Slip of paper 186 years old reveals error on Alamo defenders list

You might remember my blog about an ancestor of mine, James Hannum, a fighter in the Texas Revolution who’s on the official list of Alamo defenders.

Seven months after the post, I now have solid evidence he didn’t sacrifice his life in the fabled stand against Mexican troops near San Antonio. The truth is that he died almost three months earlier, a hundred miles from the old Spanish fortress.

The proof is an 1835 document recently uncovered in Austin, Texas.

The Battle of the Alamo lasted 13 days, culminating on March 6, 1836, when thousands of Mexican troops overwhelmed about 200 Texan volunteer soldiers at an old Franciscan mission near San Antonio, Texas. My ancestor James Hannum, who joined the fight for Texas’ independence, is incorrectly listed as an Alamo defender.

In my blog last July, I wrote about the findings of a former Army military policeman and criminal investigator, Thomas Ricks Lindley, who spent many years researching the Alamo battle. In his 2003 book Alamo Traces: New Evidence and New Conclusions, he made the case that some men on the list of Alamo heroes didn’t die there. Hannum was among them.

Lindley cited a record noting Hannum died December 14, 1835, at a frontier fort in Goliad, Texas, commanded by Captain Philip Dimitt, or Dimmitt. The notation appears on a morning report, a daily accounting of personnel.

Where did Lindley find the report? He gave the source as the Philip Dimitt Papers at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Eager to see for myself, I emailed the Briscoe Center asking for Dimitt’s morning reports, but it was closed because of COVID-19.

“At this time we are unable to access any of our physical, onsite materials and services, including the Philip Dimitt Papers,” reference intern Marisa Jefferson wrote on June 23. “However, I was able to access a more comprehensive listing of the items in this collection.”

That offered hope, but then she followed up with this: “I do not see any suggestion in this finding aid that the morning reports you are looking for would be in the collection.”

What? Could Lindley, a ferocious fact-hunter, have made a mistake?

Six months passed. Then out of the blue, in mid-December, I got another email from Jefferson. She said the Briscoe Center had reopened to staff on a limited basis. I could put in a request to have materials in the Philip Dimitt collection scanned and emailed. To give her a handle on what to look for, I sent the link to my July 2020 blog.

A breakthrough came in January, when she looked in the designated box of Dimitt papers and, to her surprise, found several morning reports. I wanted to see them all. She arranged it, and a staffer in Duplication Services sent me the scans of two morning reports. Again, no luck. They were from December 24 and 26, 1835, and don’t mention Hannum.

“Nice try, though,” I wrote to Jefferson. “Thank you for that.”

She offered to take another look at the collection. This time, she found the December 14 report mentioning Hannum, just as Lindley had described it in his book. A part of the one-page document labeled “Remarks” says: “DIED – This Morning James Hanum [sic], Private.” The name is underlined.

An image of the barely legible line is below.

This is a detail of a scan from Captain Philip Dimitt’s morning report of December 14, 1835, at Fort Goliad, Texas. It reads: “Remarks DIED — This Morning James Hanum, Private.” (The name, which is underlined on the paper, is misspelled. It’s actually “Hannum.”) The morning report is among documents in the Philip Dimitt Papers at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

This morning report is definitive, a primary source. It confirms that Hannum, twenty or twenty-one years old, was a soldier in Texas’ struggle for independence, but that he didn’t die with William B. Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say how Hannum died.

Also still unanswered is why, eighteen years after Lindley found fault with the list of Alamo defenders, Hannum’s name is still on it.

Since my blog last year, I’ve had email contact with Stephen Harrigan, author of the best-seller The Gates of the Alamo, who wrote the foreword to Lindley’s book.  Harrigan put me in touch with historical consultant Richard B. Winders, former historian at the Alamo.

“The defenders list is an interesting subject,” Winders emailed last September. “The general opinion is it is some certified list kept by some organization or agency, but in reality it is just a list of names that has been printed over and over.”

He said Lindley pressed for a revision of the record, but after his death in 2007, the issue faded away.

Still, while Winders was historian at the Alamo, he assigned a member of the staff to work on the defenders list. “Specifically, I was interested in how many lists there were and what were their origins,” he said. “My hope was that the Alamo and GLO would cooperate in evaluating and establishing the veracity of the list together.”

GLO is the Texas General Land Office, which the Texas Legislature put in charge of the Alamo’s care in 2011.

It’s unclear where the research stands. Winders heard that after he left, the Alamo allowed the staffer to keep working on the list. Winders gave me the email address of the shrine’s curator. I wrote to him but got no response.

3 responses to “Slip of paper 186 years old reveals error on Alamo defenders list

  1. Good investigative work on your part. What does the Hannum book say about him?

    William H. Venditta Coach Horn Farm 220 Derry Meeting Road Cochranville, PA 19330

    Mobile: 610-220-6789 Fax: 610-869-3438

    >

  2. David! Are you telling us there was FAKE NEWS IN 1835??? Oh my!!! Susan

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s