Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
It all started way back in 7th grade, Mrs. Wilson made Texas history come alive and my fascination with Texas legends like Sam Houston, James Bowie, and of course my personal favorite, William Barrett Travis, took root. It was this month, 172 years ago that Travis, a 27 year-old lawyer, penned the most famous letter in Texas history from behind the walls of a besieged rundown mission in San Antonio.
“To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world, fellow citizens and compatriots, I am besieged by a thousand or more of the enemy under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual bombardment and cannon fire for over 24 hours, but I have not lost a man.
“The enemy has demanded surrender at its discretion. Otherwise, the fort will be put to the sword. I have answered that demand with a cannon shot. And the flag still waves proudly over the north wall.
“I shall never surrender or retreat. I call upon you, in the name of liberty and patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to my aid with all dispatch. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself for as long as possible, die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country. Victory or death.”
As a child, I was so intrigued by this letter. I would always be the first in my class to volunteer to play Travis at any given opportunity, if only just to read his words aloud. To me, he was the ultimate hero. Travis and his rag-tag group of relentless freedom fighters, made up of men from nearly every state in the Union and thirteen foreign countries, including Mexico, held off an entire army of a several thousand for thirteen days. Defeat was not an option. Retreat was never on the table. Victory or death. And the rest is as they say – is Texas history.
History teaches us everything we need to know, if we just look. This letter was written nearly two centuries ago and its message still rings true today. It’s a story of “liberty and patriotism and everything dear to the American character.” Freedom is still worth dying for. And to do so as a soldier, “is what is due his honor and that of his country.”
Travis believed these words, believed that the cause for independence was his life. Our freedom fighters today understand these words as well, they know that America is worth fighting for and that defeat is not an option. We must not neglect the call.
Unfortunately, the call for help was not answered in time. Commander Travis and 187 volunteers sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom after thirteen glorious days at the Alamo. Their sacrifice would later be remembered along the banks of the San Jacinto as General Sam Houston led the Texans to victory and freedom. But their courage will never be forgotten.
Travis isn’t just my favorite Texas war hero, he has intertwined himself throughout my life and even the lives of my children and grandchildren. He is the inspiration behind my profession. I always wanted to be a great lawyer like William Barrett Travis. My grandson, Barrett Houston, is even named after Travis. Inscribed along the bottom of my stationary are his words, “I shall never surrender or retreat,” and for as long as I can remember, I end every letter with his famous words, “God and Texas.”
Because of men like William Barrett Travis, Texas is the great state that it is today. His legacy embodies the passion and loyalty that make Texans stand out around the world.
And that’s just the way it is.