The last man out of the Alamo wasn't a man. That is he had not yet reached the legal age of majority, legal majority then being twenty one years of age for males, for he was only a lad of sixteen, a child still but at the same time a man too. His age hadn't stopped him any from doing as much work as and more than some of the men there at the Alamo. Only thing though was that sometimes he still acted childish, impetuous, and pouted as youth are inclined to do at times. His name was James L. Allen and he was from Kentucky.
In fact it was his impetuous act as a boy that got him to the Alamo in the first place. It was at Marion College in Missouri where he was a student and like everyone else there, he too got caught up in the Texas fever that was sweeping the nation. With a bunch of fellow students, the students being all male, he volunteered for Texas. The guys were all doing it and he wanted to be like everyone else. So maybe it was the peer pressure that got him to sign on, or maybe it was the spirit of adventure that he got carried away with, but in any event all that mattered not now, for all the excitement and thrill of the adventure had long ago faded, this being the eleventh day of the siege of the Alamo. It had faded because, just like every man there, he too wondered if anyone was ever coming to their aid. And for him he especially wondered if he'd ever see seventeen, if he'd miss out on a lifetime of experiences and opportunities.
At the beginning he had been so enthused about serving there at the Alamo that one of the first things he did, to prove his manhood, was to volunteer for a somewhat dangerous assignment. That assignment being the burning of La Villita, the little village in English, just outside the Alamo. It was a gaggle of small huts located in a no man's land between the Alamo and the Mexican forces. Small tiny huts in which some locals had once lived but now had abandoned once the siege had begun. They offered a way too tempting spot for the Mexicans to hide in and take pot shots at will at the Alamo defenders. They were just small one room shacks, ten by ten at the most, made of wood so dry from the Texas heat that a match put to them would send them up in flames in just a matter of seconds. They needed to be burned down now as soon as possible.
The then Co-commanders, Colonel Travis of the regulars and Colonel Bowie of the volunteers, Bowie hadn't been sick and bedridden then, each called for a volunteer to run over there with a torch and set them ablaze while the rest of the men covered them.
"Any of you men want to volunteer?" asked Travis, addressing only his men. But he didn't give anyone a chance to answer. He already had someone in mind. "How about you Bob. You willing to volunteer?" he asked Robert Brown.
When in the army and you're called upon to volunteer, you volunteer. Robert Brown knew this and Robert Brown volunteered.
It was Colonel Bowie's turn then to call for a volunteer from his men and Colonel Bowie already had his volunteer in mind too, Carlos Espalier, a young protege of his. Carlos, like Brown volunteered and like Brown he too was proud and honored to be chosen.
Travis or Bowie never gave James a second look when he raised his hand, waved it furiously, and bobbed up and down trying to get their attention. They looked right past him, their decisions having already been made. James thought he was ignored because of his age for after all he still had the face of a boy and didn't even shave yet. He was disappointed and mad at the same time that he hadn't been chosen and he grumbled about it to the man standing next to him.
"They didn't pay any attention to me. What are they, blind or something? Why I'm sure that I can run faster than either of those two. One of them should have been me. What's the matter with those two anyway. They think I'm too young, too scared, or something?"
John Blair of Tennessee, the man next to him, age thirty three, a volunteer with Jim Bowie's men, answered him.
"Carlos is seventeen. And no you're not too young. It's just that Jim has taken Carlos under his wing so to speak and he's giving him a chance to prove himself here that's all. "
"What about Bob Brown?'
"I don't know anything about him other than he's one of Travis's men and he's eighteen by the way. I'm sure Colonel Travis knows what he's doing by choosing him."
The conversation ended there as Espalier and Brown were each given a torch and proceeded to the Alamo gate. Blair and James took their places along the Alamo wall with the rest of the men, their rifles at the ready, pointed outward towards the Mexican troops. Brown and Espalier sallied forth, set La Villita on fire, and made it back safely without incident. James and the others not having to waste any ammunition covering them for the Mexicans did not even fire a single shot at them. The two young men, heroes now, returned to a round of slaps on the back and a round of huzzas for a job well done, James joining with them, not daring to show his disappointment.
Later he comforted himself best he could by recalling that when he crossed the line in the sand drawn by Travis, he was one of the first to do so. He was proud of that. In fact he had bolted forward from the middle of the pack trying to be the first to cross only to be beaten out by Tapley Holland, a young man from Ohio who shoved him aside to be first. Nonetheless he was one of the first to do so and that didn't go unnoticed by the men or Colonel Travis who was in charge then, Colonel Bowie too ill to command.
