Article Content for The Alamo

The Travis Letters


Actor portraying Travis writing at a deskHistorians know of eight letters that Alamo commander William Barret Travis sent out while the Alamo was under siege. The Alamo siege began on February 23, 1836, and continued for almost two weeks.  Santa Anna used the time to encircle the old fortified mission compound, gradually cutting off entrance to and exit from the Alamo. 

Couriers were evidently able to slip past though the Mexican lines while the earthworks were incomplete.  No letters dated after March 3 are known to exist, although James Allen is thought to have slipped out as late as March 5.

The first six, all sent to public officials, described the dire situation faced by the Alamo garrison and called for help to come without delay.  The last two letters were to personal friends in which Travis addressed his likely death in battle.  In the letter to David Ayers, Travis made arrangements for his young son Charles, who was soon to be left fatherless.  By far, however, the best known of Travis’ Alamo letters is the “Victory or Death” letter penned on February 24, 1836 and addressed to “To The People of Texas and All Americans In The World”.

The primary destinations of Travis’ letters were the communities of Gonzales, Goliad, and San Felipe.  As the closet town, Gonzales was expected to be the first to respond, which it did.  Travis counted on Col. James W. Fannin, the commander of the garrison at Goliad, to march to his relief.  San Felipe, which had been serving as the political seat for the Texans, was expected to rally help from the colonies further to the south and east.

Two other communities served as important secondary destinations for Travis’ letters: Nacogdoches and Washington-on-the-Brazos.  The first served as the northwest gateway to the United States and thus provided a conduit for men, supplies, and news.  With the meeting of the Constitutional Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, this small town became the political hub of Texas.

Travis’ letters had a great effect on public opinion at the time of the Alamo siege.  The closest community, Gonzales, responded by sending thirty-two men of the Gonzales Ranging Company, who entered the Alamo early on the morning of March 1, 1836.  Distance, and terrain, however, made it impossible for more distance rescuers to reach the Alamo in time.  If the letter from Travis’ longtime friend Williamson is any indication, help was on the way.

On March 11, 1836, General Sam Houston arrived at Gonzales to find nearly 350 men assembled and ready to march to the Alamo’s aid.  Sadly, shortly after Houston’s arrival word reached the community that the Alamo had fallen five days earlier.  The news set off the Runaway Scrape.  The volunteers gathered at Goliad became the nucleus of the army that Houston took to San Jacinto.  Thus, it is little wonder that their battle cry became “Remember the Alamo!”