The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979

Book Reviews
ROBERT A. CALVERT, Editor
Travis. By Archie P. McDonald. (Austin: The Pemberton Press, 1976.
Pp. 214. Introduction, illustrations, bibliography, index. $12.50.)
The introduction to this new biography of William Barret Travis,
Texan commander at the Alamo, includes a passage saying that Travis's
place in history resembles a tropical hurricane which rises in the east from
an unseen and unknown source, passes its time in relative obscurity until
the moment when it becomes a full blown storm, then quickly blows away,
leaving a vivid memory of its brief moment of glory. (p. 15)
It is a good analogy to Travis's life. We have the bare biographical de-
tails, due largely to the unpublished work of Amelia Williams and
Ruby Mixon, but we really know very little about his early life or his
character. In fact, had his uncle, Alexander Travis, not been a promi-
nent Baptist minister, it would probably be impossible to learn any-
thing at all about his birth and childhood. As it is, we know that he
was born in western South Carolina; migrated to Alabama with his
family in 1818; was married in Claiborne, Alabama, in 1828; practiced
law there; and, in i831, abandoned both his legal practice and his mar-
riage and came to Texas.
In Texas the record is shorter and clearer. Mexican Texas was more
bureaucratic than American Alabama, and its citizens were required to
sign more documents and fill out more forms-especially troublesome
citizens like Travis, who found his way into the difficulties at Anahuac
in 1832, and thus into a good deal of official correspondence. He oblig-
ingly kept a diary in 1832 and 1833, which was edited and published by
Robert E. Davis in 1966. By 1834 he was taking an active part in the
political events that led to his death, and his deeds were recorded by his
contemporaries. His last letters, written from the Alamo, are literary
classics.
Professor McDonald has attempted to give life to these scant docu-
mentary bones, and the results show that really first-rate biography
simply cannot be written without adequate sources. Though he deals
skillfully with the little evidence that he has been able to find about
Travis's early years, that portion of the book is thin and is characterized

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101206/. Accessed July 12, 2014.