The Dawn-Breakers of the Alamo

Remember the Alamo?

While recently looking for images for a video project featuring the poem “Dawn” by California poet Robinson Jeffers, I came upon the painting “Dawn at the Alamo,” a rather imaginative and partisan depiction of the fall of the Alamo.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with the story, a band of Anglo-American Texans, apparently disregarding the urgings of their general Sam Houston, holed up in a Spanish mission after taking a Mexican town. They were doomed from the start. Major General Houston had no interest in holding the town, regarding it a strategic liability. The defense of the town did little or nothing for the cause of Texan independence, rather more likely harmed it—at least tactically, yet the defenders of the Alamo are remembered as martyrs of the cause, probably because they had to be remembered as such. They fought bravely, probably knowing that General Santa Anna, a bloodthirsty tyrant by all accounts, had no intention of sparing the lives of any of them.

It’s an old story: holy fools, playing against bad odds, courageously slaughtered by unholy monsters, while themselves slaughtering more than their share. It is a story that Bahá’í children know as the story of the siege and fall of Fort Shaykh-Tabarsi. That “fort,” like the Alamo, had been conceived as a religious site, the shrine of a Muslim holy man.

Jeffers’ poem happens to tell the general story well, throwing light on the irony inherent in using the word “dawn” to represent progress. According to the poem, dawn only serves to shed light on the stubborn evil of the human world.

Bahá’ís call their holy warriors of mid-19th Century Iran “the Dawn-Breakers.” For them, this image of carnage within the breached walls of the Alamo may give a westernized peek into the fall of their holy martyrs to the Shah’s troops, as the Alamo itself becomes an odd sort of Bahá’í shrine.

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