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The Alamo Diorama

The Alamo Diorama

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On March 6, 2003, the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo, the Saluda County Historical Society unveiled its newest permanent exhibit and dedicated it to the seven South Carolinians who lost their lives there on that early morning in 1836. Two of those men, William Barret Travis and James Butler Bonham, were born in what is now Saluda County just miles from each other. Records show that their families attended the same church, Red Bank, when both the men were boys. The Travis family migrated to Alabama early in their young son’s life, and the two men did not meet again until years later in Texas.

Central to the exhibit is a diorama depicting the final battle of the siege of the Alamo. It is constructed on a scale of 1/64 and shows the ruined mission complex as it is described in the latest research. The entire battlefield is not shown as it would take up an area of at least 10 feet by 10 feet or more. The figures are 28 millimeters tall (1/64 scale) and are represented in the diorama at nearly a one-to-two ratio with the actual numbers of troops involved.

Each of the Mexican and Alamo defender figures were hand painted by members of the committee who constructed the diorama using information from primarily two sources, The Alamo and the War of Texan Independence by Philip Haythornthwaite and The Revolt in Texas Leading to Its Independence from Mexico by Terry Hooker. This proved a difficult task, since it is rare to find an illustration of the Alamo assault with Mexican troops in proper uniform. On the other hand it is assumed by some that Travis was in uniform. This is not so. Travis had ordered a uniform, but it had not yet arrived by the time of the siege. The only unit at the Alamo to be in uniform was the New Orleans Greys. Needless to say, the tedious painting of 500 tiny Mexican figures and the defending troops inside the Alamo took months to complete.

The Alamo model itself was an unpainted and disassemble miniature, again constructed to 1/64 scale. Using historical data, the committee members hand painted the model and constructed the appropriate terrain surrounding it. The diorama sits on a modeled and painted blue board foam insulation base over plywood. The four cardinal compass points are indicated to easily determine the course of the battle as given in written descriptions. A custom-built acrylic box covers the entire diorama, allowing full view of the exhibit.

Accompanying the exhibit is a booklet which explains all aspects of the diorama, gives a brief history of the major people involved, provides a useful map of both the Alamo and the exhibit, discusses the history surrounding the event, gives sources used, and many other points of interest. Visitors may use the book as they view the diorama and take it with them as a memento of their visit.

This exhibit, which fills an entire room of the Saluda County Museum, consists of much more than the diorama. Overlooking everything is an oil portrait of Travis and Bonham entitled "Bonham’s Farewell." It was painted by local artist Jon Smith, and a copy of it now hangs in the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach. There are pencil sketches of Travis and Bonham; a photograph of the Travis Memorial in Saluda; a child’s ladder-back chair with leather seat from Flat Grove, birthplace of Bonham; drawings of the four major individuals at the Siege of the Alamo; and illustrations of the Alamo, maps and descriptions as well as a list of the defenders. Two meticulously crafted models of Flat Grove done by visiting architecture students from Clemson University show how this house started as a two story log structure with a "dog trot" in the late eighteenth century and became the clapboard sheathed home that was the birthplace of James Butler Bonham.

Additional items in the exhibit include the plaque given to the Society at the induction of Travis and Bonham into the South Carolina Hall of Fame, a small library of books and video tapes relating to the Alamo, a facsimile of Travis’ famous letter from the Alamo as well as other documents of the time.

This exhibit is designed to be viewed as both a tribute to the South Carolinians who were at the Alamo and as an educational tool through which visitors may learn more about the historical climate in Texas at that period in history and about the men on both sides who were willing to fight and die for what they believed in so fervently. The Society feels that it helps fulfill its mission of "Preserving the Past, Shaping the Present, and Illuminating the Future."


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