The Travis Letter

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William Barret Travis

At A Glance

Born: August 1, 1809

Died: March 6, 1836

Married: Rosanna Cato (divorced)

Children: Charles and Susan

Worked As: Teacher, Lawyer, Soldier

Landholder: Travis owned land in Ben Milam and Stephen F. Austin's colonies

Slaveholder: His slave Joe went to the Alamo with him but survived the battle

Did You Know? Travis was known for generosity with children. Personal accounts commonly described Travis' habit of giving coins to young local children.

 

Travis by Hugo Pohl
William B. Travis by Hugo Pohl (1878-1960)
William Barret Travis was born on August 1, 1809 in South Carolina.  Growing up in Alabama, young Travis went to school at the Sparta Academy, and later attended Claiborne Academy, where he was hired as a teacher.

In 1828, at age 19, Travis married one of his students, Rosanna E. Cato and they had two children, Charles and Susan. By 1830, Travis was a practicing attorney, editor of the local newspaper and a Master Mason. But he chose to leave his family and start over in Texas, most likely to escape mounting debt.

In May 1831, Travis applied for land in Austin’s Colony, but quickly moved east to the new community of Anahuac, where he became embroiled in a fight against the local Mexican garrison and was arrested. Once free, he headed back to San Felipe, where in 1834 he joined the local government as Secretary of the Ayuntamiento (town council).

On April 10, 1835, Travis’ application for land in Ben Milam’s Colony lists him as a widower.  However, Rosanna – still very much alive – brought the children to Texas that year to finally ask for a divorce. With paperwork in hand, she returned to Alabama with Susan, leaving little Charles in Texas.

Acknowledged as a leader of the faction favoring war with Mexico, Travis returned to Anahuac and led an armed assault against the Mexican garrison. Some colonists branded Travis a hothead, but his stature grew when Santa Anna personally ordered his arrest.

As the revolution spread, Travis moved quickly up the ranks. He was commissioned a lieutenant of cavalry by General Stephen F. Austin, and later promoted to captain. By December 1835, Travis had returned to San Felipe and was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the volunteer army.  Soon, the war raged as Texian troops took San Antonio de Bexar from the Mexican troops and reclaimed the Alamo.

Cat's Eye Ring

Travis' agate or "cat's-eye" ring
(Alamo Collection)

By January 1836, Travis was ordered to San Antonio to reinforce Colonel James C. Neill, the commander of the post of Béxar, including the Alamo.  Unable to raise the 100 men requested, Travis arrived with only 30 volunteers.  Once at the Alamo, he shared command with Colonel James Bowie until Bowie fell ill.

On February 23, 1836, after a grueling winter march, General Antonio López de Santa Anna and his army arrived at San Antonio.  The Texian rebels withdrew across the San Antonio River into the safety of the old fortified mission known as the Alamo.  As Mexican forces surrounded the Alamo, Travis began writing desperate pleas for help.

After a 13-day siege, the final attack came before dawn on March 6, 1836.  As Mexican troops charged toward the Alamo, defenders rushed to the walls and fired into the darkness.  Travis raced to the north wall but was soon killed.

Mexican soldiers breached the north wall and flooded into the compound.  The fierce battle centered on the old church, where defenders made a last stand.  The battle lasted about 90 minutes.

At A Glance

Born: August 1, 1809

Died: March 6, 1836

Married: Rosanna Cato (divorced)

Children: Charles and Susan

Worked As: Teacher, Lawyer, Soldier

Landholder: Travis owned land in Ben Milam and Stephen F. Austin's colonies

Slaveholder: His slave Joe went to the Alamo with him but survived the battle

Did You Know? Travis was known for generosity with children. Personal accounts commonly described Travis' habit of giving coins to young local children.