The burning of La Villita had happened at the start of the siege and James had served faithfully, admirably, honorably from then until now, the eleventh day of the siege. He had proven himself over and over again as good a soldier as any man there. He had made friends with and earned the respect of quite a few of the men. They in turn treated him as an equal and respected him as one of them.
But he also made friends with the boys there. Of the boys from Gonzales, thirty two men actually, he had become good friends with a couple of them, William King age fifteen, Galba Fuqua age sixteen, John Gaston age seventeen, young men, not boys, his age. He had bonded with them much more so than he had with any of the other men and they all palled around together doing typical things teenage boys do on the sly, smoking, chewing, drinking, and of course talking about girls. They were of that age when a young man's fancy turns to girls and tonight especially so for they were all going to the dance, or fandango as some ot the men called it, and dance with the women there.
A couple of the men could play a fiddle and they all knew how to play the popular songs of the day. A high old time would be had by all. Only trouble was, there would be few women there to dance with. Nevertheless that didn't discourage any of the men, the boys included. So as the fiddler struck up the tune Old Zip Coon the boys were out on the dance floor, which was actually the hard clay ground inside the Alamo chapel, ready to dosy doh with the first woman they could latch on to. That was the safest place to hold a dance, there in the Lord's House of all places, where everyone was somewhat protected by the higher walls of the chapel from the constant Mexican cannonade that had been relentlessly going on for days now.
Of the handful of women there at the Alamo most were old and married. There was Mrs. Juana Alsbury whose husband had been sent out on a mission by Travis, Mrs. Juana Melton whose husband was the quartermaster there, Concepcion Losoya the mother of Juana Melton and Alamo defender Jose Toribio Losoya, Gertrudis Navarro the unmarried younger sister of Juana Alsbury who was taking care of the ailing Jim Bowie, Mrs. Almaron Dickinson wife of Alamo defender Captain Dickinson who was taking care of their fifteen month old daughter, and Mrs. Ana Esparza wife of Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza who was there with her four children one of which was Maria her thirteen year old daughter from her first marriage.
The only other young single woman there besides Maria was Trinidad Saucedo, age twenty or so and she was as beautiful and as shapely and as gorgeous as they come with her angular high cheekbones, sparkling brown eyes, and long flowing raven black shiny shoulder length hair. And like all young Mexican women she dressed somewhat provocatively compared to Anglo women in that she wore her blouse somewhat revealingly open and exposed her bare shoulders. No decent self respecting white woman would ever dare do a thing like that. And when one of the local Mexicans there then played a Mexican fandango song on his guitar she danced to it with a fury, flitting and raising her skirt, exposing her shapely legs as she stomped around and snapped her fingers. Again no white woman would ever do that.
But there were two problems with Trinidad. First everyone there knew that she was deeply in love with one of the men there she called Bobby, it wasn't Robert Brown, and actually engaged to him. But her Bobby was not the jealous type for he was sure of Trinidad's love for him. Thus he gave all the men a chance to dance with his betrothed, James included. And that was the second problem, all of the men. He had to wait his turn. The understanding there being that after you had danced with Trinidad for a minute or two someone else would be entitled to tap you on the shoulder signifying they wished to cut in, and of course, you would let him.
Though Trinidad was four or five years older than James, he did not let that stop him from dancing with her, an older woman. In fact that kind of actually enticed him. He patiently waited his turn and finally got up the nerve and tapped the shoulder of one George Washington Cottle, one of the men recently arrived from Gonzales, and said, "Cutting in sir."
Wash, as he was known, was a big man and had the appearance of a lion with his long flowing brownish hair covering his ears and face and had the voice of a lion too as he non verbally growled at James but nonetheless backed off and let James cut in. James took Trinidad's hands and began whirling her around the dance floor to the tune of some high stepping reel the name of which he knew not nor did he care. All that mattered now to him was that he had a woman, a beautiful woman, in his arms. After his two minutes were up he felt his tap on the shoulder and turned around to see if it was one of his new pals was cutting in on him. It wasn't. The person who cut in on him was Maria Castro, the plain, somewhat dumpy, short, for James was a head taller than her and towered over her, thirteen year old daughter of Ana Esparza. James could tell she had her eye and her mind set on him as her own. He politely excused himself from Trinidad, for after all he knew that he had to dance with Maria since she asked him to, and took her hands in his. That was the gentlemanly thing and expected thing to do even if he wasn't all that thrilled about it. She babbled on incessantly as they danced and James could tell that she had a school girl crush on him. He tried to ignore her yet act politely at the same time for he considered her just a silly kid, not a real woman like Trinidad. Now as she blathered on, his only hope was that one of his new buddies would come to his rescue by cutting in.
