William Barrett Travis and his Critics

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by Julia Robb

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Texas has a problem.

The wimps of this world hate courage.

And because so many intellectuals are wimps, they pour contempt on Texas, on Texas heroes and our history.

Small people tear down big ones, especially when the bigger souls are dead and can’t fight back.

Faced with the Mexican army, those same wimps would run.

I’m going to tell you about our Texas heroes in coming weeks, but this blog is about William Barrett Travis, commander of the Alamo when it fell on March 6, 1836.

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Travis was born in South Carolina in 1809 and his family moved to Alabama in 1818. He studied law in an attorney’s office and eventually opened an office of his own in Claiborne, Alabama.travis_wiley_sm

In 1828, Travis married Rosanna Cato. The couple’s son Charles was born in 1829.

Critics accuse Travis of abandoning his family in 1831 and leaving Alabama for Texas because he owed money. These crimes supposedly lessen Travis’s status as a hero.

That’s ridiculous. Men and women leave each other all the time, children or no children. Why should anyone attack Travis’s character because he and his wife separated?

Travis believed another man fathered his unborn daughter, and some still believe Travis killed Rosanna’s alleged lover.

No one, however, has ever been able to prove Travis killed the alleged lover.

True, Travis was several hundred dollars in debt when he left Alabama, but he paid back every cent once his law practice was established in Anahuac, Texas, according to William C. Davis, author of Three Roads to the Alamo.

Anahuac is on the eastern end of Galveston Bay.

Travis later moved to San Felipe de Austin; now just Austin.

Three Roads is carefully footnoted and is the best account of Travis, James Bowie and David Crockett I have ever read.

After resisting the Mexican government with a group of men who called themselves the “war party,” Travis joined the Texas Army.

He was eventually ordered to hold the Alamo.

Some critics believe the men in the Alamo disliked Travis because the volunteers elected Bowie as their commander while the Texas Army regulars followed Travis.

“In reality, Travis was outgoing, gregarious and respected by his peers,” and volunteers just didn’t want to take orders from a regular Army officer, according to Alamo historians, writing at www.thealamo.org.alamo-big

It’s widely believed Sam Houston wanted the Alamo destroyed and the defenders got their just deserts because they wouldn’t listen.

No. Houston did question whether it would be better for the Army to retreat, but Gov. Henry Smith did not agree and ordered the Army to hold the Alamo.

Travis was an army officer. He followed orders.

Did David Crockett (he preferred to be called David, not Davy) surrender at the Alamo.

Nobody knows.

According to a letter Houston wrote shortly after the fortress fell, seven men tried to surrender after the Mexicans overran the mission and Santa Anna had them executed.

That was based on information somebody gave Houston at the time.

A Mexican Army officer wrote (or didn’t, it depends on who you believe) that one man surrendered.

I have a soft spot for Travis. He was a good man.

I have read Travis’s diary and was charmed by him. He was trying to build a new life in Texas, he was in love, he wanted the best for himself and his country.

Travis had custody of his son and was planning to become a full-time father as soon as the war was over.

Travis wanted the best for Texas.

And he died at his post.

Francisco Antonio Ruiz, San Antonio’s alcalde, reported what he saw in San Antonio in March, 1836. His account was originally published in the Texas Almanac in 1860.

“On the 23rd of February, 1836, at 2 p.m., General Santa Anna entered the city of San Antonio with a part of his army. This he effected without any resistances, the forces under the command of Travis, Bowie and Crockett having on the same day, at 8 a.m. learned that the Mexican army was on the banks of the Medina river, and concentrated in the Alamo.

“In the evening they commenced to exchange fire with guns, and from the 23rd of February to the 6th of March (in which the storming was made by Santa Anna), the roar of artillery and volleys of musketry were constantly heard.

“On the 6th of March at 3 p.m. General Santa Anna at the head of 4000 men, advanced against the Alamo. The infantry, artillery and cavalry had formed about 1000 varas from the walls of said fortress.

“The Mexican army charged and were twice repulsed by the deadly fire of Travis’ artillery, which resembled a constant thunder. At the third charge the Toluca battalion commenced to scale the walls and suffered severely. Out of 800 men, only 130 were left alive.

“When the Mexican army had succeeded in entering the walls, I with Political Chief (Jefe Politico) Don Ramon Musquiz, and other members of the corporation, accompanied the curate Don Refugio de la Garza, who, by Santa Anna’s orders had assembled during the night, at a temporary fortification erected in Potrero street, with the object of attending the wounded.

“As soon as the storming commenced, we crossed the bridge on Commerce street with this object in view, and about 100 yards from the same a party of Mexican dragoons fired upon us and compelled us to fall back on the river to the place occupied before.

“Half an hour had elapsed when Santa Anna sent one of his aides with an order for us to come before him. He directed me to call upon some of the neighbors to come with carts to carry the dead to the cemetery, and also to accompany him, as he was desirous to have Colonels Travis, Bowie and Crockett shown to him.

“On the north battery of the fortress lay the lifeless body of Colonel Travis on the gun carriage shot only in the forehead. Toward the west in a small fort opposite the city we found the body of Colonel Crockett. Colonel Bowie was found dead in his bed in one of the rooms of the south side.”

This I know.

Humans are their best selves when they live for something other than themselves–for others, or a state, or an ideal.

And it’s when we’re willing to die that we shine.

 

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Julia Robb is the author of Scalp Mountain and Saint of the Burning Heart, ebooks for sale at amazon.com. She can be reached at juliarobb.com, juliarobbmar@aol.com, venturegalleries.com, goodreads, pinterest, facebook, twitter, facebook and amazon author pages and probably places she’s never heard of.

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  1. I believe that San Felipe De Austin is now called San Felipe. It is just east of Sealy. Austin’s original name was Waterloo.

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