James Butler Bonham Chapter of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas--Dallas





James Butler Bonham (1807-1836)

Messenger of the Alamo

James Butler Bonham was born in the Saluda River Valley of South Carolina on February 20, 1807.  The fifth child of well-do-to planter James Bonham and his wife, Sophia, young James was well-schooled in local traditions.  But Bonham came from a long line of rebels, people restless in spirit and independent in thought.  He had a magnetic personality, was a natural-born leader, and had little interest in settling into the life of a Southern gentleman. 

Bonham’s first adventure, organizing a student demonstration at South Carolina College, got him expelled in 1827.  Nevertheless, he passed the bar exam and by 1830 had opened a law practice in Pendleton, South Carolina.  Bonham found that he disliked the routine practice of law and eagerly accepted a commission in the state militia in 1832 during a furor with the Federal government over the national tariff.  Returning to his law practice in 1833, he became the most eligible bachelor in Pendleton after serving three months in jail for caning a man who insulted his female client in court.  But after failing to win the hand of the woman he wanted to marry, Bonham moved his law practice to Montgomery, Alabama in 1834.  He was writing to his family that the law profession was “deadly dull” when, in the fall of 1835, his boyhood friend, William Barret Travis, sent word for him to come to Texas.

Bonham closed his law practice, recruited enough men to form the Mobile Grays, and set out in October to join the fight for Texas independence.  He was commissioned a Lieutenant of Cavalry in the Texas Army in December and became a trusted messenger for General Sam Houston, riding missions between San Antonio, Goliad and San Felipe.  In January 1836, Bonham marched with Jim Bowie to the Alamo.  The garrison was dangerously short of men.

On February 27, with the Alamo defenders in desperate need of reinforcements, Travis sent Bonham to Goliad to plead with Colonel James Fannin to come at once with his army of 400 men.  It took Bonham four days to carry out his order and return to San Antonio.  On March 3, amid a hail of bullets and with a white handkerchief tied around his hat as the signal to open the gates, Bonham rode into the Alamo to deliver his last message: Fannin had set out on February 28 but had been forced to turn back.  In a letter to the President of the Convention dated the same day, Travis reported that the Alamo could expect no aid from any quarter.

After reporting to Travis, Bonham took up a position atop the Alamo chapel.  Together with Captain Almeron Dickinson and his comrades, he directed cannon fire during the final three days of the siege.  When the Mexican army broke through the Alamo’s defenses on March 6, 1836, Bonham’s position was one of the last to fall. 

Adapted from “James Butler Bonham” by Ben Proctor
Published in Heroes of Texas (1964), Texian Press, pp. 21-27


James Butler Bonham portrait

James Butler Bonham



A 9-minute video about
James Butler Bonham
and William Barret Travis
(or here)