Texians at Alamo Knew They Were Outnumbered, But They Remained

A receipt for supplies signed by William B. Travis while he was at the Alamo sold for $191,200 at a December 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When William B. Travis and 29 other men joined “Texian” freedom fighters at the Alamo on Feb. 2, 1836, they brought the total number of volunteers inside the tiny mission to 130. The arrival of Antonio López de Santa Anna, the president of Mexico and General of the Centralist Army, was only three weeks away. Accompanying him north into San Antonio de Béxar and the Mexican controlled state of Coahuila y Tejas were 3,500 to 5,000 soldiers. Santa Anna could never have foreseen how this small force would help bring an end to his country’s rule over Texas.

Travis

The Texas Revolution began on Oct. 2, 1835, with the Battle of Gonzales – actually more of a skirmish – called by some the “Lexington of Texas.” It exploded on Dec. 10, 1835, when 100 Texian colonists drove a Centralist division from its Alamo garrison. Instead of following orders to blow up the Alamo and retreat, they stayed and waited for Santa Anna. When the uprising’s original leader, Col. James C. Neill, left the Alamo, the 26-year-old Travis, a poet and lawyer, took command.

He had no formal military training.

On Feb. 23, the Mexican Army finally reached San Antonio and General Santa Anna wasted no time in declaring if the colonists inside the Alamo did not surrender, they would be put to the sword. The Texians knew they were overwhelmed, yet even after Travis explained the odds, they remained. The day after Santa Anna’s warning, Travis sent out a messenger with a letter to supporters. It read, “I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his honor and that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH!”

Santa Anna

But neither Travis nor his men were suicidal. They were looking for help from any quarter as the wide net of a Travis’ salutation suggests: “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World: I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.”

The final 32 men to join the Texas rebels arrived a week later on March 2, the same day Texas delegates seceded from Mexico. The volunteers now totaled 187. Just before dawn on March 6, the Alamo came under attack. Despite an intense battle, by sunrise every Texian was dead or captured. Two months later, an army of inspired colonists defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and won independence for Texas. I guess Travis was wrong in the end. Both death and victory were possible, at least for some.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Mussolini’s Reach for Power Ended in Total Failure, Disgrace

The clothing worn by Benito Mussolini and mistress Clara Petacci during their attempted escape sold for $6,325 at a September 2011 Heritage auction.

“Let us have a dagger between our teeth, a bomb in our hands, and an infinite scorn in our hearts.” – Benito Mussolini

By Jim O’Neal

Known as a man who possessed remarkable oratorical skills, Benito Mussolini often referred to himself as a “man of the people.” His father named him after Benito Juárez, the 26th president of Mexico, the most prominent 19th century Mexican leader and the only person whose birthday (March 21) is celebrated as a national holiday in that country.

Mussolini served in World War I and when he returned home, he began pushing the idea that only a dictator could lead Italy out of its economic and political problems. He was inspired by Plato’s “The Republic” – a series of writings on the role of man and government (circa 360 B.C.) that is considered a major influence on politics in most Western societies even today. As Mussolini’s ideas gained popularity, he developed support and modern Fascism was born.

Benito Mussolini

By the early 1920s, Fascist groups led by Mussolini began gaining control of the country and these Black Shirts used tactics that included terrorizing local populations and attacking government institutions. In 1922, Mussolini was named Prime Minister, the youngest in history to that time (a record that lasted until 2014). In 1925, he dropped all pretenses and declared himself Italy’s dictator and took the title of “II Duce” … the leader.

He probably understood that peace was in the country’s best interest (due to its weak economic situation) and was ill prepared for a long war, but he allied himself with Adolf Hitler and signed the Pact of Steel in 1939, thus creating the Rome-Berlin Axis. While Germany and Italy were now linked militarily and politically, Italy was definitely the junior partner.

