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Student Union evolves from humble beginnings

Jot Travis: Transportation Pioneer

The Jot Travis Student Union was named after a colorful transportation pioneer of the early West — Ezra Johnson (Jot) Travis. General manager of the Gilmer and Salisbury stagecoach lines and later president of the Utah, Nevada & California Stage Company, he was a dominant figure in the era of horse-drawn stage transportation. The grant which made the student union building possible was bequeathed to the University by Jot Travis’ son, Wesley Elgin Travis, who died in 1952.

During the Cornerstone Ceremonies at the Jot Travis Student Union’s dedication on May 18, 1958, the following abridged biography of Jot Travis was presented to the assembled audience.

FAMILY HERITAGE AND THE EARLY YEARS

Jot Travis’s forebears were descendants of the Travis family of the Jamestown Settlement of Virginia and the American Revolutionary War. His parents Martin and Isabel (Brown) Travis migrated around 1815 to Pennsylvania where Jot was born at Greenville, Clarion County, on March 15, 1845,* the fifth of 10 children.

Jot’s parents moved to Shelby County, Ill. when Jot was a small boy. In 1862, Jot enlisted in the Union Army in the 115th Regiment of the Illinois Infantry Volunteers. His command went southward through Kentucky into Tennessee and took part in the hard-fought battles at Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain (the “Battle Above the Clouds”), Missionary Ridge, and Resaca, Georgia, where Jot’s regiment had turned back to fight a rear-guard action to protect Sherman’s March to the Sea.

He served as a mounted dispatch-bearer on the staff of General Speed S. Fry, experiencing dangerous contacts with Morgan’s Raiders and a number of escapes from capture or death at the hands of the Confederates. On one occasion, his canteen was shot away, but he seemed to bear a charmed life and went unwounded throughout the war. He was offered promotion to corporal but declined it, preferring to remain a private.

He was mustered out after the fall of Richmond, at Camp Harker, Tenn., on June 11, 1865, his occupation listed as “farmer.” Returning to Shelbyville, he attended Shelbyville Academy for three months—virtually the only schooling he ever received.

THE MOVE WEST

With both parents deceased, Jot decided to join two of his brothers in Helena, Mont. He rode horseback with a wagon train from St. Joseph, Mo., which was attacked by Indians but managed to proceed after losing valuable livestock and equipment. At Corinne, Utah Territory, on the north side of the Great Salt Lake, he separated from the wagon train, and, unaccompanied, rode north through 300 miles of hostile Indian country to Helena.

An excellent judge of horses, Jot went into the business of buying from and reselling horses to miners. He started a branch of his business at Salmon City, Idaho, in 1867. He also engaged in the cattle business and operated a large cattle ranch at American Falls, Idaho. The business prospered and at Cascade, Mont., he acquired, in the name of the Utah Live Stock Company, the famous “NS” horse ranch on which he eventually raised more than 6,000 horses.

He shipped trainloads of broncos east, which were sold en route to New York City. He expanded his staging business in 1868 when the great White Pine mining excitement broke out in Nevada and his stagecoaches carried hopeful prospectors from Montana.

He met his wife, Hannah Pauline Dahl, in Helena, where they married in 1869. By 1870, the couple lived in Hamilton, White Pine County, Nev., and Jot’s connection with the state commenced. Wesley Elgin Travis, their first child of seven, was born in 1870.  Hannah bore another son and daughter, both of whom died in infancy, and another son, named Frederick Jottie. In Eureka, Nev., where the family lived following a brief residency in San Francisco, another daughter, Ezra, [Editor’s note: Ezra was possibly actually named Erma. She is referred to later in the text as Erma] was born.

Still another daughter, Hannah, who became the wife of Robert Edison Fulton, president of the Mack Truck Company, and a son, Albert Chester, were born while the family lived in Salt Lake City in the early 1880s.

THE TRAVIS BUSINESS MATURES

With his wife’s help, Jot had extended his staging activities across the West. With the acquisition of the Gilmer and Salisbury lines, he operated a fleet of horse-drawn stages covering more than 8,000 miles a day, carrying passengers, United States mail, post-office funds and supplies, and express for Wells Fargo, and acting as feeder lines and connecting links with railroads in all sections of the country west of Chicago.

Jot was suddenly confronted with the great Panic of 1893 and the closing of the bank in which all of his resources were deposited. Through a neighbor who was an officer at a leading bank, Jot was granted a loan of $150,000 without a cent of collateral, and a leading surety company furnished the required mail-service bond on being indemnified by a rich man who believed in Jot’s honesty and ability.

His contracts with the post office forced Jot to relocate to New York City where he was not a stranger to hardship. Arguments over post office department policies and business practices added to the burdens imposed on him by his wife’s death in 1892, the Panic, the closing of his bank, and the necessity of caring for five children, the youngest only eight. His son Jottie became ill and died in 1894, followed by the death of his daughter, Erma (Ezra?), two years later. Jot’s horses were almost decimated by an outbreak of glanders, which veterinarians did not know how to combat, but Jot discovered a cure and preventive.

EPILOGUE

Jot’s life was not all hardship and danger. With his wife he attended religious and cultural events. He and his children traveled to Europe, the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Holy Land. In addition, he sent his children to the best schools, and put his two sons through Harvard and one son through law school.

Jot combined an extraordinary degree of qualities that are rarely found in one man – organizational ability, application and concentration, judgment of men and women, understanding of children, diplomacy, discretion, analytical capacity, psychological perception, unbounded energy, and with it all unquestioned integrity, courage, courtesy, kindness, sympathy, and a degree of tenderness.

*Official records of births were not kept in Clarion County at that time. Insurance policies on Jot’s life state the year of his birth variously as 1843 and 1845, though his union army discharge in 1865 gives his age at that time, after three years of service, as 19, which would indicate that he was born in 1846.

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