SAN ANTONIO -- With a police escort and welcomed by honor guards, drawn swords and a drumroll, a Texas treasure -- the "Victory or Death" letter written 177 years ago Sunday by Alamo commander William Barret Travis -- returned Friday for the first time to the Spanish mission turned state shrine where it was written.Travis' letter, dated Feb. 24, 1836, called for reinforcements to bolster his badly outnumbered Texian force. Eleven days later, at least 189 Alamo defenders were killed by Mexican troops.But the next month, inspired by the fall of the Alamo, men led by Gen. Sam Houston defeated elements of the same army under the Mexican president, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. That battle lasted a mere 18 minutes outside present-day Houston and won independence for Texas from Mexico."This is a day of pride -- pride in our state, pride in our history," declared Michael Waters, chairman of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, calling the return of Travis' letter to the Alamo a "reunion of two icons of Texas history."The single sheet, faded and yellowing, with about 200 words on both sides, arrived by police motorcycle escort in a truck with Massachusetts license plates that backed up on the grounds of the Alamo. It's to be displayed through March 7 inside the shrine, beginning today.Four Alamo Rangers, the shrine's security guards, reverently carried a blue crate containing the letter through an arch of sabers held by members of the Ross Volunteers of Texas A&M and accompanied by re-enactors in period costumes.Travis' letter was addressed to "the People of Texas and All Americans in the World.""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.Above his signature, he wrote "Victory or Death."The state owns the letter, which carries Travis' postscript declaration, "The Lord is on our side." It's been displayed before but never in San Antonio. It has been shown much less in recent years to minimize light damage to the fragile paper and ink.Its Alamo display case is designed to block harmful ultraviolet light and control the temperature and humidity. Archivists will also monitor it."The idea that the letter is coming home after 177 years, that's incredible. That's phenomenal," said Melinda Navarro, executive administrator at the Alamo.The exhibit is bulletproof, but guards will wave metal-detecting wands over visitors. Normally, there are no security checks at the shrine.Travis wrote the letter in a room across the plaza from what is now the Alamo's main entrance. The spot is now a Ripley's Haunted Adventure.
The Travis letter's text
Commandancy of 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.