William B. Travis

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William B. Travis
William B. Travis by Wiley Martin.JPG
William B. Travis in a sketch by Wyly Martin is the only known likeness of Travis drawn during his lifetime, although its accuracy has been questioned. [1]
Birth nameWilliam Barret Travis
Nickname(s)Buck [2]
Born(1809-08-01)August 1, 1809
Saluda County, South Carolina
DiedMarch 6, 1836(1836-03-06) (aged 26)
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas
AllegianceFlag of Texas (1839-1879).svg  Republic of Texas
Service/branch Flag of Texas (1839-1879).svg Texas Army
Years of service1835–1836
Rank Lieutenant Colonel
Commands heldThe Alamo
Battles/wars Texas Revolution
William B Travis signature.svg
Signature of William B. Travis

William Barret "Buck" Travis (August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th-century American lawyer and soldier. At the age of 26, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army. He died at the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution. Travis County and Travis Park were named after him for being the commander of the Republic of Texas at the Battle of the Alamo.


Early life

Ancestry, early years, and education

Travis's grandfather, Berwick (also known as Barrett) Travis, came to the British Colonies of North America at the age of 12, where he was placed in indentured servitude for more than a decade. Berwick's ancestors came to North America in the late 1600s, and Berwick's (Barrett's) grandfather was born in Perquimans, North Carolina but went back to Great Britain for his medical training. A descendant of the Travers of Tulketh Castle in Preston, England, Berwick had a life that hardly resembled his ancestor's glory and wealth. After working his period of servitude, he traveled south to the colony of South Carolina, where he received a grant of over 100 acres of land in what is now Saluda County, South Carolina. [3] A year later, he married Anne Smallwood, and they lived out their lives there. They had four daughters and three sons, including Mark Travis and the Baptist missionary Alexander Travis.

Mark Travis married Jemima Stallworth on June 1, 1808. [4] She gave birth to William Barret Travis on August 1, 1809. Records differ as to whether his date of birth was the first or ninth of August, but his youngest brother James C. Travis, who was in possession of the Travis family Bible at the time of his statement, indicated that William was born on the first. Mark and Jemima had nine other children over the next twenty years.

Travis's uncle Alexander migrated to the new territory of Alabama following the War of 1812, settling in modern-day Conecuh County. He urged his brother and family to come join him, where he said that the land was cheap and easy to acquire, so Mark took his family, including young William, then age 9, to Alabama. They settled in the newly forming town of Sparta, where Mark Travis purchased the very first certificate from the Sparta Land company. [5] Young Travis grew up in Sparta, and while his father tended to the farming, his uncle Alexander became prominent, organizing the Old Beulah Church (among other churches), preaching in neighboring counties and nearby Evergreen, Alabama, and leaving a strong influence on young Travis. [6]

During that same time, Alexander also founded the Sparta Academy and served as its superintendent. Travis received his first formal education at the Sparta Academy, studying subjects ranging from Greek and Latin to history and mathematics. After a few years, Travis moved to the academy of Professor William H. McCurdy in Claiborne, Alabama.

After completing his education at the age of 18, Travis gained a position as an assistant teacher in Monroe County, a position he held for less than a year. [7] He met a student, Rosanna Cato, whom he immediately felt attracted to and with whom he began a romantic relationship. [8]

Life in Claiborne, ensuing debt and troubles

Eager to get away from farm life, Travis made his move to Claiborne permanent where he began studying law. Famed lawyer James Dellet accepted Travis as his apprentice. [9] At that time, Claiborne was a major city in Alabama that was right next to the Alabama River, where trade and social life seemed to be miles ahead of the still-growing community of Sparta.

Mounting debt and failure

Travis and Cato married on October 26, 1828. Cato gave birth to their first son, Charlie, a year later, though there is evidence to support that Charlie was born out of wedlock or possibly even a year beforehand. [10]

While still studying law under Dellet, Travis was eager to resume his professional career and to join the high ranks of Claiborne society. Travis started a newspaper, the Claiborne Herald, which, like many other newspapers of the day, published stories ranging from activities in Congress to stories of adventures across the world, local notices, advertisements and more. Travis essentially operated the newspaper himself, and while it provided a modest income during the first few months of operation, it was hardly enough to support himself, Rosanna and young Charlie. The financial stress led to carelessness at the Herald: advertisements were accidentally printed upside down, the type was not set properly in the printing press, letting words fall out of line, and advertisements that had expired were still published. He struggled to continue the paper, and though he asked for help, [11] he received none.

