Perhaps the anonymous writer couldn't help himself. Yesterday's Associated Press article talked about the "pressure" being applied in Texas by the General Land Office for the loan of the "victory or death" letter written by William Barrett Travis. The letter is held by the State Library and Archives Commission. The 177th anniversary of the siege of the Alamo is coming up and the GLO would like to display the letter. Hopefully, something can be worked out.
But the article contained a subliminal message. The writer just had to point out that Travis, technically Second in Command of the Alamo garrison and author of the letter in question, was also an illegal immigrant. They just never quit, do they?
"Travis was a South Carolina-born Alabama lawyer," the writer points out, "who fled an unhappy marriage and possibly the killing of another man and moved to Mexican-held Texas as an illegal U.S. immigrant." Let's not forget that he left a son behind, that his wife was pregnant, and he owed money to everybody in the county and his grandmother too, while we're at it. While the case can be made that Mr. Travis was not a legal resident of Texas, the truth is that it's a bit more complicated than that.
Throughout the 1820s, Mexico encouraged the immigration of North American settlers into Texas. For the Americans, the lure of cheap or even free land was enough to endure Mexican requirements to obey Mexican law and convert to Catholicism. In 1821, Stephen F. Austin received a grant which authorized him to bring 300 American families into Texas.
By the end of the decade, Americans far outnumbered their Mexican hosts. On April 6, 1830, the Mexican government under President Anastasio Bustamente enacted a law which severely limited, if not absolutely prohibited American immigration. But there was a loophole. Mr. Austin bargained with the government, and obtained an exemption for his "colony."
The noted historian William C. Davis, in his excellent triple biography, Three Roads to the Alamo, dates the Texas arrival of Travis to early May, 1831, more than a year after the 1830 law went into effect. But William Barrett Travis was no dummy. He must have known of the exemption that the Mexican government had given to Austin, and he went immediately to San Felipe, where he knew that he could purchase a piece of land from Austin, almost for the asking. Travis wanted to be a gentleman, and he knew that owning property would lend a certain amount of respect and legitimacy to his image. He also said that he was single.
Many, if not most of the Americans who had settled in Texas were, like Travis, from the Southern states. When they went to Texas, many of them took their slaves with them. Since Mexican law forbade slavery, they got around the law by having their slaves endorse documents which changed their status to "indentured servants for life." The Mexican government looked the other way. But the slaves were no dummies either.
When they learned that slavery was against Mexican law, many escaped and turned themselves in to Mexican authorities or simply fled. Travis started a successful law practice in Anahuac, learned to speak Spanish, and studied Mexican law. Though most of his practice involved translating documents and land sales, he was sometimes in court, trying to return runaway "indentured servants" to their owners. As a slave-owner, he must have felt at least some resentment that Mexican law placed what he must have considered unfair restrictions on property rights.
That resentment was what led to his arrest, his enthusiastic embrace of the "war party," and his undeviating belief that only Texian independence could restore his full American liberties. When the Texas Revolution broke out, Travis jumped in with both feet, forming a cavalry unit. He became so devoted to the cause that he put it in writing that he would die for it. "I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country," Travis wrote during the siege of the Alamo. Then he backed his words with action, though nobody would have blamed him if he had sneaked back to Alabama under the cover of darkness.
The point is that William Barrett Travis didn't sneak into Texas. Once there, he didn't hide from the authorities. Instead, he made himself known, involved himself in the community. Before long, he was serving on the ayuntamiento, or the city council. He enjoyed the kind of success as a lawyer that he could never have achieved had he not gone to Texas. When he saw that he had to choose sides, he didn't hesitate. All that Texas had given him, everything he'd worked for, he gave back, standing with his fellow Americans and Tejano allies in the face of what all of them saw as Mexican tyranny, until a Mexican bullet coursed through his head and ended his life.
As fragile as it must be, Travis' letter should be displayed at the Alamo next year where everyone can see it. The man was a hero and a patriot. An illegal immigrant? It depends on one's point of view, but the actions of William Barrett Travis are not diminished even if that's how he's seen. Put together, all of the illegal immigrants hiding in plain sight today all over America can't hold a candle to him. We live in different times.
Speaking of different times, the news came out today that the unemployment rate "tumbled" to 7.8%. The Department of Labor said that 114,000 jobs were added in September.
President Obama must be very happy. Let's see, 23 million unemployed minus 114,000 new jobs? That leaves only 22,886,000 people out of work with about a month to go. Too little. Too late.