Texas Military Forces Historical Sketch
First Years of the Republic
Although the War for Independence was won by the Texans, dangers along the border still existed in the form of marauding bands of Mexicans and white renegades who pillaged the outlying settlements. Attacks from Indians added to the dangers of the frontier. So, after the War of 1836, legislative provisions were made for maintaining mounted companies to defend the frontier against Indians, bandits and to keep down local disturbances.
The first volunteer company of the Republic of Texas, the Milam Guards, ever subjected to the commands of the President, was organized in Houston during 1836 with Joseph Daniels serving as captain. The Milam Guards were later commanded by James F. Reily. On its rolls were the names of Judge Peter W. Gray, General E. B. Nichols, Governor F. R. Lubbock and others to the number of nearly one hundred men.
The 141st Infantry, 36th Division, traced its history back to the days of the Texas Republic. The forebear of this regiment was the old "Washington Guards," which was organized at old Washington, Texas, on April 7, 1836. The original muster roll of the "Washington Guards" is on file in the archives of the State of Texas. It shows every man's name and grade and is signed "J. B. Chance, Captain." This was the only organization of the Texas National Guard which could authentically trace its history back to the days of the Republic.
On December 13, 1838, President Mirabeau B. Lamar of the Republic of Texas, appointed the famed General Albert Sidney Johnston as Secretary of War. General Johnston entered upon his duties as Secretary of War on December 16, 1838, and served until March of 1840. He was also the first Adjutant General of the Republic of Texas, having been appointed by President D. G. Burnet on August 5, 1836, and serving until November 16, 1836.
Another indication of the part played by the volunteer militia in the early days of the Republic of Texas was contained in a message sent in March, 1839, from Mirabeau B. Lamar to the Harrisburg Volunteers. He congratulated them on their volunteering for service and told them that they would be ordered to march to the invaded portion of the Republic on the Colorado, to cooperate with their compatriots then in the field. This was during the expulsion of the Cherokees from Texas.
Information relative to all the militia companies and military events of the early days of the Republic is not available in authoritative form since the Adjutant General's office burned in the winter of 1853-54 and the State Capitol in November, 1881, making it impossible to secure authoritative original documents relating to military events between the years of 1835 and 1881.
Through personal diaries and newspaper accounts, though, several enlightening facts on the organization and the spirit that prompted the organization of one of the early militia companies--the Travis Guards--are available. It is supposed that the Travis Guards unit was typical of the many others that were formed throughout Texas during those days.
The Travis Guards were fully organized in the winter of 1839-40 in Austin for home protection and speedy campaign work against Indians who made frequent incursions into the town about that time. In 1840, they were called to San Antonio to assist in repelling Indian incursions. In the Austin City Gazette (Vol 1, No. 17, Wednesday, March 4, 1840), the editor commented on the organization of the Travis Guards as follows:
"A number of the young men of this city have enrolled themselves as a volunteer military company, and adopted the above title (Travis Guards). They have already framed their constitution and by-laws, and on Friday evening next, will meet for the purpose of electing their officers.
"A company of this kind has long been wanted at this place, and, under the direction of efficient officers, cannot fail of rendering essential service to this section of the country. It cannot otherwise than prove the means of inspiring confidence among our citizens as guaranteeing that, in case the hour of danger should again arrive, there will always be a well-organized and disciplined body, on the spot, as a nucleus round which all may rally for mutual protection and defense.
"It is a duty which we conceive the government owes to itself, and the country generally to bestow its fostering care on this company. Austin is situated on the very verge of our frontier settlements, the whole of the archives of the Republic are deposited here; then, most assuredly, in encouraging the organization of a military band for the defense of this place, would the government, not only be assisting in its own protection, but also that of its citizens.
"We have been requested to remind the members of the 'Travis Guards' that Friday evening has been set apart for the election of officers. It is hoped that every man who has enrolled his name will be present on this occasion."
The informality of the organization of the unit, the willingness of the young men of the town to devote their time to the civic enterprise and the necessity of protection were characteristic of all the first militia units. The members of these volunteer companies, even the Texas Rangers, had to furnish their own equipment although they were not paid.
In the following week's issue of the paper, the names of the officers elected by the Travis Guards were announced. They were M. H. Nicholson, Captain; M. P. Woodhouse, First Lieutenant; A. W. Luckett, Second Lieutenant; G. D. Bigger, secretary, and J. H. Yerby, treasurer.
The Travis Guards were not long in existence before going into action, as on June 15, under the command of Captain Nicholson, they returned to town after a scout of six days. They reported finding the corpse of a man named Rogers, whom Indians had killed and mutilated. The Indians were pursued but they scattered and were not found.
On July 4, 1840, Independence Day was celebrated at Austin by the Travis Guards with a parade, followed by an "oration" by Thomas G. Forster. Although in the month preceding, an artillery company of 60 men had been organized in Austin under Captain Mulhausen, no mention was made of this company in the account of the Independence Day celebration.
That the Travis Guards, typical of the early militia volunteer companies, truly served their communities and were respected and well-thought of by the citizens may be gleaned from a suggestion written to a newspaper by a citizen who suggested that the Travis Guards should not be called upon to stand guard every night while there was a company of regulars in the vicinity "doing nothing." (Most of the foregoing facts were taken from "Annals of Travis County and of the City of Austin--From the Very Beginning to 1875" by Frank Brown.)