This Way Slaughter

Written by Bruce Olds
Review by Jo Ann Butler

It’s no spoiler to say that if you live in America, you have heard of the Alamo, that weathered stone chapel in San Antonio, Texas, where Texian settlers revolting against their Mexican government made a desperate last stand against General Santa Anna’s army in 1836. The hundred defenders, Texians and hired Tejano soldiers, were slaughtered to a man. The massacre spurred Texas’s independence, and six weeks later, “Remember the Alamo!” was the exultant, defiant cry as Santa Anna and his men were crushed by a Texian army.

Calling the Battle of the Alamo “popular” is an understatement. Movies, biographies, histories, and novels abound. Disney introduced baby boomers to two Alamo defenders: Colonel James Bowie and frontiersman (and former U.S. representative) Davy Crockett. However, Colonel William B. Travis remains a relative unknown.

In his iconoclastic satire, This Way Slaughter, Bruce Olds strips away myth to offer an impressionistic account of Travis’s stumbling path to the Alamo. How did a former teacher and lawyer-gone-bust become a colonel? How does an ordinary man define duende—Spirit? Passion? —in himself, and inspire a small garrison to fight to the death against an army ten times its size?

Mr. Olds uses poetry, historical documents, imagined diary entries and letters to tell Travis’s story, often in a stream of consciousness fashion. I wasn’t always enthusiastic about This Way Slaughter, as it veered between compelling and confusing, but it did keep me reading to the end. If you like your Alamo worship with a twist of LSD, do give it a try.