LETTER: Forgotten Alamo slave

In honor of Black History Month, Texas history has long forgotten Joe, Col. William Travis’ slave. Born around 1814, Joe was bought four times in his lifetime, but it was the third time that would be the most remarkable. Joe was bought by Travis on Feb. 13, 1834, and would become a front-row witness at the Battle of the Alamo.

Accompanying Travis into the Alamo on Feb. 5, 1836, Joe would endure all the same physical and mental hardships with the Texans and Tejanos alike. With the Mexican band playing the Deguello (cut-throat) song, day and night, the Alamo defenders were all denied their much-needed rest and sleep. On the last night of the siege, the Mexican musicians were totally quiet, and all the Alamo defenders fell into a deep sleep from total exhaustion.

Around 5 a.m. on March 6, hearing the shouting of Mexican soldiers, “Viva Mexico y Viva Santa Anna,” Joe fought alongside of his slave master until Travis was fatally shot in his forehead, early in the battle. Then, and only then, did Joe finally leave Travis’ side to seek shelter. Joe remained loyal to Travis until the very end.

Having been spared his life for being a black slave, Joe would accompany Mrs. Susanna Dickenson to Gen. Sam Houston and tell his story of the Battle of the Alamo. Most of what Texas history knows about the Alamo is what Joe told the Texas Cabinet on March 20, 1836. Although Joe helped Texas win its independence, he was denied his own freedom and was purchased by John Rice Jones from the Travis estate, after the Texas War for Independence.

On April 21, 1837, the first-year anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, Joe was seen with “a Mexican man with two fully equipped horses with him.” I believe Joe escaped slavery because his new owner ran an ad for a $50 reward for his capture for three months that was never renewed.

Joe was last seen on April 21, 1877, in Austin, when a local newspaper interviewed him about his recollections of events at the Alamo. The sad truth is that Joe entered the Alamo as a slave, and he left the Alamo still a slave. He should have been given his freedom as a defender of the Alamo and 320 acres as his war bounty for his military service for Texas.

Texas history may have forgotten Joe, but we should all remember, and honor, all our Texas and Tejano heroes, especially the courage and bravery of Joe, Col. Travis’ slave.

Jack Ayoub