Remember the Alamo: John Purdy Reynolds

Memorial to John Purdy Reynolds, Lewistown

The rain, which had started as I stood at the grave of William Rankin, had turned to a downpour before I was able to cross the road and crawl into the dry warmth of the vehicle. Note: more about William Rankin can be found here: William Rankin.

“Before we go, what’s that monument over there?” mom asked as I rubbed my hands attempting to warm them.

“Which one?” I asked, unsure which memorial had caught her attention.

“The large one over by the woods,” she answered as she pointed towards it. Thankfully, I knew the monument she had pointed towards, having visited it a couple years before.

“The Reynolds monument?” I replied. “The big obelisk?” She confirmed that was the one she was looking at.

“What’s the writing on the side of it? I can’t make out the words.” While at the time I did not know the exact phrasing on the memorial, I told her what I knew at the time – it was remembering the life of John Purdy Reynolds, a local man who died during the Battle of the Alamo. The exact phrasing on the side of the memorial reads: “My Brother / John Purdy Reynolds, M.D. / Mar. 14, 1806. Killed in the Battle of the / Alamo Texas, Mar. 6, 1836.”

John Purdy Reynolds was one of fifteen men from Pennsylvania who died during the Battle at the Alamo. Of those fourteen men, three of those men were from the Lewistown area; Dr. John Purdy Reynolds, William McDowell, and David Cummings.

Note: The fifteen known men from Pennsylvania are: John J. Ballentine, James Murry Brown, John Cain, Robert Crossman, David Cummings, Almaron Dickinson, James Hannum, Samuel Holloway, William Johnson, George C. Kimbell, William McDowell, John Purdy Reynolds, John M. Thurston, Hiram James Williamson, and John Wilson. The number of men originally from Pennsylvania may be higher – there are still a handful of defenders whose early years have not been discovered/verified.

Another Pennsylvanian, Captain Francis L. Desauque narrowly escaped the Battle of the Alamo, having left on February 22 for supplies at Goliad – the day before the Mexican army arrived. Desauque would later be captured during the Battle of Coleto Creek (March 19-20, 1836) and executed on March 27, 1836 during the Goliad Massacre.

The life of John Purdy Reynolds began March 7, 1806 in Cedar Springs, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. He was the son of David and Mary Reynolds – David was a local merchant and county judge. Note: At the time of his birth, Cedar Springs was originally located in Mifflin County, but became a part of Juniata County when it was formed in 1831.

Dr. John Purdy Reynolds attended Franklin College in Lancaster and later Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia graduating in or around 1827. In 1828 Reynolds and William McDowell, who was his cousin, left for Tennessee settling in the town of Mifflin.

In early 1836, while still residing in Mifflin, Tennessee, Reynolds and McDowell heard of the call for volunteers from Sam Houston to fight for Texas Independence. Reynolds spent all of his available money and purchased weapons and supplies for himself, McDowell, Robert Bowers and J. E. Massie and headed to Texas.

On January 14, 1836, Reynolds and the group from Tennessee arrived in Nacogdoches where they joined the Volunteer Auxiliary Corps of Texas. Among the company commanded by Captain William Harrison was the legendary David Crockett.

The company arrived in Bexar, at the beginning of February 1836 and immediately began fixing the walls of the Misión San Antonio de Valero, one of the early Spanish missions in Texas. The mission was erected by Spanish priests in 1718 to educate and convert local American Indians to Christianity. In 1793, the mission was secularized and abandoned.

Note: It was after the mission was abandoned the name, Alamo, became associated with it. The exact origin of the name Alamo is not known, but two different theories exist. 1) The name may have come from a grove of cottonwood trees, which in Spanish are álamo. 2) The abandoned mission was used by the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras, from Álamo de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico. The group was known by locals as the “Alamo Company”.

On February 23, 1836, the Mexican Army arrived at the Alamo and the siege began. Reynolds, who was a noted sharpshooter as well as surgeon, lost his life on March 6, 1836, when the Alamo was overrun by the Mexican Army.

Exactly where Reynolds fell will remain a mystery. While he was a surgeon, there were five other doctors at the siege. Some have suggested he was tending the wounded when he fell. Others believe he had been placed at a position to defend the Alamo as he was a noted sharpshooter and it was at that position he was killed.

Reynolds may have been forgotten locally except for the efforts of his sister, Eleanor. She had the monument erected in St. Mark’s Citizen Cemetery in honor of her fallen brother. We finished remembering the sacrifice of Dr. John Purdy Reynolds – and all those who fell at the Alamo – as the rain outside fell harder. Leaving the cemetery behind, we left it and Lewistown behind as we continued our journey. Reynolds’ sacrifice will never locally be forgotten, remembered by the monument in St. Mark’s Citizen Cemetery.

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