In 1830 at 10am, court was in session in the Pendleton County Court House, South Carolina and a young defense attorney who was representing a young lady in a legal matter was sitting, listening as the plaintiff’s attorney was making his opening statement.
When all of a sudden the plaintiff’s attorney used a derogatory word describing the defendant and that’s when all hell broke loose in that courtroom.
Immediately, upon hearing the insulting description of his client, this young defense attorney jump out of his chair rush the other attorney and smacked him square in the face – knocked him out.
The presiding judge yelled: “Bailiff detain that man!”
After a couple of minutes, as the unconscious attorney was coming to, the Judge ordered this young man who defended his client - to apologize but he refused and threatened to “tweak the judge’s nose” instead.
The judge became furious at his response so he ruled to find him in “contempt of court” and sentenced him to 90 days in jail.
History remembers this young attorney as James Butler Bonham.
James Bonham was born at Red Banks (present-day Saluda), Edgefield County, South Carolina, was the son of James and Sophia Butler (Smith) Bonham,..and James would become one of the officers at the Alamo.
James was a "strong-minded" and "strong willed" individual. His close friends knew him as a brawler and knew that James “always stood” for what he believed was right.
Incidentally, in recent history it has been learned that William B. Travis and James Bonham were 2nd cousins.
In college, during his senior year, and after he had excelled in many classes, Bonham organized and led a “student protest” over “harsh attendance regulations” and the “poor food served” at the college boardinghouse.
James was expelled, along with the “entire senior class” for taking this action.
In 1832 James served as an aide to Governor James Hamilton Jr. during the Nullification Crisis. Bonham brandished a “sword and pistol”, condemning Andrew Jackson and the Washington politicians.
His outspoken position brought him the rank of lieutenant colonel. At the same time he served as captain of a Charleston artillery company.
In October 1834, Bonham moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where relatives lived and the following year James moved to Mobile, Alabama.
History Remembers that in Mobile,..James made a life changing decision. After hearing about the Texas struggle for independence from Mexico he decided to act.
James B. Bonham organized and led a rally of support for the “Texan Cause” at the Shakespeare Theater in Mobile. Many young men from the area went to hear him speak. Three days later he was elected by citizens of Mobile to carry their resolutions of support to Sam Houston.
In just two weeks, James Bonham had organized a volunteer company that history remembers as the “Mobile Grays Volunteer Company”, for service in Texas.
The new "Mobile Grays Volunteer Company" marched towards Texas and reached San Felipe, Texas in November 1835.
On December 1st he wrote to Sam Houston from San Felipe volunteering his services for Texas and declining all pay, lands, or rations in return.
Immediately Bonham was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Texas cavalry, but apparently was not assigned to any specific unit.
James Bonham was a month shy of his 29th birthday when he set up a law practice in Brazoria and was advertising the fact in the Telegraph and Texas Register by January 2, 1836. That’s only 60 days from the fall of the Alamo.
Bonham and Houston quickly developed a mutual admiration. After being in Texas for only one month Bonham recommended to Houston that William S. Blount of North Carolina be granted a commission as a captain in the Texas cavalry.
On January 11, 1836, Houston recommended to James W. Robinson that Bonham be promoted to major, for "His influence in the army is great, more so than some who would be generals."
Bonham traveled to San Antonio de Béxar and the Alamo with James Bowie and arrived on January 19, 1836.
On January 26, he was appointed one of a committee of seven to draft a preamble and resolutions on behalf of the garrison in support of Governor Henry Smith.
On February 1 he was an unsuccessful candidate in the election of delegates to represent the Bexar garrison at the Texas constitutional convention.
Travis calls him “Colonel” in two letters from the Alamo, but this was only a title of respect dating back to his days with the South Carolina militia.
Bonham’s actual rank was 2nd Lieutenant, and he had no standing in the Alamo's “chain of command”.
History Remembers that James was sent by Travis to “obtain aid” for the garrison at Bexar on about February 16, 1836.
James visited Goliad, but the commander of the forces there, Lt. Colonel James Fannin, was unable to provide assistance.
Bonham broke through the enemy lines and returned to the Alamo on March 3, bearing a letter from “Robert McAlpin Williamson” assuring Travis that help was on its way and urging him to - hold out.
But, help would not arrive and on March 06, 1836 just after 5am, the Mexican Army attacked the Alamo for the last and final time from all sides.
Travis had assigned James Bonham next to Gregorio Esparza at the artillery position headed by Captain Almaron Dickerson at the ramp inside the Alamo mission. This would be the final "fall back" position for any defenders at the very end.
According to some sources, after almost 90 minutes of hand-to hand fighting inside the fort compound - about 7 defenders made it to that final fall back position.
There those few defenders including Esparza and Bonham still repelled an assault inside the Alamo with a massive cannon blast. Literally, blowing up all the attacking Mexicans at the entrance - but it would not be enough.
And, at about 6am that Sunday morning, in the mist of "fierce fighting", James Bonham and Gregorio Esparza made their now famous “last stand” together.
A Tejano who spoke no English and a Texian who spoke no Spanish – Fell fighting together as heroes.
Later after the battle, Gregorio’s brother, a Mexican Officer, entered the chapel and found Bonham and Esparza lying next to each other – still at their posts.
James Bonham is true Patriot of our Texas Revolution.
One of my favorite quotes of Bonham that really shows his "spirit and character" is a quote by T.R. Fehrenbach in his Texas opus about the reason why Bonham returned to the Alamo after his mission;
"At the end, the weary Bonham, a lawyer, a Carolinian of “exulted family” and a friend of Travis, turned his mount around and rode back toward San Antonio.
He was told it was useless to “throw away his life”.
James Bonham answered back that “Buck Travis” deserved to know the answer to his appeals, “spat upon the ground” - and galloped west into his own immortality."
Many Texas schools are named after James Bonham, for example, in the cities of Abilene, Amarillo, Bryan, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, Midland, Odessa, San Angelo, San Antonio, and Temple.
The town of Bonham, Texas, is named for James. Bonham is the county seat of Fannin County, named for the commander who Bonham tried to enjoin for assistance at the Alamo.
A 1936 Texas Centennial Marker was placed on the courthouse square in the city of Bonham. The monument displays a statue of Bonham by Texas sculptor Allie Tennant.
In World War II, the United States liberty ship "SS James B. Bonham" was named in his honor.
Texas was lucky to have the South Carolina “Fighting Brawler” that history would remember as James Bonham.
This post is dedicated to all of James Bonham’s descendants living today in Texas and around the world who continue to “carry the torch” handed down to them by James B. Bonham, a Texian Patriot of our revolution,..to the benefit of Texas.
Thank You James for your “guts and grit”, for your service, deeds of bravery and heroic devotion to our country – Texas!
If you love Texas and Texas history then join us in our efforts to promote both the history and the heroes of our Texas revolution. Support our efforts, stop by our virtual store and check out all the cool merchandise. Thank you for all your support. -Gonzo