‘It is no exaggeration to see the Battle of the Alamo as the pivotal historical moment leading to the fulfillment of America’s continental destiny. Little wonder it is still remembered on its 175th anniversary’
For the following article Paul Andrew Hutton has earned the 2012 Spur Award for best Western short nonfiction from the Western Writers of America. The article originally appeared in the February 2011 Wild West.
It began in 1718 as the Mission San Antonio de Valero, just east of the San Antonio River on the northernmost frontier of New Spain. It was another 40 years before workers began construction of its famed church, and they never completed its domed roof. Still, it was a formidable structure, harking back to the Old World and sprawling across nearly 4 acres. From the beginning the stout mission served as a fort, offering protection to the Franciscan fathers and their native converts from hostile tribes to the north, east and west. In 1793 it ceased to serve as a mission and became a parish church. In 1802 a Spanish cavalry company from the Mexican town of San José y Santiago del Alamo de Parras occupied the post. Local residents called the troopers the Alamo Company, and the mission-turned-fort became known simply as the Alamo.
Its power over the American imagination derives from a 13-day siege that culminated on March 6, 1836, in the annihilation of some 200 Texian rebels by a far superior Mexican army under the command of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, self-styled “Napoléon of the West” and president of the Mexican Republic (whose liberal constitution he had overthrown). Among the dead were legendary American frontiersmen Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. From the ashes of their funeral pyre rose a legend of heroic defiance that rallied the Texians (as Texans were then known) to defeat Santa Anna and win their independence and then, a decade later, to join with the United States in liberating the present-day Southwest and California from Mexican misrule. It is no exaggeration to see the Battle of the Alamo as the pivotal historical moment leading to the fulfillment of America’s continental destiny. Little wonder it is still remembered on its 175th anniversary.
Mission, fortress, ruin, army storage depot, mercantile warehouse, contested historic site, shrine of Texas liberty and flashpoint in the postmodern culture war for America’s soul, the Alamo has served many masters. Thus a name enshrined in our collective national memory has been celebrated by generations of poets, painters, novelists and filmmakers, abused by a stunning array of political groups on both the right and the left, exploited as a sales pitch by fast food, rental car, dog food, real estate, railway, cigarette, beer and banking companies and made the focal point for both history and propaganda.
While most Americans embrace the Alamo as part of our national story—ranking it alongside Lexington, New Orleans, Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor and D-Day among a handful of instantly recognizable and symbolically powerful clashes from our past—it is even more vital to Texans as a creation myth. Texans have long embraced a rather exceptional nativistic vision of themselves as distinct from the rest of America. Ten years as an independent republic encouraged that mindset, but the story of the Alamo is even more central to it. Meet someone from Dallas, Houston or Lubbock in a London bar and ask where he is from, and the answer will invariably be “Texas.” Ask the same of someone from Atlanta, Peoria, Seattle or anywhere else in the Lower 48, and the answer will usually be “the United States.”
Texian rebels in 1836 immediately seized on the mythic potential of the battle and its heroic trinity—Crockett, Bowie and William Travis. On March 24, 1836, the San Felipe Telegraph and Texas Register proclaimed: “Spirits of the mighty, though fallen! Honors and rest are with ye; the spark of immortality which animated your forms shall brighten into a flame, and Texas, the whole world, shall hail ye like the demigods of old, as founders of new actions and as patterns of imitation!”
Two days later the citizens of Nacogdoches issued a resolution in praise of the defense of the Alamo that referenced ancient glory: “They died martyrs to liberty; and on the altar of their sacrifice will be made many a vow that shall break the shackles of tyranny. Thermopylae is no longer without a parallel, and when time shall consecrate the dead of the Alamo, Travis and his companions will be named in rivalry with Leonidas and his Spartan band.” Texian Brig. Gen. Thomas Jefferson Green soon improved on that sentiment with a quote later inscribed on the first Alamo monument in Austin: “Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat; the Alamo had none.”
At Thermopylae in northern Greece in 480 BC, Leonidas and his band of 300 warriors sacrificed themselves to stall the onslaught of Xerxes’ Persian hordes. Although a massacre for the Greeks, the battle gave the other city-states time to mobilize their forces and repel the Persian invasion, thus ensuring the survival of Western civilization and the birth of democracy. As with the struggle at Thermopylae, Texians viewed their conflict at the Alamo as a contest of civilizations: freedom vs. tyranny, democracy vs. despotism, Protestantism vs. Catholicism, the New World culture of the United States vs. the Old World culture of Mexico, Anglo-Saxons vs. mestizos and, ultimately, the forces of good vs. evil.
