WASHINGTON, March 5, 2013 — “The Letter” has returned to The Alamo.
Texans need no further explanation, so they can stop reading now and go see it.
Renowned for its declaration of defiance against a tyrannical Mexican government, William B. Travis’ “Victory or Death” letter is easily one of the most celebrated documents in Texas history. This masterpiece of patriotism is world-famous in its appeal to all who love freedom from an oppressive government.
Penned during the siege on the Alamo in February 1836, it is addressed “To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world” as it pleaded on behalf of 100+ Texans for volunteer reinforcements in a dire situation against a Mexican Army that had gathered in the thousands.
Capt. Albert Martin carried The Letter on horseback across enemy lines under the cover of darkness. He tried desperately to rally troops to help in the fight, managing to return with less than 100 reinforcements, brave men who knew they were almost certainly going to fight to their deaths.
The Letter has not been back to the Alamo since it was written 177 years ago. It has, however, had an interesting journey. After its contents spread like wildfire around the United States and much of Europe during the early days of the sovereign Republic of Texas, The Letter itself made it back to the Travis family.
During a period of financial difficulty in 1893, William B. Travis’ great-grandson John G. Davidson asked the State of Texas if it would buy The Letter for $250. “They went back and forth on the price,” said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. “And the State ended up buying it for $85 — clearly a bargain.”
Commissioner Patterson and his visionary staff are responsible for the reunion of these two icons of Texas history. Since its purchase 120 years ago, The Letter has only been displayed publicly ten times. It has sustained sunlight damage over the years but will be available for public viewing at the Alamo until March 7, the day after the anniversary of its fall.
Not one to grandstand, Commissioner Patterson said of the ceremony and the historic return, “All we did was drag it back here, but there were a lot of wet eyes in the crowd.” The proud historian continued, “The Travis Letter left under the cover of darkness but returned in glory and was met with respect and reverence.”
If by “glory” the Commissioner means via a fortified truck carrying a locked container over a secret route accompanied by armed guards, then yes, priceless glory.
The Letter’s author never imagined such a reunion as he penned, “I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid….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.” Those last three words were underlined three times.
Travis did not know that six days after he sent his plea for help, Texas would declare its independence from Mexico. He was also not aware that he and his men, from 20 American states and seven nations in addition to Texas, would die just four days into The Republic’s existence.
So just what were Texans so wound up about in 1836 that they declared independence from Mexico and fought to the death? Among the reasons for their rebellion were Mexico’s broken promises of constitutional liberty and a republican form of government and the absence of rights they were accustomed to: namely the right to keep and bear arms and the right to a trial by jury.
The Texas Declaration of Independence states, “Our arms…are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable only to tyrannical governments.”
I hear history repeating.
Many years ago, a young leader of Texas revolutionaries put into words the urgency of the fight for liberty. Now you know why “Remember the Alamo!” continues to be a rallying cry in the Lone Star state, where liberty’s fires are rumored to still smolder.
If you are within driving distance of San Antonio, go see the Victory or Death letter. For everyone else, there is a live webcam view at www.travisletter.com until March 7.
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