Think you know William Barrett Travis? Think again.
Born in Sparta, Alabama in 1809, Travis was a badass from the get-go as he joined the Alabama Militia while somehow working as a lawyer, teacher and newspaper editor as well. When he was nineteen, the young officer married a 16 year-old student of his (scandalous), but it turned out that she was catting around because he in fact was NOT the father of her unborn daughter. Travis immediately went out, found his wife’s lover/boyfriend, killed him in a “pistols at dawn” duel and immediately fled the country for the greener pastures of the then-Mexican state of Tejas.
While living it up on the lam, Travis tried to continue his work as a lawyer and militiaman, but living in Texas in the 1830s was a serious pain in the ass because some guy named Santa Anna had just been elected Presidente Por Vida of Mexico and was being a total jerk to everyone for no reason. So since Travis wasn’t the type of guy to just sit around and hope things work out, so he went all Thomas Jefferson on the situation and joined the local movement for Texas Independence against those Mexican punks who were oppressing his freedom to run from a murder charge in the US and live his life in relative peace. This independence movement got a lot of traction and soon enough, they had a full fledged backwoods milita style organization set up to fight for their rights to party.
For the most part, being a part of the Texas Revolution in the early days meant paying his monthly dues, and trying to use his lawyer skills to rewrite the increasingly-oppressive Mexican constitution, but in 1835 Travis had the first chance to get a bit angry when a Texan named Andrew Briscoe was arrested for being awesome and resisting some unfair tax laws. To protest this maneuver by Santa Anna’s government, Travis raised a 25-man armed militia, commandeered a ship and led an amphibious assault on the prison where Briscoe was being held. In less than an hour Travis’ men were able to overwhelm the 45 Mexican soldiers garrisoning the fortress, force their surrender, steal their guns and release Briscoe and his cohorts from jail. This brazen display of badassery caught the eye of Texas Revolutionary leader Sam Houston, who immediately appointed Travis to be a cavalry commander of the newly-organized Army of Texas. It also caught the eye of President-General Santa Anna, who wasn’t too fond of these jerk Texans screwing up all of his cronies, and stuff in Texas started to get out of hand pretty quickly. Before you could say “Tuesday Tex-Mex Steak and Nacho Special”, the War of Texas Independence was on like a neckbone sandwich. Sam Houston’s first orders to the 26 year-old Lieutenant Colonel on 3 February 1836 was to send his troops to reinforce a Mexican stronghold that had recently been captured by a masterful Texan surprise attack – the mission at San Antonio de Béxar, better known today as The Alamo.
When Travis arrived at the Alamo, he was greeted by a motley crew of hardcore freedom fighters – some two hundred Texan, American and Tejano soldiers from multiple backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities, all unified by the desire to fight against oppression by any means necessary. Travis had to respect these men’s fighting spirit, but it was going to take more than guts and braun to make The Alamo more heavily defended than one of the fortresses in Blood Gulch. He worked with the fort’s commander, Colonel James Neill, to get stuff in order, setting up palisades, sandbagging the walls and putting extra cannons, sniper rifles and plasma grenades in strategic locations around the complex, but when Neill had to go home because he was being a wuss and he wasn’t feeling well it came down to Travis to complete the fortifications himself. He stocked up on food, trained his men in the art of warfare and (along with fellow Alamo defenders and ultimate badasses Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett) whipped the garrison into a respectable fighting force capable of holding it’s own against pretty much whatever the Mexicans could throw against it.
Well it wasn’t long before Travis’ men had a chance to prove their worth. The Alamo was a key strategic and logistical fortress within Texas, and Santa Anna was pretty keen on having it under Mexican control and not run by a bunch of Texas rabble. The General perosnally marched out at the head of 6,000 Mexican Regular Infantry, armed with over 20 artillery pieces and encircled the mission in late February. The Mexicans cut off all communications and supplies between the fort and the outside world, besieging the defenders for thirteen days and pelting them with gunfire and Spanish insults. Several times Travis was able to send runners out through enemy lines to appeal to other Texans for help, though no relief would come to the beleagured defenders. The only reinforcements Travis and his men would see was a small group of 32 soldiers who managed to slip through the Mexican lines on March 2nd.
Once word came down that the Alamo was on its own against the entire Mexican Army, everybody was pretty much sure that they were completely boned. They were outnumbered sixty to one, surrounded, hopelessly outgunned, and every day and night for thirteen days Santa Anna’s men bombarded the fort with small-arms and cannon fire. One day, with morale dwindling, Travis called all of his men out to the courtyard of the facility, unsheathed his sword, and drew a line in the sand. He said any man who wished to fight should cross the line – anyone who didn’t cross was free to make a run for it during the night and save their own hides. Every single man stepped across the line, except for Jim Bowie, who was dying of Typhoid Fever and confined to a stretcher, but he had his men carry him over the line so it’s pretty much the same deal. Despite the bleak situation and impending death, Travis somehow managed to keep his men ready for action and pumped up about shooting Mexicans and fighting for their freedom. He raised a flag over the mission that simply read, “INDEPENDENCE”.
Just before dawn on 6 March 1836, Santa Anna raised a blood-red flag, signaling the order to begin the assault and issue no quarter to the defenders. Mexican Infantry began rushing the Alamo immediately. Travis saw what was going down, ran to the battlements, raised his sword over his head, fired his badass Doom II-style sawed-off shotgun into the oncoming hordes and rallied his men into battle. He was hit in the side with a gunshot early on in the fighting, but managed to prop himself up against a wall and continue firing on the enemy. Fierce fighting and exemplary bravery by the Texans repelled the first two Mexican assaults on the fortress, but on the third push by Santa Anna’s men, they were able to get ladders up on the walls and Mexican Infantry began pouring into the compound. Brutal hand-to-hand fighting ensued, with men using fists, knives, rifle butts, whiskey bottles, bayonets, knee strikes to the groin and pretty much anything they could get their hands on to beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, but it was ultimately a lost cause for Travis and his men. According to an account by US Colonel Willam Gray, the Mexican General Mora entered the fort and saw William Travis sitting propped up against a wall and drew his sword to finish off the half-dead Alamo commander. Travis drew his sword, swung up from his seated position at the same time that Mora dealt his killing blow, and both men simultaneously ran each other through. In less than an hour of fighting, every single Alamo defender had been slain, but they had taken somewhere between 500 and 1,000 of the enemy with them. News of The Alamo’s last stand reached Sam Houston by way of some of the women and slaves who were spared from the slaughter, and this display of heroism only served to make the Texans even more pissed off than they already were. The bravery of Travis, Crockett, Bowie, and the other defenders inspired men across Texas to join the Revolutionary Army, and only one month later Sam Houston was able to beat the holy hell out of Santa Anna’s troops at the Battle of San Jacinto and secure independence for the Republic of Texas. His battle cry, used to inspire troops to victory: Remember the Alamo.
The defense of the Alamo is one of the most badass last stands in history, and Travis should get major props for being the man in charge of the operation, and for his badass actions leading up to and during the battle. William B. Travis was an underrated badass sonofagun who took a group of 180 irregulars and turned them into a tough-as-hell force that held its own against impossible odds and inspired a nation to fight for its liberty.