Travis, of the Alamo

By Gary Wright

Follow the crowd, and you will never be followed by a crowd.

— Unknown


On March 6, 1836, after a 13-day siege by an overwhelming force of more than 3,000 Mexican regular army troops, a rag-tag garrison of 179 men was slaughtered at the Battle of the Alamo near San Antonio, Texas. A simple metal plaque at the Alamo memorial reads, “Col. William B. Travis, born August 9, 1809, sacrificed his life for Texas liberty.”

William Barret Travis was born in South Carolina but spent sixteen years in Sparta, Conecuh County, Alabama. He received his education in Alabama and became a school teacher and later an attorney in that small community in southern Alabama. It was there that his life was molded into the elements that would raise him to greatness and thrust him finally into immortality. But, first, he had to undergo tribulations of the not-so-great, just as ordinary people endure every day.

He married, and, fearing failure, deserted his wife, son, and unborn daughter, to seek his destiny. He had simply ‘gone to Texas.’ He never returned to Alabama or his family. He never remarried, and, perhaps out of guilt and remorse over the abandonment of his family, he apparently never again found love. Having volunteered in the Alabama militia and risen to the rank of Adjutant of the Twenty-Sixth Infantry Regiment, he attained at least a modicum of military training, and, especially, military administration. That training would serve him well during his Texas years.

Texas, in that day, was a hotbed of espionage, double-cross, murder, and intrigue. During his earlier days as a school teacher and lawyer in Alabama, Travis had shown no sign of being anything other than a hum-drum ordinary person, until, that is, he bolted, and in a moment of passion, zeal, or simple escape, left his family and lit out for adventure. He found his niche in the vast wilderness of Texas. His natural inclination toward paranoia, scheming, and deception found its match in this savage and wild environ. Travis knew he was in his element, and he adapted brilliantly to a sea of wilderness and its maze of wonder and adventure.

Travis immediately set out on a quest for Texas to obtain independence from Mexico, although Mexico had voluntarily allowed American settlers to enter her domain and seek their fortunes. He called for a military revolt against Mexico and sought nothing short of complete Texan independence. Because of his zeal and former militia experience, Travis was commissioned a Colonel in the Texas revolutionary army. When Texas seceded from Mexico in 1835, Stephen Austin, President of the erstwhile state of Texas, called on Travis to put together a force of men, from whatever source he could find, to defend the mission at the Alamo in present-day San Antonio. General Santa Ana was marching into the heart of Texas, and his route would take him directly through the Alamo. Every day that Santa Ana could be delayed meant more time for the Texas Revolutionary Army to prepare.

During the ‘Thirteen Days of Glory,’ as the siege of the Alamo was called, a pitifully small band of untrained soldiers, outmanned and outgunned by a legion of highly skilled and well-disciplined Mexican regular troops, gave an exemplary account of themselves. After incessant shelling and two cavalry and infantry charges had failed, Santa Ana turned scarlet in rage and ordered his buglers to play ‘deguelo,’ meaning no one was to be taken alive. On the third fatal charge the Mexican army, in an all-out effort, breached the walls, and, though the Mexicans paid dearly with their losses, they slaughtered everyone inside the Alamo.

On the night before the final onslaught, Travis gathered his defenders and drew a line in the sand with his sword and gave them his last request (not an order.) “Reinforcements are not coming,” he said. “If any of you want to leave, you may do so without shame. If any of you are willing, then cross this line, and we will die together for the freedom of Texas.” Travis was the first to cross the line, and it is said that everyone else followed, save one. Some were too sick to walk; they asked to be carried over.

In Texas, to this day, William Barret Travis is revered as a god-like man who caused the Texas Republic to come to greatness. In the small community of Sparta, Alabama, a small one-room museum pays tribute to a simple, humble, small-town, flawed man who was the precursor to the inimitable Colonel Travis. It speaks of the school teacher, the lawyer, the husband, and the father before he bolted into adventure, intrigue, and greatness. Outside that museum, a simple grave under a spreading, ancient oak tree contains the remains of the wife that Travis gave up for fame and greatness. It is said that she still pines for the simple man, the uncomplicated life, and her only real love.

Abandoning one’s family is a grave offense in the laws of man and the eyes of God, but because he tried so hard to do what was right in the end, William Barrett Travis may have found peace for his soul. He may not have sought to achieve fame by fighting against overwhelming odds for the freedom of Texas. Rather, out of remorse for leaving another life behind,  he may actually  have ‘committed suicide by Mexican army.’


Alamo photo: Google Chrome

William Barret Travis Memorial: