Catalogue


The gates of the Alamo : a novel /
by Stephen Harrigan.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : A.A. Knopf, 2000.
description
581 p. : map ; 25 cm.
ISBN
0679447172
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
New York : A.A. Knopf, 2000.
isbn
0679447172
general note
Picture of the Fort of the Alamo and a view of San Antonio de Bèxar looking east toward the Fort of the Alamo on endpapers.
catalogue key
3746880
 
Includes bibliographical references.
A Look Inside
Awards
This item was nominated for the following awards:
Spur Awards, USA, 2001 : Won
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
In the early spring of 1835 an American botanist named Edmund McGowan travelled southeast from Bexar on the La Bahia road, following the course of the San Antonio River as it made its unhurried way through the oak mottes and prairies of Mexican Texas. He rode a big-headed mustang mare named Cabezon and led an elegant henny mule loaded down with his scant baggage. Professor, a quizzical-looking mongrel, scouted ahead of the little caravan, sniffing out the road when it grew obscure and threatened to disappear from sight. Edmund McGowan was forty-four years of age that spring, very much the confident, solitary man he aspired to be. He was of medium height but heavy-boned, his hands blunted and scarred by decades of hostile weather and various misadventures involving thorns and briars, snakebite, and the claws of a jaguarundi cat. His features were pleasingly bland, but there was a keenness and luminosity in his eyes. He possessed all his teeth but one, and most of his hair as well, though his side-whiskers had lately broken out in polecat streaks of gray. He wore a once-fine hat of brown felt, a frock coat, and pantaloons that he protected from the brush with leather botas that covered his legs from his knees to his brogans. His saddle, bit, and round wooden stirrups were Spanish, and like a vaquero he carried a loop of rope on the cantle. It was his ambition to use the rope to lasso a turkey. Though the weather was mild, winter still lingered across the landscape. The great live oaks, always in leaf, formed intermittent glades along the road, but the limbs of the hardwoods lining the river were bare, and few wildflowers had yet emerged from the brittle grass. No matter. Edmund had packed a modest amount of drying paper, his press, magnifying glass, a dozen vascula, and a few essential books like Drummond's Musci Americani and Nuttall's Genera, but this was not a trip for botanizing. He was on his way to pay a visit to his employer, the government of Mexico, or at any rate the entity that was currently being promoted as the government. No doubt by the time he arrived in the City of Mexico, another junta would have arisen and taken its place. As far as he knew, his commission -- to provide an ongoing botanical survey of the subprovince of Texas -- was still in effect, though in the last year his payment vouchers had not been honored in Bexar when he presented them at the comandante's office on the Plaza de Armas. He had no great hopes for this mission to the City of Mexico; indeed, he feared that his continued employment had less to do with a keen governmental interest in undescribed flora than with bureaucratic oversight. After the completion of the Boundary Survey of 1828, he had expected his services to be courteously terminated, and yet year after year, as Mexico suffered from an endless pageant of civil insurrection and foreign intrigue, his quaint little job on its far frontier had remained secure. But he had come to depend on those 2,400 pesos a year. Without them, he would soon be reduced to selling seeds to Kew Gardens, or to hawking ferns to the London gentry like some common Botany Ben. He considered himself to be a scientist, not a scavenger and purveyor of ornamental plants. His little house in La Villita overflowed with books and notes, with dried specimens and drawings and Wardian boxes filled with carefully nurtured living plants -- all of the materials that were waiting to be compacted into hisFlora Texana. He saw theFloraas a great, solid book as thick and incontrovertible as the Bible, a book that would justify a life of cruel endurance. ("What labor is more severe," he had been gratified to read in Linnaeus, "what science more wearisome, than botany?") But now, because no doubt of some fastidious clerk in a government palace, his work was in jeopardy. The only hope he had of restoring his commission was to present himself and mak
First Chapter
In the early spring of 1835 an American botanist named Edmund McGowan travelled southeast from Béxar on the La Bahía road, following the course of the San Antonio River as it made its unhurried way through the oak mottes and prairies of Mexican Texas. He rode a big-headed mustang mare named Cabezon and led an elegant henny mule loaded down with his scant baggage. Professor, a quizzical-looking mongrel, scouted ahead of the little caravan, sniffing out the road when it grew obscure and threatened to disappear from sight.

