The New York Times Bestselling Series
Few historical frontier sagas have captured the pioneer spirit as boldly and brilliantly as the acclaimed Wagons West series by Dana Fuller Ross. Now a new generation of readers can rediscover America—in this brand new installment of the sprawling epic saga…
Of all the states of the union, few have a history as big or bold as that of Texas. From the heroic battle of the Alamo, where brave frontiersmen fight for independence, to the rise of the Texas Rangers, where fearless volunteers defend their home against outlaws and enemies, the people of Texas are a force to be reckoned with. Among them are Justin Good, a veteran of the War of 1812 trying to organize a “freedom” wagon train for a new state…Frank Hardin, a bandit leader who plans to attack the train for revenge…and Fancy Darrow, the beautiful daughter of a slave owner who must struggle to accept the shocking truth of her birthright. Lovers and dreamers, fighters and schemers, they are determined to live—and die—for what they believe in. For freedom. For Texas. For America…
Medina River, Texas—Sunday, February 21, 1836
Twenty-four-year-old Captain Paul Nelson lay on
his belly on a flat rock on the banks of the Medina
River. Opening up his telescope, he perused the
Mexican encampment on the other side of the river.
There had to be two thousand or more soldiers gathered
One of the men, resplendent in a colorful and
medal-bedecked uniform, was standing off by himself,
holding a riding quirt in his right hand, slapping
it casually against his left. Focusing his spyglass on
the face, Paul was able to confirm his suspicion. This
was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Paul was
positive of that, because he had once met the Mexican
Paul hurried back to his horse, mounted, then
started toward San Antonio de Bexar. By pushing it,
he could make the twenty-five miles in about two and
one half hours. He knew that an army that large
would take at least two days to reach San Antonio de
Bexar if they left right now.
Horse and rider were tired when they rode into
San Antonio late that afternoon. To Paul’s surprise,
rather than preparing for Santa Anna’s advancing
army, citizens and soldiers alike were enjoying a
great fiesta. Music was playing, men and women were
dancing, children were running about, and the air
was redolent with the aromas of cooking meat.
Smelling the food intensified Paul’s hunger because
he had not eaten a thing except a couple of
pieces of deer jerky since yesterday morning. Dismounting
near one of the outdoor cooking pits, he
scooped some beans and spicy beef onto a tortilla
and carried it around with him, eating, as he searched
for Colonel Travis. He found Travis drinking coffee
at a table in front of the Mariposa Cantina.
“Captain Nelson,” Travis said. “It is good to see
you back. Have a seat.” Travis pushed out a chair with
his foot and Paul joined him at his table. “Did you
“I saw them,” Paul said. “They are camped on the
“That’s pretty close,” Travis replied. “How many
“Two thousand, maybe as many as twenty-five hundred.
They are spread out quite a way up and down
The two men had to raise their voices in order to
be heard because the celebration was so loud. Once,
when there was a woman’s quick scream, followed by
the laughter of men and women, Paul looked toward
the sound and saw that Jim Bowie was at the center of
the festivities. Though it wasn’t intentional, he must
have had a look of disapproval on his face, and
Colonel Travis saw it.
“Yes, it is our esteemed Colonel Bowie,” Travis said.
He slurred the word colonel.
“I know there have been some differences of opinion
between the two of you,” Paul said. “Colonel, I
speak not as a partisan for either side, but don’t you
think we would all be better served if the two of you
could work out your differences?”
“There is nothing I would like more, Captain, believe
me,” Travis said. “But it has been impossible to
find Bowie sober long enough to have a serious conversation.”
“Con este cuchillo, les quitaré el corazón de Santa Anna!”
Bowie shouted, slashing at the air with his broad-
His comment was greeted by laughter and cheers.
“What did he say?” Travis asked, obviously irritated
by Bowie’s drunken and boisterous behavior.
“He said, ‘With this knife I will remove the heart
of Santa Anna,’ ” Paul interpreted.
