William Barret Travis
(August 9, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a 19th century American lawyer and soldier.
At the age of 26, he was a Lieutenant Colonel
in the Texian Army
, and commanded the Republic of Texas
forces. He died at the
Battle of the
Alamo during the Texas
Revolution from the Republic of
born in Saluda County, South Carolina, to Mark and Jemima Travis in 1809; records differ
as to whether his date of birth was the first or ninth of August,
but the Travis family Bible indicates that he was born on the
At the age
of nine, he moved with his family to the town of Sparta in Conecuh County,
Alabama, where he received much of his education.
later enrolled in a school in nearby Claiborne, where he eventually
worked as an assistant teacher.
Travis then became an attorney and, at age 19, married one of his
former students, 16-year-old Rosanna
(1812-1848), on October 26, 1828. The couple stayed in
Claiborne and had a son, Charles Edward, in 1829. Travis began
publication of a newspaper that same year, the Claiborne
He became a Mason
the Alabama Lodge No.3 - Free and Accepted Masons, and later joined
the Alabama militia
as adjutant of the
Twenty-sixth Regiment, Eighth Brigade, Fourth Division.
His marriage soon failed for unknown reason's, Travis fled Alabama
in early 1831 to start over in Texas, leaving behind his wife, son,
and unborn daughter. Travis and Rosanna were officially divorced by
the Marion County courts on January 9, 1836 by Act no. 115. Their
son was placed with Travis's friend, David Ayres, so that he would
be closer to his father.
Rosanna married Samuel G. Cloud in Monroeville, Alabama, on February 14, 1836; she subsequently married
Portis in 1843 in Texas (they both died of Yellow Fever
Birth/Death dates plaque at
In May 1831, upon his arrival in Mexican
, a part of Northern Mexico at the time, Travis purchased
land from Stephen F. Austin and started a law practice in
played a role in the growing friction between American settlers and
the Mexican government and was one of the leaders of the "War
Party," a group of militants opposed to Mexican rule. He became a
pivotal figure in the Anahuac
, which helped to precipitate the war.
The Texas Revolution started in October 1835 at the Battle of Gonzales
. Travis took a small
part in the Siege of Bexar
November. On 19 December, Travis was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel
of the Legion of
Cavalry and became the chief recruiting officer for the Texan army.
This force was to consist of 384 men and officers, divided into six
companies. Despite his rank, Travis now had to actively recruit the
men who were to serve under his command, and he had a hard time
finding willing colonists to enlist. "Volunteers can no longer
be had or relied upon ...,
" he wrote to acting governor Henry
ordered Travis to raise a company to reinforce the Texians at the
Alamo Mission in
Travis seriously 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."
On February 3
Travis arrived in San
Antonio with eighteen men as reinforcements. On 12 February, as the
next highest ranking officer, Travis became the official commander
of the Alamo garrison. He took command of the regular soldiers from
Col. James C. Neill
, of the Texian
army. Neill had to leave to care for his ill family, but he
promised to be back in twenty days. James
(1795-1836) would command the volunteers as Travis
commanded the regulars.
The Mexican army, under dictator/General Antonio López de Santa
, began its attack on the mission on February 23, 1836. In
a brief letter to the alcade
, Travis wrote:
- "The enemy in large force is in sight... We want
men and provisions ... Send them to us. We have
150 men & are determined to defend the Alamo to the
In a letter to the Texas Convention on March
:"...yet I am determined to perish in the defence of this
place, and my bones shall reproach my country for her
In Travis' last letter out of the Alamo, March
to David Ayres:
- "Take care of my little boy. If the country should
be saved, I may make him a splendid fortune; but if the 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
There is a legend that, one to three days before the final Mexican
assault, Travis gathered all of the Alamo's defenders in the main
plaza of the fort. Announcing that reinforcements would not be
forthcoming, Travis unsheathed his sword and drew a line in the
dirt. He then told those men who were willing to stay and die with
him to cross the line; those who wanted to leave could do so
without shame. Most of the Alamo's defenders subsequently crossed
the line, leaving only two men behind. One soldier, Bowie, was
confined to a cot with typhoid, but asked to be carried across the
line. The other was a French veteran of the Napoleonic Wars
named Moses Rose
. Rose, who later declared, "By God, I
wasn't ready to die," scaled a wall that night and escaped, thus
preserving the story of Travis's line in the sand. This account was
told by Rose to numerous people later in his life.
