Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986 Page: 19
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By Lynn Ashby
[The following presentation was given by
Lynn Ashby in Houston as part of the
special sesquicentennial series of "High
Noon" talks sponsored by the Republic
Bank and Rice University.]
You will notice on the brochure all the other
speakers are historians who interpret a lot. I
am not. I am a journalist. In journalism, we
cover stories and people. Journalists do not interpret,
just report the facts.
I'd like to talk a little bit about some of my
heroes in early Texas, then we will hit some
questions and discussion later on. Then you
might ask why did I choose these particular
people in early Texas, or what did they have in
common. They have in common the fact that
they are interesting. Some of them we know, a
lot we have never heard of, and justifiably so.
There was, for instance, one of the best
known early Texans, William Travis, who
hardly ever was called Bill. He was a strongwilled
(some say hot-headed) young man who
loved adventure, trouble, good court cases,
nobel causes, beautiful women, novels by Sir
Walter Scott, gambling and parties. Just your
average Texas aristocrat. Travis came into the
ante-bellum world of southern easy living on
August 9th, 1809, near Red Banks, South
Carolina. He became a lawyer, apparently
while still in his teens, and first came to note
defending a slave who was accused of murdering
Now in South Carolina, in 1827, Travis
proved that the only alleged witness was in
New York City at the time of the murder, and
got his client off. Travis so endeared himself to
his neighbors for his ingenious legal move that
he soon left the state.
At the age of 20, Travis was admitted to the
bar in Alabama. Some say that he shot a man
in a duel. In any event, he soon left once
more-this time for the unchartered outback
now known as Texas. When he arrived, treason
and derring-do were in the winds, and
Travis got right into the independence movement.
Soon he resorted to more direct action
than court cases. As a captain, he led 25 men
in a gallant attack on a Mexican fort in Anahuac.
Well, it wasn't exactly a gallant attack.
Their invasion armada -one sloopgrounded
on a mud flat and they had to row
ashore. It wasn't exactly the Marines landing,
either. No big deal, but they won, so what the
Well, Travis becomes a major in the Texas artillery
and the war continues to shape up.
January 28, 1836, Governor Smith orders
Travis to San Antonio to hold the fort. He is
made a Lieutenant Colonel, but he is still a
little hesitant. Writing Governor Smith: "I am
willing, nay, anxious to go to the defense of
Bexar, but, sir, I am unwilling to risk my reputation
(which is ever dear to a soldier) by
going off into the enemy's country with such
little means, so few men, and with them so
Besides, Travis did not note in his letter, he
had been running an ad in the Telegraph and
Texas Register (which is the forerunner of the
Houston Post) that the law firm of Travis &
Starr is now open for business in San Felipe.
But he goes anyway, trooper that he is, and
immediately gets into a fight with Jim Bowie
over who is to be commander, and Travis only
ends up a co-commander. Travis writes Governor
Smith: "My situation is truly awkward and
delicate." He is debating whether to stay in
San Antonio or not. He and Bowie just can't
stand each other. He decides to stay, explaining
to Smith and the goverment that "it is
more important to occupy this post than I had
imagined when I last saw you. It is the key of
Texas from the interior." By working on a map
and seeing the situation, the Alamo was far
more important than the government thought
it was, than Houston thought it was, or indeed
than Travis thought it was at first. Travis
and Bowie reached a "Mexican stand-off," so
to speak, with Bowie commanding the volunteers
and Travis in charge of the regulars.
Well, that did not work out very well. Travis is
a bit of a prig. He is only 27 years old, fully six
feet tall, weighs 170 pounds, has blue eyes
and reddish hair. He is handsome, dashing
and terribly opinionated. Besides, there is a
built in problem with a man who has read the
Spectator Papers and Herodotus, and troops
who have trouble spelling their middle names.
The problem of co-commanders is solved
when Bowie is bedridden with typhoid pneumonia,
and on February 24th, Travis takes
over the job. It's not exactly a prime post for a
young soldier. His letters, beautifully written
and literate, are anxious for aid, but not on a
panic streak. They tell the story of the Alamo.
He writes, "The power of Santa Anna is to be
met here ..." "A blood-red banner waves
from the church of Bexar. . ." "My respects to
my friends and confusion to all enemies."
HERITAGE SPRING 86
"God and Texas- Victory or Death." For
twelve days Travis holds the fort and now it is
dawn on the 13th. Travis is personally commanding
his cannon on the northwall, and
here they come: Led by General Castillion,
native of Spain and a brilliant warrier; Los
Zapadores, the Battalion of Toluca, and the
light companies hit the north. The cannon
fires off a few rounds at point blank range, but
then other troops pour in from the west wall,
and Travis is wheeling the gun around.
Suddenly, he falls over the cannon, a musket
ball has hit him right in the center of the forehead.
His body is dragged out and burned. His
equipment is liberated and the following issue
of the Telegraph and Texas Register drops its
ad about the new law firm in San Felipe.
Again, we honor another Texan, a woman,
who did her bit for the cause. Emily Morgan,
our first undercover agent.
You won't find her name on a bronze plaque
inside the San Jacinto monument listing all
the Texans who fought there. The files inside
don't even have her name. But she was there,
and she served Texas well.
For Santa Anna was pegged in San Jacinto.
He set up breastworks of trunks, baggage,
packsaddles and such, then dug his army in
behind. Right there in the center of his army,
the safest spot, he set up his tent. He always
went first class. He had a big silk and canvas
rig for a tent with heavy carpets on the
At the door he had stacked several crates
of champagne and inside he had silverware,
china of white with a green rim and a Mexican
seal in the center, medicine chests full of
opium (he was addicted to opium), a sterling
silver chamber pot, and he also had Emily
Emily was not exactly a willing "serving girl"
as the historians euphemistically put it. She
was a fine looking woman, a mulatto woman
who belonged to one James Morgan of New
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 3, Number 4, Spring 1986, periodical, March 1, 1986; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45441/m1/19/: accessed September 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.