A creation myth is meant to give a people a strong and unique self-image. The story draws razor-sharp lines of good and evil and does not cater to the enemy. Since the Alamo myth is a 19th-century creation, it reflects the racial sensibilities of that time. This racial tilt lasted well into the 20th century, although in far more muted forms.
The fact that Tejanos (Hispanic Texians) died fighting the central government of Santa Anna at the Alamo was generally ignored in the historical and popular literature on the battle before the 1950s. Earlier writers tended to share Travis’ opinion of the Hispanic residents of San Antonio de Béxar: “The citizens of this municipality are all our enemies, except those who have joined us heretofore. We have three Mexicans now in the fort; those who have not joined us in this extremity should be declared public enemies, and their property should aid in paying the expenses of the war.” A handful of Tejanos died fighting at the Alamo, while another, Brigido Guerrero, may well have talked his way out of execution in the aftermath by claiming to have been a prisoner of the Texians. Three Tejanos left the Alamo as messengers before the final assault, among them Juan Seguín, commander of a Tejano company at the fort.
Seguín, a captain in the Texas army, rode into the Alamo with Travis. On the night of February 25, accompanied by aide Antonio Cruz y Arocha, Seguín made a daring ride through the encircling Mexicans to carry a message from Travis to General Sam Houston. After delivering his message, Seguín raised another company of 25 Tejanos and hurried to Cíbolo Creek, planning to rendezvous with Colonel James Fannin’s men from Goliad and march with them to the Alamo. But Fannin never came. Seguín waited impatiently as time ran out for the Alamo defenders. On April 21 he fought heroically at San Jacinto, the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution.
In the 1950s, as the Civil Rights movement cranked up, Americans were anxious to portray the Alamo as part of the eternal struggle between liberty and tyranny, not a land grab with racist overtones. So we find historians, authors and filmmakers (including Walt Disney in Davy Crockett, Budd Boetticher in The Man from the Alamo and Frank Lloyd in The Last Command) portraying the Tejanos as having a far more prominent role at the Alamo than they really did (in fact, almost as many black Americans died there as did Tejanos). This does not diminish the heroism of Seguín and other Hispanic defenders of the Alamo. But it is fascinating that heroes so long ignored because of their race should now be embraced by the white establishment as symbols of pluralism and democracy.
During the liberal 1960s, with interest in ethnic minorities on the rise, Seguín became the standard Hispanic pictured in school texts and popular histories on Texas. He was even featured in John Wayne’s 1960 epic film The Alamo. Seguín now became the symbol of Tejano resistance to Mexican tyranny, even though, after the battle, he had left Texas under duress and joined a Mexican army against his former homeland.
By the 1970s defenders of the Alamo myth were quick to point to the Tejanos as proof the battle was part of the eternal struggle for liberty and not a racial conflict. Many Texans verbally attacked Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt when he said in a 1979 speech: “The Alamo is a symbol of the problem in our relationship with Mexico…a sacred symbol to Texans and an extension of the American ideal. But to Mexico it’s a symbol of territory lost, a nation plundered by overbearing gringo neighbors.” A Lubbock Avalanche-Journal editorial called the Alamo a cherished example of “mankind’s eternal struggle for human rights…not a racial symbol, nor even a nationalist symbol as Governor Babbitt’s ignorance would have him believe.” Added then–Texas Attorney General Mark White: “The heroes of the Alamo don’t need defending against a politician two states away. The Alamo was part of Texas’ fight for liberty, which was backed by Mexicans and Anglos alike and decided in 1836 at San Jacinto.”
The Bryan Eagle angrily pointed out that the Alamo was “a shrine representing not war with Mexico but a Texas struggle for liberty, which was endorsed by most Mexicans as well.” Seguín and his handful of Tejanos, so long ignored by Texans, had by 1979 been magnified in numbers to represent “most Mexicans” in Texas. But Ruben Bonilla, national president of the League of United Latin-American Citizens, countered that Mexican-American leaders in Texas agreed with the Arizona governor’s viewpoint, adding, “We have our pride as Texans in the Alamo, but we also recognize that the United States has a paternalistic attitude toward Mexico.”
