For the first time in 177 years, the iconic “Victory or Death” letter penned by Alamo commander William Barrett Travis has returned to its place of authorship. Hundreds of visitors lined up this weekend to see the authentic, yellowing document in the Alamo Shrine, where it will be on exhibit until March 7.
On February 24, 1836, Travis began his open letter “To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World.” He requested reinforcements for his small force of rebel Texans, which was vastly outnumbered by the Mexican army, as the Associated Press notes. A courier on horseback “slipped through Mexican lines,” and the letter was eventually published in Texan, American, and European newspapers. Although Travis and his rebels were defeated and killed two weeks later, inspired Texans finally won their independence from Mexico the following month in a battle outside present-day Houston.
The state of Texas purchased the letter from Travis’s great-great grandson in 1893 for $85, the AP reported. It has been in custody of the Texas State Library and Archives since 1909, according to the Library’s website.
The fragile sheet of paper is enclosed in a bulletproof case designed to block ultraviolet rays and regulate temperature and humidity. Security guards will be stationed around the exhibit, and visitors will be scanned with hand-held metal detectors—a precaution not ordinarily taken at the Shrine.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose office took ownership of the Alamo in 2011* and proposed exhibiting the letter there, spoke at the opening ceremony, announcing that he was “of the opinion that every Texan in their lifetime should be able to eyeball the document.” Patterson also predicted that this would be what most people would remember from his time in office, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Travis penned the letter in a room across the plaza from the mission’s main entrance, where the tourist-trap, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure now stands.
Visitors can remember their experience with souvenirs from the Alamo gift shop, including Travis letter mugs, T-shirts, and a Belgian chocolate recreation of the letter, the Express-News wrote. Can’t make it to San Antonio in the next couple weeks? Travisletter.com offers a 24 hour livestream of the exhibit.
Here is the full text of Travis’s famous dispatch:
Commandancy of the The Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World—
Fellow Citizens & compatriots—
I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man — The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken — I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch — The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country — Victory or Death.
William Barrett Travis.
Lt. Col. comdt.
P. S. The Lord is on our side — When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn — We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.
* CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this article mistakenly stated that Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson gained ownership of the “Victory or Death” letter in 2011. Patterson’s office took possession of the Alamo, not Travis’s letter, which is owned by the State Archives. We regret the error.