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Texas Freedom Ride

Re-enacting the daring horseback journey with Travis’ letter from the Alamo 180 years later

Scott McMahon, the director of Presidio La Bahia, recreated the famous ride from the Alamo in San Antonio to Washington-on-the-Brazos to deliver William Travis’ ‘Victory or Death’ letter. McMahon left the Alamo on February 24 and followed the original route of Albert Martin, the 28-year-old courier and veteran of the Battle of Gonzales, who handed the message off in the town of Gonzales, 70 miles away, before returning to the Alamo and dying in the battle on March 6, 1836. Martin handed the letter off to Launcelot Smither, who, in turn, carried it the next stage of the journey to San Felipe de Austin, where it was printed in broadsheet form and published in local newspapers on March 2, 1836.

McMahon spent the first night on the porch of the Eggleston House, which was built in 1845 and is the oldest structure in Gonzales and now serves as a museum of frontier life. McMahon spoke about his trip and the history of the original ride to a group of seventh-grade students from Gonzales Junior High School at the Memorial to the Gonzales 32. The Gonzales 32 were the men from the town who rushed to the aid of Travis at the Alamo after his letter arrived from courier Albert Martin. They all died in the battle.

McMahon then rode 12 miles from Gonzales toward Shiner where he camped under the Houston Oak. After the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston burned Gonzales and retreated to the oak to gather volunteers on March 13, 1836. The group went on to fight in the Battle of San Jacinto. The volunteers and eastward-fleeing residents of Gonzales, a movement later described as the Runaway Scrape, could still see the glow of the burning town from the oak tree. 

Today the nearby Branches House, built in the 1840s is undergoing renovation to correct decades of neglect. The Houston oak is estimated to be more than 500 years old.

McMahon traveled with period clothing and tack, much of which he made himself. He carried a powder horn from 1849 as well as one crafted by a friend with his name and a map of the rivers of Texas.

The trip ended March 5 at Washington-on-the-Brazos.

Julia Robinson is an Austin photojournalist.