Seguín continued to play a leading role, depicted in a 1982 Public Broadcasting Service program; in the 1987 NBC-TV movie The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory; in the 1988 IMAX spectacle Alamo: The Price of Freedom; and in John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film The Alamo. A 1982 pictorial biography titled Los Tejanos, by noted Texas graphic artist Jack Jackson, presented Seguín as a heroic but tragic figure. But to the Hispanic left he was not an acceptable hero. Chicano historian Rudy Acuña resigned from the advisory board of the PBS program on Seguín, protesting that “to make heroes of the Mexican people defending the Alamo is like making heroes of the Vichy government.…[The program] represents an accommodationist point of view that promotes the wrong kind of assimilation.” David J. Weber, noted Southwest historian and member of that PBS advisory board, disagreed. Weber preferred to view Seguín as a “tragic figure in Mexican-American history caught between two cultures in collision.”
In October 2000 officials unveiled a statue of Juan Seguín in the square of the Texas town named for him back in 1839. But Hispanic scholars and social commentators view the man as an exception to the norm, and they reject the efforts of white historians and popularizers to create a “master narrative” that makes Hispanics willing participants in their own marginalization. Historian Richard Flores stated their argument succinctly in his 2002 book Remembering the Alamo: “The Alamo as master symbol serves as a critical map for the exploitation and displacement of Mexicans, legitimized by the Texas Modern…[serving] to sanction one way of life over another.”
If for some the Alamo symbolizes racial repression, for most Texans and Americans the old mission remains symbolic of democracy triumphant through defeat. The most dramatic and cherished moment of the Alamo myth perfectly captures that democratic spirit: Travis’ line in the sand.
According to tradition, Travis called the weary garrison together the evening of March 3, 1836, during a lull in the Mexican bombardment. Major James Butler Bonham had brought word that Fannin was not coming, and Travis fully realized the Alamo was doomed. He faced his men and shared the news. Although there was no hope of victory, Travis was determined to stay in the Alamo and sell his life as dearly as possible in order to buy more time for General Houston to organize an army. Drawing his saber, he drew a line in the sand before him and asked those who would stand with him and die for liberty to cross over.
In a moment of democratic choice every member of the garrison made his personal decision to die for freedom. Jim Bowie, too ill to lift himself from his cot in the so-called Long Barracks, asked his friends to carry him across. Finally, only one man remained on the other side of the line—a Napoleonic wars veteran and friend of Bowie’s named Louis “Moses” Rose. Later that night Rose slipped over the wall and vanished into the darkness beyond.
Popular historians, novelists, painters, songwriters and filmmakers have all embraced the symbolic power of Travis’ line. The legend appears in various versions: In some Travis asks the men to cross the line if they wish to leave, and often all the men choose to stay. In 1955’s The Last Command, Travis speaks to his men in a driving rainstorm, and they all cross the line. In Wayne’s The Alamo, five years later, Travis doesn’t draw a line but speaks to Bowie’s volunteers, who have decided to depart. After his speech, Bowie and his men all cross to join Travis in defense of the Alamo. In whatever form the story takes, the message is always the same: The defenders willingly choose to sacrifice themselves that Texas might live. “But nobody forgets the line,” wrote J. Frank Dobie in 1939. “It is drawn too deep and straight.”
But did Travis really draw the line? No mention of it appears in print until 1873, when William P. Zuber’s article “An Escape from the Alamo” ran in the Texas Almanac. According to Zuber, Louis Rose staggered up to his father’s cabin in Grimes County a few days after the fall of the Alamo. They took in the exhausted man, and he related the story of the line to them, complete with a fulsome version of Travis’ speech. Even though Zuber later admitted he made up much of the speech, poets, novelists and historians quickly appropriated the story of the line. The most influential of the latter was Anna J. Hardwicke Pennybacker, whose History of Texas for Schools contained an even more embellished version of Zuber’s story. Other historians called it a fable.
In 1939, however, a Texas history buff named R.B. Blake discovered court and land records in Nacogdoches County seemingly providing proof Louis Rose had been in the Alamo. Rose had testified in several land claim cases for relatives of Alamo victims. Blake also discovered it was common knowledge among old-timers in Nacogdoches, where Rose operated a meat market, that the old Frenchman had been in the Alamo and had left the garrison.
Walter Lord, in A Time to Stand, concluded that although the story of the line was basically true, it had been garbled in Rose’s original telling to Zuber or, more likely, greatly embellished by Zuber. Lord turned up an 1876 interview with Susanna Dickinson, the only adult Anglo survivor. In it she stated that on the night before the final Mexican assault Travis had called the men together, explained the situation was hopeless and offered any who wished to depart the opportunity to do so. One man (she called him Ross) stepped out of the ranks and was gone before dawn. Such an action by Travis in calling the men together is quite typical of American militia officers.
