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2017-03-23

Grandpa's stories of our family at the Alamo

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. ©2017

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr.
BCHC Research Historian

Good story tellers seem to captivate their audience and make them loose all tract of time and go off wondering in their "mind's eye", only to come back to earth when the story comes to an end. That has been a trait in my family for generations. My grandpa, Pete Coffman, had that knack and so did his grandpas, Whitley and Coffman. If I may quote J. Frank Dobie, the famous Texas folklorist, from his book "Legends of Texas", 1924, Volume One, page 102, 4th printing. Cousin Dobie wrote of my great-great grandpa John M. Whitley, after his 1922 interview with him: 'When I think of the place, the time, the man, his tones-the whole environment in which these as well as other legends were told, I realize that the most faithful transcription of the words can give hardly more than a shadow of the original effect," Grandpa Whitley told several stories that were used in Dobie’s books, He repeated these stories to his grandson, Pete, and other grandchildren, who repeated them to their grandchildren; me, for one.
I remember these stories with warm affection and much gratitude, that like Dobie, it is hard to transcribe into print or ink what the real effects these stories grandpa told us had on us kids. The effect on me was something else, I became so very interested in them that I started writing them down at an early age. I was about six when I started to really pay attention to his stories, but being a kid and untrained, I at that time, only let my mind and imagination run free. And did it. It was at the time (1959) when John Wayne was at Brackettville, Texas, making his movie of the "Alamo". Those old enough should remember him and his cast members visiting Bandera.
Grandpa had us all set around him, and I, with wide eyes, would listen intently. He would tell us about our family's involvement in the Texas fight for Independence. He would talk about Washington on the Brazos, San Jacinto, and of course the Alamo. He could not remember the name of the kinfolk that died at the Alamo, but knew that one or more were killed in the battle. He always said it was on the Smith side, but as I got older and researched it out, it was one of the Whitley clan. Elizabeth Whitley Lindley's son, Jonathan Lindley, died in the battle at the Alamo. Elizabeth Whitley married Samuel Lindley and they and their family came to Texas in 1835 from Illinois. It is said that Jonathan Lindley came with the volunteers form Gonzales to answer the call for help from Col. Travis.
At the time grandpa was telling us these stories and John Wayne was making his famous movie, we kids were not interested in the details, we were only interested in playing the battle out in our own way. We built us an Alamo fort and fought an imaginary Mexican army and of course had our chance to play dead. We also had our chance to play Deaf Smith, Davy Crockett, Col. Travis and Jim Bowie. But, there was another side to this playing. It was the fact that in our hearts it was more real than play, because we knew that our own family was really and truly involved in the Alamo fight. It meant so much more to me somehow. It was more like what it means to be born a Texan, but even deeper. It meant that my family, like a lot of others, helped create and build the Republic of Texas, our beloved State of Texas. What else can I say? Maybe only Texans can understand?
During this time in my life, I started to save and collect anything on the Alamo. I did not seek them out, but picked them up along the way. Somethings are from around the 1900 era, some are souvenirs from the 1936 Texas Centennial, and others things were just old postage stamps, playing cards, post cards, and of course pictures. Anything with the Alamo on it. It is hard to say which item is my favorite, but I did get a birthday card in 1960 that folds out and could be taken apart (cardboard men, etc.) and used as a game to play out the battle. Then, there is then old ribbon with an Alamo metal. But, those things were from before my time.
Some of the best things I have are the ones that I collected during my lifetime. As a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, I had the opportunity to participate in the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration. The big celebration was held at the San Jacinto battlefield monument. It was a day to remember. On April 19, 1986, at the annual SRT meeting of the "Sesquicentennial Year", then Vice-President George Bush was knighted into the Knights of the Order of San Jacinto. My daughters were there to witness the event and held Sam Houston's sword that was used in the ceremony to knight Vice-President Bush. This sword was carried and used by Sam Houston during the battle of San Jacinto and the victory over Santa Anna, which won our independence.
One other outstanding event that I was a witness too, was the knighting of Tom O'Connor, Jr. and Dennis O'Connor, which took place in the Alamo itself in 1983. Later, I had the honor of having drinks and conversation at the Menger Hotel with Kemper Williams, Sr., Governor Price Daniel, Mr. Tom and Mr. Dennis (as they were called by those that knew them).
Now, you say what does all this mean? Well, to me, it meant that what grandpa told us was true and allowed this boy to grow up and participate in, and be a part of Texas history, which was a dream come true. Truly, a dream come true. "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember Goliad "