When the war started, it went badly for Italy almost immediately and the Italian people became increasingly disenchanted with their leader. Mussolini was forced to retreat and establish a new Fascist government in Northern Italy. His one-party dictatorship became a puppet government and he was deposed by King Emanuel III when Italian communists seized control. He tried to escape to Switzerland, but was captured by resistance fighters near Lake Como (one of my favorite spots on Earth) and executed by firing squad on April 28, 1945.

His body was taken to Milan and hung upside down in a public place to prove he was dead … and Fascism along with it.

Another prime example of history’s strongmen – with remarkable verbal skills and a ruthless ambition to gain control over gullible people – dumped on the ash heap.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Mesoamerica’s Development of Corn Still a Mystery

A piece of carved jade, circa 750, depicting two enthroned Maya deities, including the Maize God (left), sold for $62,737.50 at a September 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

I recently used the term “Mesoamerica” and someone asked me to define it a bit more.

Basically, it is a non-specific, geographical area that academics use for parts of pre-Columbian Mexico, Central America and an extension into South America. The indigenous peoples of these lands have a reputation for being the greatest cultivators in history, with amazing horticultural innovations, especially corn (maize).

The interesting thing about corn is that we still do not know exactly how they did it. Modern strains of barley, wheat or rice resemble their ancient counterparts, but corn is completely different. Beyond the basic level of chromosomes, there is no genetic kinship.

Even a worldwide conference in 1969 at the University of Illinois on the origin of corn ended up in a scientific brawl and debates are still commonplace. However they did it, Mesoamericans ended up with the first fully bioengineered plant.

Even today, corn is more relevant than most people know. Corn and its derivatives like cornstarch and high fructose corn syrup go into ice cream, embalming fluid, soap, deodorants, peanut butter, automobile paint and (literally) several hundred more food products.

In Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, he claims the roles have been reversed and we have become domesticated by it. That definitely includes me … given my earlier association with Fritos and Doritos!

Having secured their food supply, Mesoamericans then invented their own writing, astronomy and mathematics … including the use of zero … probably the first in recorded history.

Hope this adds a little clarity.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Monarch Butterflies Among the Most Intriguing of Earth’s Insects

This photo card of Sitting Bull was produced in the 1890s. Look closely and you can see a Monarch butterfly tucked into the brim of his hat.

By Jim O’Neal

For every single human being on Earth, there are 200 million insects. Both in terms of species and sheer numbers, insects outnumber all other animals on the planet. More than a million different species of insects have been described and named, and thousands more are discovered each year … some estimates exceed 30 million total in existence.

Over 70 percent of all known animal species are insects and almost half of them are in the beetle category. Among the more infamous are boll weevils, which crossed into the United States from Mexico in 1892. They proceeded to destroy great swaths of the cotton grown in the South. Even today, efforts to eradicate them in both countries is problematic.

Thanks to the amazing adaptation skills of insects, they flourish in every land habitat and play a key role in the global ecosystem, recycling dead plants and animals, pollinating flowering plants, and providing food for a host of animals. In fact, insects are so vital to life on Earth, we could not survive without them.

Insects are also the most numerous of the arthropods – animals with tough external skeletons and jointed legs.

A remarkable example of biodiversity is the beautiful Monarch butterfly, which starts life as a wingless caterpillar that spends most of its time eating. Its metamorphosis into a butterfly is one of the most dramatic changes in nature. Within two hours of emerging, the butterfly is ready for flight and launches into the air to start looking for a mate so it can breed and create a new generation.

Monarch butterflies spend the winter asleep in the warm woods of Mexico and California. In spring, they awake and fly north to find milkweed plants that do not grow in the warmer southwest. Then, they lay their eggs and die. The next generation then flies further north and does the same thing. After two generations, they reach the Canadian border. Then, the fourth generation migrates all the way back south again, clear across the United States.

It’s not clear if they seek approval from the Department of Homeland Security or simply rely on special TSA exemptions for frequent flyers. Hopefully, they make it safely, since our fortunes seem to be linked in some mysterious way.

Go Monarchs!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].