In 1836, William Barret Travis famously wrote “Victory or Death” in his appeal for more troops during the Battle of The Alamo. 177 years later, the iconic letter is returning to the Alamo for a brief exhibit later this month.
Currently, the letter is safely held at Austin’s Texas State Archives and Library Building, away from the harmful UV rays that have deteriorated its condition.
The Travis Letter has seen some wear and tear. It traveled across a war-torn Texas in the 1800s. It was folded, kept in jackets and saddlebags, copied and even disappeared for a number of years. In the early 20th century it was heavily exhibited after it became the property of Texas.
"It’s something of a myth that the letter has not been available to the public," says John Anderson, the Preservation Officer at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. "Many tens of thousands of visitors, Texans and school children have seen the letter."
But all that exposure has deteriorated the ink and paper.
"There has been some pretty significant light damage over time and that’s because the letter has been exhibited so much," says Sarah Norris, a conservator who has been working to preserve the letter.
Norris says that light damage is cumulative and irreversible. And there aren’t any conservation techniques to reverse it exposure to light.
"We need to be very careful to limit [light] as we go along," she says. "To be sure that this document is with us for many more years."
The Travis Letter will briefly return to the Alamo, where it will be on display February 23rd through March 7th.