On a cold day early in February 1836, a well-dressed young omanona horse trotted along the road —littlemorethan a well-worn cart path, really — from the small town of Gonzales westward to San Antonio de Béxar. He was twenty-six, and he had already written his autobiography. He exuded self-assurance, and ambition burned in his breast, but he could be brusque, and perhaps because of that, the men under his command respected him, but did not warm to him. The rebel Texian army had no money for arms and ammunition, much less clothing for its few hundred soldiers, and the uniform he had ordered had not been delivered yet. Thus, despite his newly appointed rank of lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the regular army, he wore the fine clothes of a gentleman.
His civilian dress was no indication of a lack of courage. He had proven his mettle several times in the past few years — at the port village of Anahuac, staked to the ground with Mexican riflemen aiming at him; then three years later, leading a group of militia to seize the garrison there; and at the siege of Béxar this past fall, in the thick of things with his company of mounted scouts.
His name was William Barret Travis, and he did not want to return to Béxar. A few weeks before, his good friend Henry Smith had been elected governor by the Consultation, the meeting of representatives of most of the Texas settlements that was convened to discuss the increasing friction with Mexico and organize a provisional government to handle matters. The Consultation had been held in the town of San Felipe, the center of the Anglo colonies, where Travis resided. At Travis’s own suggestion, Smith appointed him lieutenant colonel and commander of cavalry, then charged him with raising a legion of dragoons — one hundred armed horsemen — to reinforce the depleted garrison at Béxar. All signs pointed to a large Mexican army on the march to Texas to quash the nascent rebellion in the troublesome colony.
Almost three weeks of recruiting had yielded only thirty-five men, and several of those had deserted the unit on the road. With a legion, a man could make a mark; a third of that number, not so easily. Travis himself had to provision, equip, and sometimes supply mounts for his volunteers, and the job kept him fully occupied. His personal affairs and business concerns suffered, particularly his successful law practice, though the recent acquisition of a partner had helped the latter somewhat. But the unceasing work took its toll. On January 28, soon after leaving San Felipe, dog-tired and disillusioned, Travis had written to Smith from Burnham’s Crossing on the Colorado River, just thirty miles west on the Béxar road, and asked to be allowed to return:
I shall however go on & do my duty, if I am sacrificed, unless I receive new orders to counter march. Our affairs are gloomy indeed —The people are cold & indifferent —They are worn down & exhausted with the war, and in consequence of dissentions between contending & rival chieftains, they have lost all confidence in their own Govt. & officers. You have no idea of the exhausted state of the country....
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