While the Alamo heroes fought to the last man on March 6, 1836, a cowardly former comrade found shelter in an empty cabin on the Guadalupe River. Until his own dying day, Louis Rose would stay on the run from a guilty conscience.
During a lull in the Mexican bombardment on March 3, Col. Buck Travis briefed the exhausted defenders on their hopeless predicament. The garrison had three alternatives: surrender, try to escape or fight to the finish. No matter what the choice, death was inevitable.
Because he believed in the importance of holding off Santa Anna as long as humanly possible, Travis declared his determination to leave the mission feet first. Drawing a line in the dust, he invited everyone to join him in the historic stand.
Individually and in small clusters the martyrs-to-be crossed the line. A single figure soon stood all alone, the grizzled Frenchman named Rose.
Yet the revolutionary zeal which swept Texas in the fall of 1835 somehow rekindled the long dormant passion in the 50-year-old. Selling his ramshackle home and few possessions, he rushed off to San Antonio to fight the Mexican army.
But Rose had not bargained on defending the Alamo with less than 200 men against 6,000 regular troops. According to his pragmatic philosophy, those who fought and ran away lived to fight another day. As far as he was concerned, Travis and the rest had taken leave of their senses.
Jim Bowie pleaded with his old friend to stay, but Rose refused to listen. Trying a different approach, Davy Crockett insisted escape was out of the question. Snipers would cut him down in an instant. The Frenchman muttered that was a better way to die than waiting around to be butchered.
In the fading sunlight, Rose dropped his bundle of belongings into a pool of blood and went over the wall. Heading west away from the Mexican lines, he walked through the deserted streets of San Antonio. He followed the town’s namesake river south about three miles before turning east onto the open prairie.
Staying far away from roads, Rose set out cross-country where progress was painfully slow. Cactus needles tore his legs to shreds, but he dared not pause to tend to the wounds. For 60 hours, he pushed on without eating or sleeping.
On the morning of March 6, Rose staggered into a vacated cabin along the Guadalupe. At that very moment 65 miles away, the Alamo was under attack from wave after merciless wave of Mexican soldiers. As Rose gorged himself on the provisions a panic-stricken family had left behind, his one-time compatriots were being slaughtered.
When he could eat no more, Rose lapsed into a coma. For three days, he slept around the clock regaining consciousness only for meals. Finally regaining his strength, he continued his solitary journey.
Near the Brazos River, the Zuber family took in the suffering stranger and doctored his infected wounds. During his lengthy visit, Rose told his amazing tale in far more detail than he ever would again. Years later, the father and mother passed down the story to their son, who became the recognized authority on the controversial figure.
Rose returned to Nacogdoches and went about his business as if nothing had happened. For the next six years, he ran a butcher shop and attracted surprisingly little attention.
How was the only man to desert the Alamo treated by his neighbors? After such a despicable display of cowardice, how did he manage to remain in the Republic of Texas and stay in one piece?
Apparently ashamed of his actions, Rose rarely revealed his role in the Alamo drama after his candid confession to the Zubers. The few times he mentioned the matter, the reaction was disbelief rather than outrage.
People told him to his face that he was a crazed impostor. The real Louis Rose had perished at the Alamo. Sure enough, on the first monument erected at the sacred site the list of the dead included the name “Louis Rose.”
This ironic confusion made it possible for Rose to live his last years in quiet obscurity. So far removed was he from the public eye that the exact date of his death went unnoticed.
The record was not set straight until the 1870s, when the Zubers’ son published the sensational story Rose had told his parents. By then, of course, the infamous fugitive was 20 years in his grave and safe from mortal reprisals.
Read all about Spindletop, Mexia, Roarin’ Ranger and Bloody Borger in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil.” Order autographed copies direct from the author at barteehaile.com.