Travis was a South Carolina-born Alabama lawyer and militiaman who fled an unhappy marriage and possibly the killing of another man and moved to Mexican-held Texas as an illegal U.S. immigrant.
He resumed his law practice in the Texas port of Anahuac and became an ardent advocate of revolution against Mexico. He gathered reinforcements for a militia detachment occupying the Alamo, a former mission church in Bexar, the future San Antonio.
Fearing his force too sparse to resist the Mexican force vastly outnumbering his, Travis wrote a letter (http://bit.ly/OE1ei8 ) Feb. 24, 1836, addressed "To the People of Texas & all Americans in the world." He states that his men had been under Mexican bombardment for 24 hours. He said the Mexican commander, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, had given an ultimatum that the Texas garrison surrender or "be put to the sword." ''I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & and our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never retreat or surrender."
He concludes: "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."
The letter was taken out by courier and published in leaflets and newspapers.
The volunteers came but not in time. Santa Anna's forces stormed the Alamo on March 6 and overwhelmed and killed its defenders. The volunteers joined the troops under Sam Houston's command and defeated Santa Anna at the April 22 Battle of San Jacinto near present-day Houston, securing Texas independence until its annexation by the United States in 1845.
According to the state library website, the letter was returned to the Travis family shortly thereafter. In 1893, his great-grandson sold it for $85 to the Texas state government. It was placed in the state library upon its creation in 1909.