Travis' 1836 Victory or Death Letter from the Alamo
While Commander William B. Travis issued other missives from the Alamo, the letter signed "Victory or Death" and dated February 24, 1836 is the one that has come to be known simply as "The Travis Letter." The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is proud to present this rare opportunity for Texans to view what is perhaps the most famous document in Texas history.
At the Alamo in San Antonio, then called Bexar, 150 Texas rebels led by William Barret Travis made their stand against Santa Anna's vastly superior Mexican army. On the second day of the siege, February 24, 1836, Travis called for reinforcements with this heroic message. But little help came. Santa Anna's troops broke through on March 6. All of the defenders of the Alamo died.
This historic letter was carried from the Alamo by 30-year-old Captain Albert Martin of Gonzales, a native of Rhode Island. On the afternoon of the 25th, Martin passed the dispatch to Lancelot Smither, who had arrived from the Alamo the day before with an estimate of Mexican troop strength. Both Martin and Smither added notes to Travis's letter.
That evening, fighting an icy wind, Smither departed for San Felipe. In less than 40 hours he delivered the appeal to the citizens' committee in that town. Several copies were made, and transcripts of the letter began to appear in newspapers as early as March 2. The original holograph was returned to the Travis family shortly after the Revolution. In 1893, Travis's great-grandson, John G. Davidson, sold the letter for $85 (about $2000 in today's currency) to the Texas Department of Agriculture, Insurance, Statistics and History. Custody of the letter was transferred from AIS to the Texas State Library and Historical Commission (today’s Texas State Library and Archives Commission) upon its creation in 1909.
This painting of the Alamo by artist Theodore Gentilz, a French immigrant, is considered the most accurate image of the mission and presidio complex ever rendered. Gentilz interviewed eyewitnesses and had access to the Alamo ruins before they were rebuilt by the United States Army in 1850. The original painting was owned by C.H. Mueller of San Antonio and was destroyed by fire circa 1906.