Travis stroked his chin and nodded. “That is the
most difficult of all,” he said. “It isn’t bragging if you
can actually do what you boast. And Bowie’s past history
would certainly prove that he could do just
Travis reached into the inside pocket of his tunic
and pulled out two sheets of paper. He handed both
of them to Paul.
“In your absence, Captain, I wrote two letters,” he
said. “I have kept copies, and I would like for you to
read them, for I greatly value your opinion.”
Paul took the two letters, and, as the celebration
continued around him, began to read.
His Excellency, General Sam’l Houston:
You have no doubt already received information
by express from La Bahia that tremendous preparations
are in the making on the Rio Grande and elsewhere
in the interior for the invasion of Texas. Santa Anna,
by the last accounts, was at Saltillo, with a force of
two thousand five hundred men and guns. Sesma
was at the Rio Grande with about two thousand
men, and he has issued his proclamation announcing
vengeance against the people of Texas, threatening to
exterminate every white man within its limits.
As this is the frontier post nearest the Rio Grande,
we will, no doubt, be the first to be attacked. We are
ill-prepared for their reception as we have not more
than one hundred and fifty men here and they are in
a very disorganized state. Yet we are determined to
sustain the garrison for as long as there is a man
left; because we consider death preferable to disgrace,
which would be the result of giving up a post which
has been so dearly won, and thus opening up the
door for the invaders to enter the sacred territory of
We hope our countrymen will open their eyes to the
present danger, and wake up from their false security.
I hope that all party dissensions will subside, that
your fellow citizens will unite in the common cause
and fly to the defense of the frontier.
I fear that it is useless to waste arguments upon
them. It will take the thunder of the enemy’s cannon,
the pollution of their wives and daughters, the cries
of their famished children and the smoke of their
burning dwellings to arouse them. I regret that the
government has so long neglected a draft of the
militia, which is the only measure that will ever
again bring the citizens of Texas to the frontiers.
Money, clothing, and provisions are greatly
needed at this post for the use of the soldiers.
I hope Your Excellency will send up a portion of
the money which has been received from the U.S. as it
cannot be better applied, indeed we cannot get along
any longer without money, and with it we can do
For God’s sake, and the sake of our country, send
us reinforcements. I hope you will send to this post at
least two companies of regular troops.
In consequence of the sickness of his family, Lt.
Col. Neill has left this post to visit home for a short
time and has requested me to take the command of
the post. In consequence of which, I feel myself
delicately and awkwardly situated. I therefore hope
that Your Excellency will give me some definite orders
and that immediately.
The troops here, to a man, recognize you as their
legitimate governor, and they expect your fatherly
care and protection.
In conclusion let me assure Your Excellency, that
with two hundred more men I believe this place can
be maintained, and I hope they will be sent us as soon
as possible. Yet should we receive no reinforcement, I
am determined to defend it to the last, and should
Bexar fall, your friend will be buried beneath its ruins.
William B. Travis
San Antonio de Bexar
“That is a wonderful letter, Colonel Travis,” Paul
said, as he handed the missive back.
“Please, read the other one, then we will talk,”
Nodding in the affirmative, Paul began reading
the second of the two letters.
His Excellency, General Sam’l Houston:
I wrote you an official letter last night as
commandant of this post in the absence of Col. Neill,
and if you had taken the trouble to answer my letter
from Burnam’s, I should not now have been under
the necessity of troubling you.
My situation is truly awkward and delicate.
Colonel Neill left me in the command, but wishing to
give satisfaction to the volunteers and not wishing to
assume any command over them I issued an order
for the election of an officer to command them with
the exception of one company of volunteers that were
previously engaged to serve under me.
