Remembering the Alamo

Recently I was in San Antonio and visited the world-famous Alamo. I was surprised that the real-life Alamo and the battle was a little different than the Disney version I remembered as a kid. There was also some science.

My view of what the Alamo looks like was correct – it looks like this:


But apparently it didn’t look like that during the famous 1836 battle in which between 182-257 Texians were killed in a siege and attack by General (and Mexican President) Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The iconic bell-shaped top was only added much later. I was also surprised to learn that the Alamo complex was actually a much larger compound inside sturdy walls and a series of outer buildings. It was only after the Mexican army overwhelmed those walls that the few remaining Texians, including Davy Crockett, James Bowie (of Bowie knife fame), and William Travis, finally retreated to the mission chapel that stands as the symbol of the Alamo today.

In the grounds behind the chapel I came across a surgeon with his tools of the trade.

Alamo doctorThe good doctor regaled us with stories of the medical practices of the day. You can see the hacksaw on the table used for amputations. There are also leeches for bloodletting, stiff brandy for medicinal painkilling, and a variety of other instruments that range from precursors of today’s instruments to objects that seemed more appropriate for the Marquis de Sade.

Great-Tailed Grackle

Interrupting the demonstration was a beautiful Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) with its iridescent feathers, rudder-like tails, and haunting yellow eyes. These birds are much bigger than the Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) I normally see, or even the much closer Boat-Tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major) that are less common and hang out near marshes. While the male Great-Tails were getting all the attention, the less iridescent and smaller females were busy grabbing plant material to repair the nests and grubs to feed the young.

Doctor at Alamo

By now the doctor was finishing up his presentation. Little did I know he wouldn’t be the last doctor I would see that day. But that’s a story for another time.

That’s all folks! At least for now.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for thirty-five years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate. His book on Thomas Edison is due in Barnes and Noble stores in July 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Remembering the Alamo

  1. Oh my. Yes, medical tools of past centuries are like the Marquis. Have never seen a great tailed grackle – he is beautiful, to be certain. Hmm. Doctor visits.. And good to learn more about the Alamo.

    • The guy was fascinating. He bridged the period character and modern questions well, including how certain instruments or techniques were precursors to how we now do things. My first time seeing the Alamo (and Carlsbad Caverns), so overall it was a good trip despite some unexpected issues.

  2. Pingback: The Year in Science Traveling – 2016 | Science Traveler

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