Edmund McGowan was forty-four years of age that spring, very much the confident, solitary man he aspired to be. He was of medium height but heavy-boned, his hands blunted and scarred by decades of hostile weather and various misadventures involving thorns and briars, snakebite, and the claws of a jaguarundi cat. His features were pleasingly bland, but there was a keenness and luminosity in his eyes. He possessed all his teeth but one, and most of his hair as well, though his side-whiskers had lately broken out in polecat streaks of gray. He wore a once-fine hat of brown felt, a frock coat, and pantaloons that he protected from the brush with leather botas that covered his legs from his knees to his brogans. His saddle, bit, and round wooden stirrups were Spanish, and like a vaquero he carried a loop of rope on the cantle. It was his ambition to use the rope to lasso a turkey.

Though the weather was mild, winter still lingered across the landscape. The great live oaks, always in leaf, formed intermittent glades along the road, but the limbs of the hardwoods lining the river were bare, and few wildflowers had yet emerged from the brittle grass. No matter. Edmund had packed a modest amount of drying paper, his press, magnifying glass, a dozen vascula, and a few essential books like Drummond's Musci Americani and Nuttall's Genera, but this was not a trip for botanizing. He was on his way to pay a visit to his employer, the government of Mexico, or at any rate the entity that was currently being promoted as the government. No doubt by the time he arrived in the City of Mexico, another junta would have arisen and taken its place. As far as he knew, his commission -- to provide an ongoing botanical survey of the subprovince of Texas -- was still in effect, though in the last year his payment vouchers had not been honored in Béxar when he presented them at the comandante's office on the Plaza de Armas.

