6/20/12 - G.T.T. - "gone to texas"

In today's excerpt - William Barret Travis, one of the larger-than-life heroes of the Alamo, abandoned his family and the United States for the Mexican province called Texas for the same reason many others did—he was escaping overwhelming personal debt. In his case, it was debt left after two failed business attempts:

"William Barret Travis had come into the world August 1, 1809, in Edgefield, South Carolina, the first of ten children born to Mark Travis, a farmer, and his wife, Jemima. His father moved his large family to Alabama when William was eight. ...

"Near the small town of Sparta, Alabama, young Travis attended a better school than most rural areas could boast of, then finished his education with a few years at a local academy that stressed classical learning. ...

"Not long after finishing his studies, during a brief stint as a teacher, Travis fell in love with one of his students, the lovely Rosanna Cato. They married in October 1828—he was barely nineteen, she was sixteen—and moved into a small house in the town of Claiborne, Alabama. Nine months and thirteen days later they were blessed with a son, Charles Edward.

"Travis's ambitions could not be contained by a classroom, however. Several months before he married he cast about for a more lucrative profession. He soon found it, and made the acquaintance of James Dellet, one of the best attorneys in the area, who agreed to take him on. After a year of intense study, Travis passed the state bar. He began practicing in February 1829; he was not yet twenty. He also became involved in other activities. He was appointed adjutant of the local militia regi­ment, and joined the Masonic order. But a plethora of attor­neys in the area made work for a new one hard to come by, and his earnings were meager. The cost of maintaining a household consisting of a young wife, an infant, and three slaves on loan from his parents was more than he could afford.

"So the enterprising Travis bought a printing press and began a newspaper, publishing and editing it himself. He even took on outside printing jobs to pay his mounting bills, but those jobs soon dried up, and the newspaper failed early in 1831.

"That same year he abandoned his pregnant wife and son. The reasons bandied about were varied: Travis suspected Rosanna of infidelity; he killed a man, perhaps the object of her indiscretions; he lost a heated political dispute. These and other explanations circulated for decades afterward. In fact, Travis would later write in his autobiography that 'my wife and I had a feud which resulted in our separation'—but he assured his wife that he would return for them or send for them as soon as he could. But the main reason he left was the least glamorous one: debt. A judgment for several unpaid bills was brought against him in court, and he faced a possible prison term. And while Travis may have genuinely planned to send for his family, or return at some point, as he told his wife, he would do neither.

"Instead, Travis left for the Mexican province of Texas, the destination for many a desperate man running from the law, creditors, or any number of other troubles or mistakes—even from himself. GTT, for 'gone to Texas,' was a familiar catch-phrase in the Southeast, often seen scrawled on an empty shack after its inhabitant had packed up and left, usually in the middle of the night. Land in Texas could be had for a pittance. Word was that a man could make a new beginning there, even forge a new life, free from lawmen or creditors once he crossed the Sabine River, separating Mexico from the United States."


James Donovan


The Blood of Heroes: The 13 Day Struggle for the Alamo—and the Sacrifice that Forged a Nation


Little, Brown


Copyright 2012 by James Donovan


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