William Barret TravisAugust 1, 1809 to March 6, 1836
The reasons this handsome red-haired young South Carolina native who was practicing law in Alabama left his pregnant wife and young child to move to Texas in 1831 has been the subject of fruitless speculation and legend.
Upon arrival in Texas, he registered himself as single and certainly acted the part. He made friends with the more fiery pro-independence crowd, and took part in the taking of the Mexican post at Velasco in 1832. He kept a bilingual diary detailing, among other things, sexual conquests and their ordinal number in his love-life. He was only into the middling two-figures, though, not making him newsworthy by today's standards.
Imagine his surprise when, just before the Texas Revolution broke out, his wife showed up with the two kids, demanding a resolution. He gave her attestations necessary to get a divorce back in Alabama She obtained the divorce within weeks, re-marrying almost immediately -- in fact, about the time Travis arrived at the Alamo. But Travis demanded custody of his son, then about six. He boarded the boy with a friend.
Travis was on recruiting duty for the newly-created Texas regular army when he was ordered to take what men he had to reinforcement the Alamo. He only had 40, and nine deserted in route, taking supplies he had bought with his own money.
He unexpectedly became commander of the Alamo -- and found himself holding off the bulk of the Mexican army. His appeals for aid showed he understood the situation perfectly -- but he also kept announcing he would hold out no matter what, even unto death.
Remarkably, he was able to see beyond his own dire predicament to the big picture. Even more remarkably, he was able to get more than 180 men to share his vision of what ought to happen.
"Take care of my little boy. If the country should be spared I may make him a great fortune. But if this country should be lost, and I should perish, he will have nothing but the proud recollection that he is the son of a man who died for his country."The younger Travis tried hard to make a life for himself, partially helped by a land grant he and his sister received from the state of Texas. As a child he ended up living with his mother and her second husband in New Orleans, but the couple died of yellow fever in 1848. (He may also have lived for a while with his material grandparents.) He came back to Texas probably in 1850 when his sister, Susan Isabella, married a planter in Chapel Hill. He was in the Texas legislature from 1852-54, and then joined the Texas Rangers. But it must have looked like his big break when he was appointed a captain in the fashionable, hand-picked U.S. Second Cavalry Regiment, in March 1855. He was 25.
However, all the other officers were West Pointers, such as Col. Robert E. Lee, or additionally were related to someone, especially the Second Lt. Robert C. Wood, grandson of former President Zachary Taylor. Wood accused Travis of cheating at cards, other allegations surfaced, and Travis was convicted of "conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman" and cashiered from the army in May 1856. (Col. Lee was called to testify concerning Travis' character during the trial. Following a policy he displayed many times in the next decade when it looked like he might have to say something bad about someone, he was evasive.)
Travis lobbied to have the case reopened. After nothing worked, he went to law school, getting a degree in 1859. But he died the next year of "consumption." He never married. He was buried beside his sister. The location of his grave was lost by 1983, but hers was still marked.
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