Bowie was elected by two small companies, and
since his election he has been roaring drunk all the
time; has assumed all command, and is proceeding
in a most disorderly and irregular manner, interfering
with private property, releasing prisoners sentenced
by court-martial and by the civil court and turning
everything topsy-turvy. If I did not feel my honor
and that of my country compromised I would leave
here instantly for some other point with the troops
under my immediate command, as I am unwilling to
be responsible for the drunken irregularities of any
I hope you will immediately order some regular
troops to this place, as it is more important to occupy
the post than I imagined when I last saw you. It is
the key of Texas from the interior. Without a footing
here the enemy can do nothing against us in the
colonies now that our coast is being guarded by
armed vessels. I do not solicit the command of this
post but Col. Neill has applied to the commander-inchief
to be relieved and is anxious for me to take the
command. I will do it, if it be your order, for a time
until an artillery officer can be sent here. The citizens
here have every confidence in me, as they can
communicate with me, and they have shown every
disposition to aid me with all they have. We need
money. Can you not send us some? I read your letter
to the troops and they received it with acclamation.
Our spies have just returned from the Rio Grande.
The enemy is there one thousand strong and is
making every preparation to invade us. By the 15th
of March I think Texas will be invaded and every
preparation should be made to receive them.
In conclusion, allow me to beg that you will give
me definite orders immediately.
William B. Travis
San Antonio de Bexar
“When did you send these letters, Colonel?” Paul
asked, returning the two to Travis.
“I sent them two weeks previous,” Travis replied as
he folded the letters and put them back in his pocket.
“Even if Houston had all intentions to send re
placements to our relief, he would not be able to do
so now,” Paul said. “Santa Anna is too close.”
“He wouldn’t send them if he could,” another
man said, and looking over a couple of tables beyond,
Paul saw Davy Crockett sitting in the shadows.
He was eating a piece of fried bread, spread with butter
“Why do you say that, Colonel?” Paul asked.
Crockett held up his hand, palm out. “I told you,
I’m not a colonel. I’m what you might call a high private.
But you can call me Davy.”
“All right, Davy, why do you say that Houston
wouldn’t send us reinforcements?”
“Because he is a Jackson man,” Crockett said. “An
Andrew Jackson man.”
“I take it that you don’t like Andrew Jackson?”
“I wouldn’t be here if I had any regard for that
polecat,” Crockett said. He chuckled. “When I left, I
told him, I said, ‘You can go to hell and I am going to
Texas.’ Yes, sir, that’s what I told him,” Crockett said,
laughing at his own story.
“Did you hear what Captain Nelson just reported
about Santa Anna and his army?” Travis asked.
“I heard. He’s on the Medina River. That’s not too
far from here, I take it?”
“It’s not far at all. It means two days, at the most,”
“Are we goin’ to pull out, Billy? Or are we goin’ to
stay here and fight?” Crockett asked.
“You can do what you want with your Tennesseans,
but I’m not leaving,” Travis said.
“Oh, I reckon we’ll stay and see this little fracas
through with you,” Crockett said.
“John,” Travis called, seeing Captain John Hubbard
Forsythe walking by. “Come join us.”
Smiling, Forsythe came over to sit at the table with
Paul and Travis.
“Colonel,” he said, then turning to Paul. “You just
get back from your scout?”
“A few minutes ago,” Paul said.
“They are on the Medina River,” Travis said. “I expect
they’ll be here in about two more days.”
“Two more days?”
“Maybe sooner,” Paul said.
Forsythe drummed his fingers on the table for a
moment. “We aren’t going to get any reinforcements,
are we, Colonel?”
“No,” Travis said.
“How many did you see?”
“At least two thousand,” Paul replied. “Maybe
“And that’s not the entire army,” Travis said.
“From the reports I received earlier, there are more
than five thousand in Santa Anna’s invasion force. I
expect there will be at least that many when they attack
“Five thousand against less than two hundred,”
“Are you having second thoughts about being
here, John?” Travis asked.
“For me? No. But I’m damn glad Gordon is with
General Houston,” Forsythe said, speaking of his
brother. “One Forsythe in here is enough.”
