USC, Texas A&M may exchange trophy honoring hero of Alamo

ashain@thestate.comJune 30, 2014 

James Butler Bonham, the University of South Carolina-educated hero of the Alamo, will adorn a trophy that could be exchanged by the Gamecocks and Texas A&M starting this fall, according to a former S.C. Republican party leader working with governors in both states.

Bonham is considered the romantic hero of the 1836 Texas battle for leaving the Alamo to get help and returning through enemy lines despite knowing the large force of Mexican soldiers would attack soon. He insisted on telling fort commander William Travis, a fellow Saluda County native, who had asked Bonham to join Texas’ fight for independence, that the fort would not receive assistance, historians say.

The bronze sculpture, depicting Bonham on a horse headed back to the Alamo, is slated to be traded between USC and Texas A&M when they start their annual Southeastern Conference football games on Aug. 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium, said Katon Dawson, a former S.C. Republican party boss who chaired Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential run in South Carolina.

The trophy is a collaboration between Perry, a Texas A&M graduate and history buff, and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley. After speaking with Dawson, Perry suggested the trophy to Haley, a Clemson University graduate, when he came to Greenville for her re-election announcement last year.

The trophy will be unveiled at a party on the night before the Gamecocks and Aggies play in a nationally televised game, Dawson said. Perry, a 2016 presidential prospect who is visiting the state Tuesday and Wednesday for local fundraisers, is planning to come to the game.

“We’re mixing politics, football and history,” Dawson said Monday.

The schools did not respond to questions about the Bonham trophy on Monday.

Travis was under consideration for a different trophy between the schools, but USC officials deemed him too controversial because he worked to capture runaway slaves and abandoned his wife.

“Bonham has nowhere near the baggage of Travis,” said Randolph Campbell, a University of North Texas history professor.

A county seat in Texas is named after Bonham along with more than 30 schools and numerous streets, said Richard Peterson, a Lexington radio station owner who is writing a book about the Alamo hero and pitched the idea of the trophy to Dawson last year.

“Everybody in Texas knows him, but no one does in South Carolina,” Peterson said.

That’s about to change. The popularity of USC football should catapult Bonham’s name recognition and could help with a bit of historic preservation.

Bonham’s 240-year-old family home in Saluda County, called Flat Grove, is the only birthplace of an Alamo defender still standing. Area officials want to restore the home as a museum.

The trophy is named after a lawyer with a rebellious streak whose younger brother, Milledge, would become a Confederate general and S.C. governor during the Civil War.

Bonham left USC, known then as South Carolina College, as a senior during a protest over the poor quality of student food, historians said. (Dawson said he hopes students take up a cause for the school to give Bonham a posthumous degree.)

While practicing law, Bonham allegedly struck an opposing attorney who had insulted his client with a cane. Then he threatened to strike the judge who demanded he apologize.

He was an aide to Gov. James Hamilton when South Carolina tried to nullify federal laws in the early 1830s. (Like with the Affordable Care Act this year, those efforts failed.) He moved to Alabama before joining the fight for Texas independence from Mexico.

Bonham, a captain in the Texas cavalry, had just turned 29 when he decided to return to the Alamo three days before Mexican forces attacked.

“He had to know it was a death trap,” said Campbell, also a historian for the Texas State Historical Association.

For Gamecock fans, the trophy would become the third up for grabs each year, joining the Hardee’s Trophy with Clemson and the Mayor’s Cup with Missouri.

Texas A&M fans should like the new Lone Star State-tinged rivalry since the Aggies had to cut ties with other Texas schools after leaving the Big 12 conference to join the Southeastern Conference in 2012, Campbell said.

“I think this will work,” he said.

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