Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

24/10/2005

The Piper of the Alamo

I T WAS a solemn, ceremonial occasion.
The date was March 6th last year. The place was the gardens of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. It was the 156th anniversary of the famous siege’s last fatal day which also marked the birth of the Lone Star state all those years ago.
A solitary bagpiper in full Highland dress led a solemn procession in which was represented the United States South West Chapter of the Clan Gregory Society and their colleagues from the Ohio and Great Lakes Chapters as well as Texan and Gulf Coast Commissioners and other local dignitaries.
A framed, memorial poem, called ‘The Last Warrior Piper’ was handed over to representatives of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to be placed in the Alamo Museum. A short service was then held and the lone piper played a lament.
They were all there to commemorate one man – the Piper of the Alamo, an almost legendary figure looming out of the gunsmoke of Texas history.
His name was john McGregor. He was a Scotsman, a farmer and a bachelor who emigrated to Texas in the early 1830’s and settled in the dangerous, wide open territory near the Louisiana border.
At that time the area was ruled by Mexico, and McGregor, although at first steering clear of local politics, gradually got sucked into the dramatic events about to transform the frontier.
All we know of McGregor is a contemporary description of him as “a jaunty Scot devoted to his bagpipes” but he must have been a man with a fiery, independent spirit.
By 1836 so-called “American settlers” outnumbered the native Mexicans by four to one and the incomers, most of them men and women fiercely self reliant and imbued with pioneering ambitions, were deeply disgruntled with what they viewed as tyranny from south of the border and were determined to live in their own independent state,
As a result of these growing discontents the Texans duly established a provisional government and appointed Sam Houston commander-in-chief of their army.
The Mexicans responded by drawing up in full battle array, determined not just to quell the revolt but to push their possessions as far north as possible.
One of the volunteers who rallied to Houston’s colours was McGregor who left his farm and, armed only with a shotgun and his bagpipes, rode west to San Antonio which was to be a focal point in the ensuing hostilities
The Texans manned a white, stone-walled Franciscan mission on the outskirts of the town known locally as the Alamo (which is Spanish for cottonwoods).
Although told by Houston to retreat before the advance of 5,000 crack Mexican troops, the volunteers voted to stay and delay this main force of the enemy, giving their own side time to regroup in the hinterland and counterattack.
It was a courageous but foolhardy decision because the Mexicans, under their pompous, gaudily uniformed but ruthless commander Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who styled himself the Napoleon of the West, quickly surrounded the Mission, making escape or relief impossible.
There were only 187defenders in the Alamo. Few of (Item had been in Texas more than six years. They came from all walks of life – farmers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, even a Baptist preacher
Davy Crockett. adventurer, hunter and self-styled King of the Wild Frontier’ was there, as was Jim Bowie, the pioneer and gambler who invented the stylish knife which was given his name. And John McGregor was there with his beloved hag pipes.
Santa Ai na asked the Texans to surrender unconditionally. The defenders responded with a defiant cannon shot.
The Mexican general then ran up the red flag, the traditional military symbol at the time that no quarter would be given.
The siege lasted twelve bloodthirsty days. The Mexicans launched repeated savage assaults and in fierce fighting, ending up in hand-to-hand combat, lost more than 200 dead and suffered 400 wounded.
Throughout the siege McGregor kept up the Texans’ spirits with inspiring, martial airs on his pipes and a few days before the end, when morale was low, he and Crockett indulged in a comic musical duel.
The ‘King of the Wild Frontier’ had found an old fiddle from somewhere and, in the self-mocking boastfulness typical of the time, declared he was much the better musician of the two.
They took turns to play folk songs and reels and the men laughed and whooped and forgot for a while their crushing feelings of isolation.
It is not known who won the contest but McGregor must have come out tops for volume alone.
McGregor’s last known moment of glory came before the final assault. The Mexican troops paraded under the walls and their military hand played the doleful ‘Deguello’, a dirge whose Spanish name meant ‘Fire and Death’ and whose traditional message was of no quarter, of throat-cutting and a merciless massacre.
McGregor, defiant to the end, stood on the ramparts, playing his pipes at full blast and drowning out the grim bugle calls.
By the end of March 6th, 1836. it was all over.
Every defender was killed as the Mexicans swarme4 over the mission. some of the Texans dying yelling battle cries in Gaelic
Bowie was bayoneted in his cot where he lay confined with pneumonia and, in the fiery’ deafening carnage, the attackers, soaked in blood, lived up to their grim promise of no mercy.
Santa Anna burned all the bodies of the Texans in a funeral pyre. Among other known Scots who died in the massacre were Isaac Robinson, David Wilson, Edward McCafferty, William McDowell and Robert McKinney. McGregor beloved pipes were burned with his body.
But the Mexican triumph was shortlived.
Inspired by the courage and sacrifice of the Alamo martyrs the Texan army – screaming “Remember the Alamo!” – swept down over the tall prairie grass on Santa Anna’s forces six weeks later and in the ferocious, decisive 18 minute Battle of San Jacinto defeated and scattered them.
Mexican soldiers surrendered in their droves, desperately pleading, “Me – no Alamo!”
Texan independence was secured with this spectacular victory and the Alamo defenders became immortalised as the symbols of the fight for freedom, those who took their stand believing the time had come to throw off the foreign yoke, even if it meant dying for their cause.
Historians in Texas have recently been trying to unearth more facts about McGregor and have been researching his shadowy past.
Little has been uncovered about him, this strange figure stand ing proud and defiant on the walls of the mission, so perhaps some readers of ‘Scottish Memories’ may know more and write in with some additional information about the Piper of the Alamo.
Strangely enough, another mysterious Scottish-Texan connection was uncovered this year by the author of ‘Graveyards of Glasgow’, Jim Black.
An inscription ‘Heroine of Matagorda’ after the name of an Agnes Harkness on a headstone in Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis had long puzzled him.
Then, after some research, he discovered that Fort Matagorda was just south of the Alamo and was also the scene of a battle during the Texas War of Independence.
Mrs Harkness died 20 years after the Alamo siege but must have taken some now forgotten heroic place in the hostilities around that time before finding her resting place back in her native soil.
Further research is needed into the sizeable Scottish contribution to the creation of Texas.
Meanwhile, the elegy about McGregor presented to the Alamo
Museum reads as follows:
But the blood is aye strong, and the memories run deep,
And Clan McGregor have gathered at long last to weep
For their kinsman who died with the last gallant men
Free the Child of the Mist, send him hack home again.
May his spirit rest light, may his soul go in peace,
May his pipes fill the glen, may the kilt brush his knees,
And the heather blooms purple the bens and the brats,
As we send back his spirit to live out its days.
Yet, the call of the piper will still haunt the high hills,
And the blood of the Gael will still water the mills,
Of the minstrels and bards dwelling ‘neath the Lone Star
Who dip with their pens from that vast reservoir.
for the last of a legend lies deep in the heart Of the Highlands of Texas forever a part Of the nation he fought for, the land he helped win, And McGregor has won back his name once again.
So, the Lone Star and Alpin are fast joined together. May their union aye flourish-Despite them-forever
©SCOTTISH MEMORIES, George Forbes, 1993

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