San Antonio de Bexar—Tuesday, February 23, 1836
“Captain Nelson,” Travis said when Paul answered
a summons to report to him. “No doubt you have noticed that the last of the civilian residents of San Antonio
left early this morning.”
“Yes, sir, I couldn’t help but notice. Wagons, carts,
and horses started passing by my quarters even before
“I would like for you to post a lookout somewhere
so we could get an early warning of their arrival.”
“If you don’t mind, I’ll be the lookout,” Paul said.
“I’ve already picked my observation post.”
“I’m going to climb up to the top of the bell tower
of the San Fernando church. That is the highest
place in town, and it has a panoramic view, so no
matter which direction they use for their approach, I
will be able to see them.”
“Good idea,” Travis said. “How is Bowie? Drunk
“No, sir. He is ill. Very ill.”
“I know he has been ill. And I have been harsh on
him because of his drinking. Perhaps he has had an
excuse for his drinking.”
“You had every right to be upset, Colonel,” Paul
said. “He should have relinquished co-command and
turned the entire garrison over to you, especially seeing
as he is too ill to command.”
“Yes, well, at this point it no longer matters, does
it? The Mexicans are here, our reinforcements are
“When will we withdraw to the fort?” Paul asked.
Travis snorted. “Fort,” he said. “I would hardly call
it a fort. We have taken an abandoned mission and
done all that we could to fortify it. Its only advantage
is that it is a walled mission, but the grounds are
much too expansive to be defended by the few men
that we have. Major Jameson has done a good job of
modifying it as far as he can, but there are no loopholes
in the wall through which we can fire, and there
are areas of the wall that can be easily breached. If
you want my honest opinion, Paul, not one of us will
survive this battle.”
Paul extended his hand. “Colonel, regardless of
the outcome of this battle, it has been a privilege to
serve with you.”
After shaking hands with his commander, Paul
hurried to the bell tower of the church. The only
steps going to the top were a set of ladder rungs that
had been set into the inside wall. Paul clambered to
the top, then stepped out onto the very narrow ledge
and looked toward the west. There was no need to
use his telescope. The Mexicans were no more than
one and a half miles outside the town. And that
meant there was no need to stay here any longer.
Paul climbed back down as quickly as he could,
then hurried back to give his report to Travis.
“Colonel, they are upon us!” he said. “They will be
in the town by noon!”
“I’m glad all the civilians have left. Spread the
word, Captain,” Travis said. “We will withdraw to the
Alamo Mission now.”
The Texians who had been quartered in the town
now began moving into the mission. Paul saw Captain
Almaron Dickinson ride up to the front of his
“Susanna!” he called.
Susanna came outside, carrying their young daughter,
“Give me the baby, climb up onto the horse behind
me, and ask me no questions,” Dickinson said
in short, anxious words.
Susanna did as she was ordered, and asked no
By late afternoon, everyone was inside the Alamo.
When the Mexican troops marched into San Antonio,
they found the town completely deserted. Their
first act was to raise a blood red flag, then have their
trumpeter play “The Deguello.”
Travis, Bowie, Davy Crockett, Captain John Forsythe,
and Paul were standing on the firing platform
that Green Jameson had built for the riflemen. There
were also some cannon mounted there and Captain
Dickinson, the artillery officer, was standing by the
largest piece in the Alamo’s arsenal.
“What is that music they are playing?” Travis asked.
Bowie was sweating profusely, though the weather
was cool. He wiped his face with a handkerchief before
“It is called ‘The Deguello.’ ”
“Well, now, it’s just real nice of them fellers to serenade
us like that,” Davy Crockett said.
“It’s not exactly a serenade, Davy,” Bowie said. “At
least, not one you would want to take pleasure in. It’s
the Mexican way of telling us Se rendir ahora, o mataremos
a todos ustedes.”
“What does that mean?” Travis asked.
“It means no quarter. Surrender now, or they will
kill all of us,” Bowie said.
“Colonel, what do you say we answer them?” Paul