
The “commandant” was no military officer but a 46-year-old Texas schoolteacher named Adina De Zavala, who had commenced her one-woman siege on February 10, 1908. De Zavala replied to the Post-Dispatch: “My immortal forefathers suffered every privation to defend the freedom of Texas. I, like them, am willing to die for what I believe to be right. . . . The officers cannot starve me into submission.”
De Zavala’s impassioned statement echoed the urgent message Lt. Col. William Barret Travis had dashed off 72 years earlier, on February 24, 1836, when his 200 Texan and Tejano rebels were fortified inside the old mission, surrounded by several thousand Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna.
“To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” Travis wrote, “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, & every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. . . . 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.”