So the shining legend has a basis in truth, even though Travis may never have drawn an actual line. And it happened on March 5, not March 3, which explains why the Alamo’s two final couriers, John W. Smith and James Allen, never mentioned it. Even without the line, however, that moment of democratic choice did occur. Of course, the line will live in the popular imagination, whether or not it was drawn. And, ultimately, that is more important than the historical record. J. Frank Dobie understood that well: “It is a line that not all the piety nor wit of research will ever blot out. It is a grand canyon cut into the bedrock of human emotions and heroical impulses.”
The story of Travis’ line appealed directly to the democratic ideal represented by the Alamo. So too did the great hero of the Alamo saga—the hunter, humorist, politician and stalwart of the common man Davy Crockett. Americans of the late 20th century had embraced the calls for racial and social justice from John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, but they had also been weaned on these very values by another famous American—Walt Disney. Despite his reputation as a political conservative, Disney adhered to the same fundamental liberal values shared by all Americans (values that set the republic apart from two-thirds of the world’s population). His version of the life of Davy Crockett, written by Tom Blackburn (who also wrote the hit song) and broadcast in three parts on ABC-TV in 1954–55, created the first fad of the baby boomer generation. The Battle of the Alamo was replayed in countless backyards. Affluent kids donned full sets of accoutrements—coonskin caps, fringed shirts, Old Betsy replicas—while others made do with a stout stick and a vivid imagination.
Fess Parker, Disney’s Crockett, was their idol. Tall, handsome, strong and brave, he always stood for truth and justice. When he went off to the Creek War, he fought not to spill blood but to end the conflict. When he went to Congress, he fought for the rights of the underprivileged. And when he went to Texas, he fought for freedom. Viewers never saw this Crockett die. In the show’s final episode he was swinging Old Betsy and clubbing enemy soldiers until the fade to the Lone Star flag.
When those young viewers grew older and heard President Kennedy speak of brotherhood, helping the poor and fighting for freedom in a distant land, they understood what he was talking about. Parker’s Crockett had imparted these same liberal values. While visiting Vietnam in 1968, Parker himself was struck by the fact that the American warriors he met were in some ways his own creation. “I suddenly realized that all these kids fighting this war were the Davy Crockett generation,” he told Texas Monthly contributing editor Stephen Harrigan in a 1986 interview. “That was very painful. Some of those guys I was talking to flew off in their planes the next day and didn’t come back.”
It would be foolish to make too strong a connection between early support for the Vietnam War and the values represented in a 1950s television series. Many commentators, however, have rightly pointed to the strong connection between Texan Lyndon Johnson’s lifelong fascination with the Alamo and his commitment to make a stand against communism in Southeast Asia. And just as Parker’s Crockett had answered the call of destiny and volunteered to fight for freedom in a distant land, so now the “Davy Crockett generation” was called on to make the same sacrifice. In the beginning, at least, many responded with enthusiasm. Even those who opposed the Vietnam War could trace a part of their political ideology to Crockett and the Alamo. James Kunen, in his 1969 memoir of the student takeover at Columbia University, The Strawberry Statement, wrote: “I realize that my conception of the philosophy of law comes not so much from Rousseau as from Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. I remember his saying that you should decide what you think is right and then go ahead and do it. Walt Disney really bagged that one; the old fascist inadvertently created a whole generation of radicals.”
Little wonder, then, that when controversy arose over Crockett’s death at the Alamo, the reaction was intense. Carmen Perry’s 1975 translation of the journal of Mexican officer José Enrique de la Peña, first published in Mexico in 1955, contained a single page relating that Crockett and a handful of other prisoners had been executed. A furor resulted, and in response Texas State Historical Association President Dan Kilgore published How Did Davy Die? (1978), an intelligent little book that supported the de la Peña narrative. A cottage industry of sorts emerged around the topic, with William Groneman leading the charge against the de la Peña version, while James Crisp vigorously countered him. The University of Texas purchased the original de la Peña papers for a large sum and endorsed the Crisp position, but the controversy still rages. Perry, a former director of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo, summed it all up nicely in response to critics of de la Peña’s narrative: “People don’t believe his account because they don’t want to believe it. They prefer to live by legend.”
For many the story of Crockett has become an intrinsic part of their identity as Americans, and to shatter their vision of his heroic death is seen as a particularly insidious act of historical revisionism. The memory of the Alamo casts a very long shadow.
