Travis letter will make it back to the Alamo after 176 years

The picture shows a portion of the “victory or death” letter penned 176 years ago by William Barret Travis. Associated Press

The picture shows a portion of the “victory or death” letter penned 176 years ago by William Barret Travis.
Associated Press
Associated Press

AUSTIN — The famed “victory or death” letter by Lt. Col. William Barret Travis will come to the Alamo after all for a special display next year.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission voted 6-1 Wednesday to permit the loan after rejecting earlier requests by the Texas General Land Office to return the letter to the site of a legendary siege and battle for the first time since 1836.

The commission had expressed concern for the priceless letter’s security, according to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

After months of discussion between the two agencies and about two hours of questions Wednesday, the panel approved the loan.

“It’s all about just letting folks know about Texas history,” said Patterson, who now must privately raise about $100,000 to fund transportation, security and other costs associated with the display. Much of that would go toward a custom-built shatterproof display case.

Commissioners were reassured by Patterson’s promise that the Texas Department of Public Safety would help transport the fragile document safely and provide any support needed at the Alamo for the two-week display from February 23 to March 7.

While Patterson declined to publicly discuss details that might compromise security, he said measures could include tactical teams and “aviation assets.”

He also did not address how crowds wanting to see the document would be controlled.

The commission, which prefers a secret nighttime transfer, and the land office, which wants a secure motorcade to deliver the document during the day amid fanfare, agreed to let DPS select the best procedure for bringing it from Austin.

The display would provide “a little sizzle” to those wanting to know more about Texas history, including newcomers to the state, and see the original letter, which is considered one of the most inspiring messages ever written on paper, Patterson said.

“In every Texan’s life, there should be one opportunity to see this in person,” Patterson told the commission.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies that was approved by the panel but not made available publicly, DPS and the Alamo Rangers, who provide security at the shrine, will be primarily responsible for keeping the document safe in the mission-era Alamo church.

Alamo Rangers Chief Thomas Hyer said the shrine also has a plan to move the letter to a secured vault in the state-owned complex if an emergency arises.

In response to concerns about flash photography that might damage the letter, he said the Rangers will strictly enforce a ban on photography and other electronic equipment — even iPhones — in the church.

“We believe that we have a great plan in place,” Hyer said.

In the Feb. 24, 1836, letter, Travis, the Alamo commander, called on “the people of Texas and all Americans in the world” to come to the aid of Texans who were badly outnumbered by Mexican forces in a war for independence.

“If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor and that of his country — Victory or Death,” he wrote.

At least 189 known Alamo defenders were killed in a predawn assault on March 6, 1836. Texas won independence at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

According to the commission, the letter has been displayed eight times, including three times outside of Austin, but never in San Antonio.