And Die like a Soldier
True West|April 2020
WILLIAM BARRET TRAVIS’S DEATH AT THE ALAMO
WILLIAM GRONEMAN III

Twenty-seven-year-old William Barret Travis carried considerable weight on his shoulders in the wee morning hours of March 6, 1836. The native South Carolinian had emigrated from Alabama to the Mexican state of Coahuila y Téjas five years earlier for a new beginning. Now in the Alamo, a former Franciscan mission serving as a fort, he may have contemplated his impending end rather than a beginning.

Travis held the rank of lieutenant colonel in Texas’s newly formed cavalry, yet he commanded a fortification, a job more suited to an artillery officer. He had shared leadership with Col. James Bowie at the beginning of the siege, but illness rendered the frontiersman bedridden early on, leaving Travis in full command.

Travis penned his famous letter of February 24, 1836, the same day as Bowie’s incapacitation, addressed to “The people of Texas and all Americans in the world.” He stated his intention “…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,” if Texas neglected his calls for assistance. He had sustained himself and his garrison for 12 days. Now the time had come to fulfill his pledge to honor and country.

Alamo historians and aficionados have debated the finer details of the battle for decades. Two of the more spirited subjects involve the exact manner in which the American icons Bowie and Davy Crockett met their ends, approximately nine and 25 versions respectively. Less attention has been paid to the exact mechanism, time and place of Travis’s demise. However, speculation and questions surrounding his death began within a week of the battle.

Word of the Alamo’s fall reached Sam Houston in the town of Gonzales, 70 miles east of San Antonio, on March 11, 1836, by Tejanos Anselmo Vargara and Andres Bárcinas. They had not witnessed the battle themselves but reported information from an Antonio Perez.

There is no evidence that Perez witnessed the fight since he rode from the ranch of José Maria Arocha to San Antonio on March 6, the morning of the battle. Whatever information Vargara and Bárcinas shared caused their detention by Houston, possibly for fear of them being spies of Santa Anna but more likely to stave off panic among the assembling Texans.

Their information sparked stories of Travis dying as a suicide. E.N. Gray stated in his March 11 letter, “Travis killed himself.” Andrew Briscoe writing to the Red River Herald provided a reason for Travis’s suicide: “The brave and gallant Travis in order to save himself from falling into the hands of the enemy shot himself.” Details shifted during the next few days. Houston reported that Travis, “…rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, stabbed himself.” Benjamin Briggs Goodrich, whose brother John died at the Alamo, wrote on March 15, “Col. Travis, the commander of the fortress, sooner than fall into the hands of the enemy, stabbed himself to the heart and instantly died.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM TRUE WESTView All

Little Bighorn Memorial

A VISION REALIZED ON THE 145TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BATTLE

5 mins read
True West
June 2021

The Great Chiefs- THEIR COURAGE SHAPED A NATION.

Resting here until day breaks And shadows fall And darkness disappears Is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches. —Epitaph on Quanah Parker’s gravestone

10+ mins read
True West
June 2021

The Hero or Goat of Beecher Island?

The legacy of Gen. George Forsyth’s leadership in the famous battle remains controversial over 150 years later.

7 mins read
True West
June 2021

REMEMBERING LARRY MCMURTRY

The life and times of the legendary Western writer and the legacy of Lonesome Dove.

7 mins read
True West
June 2021

Is Doc Holliday in This Photo, Or Not?

AN OLD PHOTO IS REEXAMINED BY THE WORLD’S TOP DOC HOLLIDAY EXPERT.

5 mins read
True West
June 2021

History, Haunts and Hotels

Old West adventures await across the Cowboy State’s colorful Carbon County.

5 mins read
True West
June 2021

AMBUSHED ON THE PECOS - THE COURAGEOUS LIFE AND DEATH OF OLIVER LOVING.

In 1867, beneath a bluff a few miles from Carlsbad, New Mexico, two Texas cattlemen—one of them a trail-hardened 52-year-old, the other a 23-year-old roughneck—were fighting for their lives, surrounded by a marauding party of Comanches. If recorded at all, such an event would have been no more than a blip on the historical calendar of the American West, but this one—and its aftermath—turned out to be one of the most amazing examples of courage, loyalty and sheer grit in all the annals of the frontier.

10+ mins read
True West
June 2021

Out West AND DOWN UNDER

Quigley Down Under challenged the status quo of Western filmmaking in 1990, and it continues to inspire three decades later.

5 mins read
True West
April 2021

Overland Trails: Fur Trappers to Pony Express Riders

ENJOY THE ADVENTURE AND HISTORICAL SITES BETWEEN ST. LOUIS AND FORT LARAMIE.

9 mins read
True West
April 2021

Tom Selleck THE LAST OF THE BREED

The renowned film and television star reflects on his 50 years in Westerns and his hope that he will ride the range again on the silver screen.

10 mins read
True West
April 2021
RELATED STORIES

JOSH DUGGAR BAGGED FOR KIDDIE PORN

DISGRACED sex pest Josh Duggar has pleaded not guilty to two federal charges of receiving and possessing child porn!

1 min read
Globe
May 24, 2021

America's Friendlist Summits

Some high points require expert skill, a bit of luck, and probably some suffering. Not these. Here are 15 peaks—high on views, low on effort—that don’t play hard to get.

10+ mins read
Backpacker
May - June 2021

Austin, Reluctant Boomtown

Residents fear that the wave of tech workers arriving will turn the city into San Francisco

5 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
April 12, 2021

Kourtney & Travis: SHACKING UP!

She’s got the key to his heart, and he’s got the keys to her place!

1 min read
Star
March 08, 2021

TEXAS AG SAYS PROBE TO CONTINUE DESPITE TWITTER LAWSUIT

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that a lawsuit by Twitter won’t deter his office from investigating the content moderation practices of the social media giant and four other major technology companies.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #489

What's Your Anchor?

My nephew JoJo’s boat race across the Atlantic Ocean became a metaphor for what had been thrust upon all of us in 2020 with the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.

8 mins read
Transformation Magazine
March 2021

MIRANDA FLYING COOP & LEAVING HUBBY BEHIND!

She’s desperate for alone time

2 mins read
Globe
March 08, 2021

WHY TEXAS BROKE

The state is famous for its energy industry. But a winter storm left millions without power and water. How did things go so wrong—and what, if any, will change?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 01, 2021

Clean shots

For real estate photographer, the art is in the uncluttered details

4 mins read
The Good Life
March 2021

KOURTNEY'S BARKING UP WRONG TREE WITH HEARTBREAKER TRAVIS

LOVESTRUCK Kourtney Kardashian is playing with fire by hooking up with combustible musician Travis Barker, warned pals, who said baby daddy Scott Disick is leading the parade of naysayers!

1 min read
National Enquirer
February 15, 2021