AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Visitors to the Alamo will get a rare glimpse next year of the “Victory or Death” letter penned 177 years ago by the head of the outnumbered Texas forces while under bombardment by Mexican government troops.
The State Library and Archives Commission voted to allow the fragile, fading letter written by Col. William Barret Travis to be displayed at the Alamo for the anniversary of the two-week battle that ended on March 6, 1836. The commission originally decided against the loan but later reconsidered.
Travis was a South Carolina-born Alabama lawyer and militiaman who fled to Texas when it was still part of Mexico. He resumed his law practice in Texas and became an ardent advocate of revolution against Mexico. He gathered reinforcements for a militia detachment occupying the Alamo, a former mission church in Bexar, the future San Antonio.
Under attack from a much larger Mexican force under the command of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Travis wrote the letter on Feb. 24, 1836. In it he stated that his men had been under Mexican bombardment for 24 hours, and that Santa Anna had given the Texans the ultimatum to surrender or “be put to the sword.”
And he wrote
“I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never retreat or surrender,” Travis wrote.
He concluded: “If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country — Victory or Death.”
A courier managed to sneak the letter out, and it was published in leaflets and newspapers throughout the U.S.
The volunteers came, but not in time. Santa Anna’s forces stormed the Alamo on March 6 and overwhelmed its defenders. The volunteers joined the troops under Sam Houston’s command and defeated Santa Anna at the April 22 Battle of San Jacinto near present-day Houston, securing Texas independence until its annexation by the United States in 1845.
According to the state library website, the letter was returned to the Travis family shortly thereafter. In 1893, his great-grandson sold it for $85 to the Texas state government. It was placed in the state library upon its creation in 1909.