He had no great hopes for this mission to the City of Mexico; indeed, he feared that his continued employment had less to do with a keen governmental interest in undescribed flora than with bureaucratic oversight. After the completion of the Boundary Survey of 1828, he had expected his services to be courteously terminated, and yet year after year, as Mexico suffered from an endless pageant of civil insurrection and foreign intrigue, his quaint little job on its far frontier had remained secure. But he had come to depend on those 2,400 pesos a year. Without them, he would soon be reduced to selling seeds to Kew Gardens, or to hawking ferns to the London gentry like some common Botany Ben. He considered himself to be a scientist, not a scavenger and purveyor of ornamental plants. His little house in La Villita overflowed with books and notes, with dried specimens and drawings and Wardian boxes filled with carefully nurtured living plants -- all of the materials that were waiting to be compacted into hisFlora Texana. He saw theFloraas a great, solid book as thick and incontrovertible as the Bible, a book that would justify a life of cruel endurance. ("What labor is more severe," he had been gratified to read in Linnaeus, "what science more wearisome, than botany?") But now, because no doubt of some fastidious clerk in a government palace, his work was in jeopardy. The only hope he had of restoring his commission was to present himself and make his case t
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2000-01-17:
Settling his fictional cast firmly at the heart of 19th-century Texas, novelist Harrigan (Jacob's Well) retells the story of the Alamo with consummate skill, weaving a wealth of historical detail into a tight, moving human drama. Mary Mott, honest widow and frontier innkeeper near the Gulf Coast; her 16-year-old son, Terrell; an itinerant, fiercely independent botanist named Edmund McGowan; and a small collection of soldiers in Santa Anna's army are among those whose lives are disrupted as factions within the rebellious Mexican state unite in the common cause of independence. In a serpentine plot that never runs dull, Harrigan traces the growing war fever, beginning in 1835, neatly avoiding political debate by presenting the various arguments plainly from each point of view. When Terrell runs away after an emotionally disturbed girl, who is pregnant with his child, commits suicide, his mother and McGowan follow after him. All three wind up in the Alamo and are caught in the futile and ill-conceived 1836 battle on the outskirts of San Antonio de B‚xar. Faced with the formidable chore of handling such monumental legends as William Travis, James Bowie, David Crockett, Sam Houston and, of course, Santa Anna, Harrigan takes a judicious middle path, treating them respectfully but not smoothing over their flaws. Strict traditionalists may bridle at the deft ease with which Harrigan manipulates the bloody siege to allow a sentimental conclusion to his novel, and exacting historians may note his glossing of Mexican tactics in the final storming of the old mission, though the gore and guts of 19th-century combat are faithfully rendered. Yet Harrigan has crafted a compulsively readable historical drama on a grand scale, peopled with highly believable frontier personalities--Mexican as well as American--and suffused with period authenticity. 100,000 first printing; 11-city author tour. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2000-02-15:
After a brief prolog in which we meet 91-year old Terrell Mott, "messenger of the Alamo, last surviving hero of San Jacinto, and former mayor of San Antonio," we are taken back to the spring of 1835 and the days leading up to one of the most celebrated battles in American history: the siege of the Alamo and the massacre of its defenders. By dovetailing events that did happen and people who did exist - David Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis, Santa Anna-with the dramatized episodes of imaginary figures - American botonist Mott, his widowed mother - Harrigan (a novelist associated with Texas Monthly) proves that a more-than-twice-told tale can be made fresh and immediate. He recalls the story with historical accuracy, and the doings of the fictional characters are exciting and possible. Indeed, so well mingled are history, biography, and imagination that one does not pause to ask where one ends and the other begins. This book deserves a place of honor on your shopping list. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
This item was reviewed in:
Booklist, January 2000
Kirkus Reviews, January 2000
Publishers Weekly, January 2000
Library Journal, February 2000
New York Times Book Review, March 2000
San Francisco Chronicle, March 2000
Wall Street Journal, March 2000
Washington Post, March 2000
School Library Journal, July 2000
New York Times Book Review, March 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
A huge, riveting, deeply imagined novel about the siege and fall of the Alamo, an event that formed the consciousness of Texas and that resonates through American history. With its vibrant, unexpected characters and its richness of authentic detail,The Gates of the Alamois an unforgettable re-creation of a time, a place, and a heroic conflict. The time is 1835. At the center of a canvas crowded with Mexicans and Americans, with Karankawa and Comanche Indians, with settlers of many nationalities, stand three people whose fortunes quickly become our urgent concern: Edmund McGowan, a naturalist of towering courage and intellect, whose life's work is threatened by the war against Mexico and whose character is tested by his own dangerous pride; Mary Mott, a widowed innkeeper on the Texas coast, a determined and resourceful woman; and her sixteen-year-old son, Terrell, whose first shattering experience with love leads him instead to war, and into the crucible of the Alamo. As Edmund McGowan and Mary Mott take off in pursuit of Terrell and follow him into the fortress, the powerful but wary attraction between them deepens. And the reader is drawn with them into the harrowing days of the battle itself. Never before has the fall of the Alamo been portrayed with such immediacy. And for the first time the story is told not just from the perspective of the American defenders but from that of the Mexican attackers as well. We follow Blas Montoya, a sergeant in an elite sharpshooter company, as he fights to keep his men alive not only in the inferno of battle but also during the long forced march north from Mexico proper to Texas. And through the eyes of the ambitious mapmaker Telesforo Villasenor, we witness the cold deliberations of General Santa Anna. Filled with dramatic scenes, abounding in fictional and historical personalities -- among them James Bowie, David Crockett, and William Travis --The Gates of the Alamoenfolds us in history, and through its remarkable and passionate storytelling allows us to participate at last in an American legend. From the Hardcover edition.

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