The Alamo, of course, is a physical place as well as a symbol, and while the cultural battle rages on, an equally contentious struggle simmers over the surviving structures. The combatants first sought to save the shrine from demolition but have since engaged in a protracted struggle over interpretation and presentation. This battle is far from over.
The buildings, heavily damaged in the March 6 fighting, were hit again that May when the retreating Mexican army had demolition teams destroy as much of the fort as they could. Tejanos who had lived there before the battle soon reoccupied what buildings survived. Others scavenged the ruins for building materials, so that by 1846 not much of the original compound remained.
Then the U.S. Army rode to the rescue. The U.S. annexation of Texas in 1845, and the resultant conflict with Mexico, brought Brig. Gen. John Woll and some 2,000 troops to San Antonio. By late 1846 Woll’s Quartermaster’s Department was using the Alamo ruins as a supply depot. Work crews repaired the sturdy convent buildings, wholly refurbishing them by 1848.
Major Edwin Burr Babbitt, who assumed the duties of San Antonio quartermaster in June 1849, recommended demolition of the Alamo buildings to make way for new storage facilities. Fortunately, he was overruled and ordered to repair the existing structures. Babbitt employed two local Germans, builder and contractor John Fries and stonemason David Russi, to renovate the chapel. Fries and Russi’s workers removed great piles of debris that in 1836 had served as an artillery rampart but now clogged the chapel’s interior; raised the walls to the same height; constructed a roof; and built two stone pillars inside the chapel to support this covering. They also added ground floor offices and a second floor, with two new windows on the front.
The most important change, however, was the addition of a gable—or hump—atop the chapel’s front parapet. This simple gable soon became so identified with the Alamo that artists and filmmakers dared not omit it from their renderings of the battle, despite the fact that nothing remotely resembling it had existed before the Army renovation. The Army Taco-Belled the Alamo, and the gable is now one of America’s great iconographic symbols.
In 1879 the Army abandoned the Alamo and moved the quartermaster’s depot to nearby Fort Sam Houston. It had been renting the buildings from the Catholic Church, and with that income gone, the church sold the convent building to San Antonio businessman Honore Grenet. By that time the west wall had been demolished and replaced by new buildings. In 1881 the city purchased much of the Alamo compound and turned it into a plaza. Grenet leased the chapel and used it as a warehouse until his 1882 death. Charles Hugo and Gustav Schmeltzer then bought the convent (now called the “long barracks”) and continued its use as a warehouse.
The church sold the chapel to the state of Texas in 1883 for $20,000, thus sparing it from commercial use, but the convent building, with its awful wooden facade, continued to hover over it to the north. By the turn of the 20th century there was talk of tearing down the Hugo–Schmeltzer concern, a move that would destroy the original convent.
Two heroines then strode to the rescue. Adina de Zavala, founder of the San Antonio chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) and granddaughter of the first vice president of the Republic of Texas, launched a fundraising campaign to purchase the convent building from Hugo and Schmeltzer. The $75,000 asking price was reasonable, but fundraising efforts went slowly. In 1903, while these fundraising efforts were underway, an Eastern hotel syndicate made a counteroffer to purchase the site. Many leading San Antonio citizens supported this pitch, believing that a major hotel beside the Alamo chapel would be good for the city. De Zavala’s heroic fundraising efforts seemed doomed.
A bill providing $5,000 to cover the option on the site passed both houses of the Texas Legislature, only to be vetoed by Governor S.W.T. Lanham. Many opposed the use of taxpayers’ money for historic preservation. Others felt that since the Alamo was a tourist attraction for San Antonio, the city should purchase the property. Clara Driscoll, 22-year-old daughter of a south Texas cattle baron, suddenly stepped forward and paid the full $75,000 asking price. She also assumed responsibility for taxes and insurance. In her deed for the property she had inserted: “It is distinctly understood that this property is purchased by Clara Driscoll for the use and benefit of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and is to be used by them for the purpose of making a park about the Alamo, and for no other purpose whatever.” Driscoll’s bold actions shamed the Texas government into appropriating $75,000 in 1905 to purchase the property. The state then entrusted the convent buildings and chapel to the DRT, “to be maintained by them in good order and repair, without charge to the state.”
