State Library and Archives’ Celebrated Travis Letter Embarks on Momentous Return to the Alamo

Austin, TX | February 21, 2013

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Travis' immortal words, "Victory or Death," were penned in urgent handwriting on this side of the legendary letter.



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One of the rewards is getting to make history with history. It’s getting to see this celebrated historical letter go back to its origin after nearly two centuries.

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After months of anticipation William Barret Travis’ 1836 “Victory or Death” Letter, which is stored safely inside the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), embarks on its momentous return to the Alamo in San Antonio, Friday, February 22, 177 years after it left.

The letter departs TSLAC’s Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building under heavy guard provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety. It will be welcomed at the Alamo by an arrival ceremony Friday at 4PM.

Buoyed by weeks of strong media interest, the letter is the centerpiece of a now high-profile exhibition at the Alamo from Saturday, February 23rd, to Thursday, March 7th. Free and open to the public, the exhibition marks the first time the letter has returned to the place it was written 177 years ago. The public can link to www.travisletter.com for complete details about the exhibit.

“The road to the letter’s temporary return to the Alamo was challenging and rewarding,” said Interim Director and Librarian Edward Seidenberg, referring to the months of meetings and negotiations between his agency and the Texas General Land Office. The GLO manages the Alamo and last summer requested to borrow the letter from TSLAC.

“One of the rewards is getting to make history with history,” continued Seidenberg. “It’s getting to see this celebrated historical letter go back to its origin after nearly two centuries and seeing Texans connect with one of the defining episodes in the state’s history.”

In remarks to be delivered during the letter’s arrival ceremony on Friday, TSLAC Chairman Michael C. Waters points out how the State Library and Archives has safeguarded the iconic document with “great care and responsibility” for almost 125 years.

That vigilance will continue at the Alamo. State archives staff will be stationed inside the shrine the entire time the Travis Letter is on display to answer questions from the public and assist the Alamo Rangers.

“As this once-in-a-lifetime exhibit was being planned,” Waters says in his remarks, “state archives staff provided a tremendous amount of expertise and support. I want them to know how proud I am of their efforts.”

TSLAC’s efforts to maintain the document will resume as usual after the San Antonio exhibit ends on March 7th and the document returns to the Lorenzo de Zavala Building in Austin. Once back in the state archives the letter, already fragile after years of public display, will reenter the climate- and light-controlled conditions conducive to its preservation.

The agency does not yet have plans to display the letter publicly in Austin after it returns from the Alamo.

William Barret Travis, a commander of Texas revolutionaries, penned his rousing letter inside the Alamo on February 24, 1836, while under siege by Mexican General Santa Anna.

The state purchased the letter from Travis’ descendants in 1893 for $85. In the archives’ possession since that time and on display for decades, the letter was removed from continuous exhibition in the 1970s because of preservation concerns.

Other notable public viewings include the 1936 and 1986 state fairs in Dallas; exhibits at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Star of the Republic Museum between 2001 and 2008; as well as exhibits at the Lorenzo de Zavala Building in 2011 and 2012.

For historical background and to view the letter online, visit: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/republic/alamo/travis-about.html

In 2009 Governor Rick Perry recorded a reading of the letter as part of TSLAC’s Voices of Texas History project: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/voices/perry.html

Photos Attached

Caption: Sides 1 and 2 of the William Barret Travis "Victory or Death" Letter, February 24, 1836.


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