The Second Battle of the Alamo

By Charlie Eckhardt

 

 

 

 

clars280.jpg (37915 bytes)"A young woman named Clara Driscoll, whose grandfather, Daniel Driscoll, was a San Jacinto veteran, returned to Texas after having spent seven years in school in Europe. Clara, in Europe, was impressed with the way Europeans preserved and protected their historical sites, and when she saw the condition of the Alamo chapel and the land on which the Alamo battle was fought, she was furious..."

I don't like to write about the Alamo. It's not that I don't understand and admire its significance, the great symbol it is for Texans - I can't read Travis's letter on the wall there without my eyes blurring, and I know what a firstwater (expletive deleted) he was in his personal life. Still, everybody has written about the Battle of the Alamo. I've read the stories and the research histories - the two best I've ever found are Walter Lord's A Time To Stand and John Myers' The Alamo, neither of which, incidentally was written by a native Texan. I've read the best Alamo novel ever - Lon Tinkle's Thirteen Days To Glory, which was the basis for the John Wayne movie, The Alamo. One, called The Blazing Dawn, was written by a native Texan, James Wakefield Burke. The other, W. 0. Stoddard's The Gold Of The Montezumas, A Tale of the Alamo, written early in this century, is the apparent source book for those who insist there is a great horde of gold hidden somewhere around Alamo Plaza.

But what about the Alamo? Not the symbol or the fight, but the building itself? What's happened to the physical basis of the Shrine of Texas Liberty in the last 161 years? I'm going to write about the Alamo - not the battle, but that stone building in downtown San Antonio - and how we treated it at first, how we almost lost it forever, who saved it and how, why we still have it, and who we have to thank for that.

What we see today in downtown San Antonio is not the Mission San Antonio de Valero, but merely the mission's chapel and a portion of another structure, which we now call 'the Long Barracks'. All the walls around the Alamo, all the pathways, the gift shop, the library - all are 19th or 20th century constructions. The original mission's plaza took in most of the land surrounding the site. The west wall of the mission's compound was located where the back walls of the business buildings across Alamo Plaza are now. James Bowie died in a small room built into the now-destroyed south wall, near where the gazebo in Alamo Plaza now stands. Travis apparently died somewhere near the Cenotaph. The ground in front of the Alamo chapel - that structure we call the Alamo - is soaked with the blood of the men who died in that battle, both Texicans and Mexicans.

sidebar1.jpg (22728 bytes)On the morning of March 7, 1836, the Alamo mission's chapel and compound were a gutted, smoking ruin. The chapel itself was roofless, its bell-towers were gone, its walls had gaping holes from Mexican artillery. Santa Anna, not wishing a shrine to the 240 odd men who died there, ordered the ruin razed - not a single stone to be left atop another.

The ruin was not razed. In spite of direct orders from Santa Anna, the walls of the Alamo chapel were left standing. Not that there was much there - the facade was badly damaged and crumbling, the walls in many places were no more than head high on a tall man. Still, Santa Anna gave a direct order, 'Knock down the walls!' and it wasn't done. Why not?

Nowhere in records, Texan or Mexican, will you find that Santa Anna rescinded the order to knock down the walls. Nowhere will you find any explanation for why the order was ignored. Still, when Santa Anna's troops marched out of San Antonio in pursuit of the rabble Sam Houston was trying to turn into a fighting force, the battered walls of the Alamo chapel were still standing.

Where we do not have records we have stories. The stories - from Mexican sources as well as from San Antonio - say Santa Anna's engineers and sappers went to the chapel to carry out the orders and turned tail and ran. According to those stories they saw something - perhaps several somethings - standing guard over the walls. What they saw, they described as 'glowing men with flaming swords'.

Maybe it's just an old ghost story somebody made up. Maybe the guys who were sent to tear down the walls went to the cantina instead, and after too much mescal and what was left of the powerful gringo whiskey, they couldn't tear the walls down. Maybe so. But look at the description of what they said they saw. 'Glowing men with flaming swords.' Where have you seen that before? Isn't it a pretty close approximation of the description of guardian or avenging angels in both Christian and Jewish lore? Maybe they weren't seeing things, after all.

