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Remembering William B. Travis' Alamo Letter

In today’s Wayback Wednesday, we remember the 179th anniversary of William Barret Travis’ letter from the Alamo. The letter, in which the garrison commander requested reinforcements to the besieged Bexar mission, was sent on February 24, 1836, and he famously signed his letter “Victory or Death.”

It served the purpose of rattling the sabers of Texas rebels before Santa Anna’s massacre of around 200 troops on March 6.

A week after the letter, Texan delegates gathered to draft a formal declaration of independence from Mexico, and a few months later Texas won independence in the Battle of San Jacinto. The letter’s seen some wear and tear — it traveled across the state in throughout the 1800s, was folded and kept in jackets and saddlebags, copied and even disappeared for several years.

However, Travis’ letter wasn’t his only letter with the “Victory or Death” sign-off. He sent a letter on March 3 to the state’s convention of delegates that was drafting a declaration of independence. In the letter, Travis resigns himself to the latter proposition of his famous tagline, as none of the reinforcements he’d called for had arrived.

In the letter, which was printed in the Telegraph and Texas Register on March 12, 1836, Travis also called for the Texan army to seize property from all San Antonians as recompense for their failure to join the Texan cause.

TravisLetter_Mar3.jpg
Credit Telegraph and Texas Register, via the Texas Portal to History
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By the time his second letter arrived to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos at 10 a.m., the attack on the garrison had come and gone — the Mexican army stormed the fort at five o’clock in the morning, and all combatants had been killed by 8 a.m. on March 6.

Travis’ first letter from the Alamo is on display at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and is on public display until March 6.

Below is a full transcript of Travis' letter:

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 Barret 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. Travis