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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A brief history lesson

March 6th, 1836.

Recognize the date?

Ask anyone in Texas, I bet they can tell you.

It's the day the Alamo fell to Santa Anna's forces. The day that every single defender of the Alamo was slaughtered. The day that Santa Anna lost a large chunk of those forces he sent in to do his dirty work.

I'm not from Texas. I first started researching the Alamo after seeing Disney's 2004 version of the story. I'm most interested in William B. Travis (and not just because he was portrayed by my favorite actor, Patrick Wilson, in the Disney movie). Travis has an interesting past, to be sure, but it was his present (right before the battle at the Alamo) that intrigued me.

I've read several books on the subject, most notably "Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis" by William C. Davis, published in 1998; and "DIARY OF WILLIAM BARRET TRAVIS: AUGUST 30, 1833 - JUNE 26, 1834" by Robert E. Davis, published in 1966. The diary required translating because Travis was literate in both Latin and Spanish, and wrote many of his entries in one of these two langugaes so that others could not easily read them.

Travis died at the age of 26. In today's society that sounds mighty young, but in those days, he was a full-grown man. People probably lived fewer than forty years on average, so Travis was actually middle-aged.

Still, it is quite impressive that he accomplished so much in so few years. At the time of his death he was a practicing lawyer, a lieutenant colonel in the Texian Army, a former publisher of his own newspaper, father of two children, nearly divorced from his first wife and engaged to be married again. It's this last that piqued my interest most. There is a lot of information that can be found on his wife, Rosanna Cato, and their two children, Charles Edward and Susan Isabella. But to whom was he engaged?

Her name was Rebecca Cummings. Travis first met her and her brother John at Mill Creek, outside of San Felipe, where they ran an inn. According to William C. Davis, Travis likely met Rebecca formally at a Christmas party in 1833. A mere two months later (February 1834) he made his intentions known, and told Rebecca about Rosanna. Love at first sight? In any case, she made an honest man out of him. He stopped numbering his "conquests" (prostitutes, mainly) and also quit gambling by the end of April.

It wasn't until the spring of 1835, a full year later, that Rosanna filed for divorce. This would take several months to complete. By that November, Travis apparently had pretty much everything he could want; according to Wm. Davis, Travis's law practice flourished, leading men in the community looked up to him, he enjoyed widespread (political) influence and had a worthy political cause (freedom of Texian's from Santa Anna's dictatorship), and he was a war hero from recent successful battles to capture the caballado (not to mention he'd been with Rebecca for a good twenty-some months at this point).

Sadly, this was not to last much longer. The solar eclipse of November 30th, 1835, may have been a bad omen for them. Three weeks later, on December 20th, he was made the Lieutenant Colonel in Command of the Legion of Cavalry. He was quickly bogged down with orders to gather volunteers and supplies for the coming fight with the Mexicans. Within another month, on January 24th, 1836, he was on his way to defend the Alamo and the main road that Santa Anna would have to travel, as it ran right through San Antonio.

Meanwhile, back in Alabama, Rosanna's divorce bill was passed by the Alabama Senate on January 8th and then by the Alabama House on January 9th. It's quite possible that Travis never knew that he was a free man since he was so busy with his new responsibilities and traveling the 150+ miles from San Felipe to San Antonio with his handful of volunteers. They didn't have the internet back then. They didn't even have FedEx or UPS. News took weeks to make the 800+ mile journey from Alabama to Texas, and by then, Travis was yet another 150 miles farther west.

What happened after Travis reached the Alamo is well documented and common knowledge. It's also known that at the end of January, on his way to San Antonio, he took time to make a twenty-five mile trip north to see his son. Of course neither knew it would be the last time they would see each other. It's also not known when he last saw Rebecca. Of all the letters Travis wrote there surely had to be at least one to Rebecca, but to this day, none have ever surfaced.

What Santa Anna did to Travis and his men is sickening and unforgivable, in my humble opinion, but it was the sacrifice of those men in such a brutal manner that inspired the rest of Texas to fight for independence from Mexico. Without the cries of "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad" (another massacre of Texians by Santa Anna's soldados), Texas might still be Mexican.

So today, take a minute to thank the souls of those men, and all who have given their lives in defense of their country and countrymen. America wouldn't be what it is today without them.