Commander's ''Victory or Death'' letter finally to return to the Alamo

AUSTIN, Tex. Fri Feb 8, 2013 7:59pm EST

1 of 3. A letter by William B. Travis, a lieutenant colonel in the Texas Army, written in 1836 during the Battle of the Alamo, is seen in this image provided by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The famous letter written by the commander of the small force of Texans defending the Alamo is being prepared by historians for display at the San Antonio mission for the first time since Travis wrote it there, pleading for reinforcements. As the battle raged outside, Travis wrote in the letter, 'I will never surrender or retreat.' With its dramatic ending -- 'Victory or Death!' -- the letter is now considered one of the defining documents of 19th-Century American history.

Credit: Reuters/Texas State Library and Archives Commission/Handout

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AUSTIN, Tex. (Reuters) - An 1836 letter penned by the commander of the small force of Texans defending the Alamo, a pivotal battle in the Texas Revolution that led to its break from Mexico, will be displayed for the first time at the San Antonio mission.

With its dramatic ending - "Victory or Death!" - the letter by William Travis, written on both sides of a single sheet of paper, is considered one of the defining documents of 19th century American history.

"I call on you in the name of liberty, patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch," Travis wrote in the open letter, in which he pleaded for reinforcements, addressing the letter to "the People of Texas and All Americans in the World."

The letter will be on display from February 23 to March 7 at the Alamo, which typically gets 2.5 million visitors a year.

"It is amazing to think of Travis and 150 men surrounded in that little compound, and he is putting this ink on this paper," John Anderson, the preservation officer at the Texas State Archives, told Reuters this week as a colleague removed the document from the iron casing where it is carefully preserved.

Travis and his men had been ordered into the Alamo, which at the time was a disused Spanish colonial mission, as Mexican forces arrived in San Antonio to crush what to them was a provincial rebellion. Texas at the time was a part of the Republic of Mexico.

Twelve days after Travis wrote the letter, the Mexican Army stormed the Alamo and Travis and his entire command were killed.

Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, two frontiersmen, had gone to the Alamo before Travis sent the call to arms, and their deaths ensured their places as American heroes.

Six weeks later, the Texan Army under newly appointed General Sam Houston routed the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, and Texas was declared a republic. Nine years later, in 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union as the 28th state.

Mindful of that history, State Conservator Sarah Norris, who is responsible for making sure the 13-by-16-inch letter is not damaged, is taking precise precautions.

"We have to establish very strict guidelines for temperature and relative humidity," she said. "Paper will very quickly yellow, turn brittle and break down."

She says the ink used by Travis, called iron gall ink, has already begun to damage the paper. The document has to be kept away from light to avoid further damage.

The letter's journey from Austin back to the Alamo won't be as dangerous as the journey it took out.

Travis' courier, Albert Martin, had slipped through the Mexican Army's siege lines under cover of darkness. This time it will receive a state police escort from the Texas Archives to San Antonio on February 22, and then be exhibited in a specially built display cabinet, said Mark Loeffler, a spokesman for the Texas General Land Office.

The letter is now valued at $1.2 million.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan, Edith Honan and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (2)
dougmarrs wrote:
we do not need gun control–except when shooting–what this country needs is NUT CONTROL–the medical profession should report those persons who present any potential psychiatric threat to society to the agency which issues gun permits-secondly enact laws which provide mandatory life sentences for those using guns in the commission of a crime–mandatory death penalty for those who shoot or kill anyone during the commission of a crime.this way,,inocent people are protected proactively as well as after the fact-i’m willing to go to war to keep my guns and would strongly endorse impeachment of any elected official who would introduce legislation to waterdown my 2′d amendment rights-people cry about rights violations and medical privacy-no ones privacy superceeds public safety-you can’t have a rabid dog running loose in society-doctors are obligated to report dangerous persons to appropriate authority inconsideration of public safety-if they don’t want to play-strip them of their license to practice-

Feb 08, 2013 11:52pm EST  --  Report as abuse
wick126 wrote:
@Dougmarrs, I usually don’t comment on these boards but feel compelled to after reading your pro-gun/nut control rant. I’m a 4gen gun collector and avid hunter and you sir make the rest of us look bad when you go off like that. First off, if the anti-gun folks can’t even legally define what an assault weapon really and logically is then how do you expect millions of psychiatrists to define what a rabid dog is. What happens if you get a little down and see a therapist and the moment you walk out the door they call the cops to come take your guns and try to throw you in jail. Secondly, we already have a hard enough time executing people because of a string of over zealous cops and prosecutors that threw people on death row without good sufficient evidence and now your finding with DNA testing that a lot of the he said she said cases are now being let out after 25 years behind bars. So before you go on a rant about making a super police state with your ill construed logic, stop, take a breath, and realize that you’re posting on a historical letter being displayed article. And stop making us look bad!

Feb 09, 2013 8:29am EST  --  Report as abuse
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