The Gates of the Alamo by: Stephen Harrigan

I picked this book up from the clearance section of Half Price Books, and I remember being impressed by it’s girth. Somehow I fooled myself into believing I could read this nearly 600 page book in about 4 days. I’ll be the first to admit that was a little too ambitious for me, but I did finish it on April 2nd, making it about 6 days!

I was originally drawn in because when you attend middle school in Texas, you are taught the story of the Alamo, but it is fairly cut and dry. In my education it was very much that the Mexicans were bad and everyone died at the Alamo, making it a rallying point for the rest of the revolution.

I could tell just from the size of this book, that the story was expanded upon greatly. As a history lover, I thought it would be an exciting exploration of this event that many Texans are still proud of to this day. And I was right!

The story of the Alamo is one that lives on in infamy (especially here in Texas). Mexico was trying to settle the land that was Texas and had offered land to settlers if they would become Mexican citizens. Many people took this offer, but as Mexico experienced financial troubles, they started taxing more from the settlers. This lead to increased frustration among the settlers, and when there were rumblings of revolution, President Santa Anna of Mexico marched his army north to squash it. In the case of the Alamo, crush he did indeed. The Mexican army is estimated to have 2,000 soldiers, while those held up in the fort are estimated at 250 at best. Against all odds, the resistance held the fort for nearly 2 weeks and then the Mexicans overran the fort, only leaving the few women and children that had survived the siege.

The massacre at the Alamo didn’t silence the revolution as Santa Anna had intended, but rather became a rallying cry and gave the people hope. If so few could put up such a fight and give their lives – then their fight must be worth it.

Stephen Harrigan writes about fictional characters Mary Mott, Terrell Mott and Edmund McGowan and weaves them within the story of the Texas Revolution and the Alamo. You grow quite attached to these characters as you see what they go through and how the war affects their livelihoods.

Edmund is a botanist who works for the Mexican government analyzing all the flora of the Texas territory. Mary is a inn-keeper whose husband has passed and she provides meals and a roof for many interesting people as they traverse the Texas plains such as Jim Bowie. Terrell is her son who helps with the inn, but gets swept up in their tenant’s passion for the war, and eventually joins the efforts. Edmund and Mary meet during his stay at the inn, and their friendship grows quickly, and it has an unexpected intensity that carries them throughout the story and the trials of the war.

Though the story of the Alamo itself is very interesting, it’s the development and well-being of these characters that really pulls you through it. It was quite the harrowing tale, yet I was surprised by it. The writing was fantastic, I felt so fully immersed in the story that I found it hard to recover after a long period spent reading.

I appreciated how Harrigan covered both the Texans and Mexicans motivations as well as sufferings. As Texans, our perspective is often that Santa Anna just sauntered up to the Alamo and ordered no prisoners. But the author of this, took the care of his research and writing to point out that the Mexican army faced a long journey and perilous weather on the way that killed many. You also get to know the heros (and villains) of the story and witness their motivations and weaknesses.

Something that I’ve noticed in fiction sometimes is that no one ever has to deal with bodily functions – well this is not the case here. Harrigan does not shy away from the realities of frontier life, even the more unsanitary parts. The same goes for the brutal war scenes. I was glad that he was truthful about how terrible war can be, but at times it was too much for me. This is definitely the most graphic book I’ve ever read, and there were a few passages that made me feel as though I may vomit. It didn’t ruin the book for me, I just rushed through those parts. I will admit that I am rather squeamish, and don’t have much tolerance for gruesome injuries.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I feel like I am coming away with a greater understanding of the Texas Revolution, but the attachment to the characters made me care in a way that didn’t feel like a history textbook. Harrigan’s book provided so much information but I learned it as I navigated through the character’s stories. The sacrifice that was given there and it’s significance are all the more clear to me now.

It’s such a shame the disrepair and commercialization of the mission now, it deserves better. Those that gave their lives deserve better.

I will definitely be keeping this book. I think I might like to revisit the characters, and I also suspect my husband would find this an interesting read. I would recommend this for anyone with a love or interest in history, as well as frontier life.





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