The home of Travis and Rosanna, relocated to Perdue Hill, Alabama and restored in 1985 William B. Travis House 002.JPG
The home of Travis and Rosanna, relocated to Perdue Hill, Alabama and restored in 1985

On February 27, 1829, Travis passed his law examination and received permission to legally practice, so he borrowed $55.37 to open a law office, [12] as well as $90 earlier in the year to help pay for the Herald. [13] Now in debt and with no practical income, he took in three boarding students, and to help Rosanna with the workload, he purchased two slaves. Maintaining the slaves increased his expenses, pushing Travis further into debt.

In 1829, the Herald's editions declined; only six issues were published in the fall when it was intended to be a weekly publication. It went from a newspaper to a two-sided sheet. Still, no one helped Travis with his newspaper, and by the end of that year, the Herald stopped being printed.

With hardly any law business coming in, the debts continued to mount. The earlier loans had never been paid, and more came - $192.40 in May 1829, $50.12 in June, and $50.00 in July. [14] His law practice failed to attract any significant clients because men like Dellet continued to be trusted more than Travis. By the end of his law practice in Claiborne, he had had only six cases, and had received less than a total of $4.00. By the spring of 1831, his debt was $834. [15]

Dellet, along with others to whom Travis owed money, had no choice but to file suit for Travis's debts to be repaid. At one point during the suit, Travis filed a plea that the case be dismissed on the grounds of infancy (he was still considered a minor in many parts of Alabama). Dellet responded by forcing Travis to stand, yelling at the courtroom "Gentlemen, I make 'proofest' of this infant!". [16] Travis stood humiliated in a courtroom filled with people who were roaring with laughter, and the Court's clerk issued orders for his arrest on March 31, 1831. [17]

At some point during his time in Claiborne, Travis heard stories of Texas, which was then an outlying state in the First Mexican Republic. In Texas, there was a massive amount of land speculation and immigration, with settlers coming in from the United States and Europe. There was also a strong demand for lawyers to deal with the influx of immigrants and land dealings, so he quickly made the decision to go to Texas. He promised Rosanna (now pregnant with a second child) that, while in Texas, he would earn enough money to pay back all of his debts. Rosanna trusted him to eventually return or send for her and his children. He did neither. Travis avoided arrest and left for Texas.

Texas and the Alamo command

William Barret Travis Historical Marker in Anahuac, Texas William Barret Travis Historical Marker.jpg
William Barret Travis Historical Marker in Anahuac, Texas
William B. Travis, painted by Henry Arthur McArdle, years after Travis's death, using a stand-in as a model. William travis.jpg
William B. Travis, painted by Henry Arthur McArdle, years after Travis's death, using a stand-in as a model.

In May 1831, upon his arrival in Mexican Texas, a part of northern Mexico at the time, Travis purchased land from Stephen F. Austin, who appointed him counsel from the United States. [18] He set up a law practice in Anahuac and helped start a militia to oppose Mexican rule. [19] He subsequently became a pivotal figure in the Anahuac Disturbances and was imprisoned for his involvement. [18] [20]

Travis was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel of the Legion of Cavalry and became the chief recruiting officer for a new regular Texian army. [18] Governor Henry Smith ordered Travis to raise a company of professional soldiers to reinforce the Texians who were then under the command of James C. Neill at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. [21] Travis considered disobeying his orders, writing to Smith: "I am willing, nay anxious, to go to the defense of Bexar, but sir, I am unwilling to risk my reputation ... by going off into the enemy's country with such little means, so few men, and with them so badly equipped." [22] James Bowie arrived at the Alamo with 30 men on January 19, 1836. [21] On February 3, Travis arrived in San Antonio with eighteen regulars as reinforcements. A compromise was reached between Bowie and Travis for command of the Alamo, with Bowie in command of the volunteers and Travis in command of the regulars. [20] When Bowie's health began to fail the compromise became irrelevant, and Travis became the official commander of the Alamo garrison. [21] On March 6, 1836, following a thirteen-day siege, Santa Anna ordered the assault on the Alamo during the predawn hours. Travis died fighting to the end, and his remains were burned along with all the other Alamo defenders. [21]

Travis's "Victory or Death" letter from the Alamo

On February 24, 1836, during Santa Anna's siege of the Alamo, Travis wrote a letter addressed "To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World":

Plaque with the contents of the letter in front of the Alamo William Travis famousletterplaque.jpg
Plaque with the contents of the letter in front of the Alamo
Fellow citizens and compatriots;
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.
William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.
P.S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.

