In Their Own Words: James Bowie

James Bowie by Gary Zaboly. The Alamo Collection.

At the onset of the Texas Revolution, James Bowie was already a well known figure in Texas. He had immigrated to San Antonio in 1830 — one of only a handful of Anglo immigrants to settle in the predominantly Tejano community — and through his marriage to Ursula de Veramendi had allied himself with one of the most powerful families in Texas. He had also gained acclaim as an “Indian fighter” during his search for the lost silver mine near San Saba.

Following the Battle of Gonzales, Bowie joined the Texas volunteer army. He acquitted himself well at the Battle of Concepcion and the Grass Fight during the Siege of Bexar, but was not present during the December 1835 Battle of Bexar, in which the Texans gained control of San Antonio. In January 1836, on the orders of General Sam Houston, Bowie returned to San Antonio. His orders from Houston possibly included a directive to destroy the Alamo and abandon the post as Houston believed, “it will be impossible to keep up the Station with volunteers.” Historians continue to debate whether or not Bowie was explicitly ordered to destroy the fortifications in San Antonio, or if his orders were discretionary.

On February 2, 1836, James Bowie wrote perhaps his most iconic letter, in which he stated that he and Lt. Col. James C. Neill, commander of Texan forces in San Antonio, “would rather die in these ditches than give it [San Antonio and the Alamo] up to the enemy.” Unfortunately, for Bowie, his words proved to be prophetic.

Letter from James Bowie to Governor Henry Smith

Site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo and Shrine to Texas Liberty