Texas agencies duel over Alamo 'Victory or Death' letter
Letter penned by Alamo commander Col. William Barret Travis at center of tug-of-war between Texas agencies
It's a new Battle of the Alamo, with one Texas agency mounting pressure on another to loan out one of the state's most sacred texts for display at "the shrine of Texas independence."
The General Land Office is pressing the State Library and Archives Commission to loan the "Victory or Death" letter penned by Col. William Barret Travis, the commander of the Alamo garrison, from its "dark storage" for a 14-day exhibit at the Alamo in February.
"Our thinking is this is a Texas treasure and deserves to be seen by the people of Texas. We think this letter can be an inspiration to the people of Texas," Land Office spokesman Mark Loeffler said.
However, the commission voted down a motion to approve the request Tuesday after commission staff recommended against the document loan. The commission will meet again in Austin in three weeks to reconsider the matter, library spokesman Cesar Garza said. In the meantime, the staffs of the two agencies will try to negotiate a deal, Loeffler said.
Since 2011, the General Land Office has been the custodian of the Alamo, and it is planning an exhibit Feb. 23-March 7 there to mark the 177th anniversary of the siege and battle.
Although acknowledging that no one can promise complete security, "we want to provide the best security possible," Loeffler said. That would include a state trooper escort from the library in Austin to San Antonio and back.
It has been loaned for display rarely, never in San Antonio, and is kept by the state library in "dark storage" out of public view, Loeffler said. Although many copies and facsimiles of the letter have been displayed, "people are more inspired to see the document that Travis, himself, touched," he said.
Travis was a South Carolina-born Alabama lawyer and militiaman who fled an unhappy marriage and possibly the killing of another man and moved to Mexican-held Texas as an illegal U.S. immigrant.
He resumed his law practice in the Texas port of Anahuac and became an ardent advocate of revolution against Mexico. He gathered reinforcements for a militia detachment occupying the Alamo, a former mission church in Bexar, the future San Antonio.
Fearing his force too sparse to resist the Mexican force vastly outnumbering his, Travis wrote a letter Feb. 24, 1836, addressed "To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world." He states that his men had been under Mexican bombardment for 24 hours. He said the Mexican commander, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, had given an ultimatum that the Texas garrison surrender or "be put to the sword." ''I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & and our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never retreat or surrender."
He concludes: "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."
The letter was taken out by courier and published in leaflets and newspapers.
The volunteers came but not in time. Santa Anna's forces stormed the Alamo on March 6 and overwhelmed and killed its defenders. The volunteers joined the troops under Sam Houston's command and defeated Santa Anna at the April 22 Battle of San Jacinto near present-day Houston, securing Texas independence until its annexation by the United States in 1845.
According to the state library website, the letter was returned to the Travis family shortly thereafter. In 1893, his great-grandson sold it for $85 to the Texas state government. It was placed in the state library upon its creation in 1909.
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