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In 1836, Texas is part of Mexico, and the settlers of that region are discontent with the tyrannical rule of Gen. Santa Anna. As Gen. Sam Houston hastens to assemble a Texan army, Santa Anna is heading north with several thousand soldiers to defeat the rebellion. To gain more time, Houston orders Col. William Barret Travis to take command of the Alamo, a fort in a crumbling mission near the village of San Antonio de Bexar, through which Santa Anna's men must pass. Houston hopes that Travis and his twenty-seven "regular" army men will stall the enemy for as long as possible with the assistance of rancher Col. James Bowie and his three hundred Texas volunteers. The hard-drinking and independent Bowie, who has extensive landholdings to protect, and the aristocratic and arrogant Travis are a poorly matched team and antagonism between the two officers quickly grows. Although Juan Seguin, a respected community leader, reports that Santa Anna is closer than they realize, Travis refutes the information and repeatedly lies to the men about the danger of their situation. Believing that most men have no capacity to act for reasons of honor, Travis tells his confidant, Capt. Almeron Dickinson, that the men would desert their posts if they knew the truth. Meanwhile, Col. David Crockett, a former senator, and his rowdy, but loyal Tennessee backwoods sharpshooters, arrive in Bexar and head straight for the cantina. Travis seeks out Davy, and is surprised to learn that the reputed "illiterate country bumpkin" is an eloquent, deep thinker and is sensitive to the Texans' plight. Aware that Santa Anna's regime forbids Texans economic rights, Davy has also guessed the unpublicized plans to create a Republic of Texas. Unknown to his men, who think they are out for adventure, Davy has brought them to Bexar to investigate the situation and possibly convince them to join the fight. Davy soon falls in love with Flaca, a Mexican woman whose family was killed by Santa Anna and who is being pressured to marry Emil Sande, a local merchant who has curried favor with the Mexican general. Although she refuses Davy's gallant offer of help, she tells him about the cache of ammunition Emil has hidden for Santa Anna in the basement of the village church. During the night Davy, Bowie and their men find the supplies. When Emil discovers Davy and the others and tries to kill them, Davy throws Bowie's knife at Emil, killing him. Davy and Flaca enjoy a brief romance, but Davy sends her north to safety, realizing they may never see each other again. Travis keeps up the morale in the fort by reporting that Capt. Jim Fannin is on his way to the Alamo with more soldiers. Believing that staying cornered inside the fort is suicide, Bowie unsuccessfully tries to convince both Travis and, later, Davy that the best way to defend the Alamo is by a "cut, slash and run" approach out in the open. Davy convinces his men to fight for the Alamo by reading them a letter, purportedly written by Santa Anna, ordering the Tennesseeans to leave. Offended, the men stubbornly refuse to take orders from the Mexican general and vow to stay, after which Davy admits that he wrote the letter himself, but it is what Santa Anna would want. Soon after, a courier from Santa Anna arrives outside the fort, and from there, proclaims a message ordering the "occupiers" of the fort to relinquish all ammunition and leave. Before the courier can finish the message, Travis uses his glowing cigar to light the cannon. Startled by the cannon fire, the Mexican halts his reading and retreats in a dignified manner. Dryly, Bowie comments to Davy that Travis "knows the short way to start a war." Although Mexican soldiers are taking positions in front of the fort, Travis predicts that fighting will not begin until Santa Anna, the heavy artillery and food wagons arrive, which will take several days. Believing the situation is hopeless, Bowie decides to leave with his men. However, when Capt. James Butler Bonham arrives from another camp, reporting that Fannin is coming with one thousand men, Bowie decides to stay, unaware that Bonham has been ordered by Travis to lie about the number of men accompanying Fannin. In private, Bonham reports to Travis that only five hundred men are expected. A quarrel between Bowie and Travis escalates into plans for a duel after Bowie takes his men out on patrol without Travis' permission, but Davy convinces them to postpone their confrontation until after the war. Confronted by Davy, Travis admits that his orders are simply to buy time for Houston. Believing that the mission is worthwhile and knowing that Bowie plans to leave with his men in the morning, Davy gets him drunk, causing him to sleep late. The next day, Seguin sneaks into the fort with a few more men, bolstering morale. When a message is delivered directly to Bowie, bypassing Travis, the commander accuses Bowie of more insubordination. However, Travis apologizes after he learns that the message reports the death of Bowie's wife. When the doctor reports low rations and an outbreak of dysentery caused by tainted water, Travis orders a night-time raid of the Mexicans, from whom they rustle several steer. They also steal a good horse for a young soldier, Smitty, to ride to Houston's encampment to report their situation. When Santa Anna arrives, he allows the evacuation of the women and children, but Mrs. Dickinson insists that she and her young child will stay. After the rest of the noncombatants are safely away, shooting commences. The first Alamo casualty is Davy's friend Parson, inspiring Davy to pray that his men are successful, and if not, will be remembered as good men. At the end of the first day's battle, the Alamo men have shot many of the Mexicans, but suffer fifty casualties, twenty-eight of whom are dead. The men also receive news that Fannin's company was ambushed, and consequently no further help will be coming. When Davy expresses a desire to leave, Travis speaks truthfully to the men, telling them that they will not be able to hold the fort for long, but they have given Houston ten extra days to prepare for Santa Anna. Giving his blessing, Travis opens the gate and claims there is no dishonor in leaving. Davy and Bowie begin to lead their men out, but then Bowie gets off his horse and stands next to Travis. The others follow suit and soon all decide to perservere. After nightfall, Smitty delivers his written message to Houston and, anxious to return to his comrades, refuses both food and sleep. Upon reading the message, Houston, who is helpless to assist Travis, hopes that their sacrifice will be remembered. At the Alamo, the sleepless men talk about their belief in the hereafter. Bowie frees his aged slave Jethro and urges him to sneak out and make his way north, but Jethro chooses to stay. During the fighting the next day, Bowie is shot and taken to the infirmary. As the enemy breaches the fort's walls, Travis is killed. Davy is stabbed, but before dying, sets fire to the ammunition to prevent the Mexicans from taking it. Near the end of the battle, Mexican soldiers entering the infirmary are shot by Bowie as he fires guns with both hands. Jethro throws himself over his former master to protect him, but both are slaughtered. Only Mrs. Dickinson, her child and a young black boy are given a burro and allowed to leave without harm. Smitty arrives, but from a distance he sees that he is too late to help.