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
Bejar 2d Feby 1835 
To His Excy. H Smith
In pursuance of your orders, I proceeded from San Felipe to La Bahia and whilst there employed my whole time in trying to effect the objects of my mission. You are aware that Genl Houston came to La Bahia soon after I did, this is the reason why I did not make a report to you from that post. The Comdr. in Chf. has before this communicated to you all matters in relation to our military affairs at La Bahia, this make it wholly unnecessary for me to say any thing on the subject. Whilst at La Bahia Genl Houston received despatches from Col Comdt. Neill informing that good reasons were entertained that an attack would soon be made by a numerous Mexican Army on our important post of Bejar. It was forthwith determined that I should go instantly to Bejar; accordingly I left Genl Houston and with a few very efficient volunteers came on to this place about 2 weeks since. I was received by Col Neill with great cordiality, and the men under my command entered at once into active service. All I can say of the soldiers stationed here is complimentary to both their courage and their patience. But it is the truth and your Excellency must know it, that great and just dissatisfaction is felt for the want of a little money to pay the small but necessary expenses of our men. I cannot eulogise [sic] the conduct & character of Col Neill too highly: no other man in the army could have kept men at this post, under the neglect they have experience. Both he & myself have done all that we could; we have industriously tryed [sic] all expedients to raise funds; but hitherto it has been to no purpose. We are still labouring night and day, laying up provisions for a siege, encouraging our men, and calling on the Government for relief.
Relief at this post, in men, money, & provisions is of vital importance & is wanted instantly. Sir, this is the object of my letter. The salvation of Texas depends in great measure in keeping Bejar out of the hands of the enemy. It serves as the frontier picquet [sic] guard and if it were in the possession of Santa Anna there is no strong hold from which to repell [sic] him in his march towards the Sabine. There is no doubt but very large forces are being gathered in several of the towns beyond the Rio Grande, and late information through Senr Cassiana & others, worthy of credit, is positive in the fact that 16 hundred or two thousand troops with good officers, well armed, and a plenty of provisions, were on the point of marching, (the provisions being cooked &c). A detachment of active men from the volunteers under my command have been sent out to the Rio Frio; they returned yesterday without information and we remain yet in doubt whether they entend [sic] an attack on this place or go to reinforce Matamoras. It does however seem certain that an attack is shortly to be made on this place & I think & it is the general opinion that the enemy will come by land. The Citizens of Bejar have behaved well. Col. Neill & Myself have come to the solemn resolution that we would rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy. These citizens deserve our protection and the public safety demands our lives rather than to evacuate this post to the enemy. — again we call aloud for relief; the weakness of our post will at any rate bring the enemy on, some volunteers are expected: Capt Patton with 5 or 6 has come in. But a large reinforcement with provisions is what we need.
I have information just now from a friend whom I believe that the force at Rio Grande (Presidia) is two thousand complete; he states further that five thousand more is a little back and marching on, perhaps the 2 thousand will wait for a junction with the 5 thousand. This information is corroberated [sic] with all that we have heard. The informant says that they intend to make a decent [sic] on this place in particular, and there is no doubt of it.
Our force is very small, the returns this day to the Comdt. is only one hundred and twenty officers & men. It would be a waste of men to put our brave little band against thousands.
We have no interesting news to communicate. The army have elected two gentlemen to represent the Army & trust they will be received.