Travis, Charles Edward (1829–1860)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 16, 2019

Charles Edward Travis, Texas Ranger, United States Army officer, and son of Rosanna (Cato) and William Barret Travis, was born in Alabama in 1829. After his father's death at the Alamo young Charles lived in New Orleans with his mother and stepfather, Dr. Samuel B. Cloud, but upon their deaths in 1848 moved to Brenham to live with his sister, Mrs. John (Susan Isabella) Grissett. After becoming a member of the Texas bar he was elected to the legislature to represent Caldwell and Hays counties in 1853–54. He served briefly as captain of Company E of the Texas Rangers, which was stationed at Fort Clark, and was commissioned captain in the Second United States Cavalry on March 5, 1855, and appointed to the command of Company H, which he recruited at Evansville, Indiana. On August 6, 1855, he reported with his new command at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where Second Lt. Robert C. Wood, Jr., preferred charges of slander against him. On the march to Texas charges of cheating at cards and unauthorized absence from camp were brought against him. Eliza G. Johnston remarked in her diary that Travis was "a mean one respects or believes a word [he] says," and on December 10, 1855, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston relieved him of command and placed him "under arrest in quarters." To a formal charge of "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman," Travis pleaded not guilty. He retained H. M. Lewis as his counsel; as an attorney himself, however, Travis mainly handled his own defense. Capt. Eugene E. McLean of the Quartermaster Department was appointed judge advocate, and Lt. Col. Henry Bainbridge of the First Infantry served as president. The court-martial, which convened on March 15, 1856, at Fort Mason, proved one of the most sensational in Texas history with Colonel Johnston and many of Travis's fellow officers testifying against him. After almost a month of testimony and deliberation, Travis was found guilty of all three charges on April 11 and was dismissed from service on May 1, 1856.

Claiming that the graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point had discriminated against him as an appointee to the regiment from civilian life, Travis enlisted the assistance of the Texas legislature to help clear his name. A joint committee examined the testimony and recommended that he be publicly vindicated. On August 30, 1856, the legislature issued a joint resolution stating that "the sentence was not sustained by the testimony," and requesting that President Franklin Pierce reexamine the proceeding and reverse the findings of the court martial. When Pierce refused to reopen the case, Travis took the unwise step of attempting to force several of the officers who had testified against him to recant. This tactic led to a backlash of public sentiment against Travis, who thereupon returned to his sister's home in Washington County, where he died of consumption in 1860. William B. Travis's "little boy" was buried in the Masonic Cemetery at Chappell Hill.

Lena Clara Koch, "The Federal Indian Policy in Texas, 1845–1860," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 28 (January, April 1925). Members of the Texas Legislature, 1846–1962 (Austin, 1962). Harold B. Simpson, Cry Comanche: The Second U.S. Cavalry in Texas (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1979). Amelia W. Williams, A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo and of the Personnel of Its Defenders (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1931; rpt., Southwestern Historical Quarterly 36 [April 1933], 37 [July, October 1933, January, April 1934]). Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Texas Rangers

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Travis, Charles Edward,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 16, 2019