And he soon got his wish but it wasn't from one of his pals. He turned around and there was John Baugh, Colonel Travis's adjudant.
"Colonel Travis would like to see you son," said Baugh in a formal all military like manner, indicating something serious was up.
James stopped dancing and stood there dumbfounded wondering what this was all about. Maybe it was about that mission he, and a few others, had volunteered for before. Maybe Travis wanted to see him about that. His hopes rose as he stood there kind of stunned thinking about it.
"Now son," said Baugh, shaking James out of his trance.
James looked at Maria, the disappointment on her face plainly visible.
"Excuse me Maria but I gotta go," he said. "Duty calls." He turned his back on her and left without even thanking her for the dance. It was an impolite childish thing for him to do and it broke her little heart as evidenced by her smile turning to a frown.
John Baugh, being from Virginia and ever the southern gentleman, then did the right thing of course and asked Maria to dance with him. "May I have this dance young lady?" he asked, bowing to her as he did so. She accepted and he whisked her off her feet but she was still heartbroken.
James was visibly nervous when he stood outside the open door of Colonel Travis's office. That's when he, and everybody else, noticed it, the Mexican cannon fire had stopped. It seemed that it had been going on for days now, even all through the night, keeping everyone awake and on edge and its silence now was golden.
"Come in son," ordered Colonel Travis all military business like, he too noticing the silencing of the cannons.
James entered, took off his hat, held it in his two hands before him, and stood there at attention.
"Relax son," said Colonel Travis, noticing the lad was ill at ease.
James' shoulders slumped. The tenseness visibly left his body but he remained standing at attention.
"You wanted to see me sir?"
"Yes I need you to do something for me."
"What's that sir?"
"A mission, I need to send you out with a dispatch," he said and handed James a folded wax sealed letter.
"Another request for help sir?" asked James, taking it and stuffing it in his shirt pocket without looking at it.
"Yes, take it to Fannin wherever he is."
Travis had picked James because he knew that James had wanted to go out and burn La Villita when he called for volunteers the other day. Knew that he was disappointed in not being chosen. This was his way of making it up to him now. But what it really was though, was that it was Travis's way of saving this young man's life. But he couldn't let James know that.
"Look son," he said. "I know what you're thinking. I've already sent out half a dozen men before and no one's come to our aid but I've got to keep trying."
James knew that Travis had sent his old childhood friend Jim Bonham out with a plea for help and that Bonham had returned but without any men. Knew that Travis had sent out John Smith and that John Smith had brought back the men from Gonzales even if they only numbered thirty two. But as to the other men Travis had sent out, none had returned. Maybe they didn't make it.
"Look son," repeated Travis.
James wished Colonel Travis would stop calling him son, like he was his child.
"I know you got a fast horse and I know I can count on a man like you getting through."
There he had said it at last, "A man like you."
"Thank you sir. I'm honored," said James. "I won't let you down sir."
"I know you won't James. I know you won't," replied Travis. Then his head and eyes tilted upward in a moment of silence as if he was listening for something, something he didn't hear. "Seems like the Mexicans have let up shelling us for now thank God. Best you get some sleep and rest up while you can. Tomorrow you can go out soon after it gets dark. Talk to Bonham first though. He can fill you in on the best way out, what to avoid and what to be on the lookout for, and he can tell you where in the hell he thinks Fannin is. Good luck on finding that fool."
Travis looked at this young boy, only sixteen and reassured himself that he was doing the right thing here sending him out like this. He knew that he may be sending him out on suicide mission but he would be better off taking his chances doing that than staying here and being condemned to certain death with the rest of them. Colonel Travis was only ten years older than James but here in Texas ten years was a lifetime and Travis knew his lifetime here in Texas was up. No point in this young man's life being up too. Not when it could be saved.
James L. Allen slept that night until noon next day so exhausted was he from the days of constant tension and cannon fire. That evening he was the last man out of the Alamo. Under cover of darkness he ventured out. He was fired upon. But he made it. The men saw him make it and they let out three loud raucous hip, hip, hooray cheers for him. He heard them and smiled, determined to make it, not to let his fellow men down, as he galloped off into the darkness of the night.