Exactly 180 years ago – William B. Travis wrote a letter begging for reinforcement at the Battle of the Alamo. Travis sent Albert Martin, captain of the Gonzales Mounted Rangers, past the Alamo’s stone walls to deliver the message to neighboring towns. Travis’ now famed “Victory or Death” letter failed to change the battle’s outcome, but it helped to drive support for Texas’ independence as it brought an additional 32 Alamo defenders.
State officials, local leaders, and visitors gathered Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Alamo Plaza for a commemorative ceremony that honored Martin’s “Ride for Texas Independence,” Travis’ letter and the proceeding dispatch.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who directs the Texas General Land Office, was among the political dignitaries present for the ceremony and historical reenactments.
“We gather here today to remember what it cost to be Texas,” Bush told the crowd. “We are standing on hallowed ground.”
He also mentioned the GLO’s recent acquisition of the Alamo’s management. After 110 years of custody, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas was found in violation of its contract with the GLO for, among other infractions, neglecting preservation and restoration efforts. Seven months later, a historic agreement was signed between the City of San Antonio, GLO, and Alamo Endowment, to fund and develop a master plan to revitalize Alamo Plaza and surrounding area.
“We took a big step forward with the purchase of the three buildings behind you,” he said, nodding to the three historic buildings across from the city-owned plaza and state-owned Alamo.
The buildings are currently occupied by tourist attractions and services including the Guinness World Records Museum, Tomb Raider 3D, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, apparel store Del Sol, and Grand Trolley Tours – all of which serve as a surreal backdrop to some of the most “hallowed ground” in Texas’ history.
“While there will be no immediate changes for the tenants,” Bush said in December after the GLO purchased the buildings, “having the state own these buildings will help as we all work together to make the Alamo the destination that it should be.”
Mayor Ivy Taylor echoed those sentiments on Wednesday.
“We are now beginning a new chapter,” she said. “We will soon see a complete reinterpretation of this site. It is a story that we are still writing.”
Becky Dinnion, director of the Alamo, welcomed fourth graders from the Gregorio Esparza Elementary School as honored guests. The school was named for one of the native-born Texans who defended the Alamo.
“This is the second day of the 180th commemoration of the battle of the Alamo,” Dinnion said. “We have the spirit that was created right here in this spot.”
Carol and John Potter are volunteer living historians who frequent the Alamo as the characters of Susanna and Almaron Dickinson.
Susanna Dickinson told the Rivard Report her family came to San Antonio from Tennessee.
“We have one child, Angelina. She’s 18 months old,” Susanna said. “We’ve only been here two months. My husband was driving so I’m not sure how we got here but the Camino Real (Texas Highway 21) was the most prominent road.”
She said her husband, Captain Dickinson, was in command of the Alamo garrison’s artillery. Susanna said she was always fearful of his life but the waiting was equally bad.
“In between the bombardments was a lot of waiting,” she said. “You don’t know where the next shell will hit. There was an armistice so the noncombatants could leave. I don’t know how many left but we stayed.”
Ryan Badger is the living history coordinator at The Alamo. Before that he was a museum technician at National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Today he was in the guise of Lt. Col. Travis, commander of the Texan troops at the Alamo.
Colonel Travis said he was born and educated in South Carolina.
“I was a journalist for a while but my real education started when I got my law practice in Alabama,” he said.
Travis explained the purpose of his “Victory or Death” letter.
“It was a rallying cry,” he said. “Ours was the cause of liberty. I got my inspiration for my letter from reading the Bible. Literature from James Fennimore Cooper and William Shakespeare influenced me as well,” he said.
State Senator Lois W. Kolkhorst is another modern day defender of the Alamo. Much of the 18th District lies within the cradle of the Texas revolution.
The last letter from the Alamowas written by Travis on March 3, 1836 to the Texas Independence Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos. It described the situation at the Alamo in detail but did more than ask for reinforcements. She read an excerpt from that letter:
“Let the convention go on and make a declaration of independence, and we will then understand, and the world will understand, what we are fighting for.”
“Those delegates stayed at Washington-on-the-Brazos to work on the declaration at the urging of Sam Houston,” Kolkhorst said.
Bruce Winders said Travis’ previous letter made clear that the Alamo was in danger of being lost.
“Travis’s letter had served the purpose of getting the word out,” Winders said. “Travis’ admonition, ‘Victory or Death,’ spurred them to action to aid the cause of victory.”
Ryan Badger then returned in the character of Col. Travis. He read his letter aloud as his quill pen moved across the parchment.
Commandancy of the The Alamo
Bejar, Feby. 24th. 1836
To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World-
Fellow Citizens & compatriots-
I shall never surrender or retreat.
Visit the Alamo website for more information other coming events commemorating the 180th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo through March 6.
Visiting the surrounding towns that contributed to the success of the Texas revolution is also an engaging way to “remember the Alamo.” The March issue of Texas Highways lists several celebrations along the Texas Independence Trail.
Texas has a strong history, Bush said, but its fight for independence is legendary.
“Right here is where that legend was born,” he said. “Travis’ tenacity inspired his men. His message continues to inspire.”
CORRECTION: A photo caption misidentified participants as members of the San Antonio Living History Association. The association did not officially participate in the reenactments.
*Top Image: Scott McMahon, director of Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, dressed as Captain of the Gonzales Mounted Rangers, reenacts taking the famous ‘Victory or Death’ Letter from Alamo Commander William B. Travis. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone