Famous ‘Victory or Death’ Letter Returned to Alamo

The iconic “Victory or Death” letter from the commander of the Alamo has returned for the first time since it was carried away on horseback at the start of the famous siege in 1836.

Alamo Victory or DeathBrought by police escort and welcomed with honor guards, drawn swords and a drum roll, the iconic letter written by Alamo commander William Barret Travis returned Friday to San Antonio for the first time since it left by courier at the start of the famous siege at the old Spanish mission 177 years ago.

In the single-page faded and yellowing letter, with Travis’ some 200 words written on both sides, Alamo commander William Barret Travis seeks help for his badly outnumbered rebel Texans at the old Spanish mission.  Travis’ letter, written Feb. 24, 1836, was addressed to “the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.”

William Barret Travis
William Barret Travis

“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 26-year-old lawyer wrote. He also promised: “I shall never surrender or retreat.”

Travis’ letter seeking reinforcements to bolster his badly outnumbered rebel Texans failed to prevent their deaths nearly two weeks later on March 6, 1836. But the following month, Alamo-inspired men led by Gen. Sam Houston defeated elements of the same army under the Mexican president, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in a battle outside present-day Houston to win independence for Texas from Mexico.

It failed to prevent their deaths. The Alamo fell two weeks later on March 6, 1836. The following month, Gen. Sam Houston defeated elements of the same Mexican army to win Texas’ independence.

The letter will be on display for 13 days in a specially built display case inside the Alamo which is designed to block harmful ultraviolet light and control the temperature and humidity. Archivists will also monitor it.

The Travis Letter as transcribed by Marisa A. Searle:

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.

Travis

William Travis died at his post on the cannon platform at the northeast corner of the fortress.  He was 26 years old.

Travis' Victory or Death Letter
Travis’ Victory or Death Letter
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