Guardian angels may have protected the Alamo's walls from Santa Anna's engineers, but they seem to have been sent off on other assignments shortly afterwards or perhaps they felt the Alamo's walls shouldn't need protection from the physical and spiritual heirs of the men who died defending them. During the ten years of the Texas Republic, the Shrine of Texas Liberty was not treated with reverence. The mission was built of cut limestone - already cut and just lying around, and nobody was using it. Much of that stone was cannibalized to build other buildings in San Antonio. The outer walls of the compound disappeared entirely, as did the gate and gateposts. Jim Bowie's death room was carried away piece by piece, and no one today can say where the stones that took his blood are sited. Eventually the two mostly intact buildings, the 'long barracks', and the chapel itself, began to disappear piece by piece.

By the time Texas was annexed to the US, the facade of the chapel was a total shambles and the rest of the walls were perhaps waist-high on a grown man. Then the US Army came to San Antonio, which became the headquarters of the Department of Texas. Uncle Sam wanted a storehouse - a warehouse - in which to store grain and supplies, and there wasn't one available. There was, however, right north of the main part of town, that old ruin which, with work could be restored and used. The army took over the ruin of the chapel and rebuilt the walls, then reroofed it. The present facade of the Alamo - the step and arch profile that's recognized the world over - is not the one that was there in 1836. At that time the chapel had a flat top and a bell tower at each of the two west-side corners. What we recognize as 'the Alamo' was built by the US Corps of engineers in the 1840's. That distinctive shape that has graced and identified, among other things, the Alamo motel in North Augusta, South Carolina to a lonely Texas kid, Charley Eckhardt, back in 1961 while he was assigned for training to Fort Gordon, just outside Augusta, Georgia, across the state line from North Augusta and it made that lonely Texan a long way from home, whose fiancée had just dear-johnned him, feel a little more comfortable - was entirely unknown to Buck Travis and Jim Bowie.

By the 1870's the Army had pretty much outgrown its downtown headquarters and was moving operations to the newly-established Fort Sam Houston, far to the north along the New Braunfels road, entirely outside San Antonio itself. It no longer needed its storehouse with the peculiar roof line. At that point controversy enters the story, because nobody knew, for sure, who owned the chapel, which continued in use as a warehouse by a local merchant. By the 1890's it was being to some extent exploited as a tourist attraction - "Yeah, folks, that fight went on right there in my warehouse" - but tourism was not big business. A frame retail store adjoined the stone building, and there certainly was no reverential treatment of what some called 'an eyesore of an old pile of rocks'. The army occupied the old chapel as its warehouse until the opening of Fort Sam Houston in 1876. At the time there was some question as to the ownership of the chapel. Both the city of San Antonio and the Roman Catholic Church's Archdiocese of Texas claimed it. There was considerable litigation over title to the old chapel, and eventually courts decided in favor of the Catholic Church. The state of Texas bought the chapel itself and the ground it stood on -but no more - from the Archdiocese of Texas. All the rest of the land surrounding the Alamo chapel - the land on which the battle was actually fought - passed into private hands.

Texas didn't do much with the chapel - there was no restoration, no effort even to preserve the rumbling walls. It was just there, Texas owned it, that was it. Title to much of the land north of the chapel, where the old convento (now called the Long Barracks) stood, was held, in the 1890's, by Hugo & Schmeltzer, a firm of wholesale merchants. They had a huge frame warehouse and salesroom built adjacent to the Alamo chapel, and at least some of their offices were located in the old convento.

In 1903 Hugo & Schmeltzer was closing down for good and selling off its assets - and one of the assets up for sale was the land to the north of the Alamo chapel. About three years earlier a young woman named Clara Driscoll, whose grandfather, Daniel Driscoll, was a San Jacinto veteran, returned to Texas after having spent seven years in school in Europe. Clara, in Europe, was impressed with the way Europeans preserved and protected their historical sites, and when she saw the condition of the Alamo chapel and the land on which the Alamo battle was fought, she was furious. She began a letter writing campaign to newspapers around the state, the stated objective being the preservation of the Alamo and as much of its grounds as possible. She joined the DeZavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in San Antonio and immediately began campaigning to acquire the Hugo & Schmeltzer property to add to the Alamo chapel, in order to begin the proper preservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

sidebar2.jpg (23547 bytes)Now, Clara was a salty ol' gal, there's more than rumor that she liked her nip - or several of them. She lived much of her later life in and around Corpus Christi, and at one time - now demolished - there was a luxurious hotel called the White Plaza 'on the bluff' in Corpus Christi, overlooking the bay. Clara and several cohorts tried to check into the White Plaza one night and were refused registration because they were, quite frankly, stewed to the ears and the management thought they'd disturb the other guests.

