I would be surprised if anyone in the United States hasn’t heard of William Barrett “Buck” Travis (1809-1836). I find his story quite interesting, if short — and perhaps somewhat typical of Americans in the early to the late nineteenth century. William’s grandfather migrated to the British-American colonies at the age of twelve years, indentured for ten years. This was how it was done back then — white enslavement, not unlike the use of credit cards in modern times.
From what we know of Buck Travis, he had good parents and a decent upbringing. When Buck was nine years old, his father, Mark Travis, moved the family to the emerging town of Sparta, Alabama. Apparently, Buck’s Uncle Alexander had quite an influence in his formative years. Alexander was a preacher of sorts who had a hand in organizing several community churches in Sparta and Evergreen. Alexander also helped to found the Sparta Academy, where Buck was first educated in Greek, Latin, history, and mathematics. In later years, Buck attended the McCurdy Academy in Claiborne, Alabama.
Travis completed his education at the age of eighteen years and became an assistant teacher. The position didn’t pay very well, and he only taught for about a year. While teaching, he met Rosanna Cato, with whom he had a romantic relationship. But teaching and farming failed to interest Buck, so he moved to Claiborne and began studying the law under the (then) famed attorney James Dellet. Claiborne was a major settlement in Alabama. Its position along the Alabama River made the community profitable and interesting; it was where folks migrated to when they didn’t want to spend their lives “farming.” Farming is hard work — a vocation where you’re constantly at the mercy of Mother Nature.
Miss Cato and Buck married on 26 October 1828. Rosanna gave birth to a son a year later, named Charles Edward, but there were questions about that. Tongues do wag in the rural south. What Buck Travis wanted was to achieve prominent status as an attorney — the way Lawyer Dellet did. Travis started a newspaper, one he named the Claiborne Herald. It was a one-man show, and like all new enterprises, the income produced from the Herald was barely adequate to support a wife and child. I suppose part of the problem was that Buck Travis wasn’t very good as a typesetter. He wasn’t very well organized, either.
Travis passed his law examination in 1829 and received the necessary licensure to hand out his shingle. He borrowed $55.00 to open a law office and an additional $90.00 to help keep the Herald going for a year. This is how Buck Travis entered the world of debt. Profits from his law practice were nil because there were no long queues of potential clients standing outside his law office. To make ends meet, Buck and Rosanna took in borders. To help his wife with her labors, he purchased two slaves. Maintaining human slaves was expensive, though, particularly when there wasn’t any money.
Buck Travis was seriously indebted. In those days, $200.00 of debt was a lot. Buck represented six clients in 1829. In total, he made $4.00 from his law practice. By 1831, he owed $834.00. His creditors, which included Mr. Dellet, filed suit against Travis. The Claiborne Sheriff ordered his arrest (as a debtor) on 31 March 1831.
Then, Travis began to think about going to Texas. According to the stories, Texas was a vast territory where people made serious money in land speculation. The stories were true, of course. And there was a huge demand for lawyers. Rosanna was then pregnant with their second child, so Buck decided he’d go to Texas, make a ton of money, pay off his debts, and then Rosanna would join him there. Only a third of this came to pass. Buck Travis went to Texas and never returned to pay his debts or collect his wife.
William B. Travis went to Texas and joined thousands of others in his same predicament — people who abandoned their families and obligations back home to “get a new start.” Travis did get a new start, just not with his wife and two children. Four years later, Rosanna appeared in San Felipe, Texas, with five or six-year-old Charles in tow.
Rosanna had earlier decided that it was time to get on with her life. Rosanna had appealed to the Alabama legislature to grant a divorce based on abandonment. After the divorce was approved, a suitor appeared in the form of Dr. Samuel B. Cloud. Dr. Cloud was apparently willing to take in Rosanna’s daughter, Isabella, but the boy would have to go and live with his father in Texas.
When Buck Travis served in the Texas Revolution, he left Charles in a neighbor’s care. Whether William Barrett Travis ever deserved to become a hero of Texas, that’s what happened. Buck Travis was one of the first men to die at the Alamo on 6 March 1836. Were it not for the Alamo, Travis’s service in the Texas Army would have been underwhelming.
After Buck’s death, the “good folk” taking care of Charles Edward Travis packed him off to New Orleans, where his mother and Dr. Cloud then resided. A cholera epidemic swept New Orleans in 1848, killing both Rosanna and Samuel. Charles went to live with Isabella, who was married to John Grissett, in Brenham, Texas.
Charles followed in his father’s footsteps and studied the law to become a lawyer. In 1853, Caldwell and Hays counties elected Charles to represent them in the Texas legislature. He also served briefly with the Texas Rangers. Texas Rangers were a funny lot, though. They strenuously objected to serving alongside someone like Charles, who slandered others, cheated at cards, and absented himself from duty without permission. Besides, they argued, Charles Travis was a mean fellow with no one respecting or believing anything he said.
Charles’ “court-martial” was a very public affair and one that lasted far too long given the charges against him. When he was finally adjudged guilty, Charles took his undesirable discharge and returned to his sister’s home in Washington County.
A few years later, in 1860, Buck Travis’ little boy Charles died of consumption and was buried at the Chappell Hill cemetery. Isabella died in 1868 at the ripe old age of 37 years. She left behind a son and a daughter.
We don’t know much more than this about Charles Travis. He did have a daughter, whose name was Ella Travis Hedrick, wife of Cyrus A. Hedrick. We do not know who Ella’s mother was; we do not know if Charles and Ella’s mother were married. We think that Ella was born in 1849; she died in 1925. She had four children: Nannie, Lila, Lizzie, and Tubman.
- The Handbook of Texas, online.
- Davis, W. C. Three Roads to the Alamo. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
- McDonald, A. P. William Barrett Travis. New York: Eakins Press, 1995.