William Barret Travis (“Buck”) is the revolutionary idealist of Davis’s book. The Alamoitself was his shining and penultimate moment as its doomed leader who refused to yield his position, thus dying in defense of it. As soon as the fighting began, Travis reportedly rushed out to the North wall and, leaning over the parapet, began blasting away with a double barreled shotgun. Almost instantly, he received a bullet through the forehead in response. He died without dropping his weapon. His final words were “Come on Boys, the Mexicans are upon us, and we’ll give them Hell!”(560).
His five years in Texas locate him at the vanguard of the revolutionary movement, going from lawyer all the way to lieutenant-colonel of a cavalry command that he never got to fully outfit (505). In fact, he had just been commissioned when he was sent to reinforce the Alamo command under J.C. Neill in January of 1836. He arrived with only 30 men and resented the assignment and the difficulty of soliciting volunteers until Neill left on February 11 due to a family illness and put Travis in charge. At that point, “he dropped all pressure to be relieved” (518).
Travis was the youngest of the three men, dying at the age of 26. He also had the best education, furnishing him with the wherewithal to promote the cause of Texas independence through his pen well before he took up the sword. His repeated passionate calls for reinforcements between February 24 and March 5 give us an eloquent and tragic glimpse into the heart of the conflict as well as a striking example of self-sacrificial bravery.
His road to Texasled directly from Claiborne, Alabamawhere he had failed in his initial professional pursuits. After being publicly humiliated by his mentor, James Dellet, in court in early 1831 for debts owed and quite possibly threatened with imprisonment by his creditors, Travis abandoned his wife and two children and headed to Texas, seeking a better fortune and promising to follow through for his family (204–5). He was only twenty years old at the time. Despite the fact that he had passed the bar after only one year of study, at the age of nineteen, had published his own newspaper, The Claiborne Herald, and by all accounts was a very hard worker and an honest man, he was unable to make a living there.Davis suggests that it may’ve just been a combination of a difficult economy and basic maturity issues (206). Alabama, at that time, may also just not have been a large enough stage. A friend commented that “he hungered and thirsted for fame — not the kind of fame which satisfies the ambition of the duelist and desperado, but the exalted fame which crowns the doer of great deeds in a good cause” (205).
In Texas he found more than enough clients as a lawyer and also a cause in which he really did believe. He had done so well in his first year thatAustinhad recommended him for the consulate atGalveston(262). Eventually, he paid his debts inAlabamaand made peace with his abandoned wife, although they did in fact become divorced. Davis argues that,
it was the Travises who made the greatest mark, and only Travis truly realized his ambition before he died. They were the third wave of settlement — the professionals, doctors, lawyers, newspapermen, educators — who came to bring stability, learning, and the rule of law. They were the community makers who took what a Crockett would find and a Bowie exploit, and turned it into a state. … Men like Bowie and Crockett were made to bestride continents. As for Travis, the Alamo got in the way of what almost certainly would have been a career leading to the presidency of the republic, or after Texas achieved statehood, a governorship or even a seat in the U.S. Senate. (585)
Travis initially settled in Anahuac, which was a customs point of entry into eastern Texas. After the prohibition on colonization in 1830,Anahuacbecame an increasing hotbed of controversy. Travis was right in the middle of things as a lawyer who was partially responsible for organizing a militia in response to the presence of Mexican soldiers (266). He was arrested for these activities and held for 50 days. This became one of the initial flashpoints as the Texians began rallying together over the next several years. As a leader he seems well-spoken and though he was not overtly popular in the personal way that Crockett and Bowie were, he had the stuff of a hero, as his final stand clearly demonstrated. His letter from February 24, 1836 addressed to “The People of Texas & All Americans of the World” deserves repeating, nay invoking:
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & 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, & 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 & 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 & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death. (541)
In conclusion, Three Roads to the Alamo is well worth the effort. White Americans are frustrated with the general state of affairs in the United States. And, indeed, there is much cause to be. But how many of us can say that we truly know our own history? How many, under the age of 40, could actually cite the date of theAlamo? How many could summon the manly courage and bravery exhibited by these men — the courage and bravery that will be needed to fight the fight against the powers arrayed against us.
The fact is that we have a distinct and authentic tradition of freedom and liberty that represents the sacrifice of many thousands of men like David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis. I, for one, am humbled when I consider the lengths they were willing to go to preserve those freedoms that we all too often take for granted. I believe that, as a people, White Americans are still largely unconscious actors moving in the stream of history. We don’t know the value of our traditions because we don’t know our traditions. But before we fight any more revolutions or are able to seriously challenge the nefarious elements that have seized control of our civilization, we have much work to do in analyzing, absorbing, and ultimately translating into the present, the best of what our heritage has to offer. Heritage is a gift from the past to the present. Remembering the Alamo and many other significant episodes in our experience helps us to go back, so that, ultimately, we can continue to go ahead.