He gave this letter to courier Albert Martin to deliver. The envelope that contained the letter was labeled "VICTORY or DEATH". [22] The letter, while unable to bring aid to the garrison at the Alamo, did much to motivate the Texian army and helped to rally support in America for the cause of Texas independence. It also cemented Travis's status as a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Alleged burial

Cathedral of San Fernando sarcophagus with images of Travis, Bowie and Crockett San Antonio 067.JPG
Cathedral of San Fernando sarcophagus with images of Travis, Bowie and Crockett

A year after the battle, acting upon orders from General Felix Huston, Colonel Juan Seguín oversaw the reclamation of the abandoned ashes of the Alamo defenders from three sites. On March 28, 1837, an official public ceremony was conducted to give a Christian burial to the ashes. It was believed they were buried in the vicinity of the Alamo, but their exact location was forgotten over time. When San Antonio's Cathedral of San Fernando was being renovated for a new altar during the Texas 1936 centennial, human remains believed to be those of the Alamo defenders were found. Because of discrepancies in various accounts in the ensuing century after the burial, public opinion was divided about whether or not these were the remains of the defenders. The recovered ashes were re-interred in a marble sarcophagus inside the cathedral, purportedly containing the bones of Travis, Crockett and Bowie, as well as others. [23] Calls for DNA testing have not been acted upon. [24]


Travis married one of his former students, 16-year-old Rosanna Cato (1812–1848), on October 26, 1828. The couple stayed in Claiborne and had a son, Charles Edward, in 1829 and a daughter, Susan, in 1831. [25] They were officially divorced by the Marion County courts on January 9, 1836, by Act no. 115. Rosanna married Samuel G. Cloud in Monroeville, Alabama, on February 14, 1836. They both died of yellow fever during an epidemic which afflicted the state in 1848.

Charles Edward Travis (1829–1860) was raised by his mother and her second husband. He won a seat in the Texas legislature in 1853. In 1855, he enlisted in the United States Army as a captain in a cavalry regiment (which was later renamed the 5th Cavalry Regiment (United States) commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston) but was discharged in May 1856 for "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman," following an allegation that he had cheated at cards. [26] He appealed the decision to no avail. He then turned to studying law, earning a degree from Baylor University in 1859. He died of consumption (tuberculosis) within a year and is buried in the Masonic Cemetery. [27] [28]

Susan Isabella Travis (18311868) was born after Travis had departed for Texas. Although her paternity has been questioned, [29] Travis did name her as his daughter in his will. She married a planter from Chappell Hill, Texas. [30] Their son, who died young, was William Barret Grissett, and their daughter was Mary Jane Grissett Davidson DeCaussey. [31] [32]

See also

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  1. McKeehan, Wallace L. "Gonzales Alamo Relief Defenders". Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas. Texas A&M University. Archived from the original on May 29, 2003. Retrieved January 23, 2009.
  2. Davis 1998, p. 262.
  3. Davis (1998), p. 189.
  4. Davis (1998), p. 190.
  5. Alabama Territory. A List of Taxable Property Taken in the County of Conecuh
  6. Riley, B.F., Makers and Romance of Alabama History, 1951, pg. 98
  7. William Travis Autobiography, 1833. There is no mention of Travis being given a position at the same academy. As McCurdy's academy opened when Travis was 16 and he changed schools to one in Monroe County at 16, it can be assumed that he went there, as well as taught there.
  8. Davis, pg. 193
  9. McMillan Papers; Letford, "Story of William B. Travis". There is no firm evidence that Travis studied under Dellet, though members of his family and also a former probate judge of Monroe County claimed that he did.
  10. Travis Family Bible. Travis wrote in his own handwriting that Charlie was born in 1828; however, that date was later changed in someone else's handwriting, to 1829. That was a very common practice that happened in the 18th and 19th centuries to purify marriages and family bibles from children being born before a wedding or before nine months had passed.
  11. Claiborne Herald, February 27, 1829
  12. Davis, pg. 199
  13. Davis, pg. 90
  14. Davis, pg. 201
  15. Davis, pg. 203
  16. Davis, pg. 204
  17. Davis, pg. 205
  18. 1 2 3 Curtis, Gregory (January 1986). "The First Texas". Texas Monthly: 26, 88–89. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  19. "The Turtle Bay Resolutions". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  20. 1 2 Davis 1966, p. xiv.
  21. 1 2 3 4 McDonald, Archie P. "William Barret Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  22. 1 2 Hardin 1994, p. 117.
  23. Sibley, Marilyn McAdams (October 1966). "The Burial Place of the Alamo Heroes". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Texas State Historical Association. 70 (2): 272–280. JSTOR   30236392.
  24. Anderson, Christopher. "Group Targets Remains of Alamo Heroes. Defender's Relatives Want Church Sarcophagus Opened to Study Disputed Bones. San Antonio Express-News February 24, 1996. https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/archives/newsarch/alamoash.html. Accessed August 7, 2016.
  25. Davis 1966, p. xii.
  26. Cutrer, Thomas W. "Charles Edward Travis". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  27. "Chappell Hill, TX". Texas Escapes. Blueprints For Travel, LLC. Retrieved November 10, 2013.
  28. Texas State Cemetery
  29. Alamo Story
  30. Heart of San Antonio
  31. From Jamestown to Texas
  32. Texas State Cemetery


Further reading