On this day in 1836, Texas Revolutionary soldier Lewis T. Ayers was captured by the Mexican forces of Gen. José de Urrea. Ayers was involved in the series of skirmishes between March 12 and March 15 that came to be known as the battle of Refugio. He was serving with Captain Amon King in an action against the Mexican rear guard when he was captured. Ayers was one of thirty-three prisoners subsequently led out to be shot, but was saved by the intervention of one of Urrea's subordinates, Col. J. J. Holzinger, who halted the execution so that German prisoners might be reprieved. Though he was not a German, Ayers was spared, and afterward set free, reportedly because he gave a Masonic sign that was recognized by the Mexican general.
On this day in 1856, the court-martial of Capt. Charles Edward Travis, one of the most sensational courtroom dramas in history, convened at Fort Mason. Charles, son of beloved Alamo hero William Barret Travis, was born in Alabama in 1829 and reared by his mother and stepfather in New Orleans after his father’s death. He moved to Brenham in 1848 and became an attorney and Texas legislator. Travis received a commission as captain in the Second United States Cavalry in 1855. At Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, a fellow officer charged Travis with slander, and he was also charged with cheating at cards and unauthorized absence from camp during a subsequent journey to Texas. Col. Albert Sidney Johnston relieved him of command and confined him to quarters. At the court-martial at Fort Mason, Travis conducted much of his own defense and pleaded not guilty to “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” Col. Johnston himself and other officers testified against Travis, and Johnston’s wife Eliza commented in her diary that Travis was “a mean fellow.” He was pronounced guilty and dismissed from service. After attempts to exonerate himself he died of consumption in 1860.
On this day in 1916, Harry James, jazz trumpet player and big-band leader, was born in Albany, Georgia. Though thought by many to be a native Texan, he did not arrive in Texas until the 1930s, when he and his parents moved to Beaumont. There he played trumpet and led a band. In 1936 James joined Benny Goodman's orchestra. He made a name for himself with fiery trumpet solos and an appearance in the band's 1938 movie, Hollywood Hotel. After he started the Harry James Band in 1940, his hit song "You Made Me Love You" (1941) sold over a million copies. A true virtuoso, Harry, along with his band, developed the boogie-woogie style for big-band swing. His romantic ballads were the key to his success and shot him to fame as a big-band leader. Still an active musician in the 1970s, he was quoted then as saying, "I don't look at people as changing, being old or being young. I just look down from the stand to see if people are having fun." Harry James died in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1983.