Whither the Travis Letter?
By Jerry Patterson, Texas Land Commissioner
AUSTIN — On March 8, 2013, the William B. Travis “Victory or Death” Letter will return to Austin.
In its 13-day stay at the Alamo, this faded 177-year-old letter touched the lives of tens of thousands of Texans — and non-Texans — from around the world. Old and young waited up to five hours in the morning chill and blazing afternoon sun. There were few complaints.
Rather, the opportunity to see such a patriotic letter in such a historic location — the place where it was created — moved many to tears. Children, lulled to sleep by a long wait, were often awoken just to see the letter, so that they would remember it later in life when they might understand its importance.
Yet, as it is placed on the big blue truck and once again flanked by state troopers on its trip to Austin, the Travis Letter returns to an uncertain future.
Over the last few weeks, opinions about its fate were as numerous as those who waited in line. Some said it should stay at the Alamo permanently, while others believed seeing the letter once in a lifetime is good enough.
The answer to this issue rests with legislators, who ultimately have the power to decide the letter’s fate.
The larger issue is the long-term effect of this event on the Alamo and Texas history.
For the first time in a long while, Texans saw the Alamo in a new light. The Alamo was seen not only as a tourist destination and photo backdrop, but as a place where history actually happened. A place where men like Travis lived and died like heroes.
While well known, Travis was but one player on the Alamo stage. Other names like Juan Seguin, Father Olivares, Edward Everett or Clara Driscoll might be utterly unknown to Texans but are just as crucial to the Alamo story.
If there is to be any aftereffect of the Travis Letter event — and I think there are many — one has to be a new appreciation for the history that the Alamo represents.
It must again be seen as the crossroads of Texas history. Not just the location of a single battle in 1836, but as the very cornerstone of Texas. As one of the first Spanish missions, San Antonio de Valero set the stage for all that was to eventually become Texas.
As the ongoing World Heritage Nomination process proves, the Alamo has a regional, national and, yes, international importance.
Yet how many wandering through Alamo Plaza today know that they are standing where the foundations of Texas were laid?
Therefore, as the Travis Letter returns to the State Archives to be placed in a folder in a darkened, undisclosed location, we are left to consider its impact.
For now, the letter accomplished the very same goal that Travis intended in 1836. It inspired everyone who read it. It reminded us all that freedom is not free and that when it comes to defending liberty, some times the only choice is Victory or Death.
God Bless Texas.
JERRY PATTERSON was re-elected to a third term as Texas Land Commissioner in 2010 and is responsible for managing state assets, investments and mineral rights worth billions of dollars on behalf of the schoolchildren of Texas. He is a retired U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and former state senator.