This post has nothing to do with Seattle except for the fact that, New To Seattle, I live here now. It has a lot more to do with what seems to be a gaggle of Texas boosters, perhaps inspired by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s current presidential bid or maybe the Tea Party movement. They wax eloquent in print and online about one of the Lone Star State’s most historically celebrated heroes–but can’t spell his name correctly.
I’m talking about William Barret Travis, commander of the Alamo in San Antonio. Surrounded by the Mexican Army, the 26-year-old Travis famously wrote a letter on February 24, 1836, “to All Texans and all the Americans in the World” in which he declared, “I shall never surrender or retreat .. Victory or death!” He and his men indeed died, but the letter and its ensuing refrain–“Remember the Alamo!”–is credited with helping to rout the Mexicans just six weeks later, leading to Texas’s eventually incorporation into the United States.
The Alamo leader’s middle name is spelled with one T. However, it is frequently misspelled with two Ts. Google “William Barret Travis”–the correct spelling–and you get 53,000 hits. But Google “William Barrett Travis”–the wrong spelling–and you still get 16,000 hits.
Why do I even care? My name happens to be William Barrett–with two T’s. When I twice lived in Texas starting in 1980, I used to get asked a lot if I was kin. I am not. But because of our name similarity, I have followed this issue for a long time and have written about it previously. But errors now seem to be on the upswing.
Okay, you can’t expect bloggers to fact-check their own copy. But a lot of the mistakes old and new have been just plain embarrassing because of who is making them. Texas Monthly, for whom I once did some work, got it wrong in a profile of the great man (and declined to published my subsequent letter to the editor). The San Antonio Express-News–the home town paper of the Alamo–repeatedly has blown it in news articles. So have other major Texas publications like the Houston Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News.
But then there’s U.S. Rep Ted Poe, a Republican Congressman from Houston. A former judge, he’s in a class by himself as a repeat offender. For most of his four-term tenure in Congress, he’s been getting Travis’s middle name wrong in written materials he submitted for insertion in the Congressional Record. This year alone he’s zero-for-four. One even came on March 2, the 175th anniversary of the declaration of Texas independence from Mexico, a few days before the fall of the Alamo and its defenders. “They were led by a 27-year-old lawyer by the name of William Barrett Travis,” Poe wrote.
In an August 1 statement lauding a co-founder of what became Exxon, Poe wrote, “In Texas, there are State heroes like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and William Barrett Travis.” He revisited the subject on September 15: “William Barrett Travis and 187 volunteers sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom after 13 glorious days at the Alamo.” To top this off, he blew it again three times last week in a single statement he submitted about–what else?–the glory of the Alamo.
Among elected Texas officeholders, at least, Poe is not alone. Kay Bailey Hutchison–she’s the senior of the two Republican U.S. senators from Texas–wrote an opinion column published in the Waxahachie (Texas) Daily Light on August 28 in which she declared, “Our proud tradition of brave servicemen dates back to Colonel William Barrett Travis, Commander of the Alamo.” (Hutchison, at least, got it right earlier this year in her own submission to the Congressional record.)
Even W.B. Travis’s own kin seem confused. Just this morning, the Wichita Falls (Tex.) Times Record News published a death notice for Wayne K. Travis. “He was the great-grand-nephew of William Barrett Travis,” the paid classified intoned.
Some bloggers associated with the Tea Party, elements of which seems to have a fascination with secession efforts, eagerly invoke Travis’s name but are challenged by its spelling. You can see other misspellings by clicking here.
To put it bluntly, not a few of these bloggers are leading with their chin. I mean, what else can you conclude about a wrong spelling in a post entitled, “Real Texans Remember“? (UPDATE: After I wrote this, someone from the offending website, RealTexasBlog.com, took an online look at NewToSeattle.com and promptly corrected the spelling.)
I could go on and on about the bloggers. But by now my point should be pretty obvious: Those who want to brag about all this great Texas history should get it right. At a minimum, try crossing the T.