6, 1836, following a thirteen-day siege, Travis, Bowie, David Crockett, and James Bonham were killed in a predawn attack
along with about 188-250 other defenders during the Battle of the
The Mexicans overran the fort, surrounded
it, used ladders to climb over the walls and broke down the fort's
defenses. There are reports that Travis died early in the assault,
of a single gunshot wound to the forehead while defending the north
wall. Joe, a freed former slave to Travis, who was present during
the final assault as a noncombatant, stated afterward that he saw
Travis stand on the wall and fire into the attackers. He then saw
Travis shot, then saw Travis kill a Mexican soldier climbing over
the wall from a ladder, with Travis falling immediately afterward.
This is the only dependable account of Travis' death.
When Santa Anna came into the fort he asked the alcalde of San
Antonio, Francisco A. Ruiz, to identify the bodies of the rebel
leaders to him. Ruiz later said that the body of Travis was found
on a gun carriage on the north wall. Within a few hours of the
final gunshots being fired, Santa Anna ordered a company of
dragoons to gather wood and burn all the Texians' bodies. By five
o'clock that evening, the bodies of Travis, Crockett, Bowie and
Bonham were burned along with the other defenders.
Travis's famous letter from the Alamo
On February 24, 1836, during Santa
Anna's siege of the Alamo, Travis wrote a letter addressed
the People of Texas and All Americans in the World
- 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 & 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 & 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.
- : Travis
He gave this letter to courier Albert Martin to deliver. The
envelope that contained the letter was labeled "Victory or Death".
The letter, while unable to bring aid to the garrison at the Alamo,
did much to motivate the Texan army and helped to rally support in
America for the cause of Texan independence. It also cemented
Travis's status as a hero of the Texas Revolution.
Chance for help
As late as March 3
, Travis had every bit of
optimism of reinforcements with the arrival of messenger James
Bonham. He carried a letter from Robert M. "Three-Legged"
Williamson, which stated that help was coming in the form of 60
volunteers from San Felipe, 300 volunteers (and four cannons) from
, and another contingent of
300 volunteers by March 1
. ("..For God's
sake hold out until we can assist you.."
The "line in the sand"
What is not disputed about the Battle of the Alamo, is that by
, 1836, Col. Travis understood the
situation his garrison faced, and it was less than bleak, but in
fact hopeless. It is alleged that he called the troops of his
garrison together either that day or on March
, 1836, and told them "We must die. Our business is not to
make a fruitless effort to save our lives, but to choose the manner
of our death." With that,taking example from "the 13 of the Fame"
act done by Francisco Pizarro
couple centuries before, it is alleged he made a sweep with his
sword, and drew a line in the sand, asking all who would stay to
cross it, and those not willing should not cross. Only Moses Rose
, a French
born former soldier in Napoleon
's Grande Armée
not cross. Rose has since been known as the Coward of the
It is a fact that Moses Rose, by his own later accounts, was the
only soldier that chose to depart, which he did by sneaking through
Mexican lines in the late night hours of March
, 1836. Allegedly, it was Rose who first said that Travis drew
the line. Susannah Dickinson
of Alamo defender Capt. Almaron
, and who was present during the siege and battle,
confirmed that this did happen. But, no reliable written accounts
support this. Whether or not Travis actually did draw the line in
the sand is still disputed. However, what is known, by Rose's own
accounts, is that Travis did give the members of the garrison a
choice as to who would stay and who would go, and, by Rose's own
accounts, only Rose chose the latter.
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 U.S. Army
as a Captain
in a Cavalry Regiment (which was
later renamed the 5th Cavalry Regiment
commanded by Albert Sidney
), but was discharged in May 1856 for "conduct
unbecoming an officer and a gentleman" following an allegation that
he had cheated at cards.
appealed the decision (to no avail), and then turned his attention
to studying law, earning a law degree from Baylor
He died of consumption (tuberculosis
) within a year, and is buried
beside his sister.
Susan Isabella Travis was born in 1831 after Travis had departed
for Texas. Although her paternity has been questioned by some,
Travis did name her as his daughter in his will. In 1850 she married a
planter from Chapell
Hill, and they had one daughter.
- Hardin (1994), p. 117.
- Hardin (1994), p. 117.
- Biographic sketch of Charles Edward Travis in the Handbook of Texas Online
- Masonic Cemetery at Chappell Hill, TX
- Lord, Walter; A Time To Stand; University of Nebraska
Press; ISBN 0-8032-7902-7
- Davis, William C. Three Roads to the Alamo;
HarperCollins Publishers; ISBN 0-06-017334-3
- McDonald, Archie P.; William Barret Travis; Eakin
Press; ISBN 0-89015-656-5