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Texas History

William Travis’ Ring

Cat’s-eye ring connects legendary Texan with young survivor at Alamo

The poignant story of a small cat’s-eye ring weaves together little-known threads in the fabric of Texas history. The hammered gold ring set with a banded agate, one of the few artifacts to survive the 1836 siege of the Alamo, was a gift to William Barret Travis from sweetheart Rebecca Cummings. More than a century after Travis’ death, the ring was returned to the historic site.

Travis came to Texas from Alabama in 1831 as a 22-year-old lawyer who, legend has it, was fleeing the law after killing a man he discovered trifling with his wife. He traveled alone, leaving his son and pregnant wife behind.

In Texas, Travis established a new life for himself. He was among the settlers of Stephen F. Austin’s colony at San Felipe de Austin and opened a law practice in Anahuac, a port of entry along Galveston Bay where there were few attorneys and business was brisk.

While on a business trip, Travis stopped at an inn on Mill Creek owned by John Cummings and met Rebecca Cummings, John’s sister. Repeated visits sparked a romance, but Travis, who had listed his marital status as single on Stephan F. Austin’s records, had to tell Rebecca that he was still married to a woman in Alabama. It’s unlikely that this was welcome news, but the two continued to keep company.

In 1835 Travis joined the Texian army as it prepared to battle Mexico for Texas independence, promising Cummings that as soon as his divorce was final they would marry. As a parting gesture of his affection, he gave her a brooch, and Cummings slid the cat’s-eye ring from her finger and gave it to him. Travis threaded it on a piece of twine and wore it around his neck. He would never see Cummings again.

By late February 1836, Travis was in command at the Alamo, which was under siege by Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army. Knowing his death was imminent, wrote Betty Smith Meischen in her book “From Jamestown to Texas: A History of Some Early Pioneers of Austin County” [iUniverse, 2002], Travis placed the string with the ring around the neck of 15-month-old Angelina Dickinson, one of the noncombatants who survived the siege. Every defender was killed.

When the battle ended, Santa Anna had Angelina’s mother, Susanna, and her child brought before him. Legend says that the general was so taken by Angelina that he offered to take her to Mexico and raise her as his own child. Susanna refused. After the Texian victory at San Jacinto, Susanna and Angelina Dickinson settled in Houston.

It would be nice to think that after such a traumatic beginning, Angelina, the “babe of the Alamo” who inherited Travis’ precious ring, went on to live a happy life. But this was not the case.

At 17, Angelina married a well-to-do farmer, reportedly handpicked by her mother. She bore three children, but the marriage ended in divorce, and Angelina left home, abandoning the children. From there, her life continued a downward spiral. She married and divorced again in New Orleans and lived for a time in Galveston with a man named Jim Britton, to whom she gave Travis’ ring.

Galveston newspapers reported in 1869 that Angelina, who by then called herself Emma Britton, “embraced the life of a courtezan (sic).” She died at age 37.

The ring was passed down through Britton family members and friends, ending up in the possession of Douglas McGregor, a Houston attorney. McGregor donated the relic to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in April 1955. More than 100 years after Travis placed his cat’s-eye ring around Angelina’s neck, it was returned to the Alamo, where it is now on display.

Martha Deeringer is a frequent contributor.