As we celebrate 184 years of Texas’ independence, I’ll be partaking in a more “modern” tradition – one that goes back just 59 years.
I’ll have the honor of sharing one of our state’s most fabled letters with the nation.
You may recognize it from its three most iconic words: Victory or Death.
The letter was written from behind the walls of an old Spanish mission called the Alamo by a 26-year-old Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas Army, William Barret Travis.
It was February 24, 1836, and Travis had found himself under attack by a unit of soldiers nearly ten times bigger than his.
Thousands of Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces were approaching, and Travis had to act fast.
He first bolstered the Alamo’s walls, built palisades to fill the gaps, prepared the cannons, and secured extra provisions for his troops – it would be a long stretch.
Then he wrote this letter seeking reinforcements.
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 Barret 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 –
Unfortunately, Travis’ fate was not Victory, but Death. Before the battle’s end, he suffered a gunshot to the head.
All in all, 189 defenders of the Alamo lost their lives, but they did not die in vain.
Lt. Col. William B. Travis’ last-minute efforts to fortify the Alamo bought precious time for the Texas revolutionaries, allowing General Sam Houston to maneuver his army into position for a decisive victory at the Battle of San Jacinto.
And with that victory, Texas became a sovereign nation.
Reading this letter to the United States Senate – a tradition dating back nearly six decades to Senator John Tower’s first session in 1961 – reminds us all that without the courageous Texans at the Alamo, some of us might not be around today.
I’m grateful for the Texas patriots who fought in the revolution, many of whom went on to serve in the United States Congress.
And I’m honored to hold the seat of one of these revolutionaries and one of Texas’ very first Senators – Sam Houston.
Every single day I’m also honored to have the opportunity to serve nearly 29 million Texans, a chance that I wouldn’t have without the sacrifices made by the brave men like William B. Travis 184 years ago.