"By God," said Clara, "I'll build a hotel right next to your hotel, an' it'll be bigger an' finer 'n your hotel, an' when I get it finished I'll spit on your damn hotel." (For the record, she didn't say 'spit', but that's what the tour guides have to say she said.) She built the hotel, incidentally - the Driscoll - right next door to the White Plaza. At the top of the Driscoll, attached to the old penthouse, was a projection that overhung the roof of the White Plaza. It was from that projection, they say, that Clara did what she said she'd do on the White Plaza and she didn't say 'spit'.

That was a long time later - in 1903 Clara Driscoll was simply a wide-eyed young lady, crusading for the preservation of what has become the single most widely-visited historical site in Texas and one of the most widely-visited in the US. She and members of the DeZavala, DRT, approached Hugo & Schmeltzer about selling the property adjacent to and directly north of the Alamo chapel.

"Sure," said Hugo & Schmeltzer. "You got seventy-five thousand bucks?"

The DeZavala Chapter of the DRT didn't have $75,000, and Hugo & Schmeltzer was demanding $5,000 for a one-year option on the property, with an additional $20,000 to be paid when the option expired and five annual installments of $10,000 at 6% interest would be paid over the next five years. The DeZavala Chapter - and the DRT - immediately set about to raise the option money.

Almost immediately a new player entered the game. An eastern syndicate wanted to buy the Hugo & Schmeltzer property for a hotel, and it was offering better than $5,000 for a year's option. Clara, together with Judge James B. Wells of Brownsville and Floyd McGown of San Antonio went directly to Charles Hugo, the surviving partner of Hugo & Schmeltzer, to try to preserve the property for Texas. Hugo agreed to give a 30 day option on the property for $500, cash on the barrel right then, and an additional $4,500 to be paid in about 11 months. Clara reached in her purse, pulled out her checkbook, and wrote the $500 check that ultimately preserved the grounds of the Alamo as they are today.

The DeZavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas immediately called for a statewide appeal to raise the needed $4,500 by April 17, 1903 - the date the 30 day option expired. Though the legislature was in session, it declined to appropriate the money to pick up the option. The DRT sent a delegation to the legislature - Clara Driscoll headed it - and an amendment was placed on an appropriations bill to provide the $5,000 to pick up the option and reimburse Clara her $500.

Before the appropriations bill could pass the time ran out on the 30 day option. Rather than lose the property to the eastern syndicate, Clara pulled out her trusty checkbook again and put up the remaining $4,500. The property was safe for a year, and the ladies waited for the legislature to act. The bill passed - but Governor S. W T. Lanham vetoed it. Clara was out $5,000 and there was no guarantee the Daughters could raise the $20,000 that would be due in a year, much less the $10,000 a year for the next five years - plus interest - to complete the purchase.

By February 10, 1904, the DRT had managed to raise $5,666.23. The option was expiring and the eastern syndicate was sitting in the wings with the money to buy the property for cash. Out came Clara's checkbook again, and she wrote a check for $14,333.77 to cinch the sale. She also signed, in her own name, five notes for $10,000 each at 6% per annum to complete the payment. She was now obligated for another $50,000 plus interest, in addition to taxes and insurance on the property - all for 'an unsightly old pile of rocks'. The deed of transfer included the words "this property is purchased by Clara Driscoll for the use and benefit of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, to be used by them for the purpose of making a park about the Alamo, and for no other purpose."

sidebare.jpg (23519 bytes)There's something peculiar about Texans - we love a fighter. Our history - and our legends - are full of one man - and one woman - fights for what the fighter thought was right. Clara's fight to preserve the land around the old chapel in San Antonio brought an immediate outpouring from the state. Money rolled in - and so did sympathy. By August of 1904 the Democratic state convention made the purchase of the Alamo property a plank in the party's platform. On January 26, 1905, the 29th legislature appropriated $65,000 to complete the purchase of the Alamo property, and Governor Lanham signed the bill. The bill also provided that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas should be custodians of the property. Clara formally transferred the property to the State of Texas, and Governor Lanham conveyed custody of the property to the DRT. Just in case you consider the funds don't quite add up, the DRT had already raised $10,000, which it kicked in - and yes, Clara got her $19,333.77 back, but without interest.

