"God and Texas -- Victory or Death!"
-- William Travis, March 3, 1836
Settler and Agitator
William Barret Travis arrived in San Felipe de Austin in 1831 after abandoning a wife and two children in Alabama. He set up a law practice in Anahuac and quickly became acquainted with other Anglo settlers who were agitating against Mexican rule. In 1835 Travis took matters in his own hands when he attacked the Mexican garrison at Anahuac with a group of twenty-five men. The act fueled the wrath of Mexican president Antonio de Lopez Santa Anna against the Anglo colonies of Texas. And it made matters especially difficult for the Tejano leaders of the state.
Travis' aggressive tactics established him as one of the ringleaders among a growing "war faction" in the Anglo colonies. The other men in his group, including William and John Wharton, were young, single, and native Southerners like himself. Despite his hotheaded personality, Travis became a lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the Army of the People under Sam Houston in late 1835. By the following January, Travis had orders to recruit men to assist in the fortification of the Alamo, which was then under the command of Colonel James C. Neill. Soon, however, Neill departed the fort to attend to his sick family. Though he was only twenty-six years-old -- and quite inexperienced -- Travis became the default commander of the regular army troops. James Bowie, popular among the men but not a commissioned officer, took over the command of the volunteer soldiers.
Travis was quick to call for reinforcements, knowing full well that the oncoming Mexican army would far outnumber the Alamo forces, which numbered fewer than 200 men. Despite sending many impassioned pleas to Texas delegates to the Independence Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Travis received little help. On March 1, the seventh day of the siege, thirty-two volunteer soldiers from Gonzales managed to get through the Mexican cordon to join the rebel army. Ammunition, food, and other supplies were dangerously low.
A Legend in Death
Popular legend has it that on March 5, Travis drew a line in the sand with his saber and asked those men who were committed to defending the Alamo to the death to cross. Mexican soldier José Enrique de la Peña's diary tells a different story: that Travis was considering an honorable surrender. In either case, it is evident that Travis and his men did not surrender the fort, and indeed fought to the end. Travis was among the first men to die when, on the morning of March 6, he was shot from his post atop the Alamo wall. He was survived by his slave, Joe, who later recounted his experience inside the Alamo and the circumstances of Travis' death.