The Alamo, that shrine to Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, has again become a battleground, this time over plans for a major project to restore and improve the plaza in San Antonio, or destroy it, depending on which side of the conflict is making the assessment.
This most recent clash includes some of the same combatants engaged in past battles of the Alamo.
One is the Texas land commissioner. This time, that’s George P. Bush, whose organization has had sole custodianship of the Alamo since about 2015, when he wrested full control of the icon from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas after considerable rhetorical and legal bloodshed.
Bush's successful campaign to bring the Alamo fully under state control was only the most recent in a struggle that has lasted far longer than the War for Texas Independence, however.
In about 1912, for example, the Daughters got an injunction forbidding the state’s superintendent of public buildings from entering the Alamo, according to a 2015 Texas Monthly article.
The state sued to remove the Alamo from the Daughters’ control. The litigation went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, where the Daughters, a group dedicated to the preservation of Texas history, prevailed.
Between the years 1989 and 2001, former state Rep. Ron Wilson, a Houston Democrat, filed six bills seeking to transfer control of the Alamo from the Daughters to a state agency. Ultimately, Wilson departed the legislature and the Daughters remained in control.
In 2011, however, the Texas Legislature passed two bills transferring ownership of the Alamo to the land office and tasking Jerry Patterson, land commission at the time, with negotiating a management partnership with Daughters.
Part of Patterson's reward for that work, was his addition to the Daughter's most loathed list.
The partnership ended in 2015 when Bush cancelled the contract and seized a library containing 38,000 books, maps and other artifacts the Daughters claimed belonged to the group's members; the Daughters sued.
Bush is now overseeing a seven-year reimagining of the shrine where 189 Texas independence fighters were killed by Mexican Gen. Santa Anna’s troops in 1836, according to The Associated Press.
“The site’s size would quadruple after excavation and restoration of historical structures, the closing of nearby streets and the building of a more than 100,000-square foot museum to house artifacts and guide visitors through the Alamo’s history,” The AP reported in October.
Opponents worry Alamo history will be sanitized and made politically correct, in part because the city of San Antonio wants to move a 1940s cenotaph, a nearby 60-foot granite monument engraved with the names of those killed during the battle. In that, they see the same political motive responsible for the moving of Confederate statues.
In a nice Texas twist, Patterson, who’s seeking a return to his old post as land commissioner, is among the loudest voices criticizing Bush’s management of the project, which puts him on the same side as his old adversaries, the Daughters.
Remember the Alamo? How could we forget. It’s been the site of battles, actual and metaphorical, for more than 180 years and there’s no peace in sight.
What might be forgotten in the political brew-up of the day, however, is what the little mission in San Antonio represents for Texas and Texans. That, too, we should remember.
In the interest of that remembering, beginning today and for the next 12 days, we’ll publish on this page items about the original battle of the Alamo, the one that started the whole shebang.
• Michael A. Smith
Editor’s note: Daily News Managing Editor Laura Elder, who is married to the author, is a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.