This post has been updated since its original publication through March 6 to cite more misspellings.
Okay, I admit it. This is a rant. And on this topic not for the first time. But it continues to bug me that boosters of the Great State of Texas–where I lived for seven years long before becoming New To Seattle–still can’t spell correctly the name of one of their most celebrated heroes.
The figure in question is William Barret Travis. He was the 26-year-old commander of the Alamo, the San Antonio mission that in 1836 fell to the Mexican Army, which killed everyone inside, including Travis. But the written message that Travis managed to send out–“I shall never surrender or retreat … Victory or death!”–inspired fellow Texans, who, chanting “Remember the Alamo,” defeated the Mexicans just six weeks later.
Here’s why I even care about this. My name happens to be William Barrett, spelled with 2 T’s. Travis spelled his middle name with one T. For various reasons detailed below, I don’t consider him all that much of a role model. But I still get asked if I am kin or if I was named for him (No and no).
The impending return to the Alamo of his “victory or death” letter nearly two centuries after he wrote it is occasioning a great deal of publicity.
And misspellings. Especially around the Lone Star State.
On February 8 the hometown San Antonio Business Journal reported on “the famous “Victory or Death” letter penned by Alamo hero William Barrett Travis in 1836.” The website of hometown TV station WOIA, the NBC affiliate, did no better on February 21: “Lt. Colonel William Barrett Travis’ famous letter returns to the Alamo this week …”
The official website of San Antonio tourism couldn’t get it right. “One hundred and seventy-seven years ago, Alamo commander William Barrett Travis wrote an urgent letter requesting aid during the Alamo’s siege,” proclaimed a January 24 posting on VisitSanAntonio.com. And the Alamo’s own gift shop? The “William Barrett Travis Ring Necklace” can be yours for just $39.99. (UPDATE: After this post went up, the Alamo’s gift shop fixed the spelling.)
More examples: “For the first time since Lt. Col. William Barrett Travis penned the letter from the then-besieged Alamo,” began a January 17 post on the website of KTRE, the ABC TV affiliate in Lubbock. Texas. The letter was “written by William Barrett Travis,” declared a February 2 story in suburban Dallas’s Denton Record-Chronicle, which also botched the spelling in a story on February 17. The same day, so did a weekly business newspaper in El Paso. KTBC, the Fox affiliate in nearby Austin, fared no better on February 13.
“The return of Col. William Barrett Travis’ ‘Victory or Death’ letter,” proclaimed a January 22 post on TexasVeteransBlog.com. A January 12 article on something called AmericanThinker.com managed to misspell the name in an article entitled, ironically enough, “Disrespecting American Heroes.”
Over the years, Travis’s full name has been blown by all kinds of other of publications that should know better. This lengthy list includes Texas Monthly, The Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle and–a number of times–the San Antonio Express-News, which managed to get it wrong yet again on February 22. And by all kinds of elected Texas politicians. And, judging from a 2011 death notice, by relatives of one actual Travis family descendant.
The hero worshippers of Travis tend to leave out a lot of stuff. He had abandoned a wife and two children (one unborn) in Alabama after likely killing a man. Upon his arrival, Travis told everyone in Texas he was single, although he wasn’t. His 1831 immigration to Texas, then part of Mexico, was totally against Mexican law. Indeed, many who sing his praises are the same folks who want a high wall and armed guards along the Rio Grande to keep out Mexican nationals whose presence would be just as illegal now in Texas as his was in 1836.
All right. Rant over. You can resume your daily activities.
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