Driscoll and de Zavala, having saved the Alamo, now turned on each other. De Zavala, captivated by the mission days, wanted to restore the convent to its original appearance (or at least her conception of its original appearance). She hoped to emphasize the convent, site of the hardest fighting, as the central Alamo building. Driscoll and her supporters, however, wanted to tear down the convent, arguing incorrectly that it was never part of the Alamo. They were especially anxious to demolish the convent’s second story, by default making the taller chapel the center of attention.
The debate even took on racial undertones—de Zavala representing a Hispanic vision of the multicultural roles played by the Alamo through history, and Driscoll representing the Anglo view of the site that focused solely on the 1836 battle. Dubbed the “Second Battle of the Alamo” by the press, the dispute grew increasingly heated. Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt then boldly entered the fray, deciding in favor of restoring the convent building.
Work crews removed the wooden facade from the building, but the restoration bogged down due to lack of funds. Then, in 1913, while Governor Colquitt was out of the state, his lieutenant governor, who sided with Driscoll, authorized destruction of the second story of the convent. Ironically, the very people responsible for saving the Alamo had now demolished some of its last remaining historic walls.
Having secured their physical conception of the Alamo, the Driscoll forces moved to purge de Zavala and her adherents from the ranks of the DRT. They secured a court injunction, forbidding de Zavala and her DRT chapter from claiming any association with the Alamo, and replaced them as custodians of the historic site. So ended the Second Battle of the Alamo—the Anglos and their vision of the fortress, centered on the chapel, triumphant.
Texas’ sesquicentennial in 1986 renewed interest in preservation of the Alamo. Gary Foreman, a preservation consultant from Illinois who went on to become a prize-winning documentary filmmaker, unveiled a plan to renovate the entire Alamo Plaza. He called for modernizing DRT museum displays, closing streets in front of the shrine and reconstructing original mission buildings. As the city owns all the property fronting the Alamo, Foreman’s plan required close cooperation between city and state officials as well as the DRT. While the city and state were intrigued, the ladies of the DRT were not amused. “Mr. Foreman doesn’t understand that this is a sacred shrine,” declared a DRT spokeswoman. “He wants to turn the Alamo into a tourist trap. Mr. Foreman is not a Texan.”
Foreman responded in kind, characterizing the DRT as “a tea club running a famous historical site.” Though he failed in his crusade, his actions did prompt the DRT to step up preservation efforts and completely redesign its exhibits. The chapel, once cluttered with displays, was stripped to the bare essentials to enhance the visitor experience. As the site welcomes some 3 to 5 million annual visitors, this was no small task. Under the impressive leadership of curator Bruce Winders, the DRT has professionalized every aspect of interpretation and preservation at the site.
Foreman returned to the fray in 2008 with yet another bold plan to redesign Alamo Plaza. This time the DRT was less hostile, although others questioned his plans to reconstruct buildings on sacred ground. In addition, Alamo Plaza has become prime real estate, and anyone daring to encroach on its commercial possibilities will meet studied hostility. Foreman—once hated by the DRT as much as British rocker Ozzy Osbourne, who in 1982 relieved himself in a drunken stupor against an Alamo wall—has now been embraced by the DRT. Osbourne, who has yet to win redemption, did inspire a wonderful song by Texas swing group Asleep at the Wheel, titled “Don’t Go There.” And British singer Phil Collins has done considerable damage control for his country through his support of Alamo preservation efforts. Collins belongs to a select group of celebrity Alamo buffs that includes film director David Zucker (who regularly inserts Alamo sight gags in his films), novelist/screenwriter Stephen Harrigan and ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill.
As the 175th anniversary of the battle approaches, the struggle for control of the site continues. The DRT is embroiled in internal debate over a 2007 preservation study regarding cracks in the roof that have yet to be repaired. It has also challenged Texas for control of “The Alamo” trademark. The bickering finally prompted state intervention. Governor Rick Perry reminded the DRT that while it might still manage the Alamo, the people of Texas actually own it. His attorney general launched an investigation into DRT finances and site management. And so it goes—the more things change the more they stay the same. In this new century, new opponents continue to battle over the Alamo. Little wonder it is so well remembered. ww
University of New Mexico history professor Paul Hutton won a National Cowboy & Western Heritage Wrangler Award for his article “‘It Was But a Small Affair’: The Battle of the Alamo,” which ran in the February 2004 Wild West. The article also appears in Hutton’s new book Western Heritage (University of Oklahoma Press). He also wrote “Frontier Hero Davy Crockett,” which appeared in the February 1999 Wild West. Hutton’s favorite Alamo book is Walter Lord’s A Time to Stand.