The initial purchases that would ultimately expand the Alamo property into the park we know in downtown San Antonio today had been made, but at a terrific cost. The DRT as an organization, was very nearly broke, and Clara Driscoll's magic checkbook had taken a terrific beating. The very last thing the DRT needed in connection with the Alamo was an internal squabble - the sort of thing that would cause the doomsayers of Texas, of which the state has never had a dearth, to say things like 'see, those derned ol' women can't even get 'long amongst themselves. How're they gonna run the Alamo?' Unfortunately, that's just what they got.

Probably the single most tireless worker for the preservation of the Alamo's old convent, today known as 'The Long Barracks' - outside of Clara Driscoll and her magic checkbook - was Adina de Zavala of San Antonio. Adina de Zavala was the president of the De Zavala Chapter of the DRT, one of the earliest DRT chapters organized, and it was named for her direct ancestor, Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice president of the Republic of Texas and the man who could, without much exaggeration, be called the father of public education in Texas. She worked at least as hard if not harder than Clara Driscoll, persuading and lobbying, to get the Alamo's grounds and surviving structures preserved, but she simply didn't command the one thing the DRT desperately needed - and Clara had. In spite of all other efforts, if Clara Driscoll hadn't come up with the money at the time it was needed, there would be no Alamo park today.

Adina de Zavala's contribution to the saving of the Alamo should never be belittled, for she did much. Unfortunately, she also assumed much. Somehow she became obsessed with the idea that the Alamo park and its management were the prerogative of the De Zavala Chapter, DRT, and not of the organization as a whole, and in particular that Adina de Zavala possessed - in her own words - the "divine right" to manage the Alamo. The result was a comedy that, like all great comedies, held within it the elements of tragedy.

On October 4, 1905, Governor Lanham, by official letter, formally transferred possession of the Alamo and the grounds to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, "To be maintained by them in good order and repair, without charge to the state, as a sacred memorial to the heroes who immolated themselves upon that hallowed ground; and by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to be maintained or remodeled upon plans adopted by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, approved by the Governor of Texas; provided that no changes or alterations shall be made in the Alamo Church property as it now stands, except such as are necessary for its preservation... " Upon receipt of this letter the President General of the organization, Mrs. Anson Jones, widow of the Republic's last president, and the chairwoman of the DRT's executive committee, appointed Clara Driscoll temporary local custodian of the Alamo church and surrounding property. Adina de Zavala promptly went ballistic.

Immediately she went to the mayor of San Antonio and represented herself as the duly-appointed custodian of the property. The mayor, not knowing she wasn't gave her the keys to the Alamo church - which she promptly locked to keep Clara Driscoll or her associates from entering it. During the fight to preserve the Alamo property a lot of relics had surfaced across Texas - and the US - that were associated with Alamo defenders. Most of these had been sent to the DRT in care of the De Zavala Chapter because, at the time, the De Zavala Chapter was the unofficial but only practical custodian of them. Adina de Zavala proceeded to strip the Alamo chapel of almost all the donated or loaned relics, claiming them to be the property of the De Zavala Chapter and not of the DRT as a whole.

Clara was the appointed custodian, but Adina had the keys - and the relics. The state conveyed the property to t DRT as of October 4, 1905, but it wasn't until the DRT filed a civil action against Adina that she surrendered the keys to Clara on November 13, Now Clara had the chapel, but Hugo & Schmeltzer still had the old Convento. Over the next two years Adina de Zavala made life miserable for everyone concerned with the Alamo project, so thoroughly disrupting the 1907 convention of the organization that it was forced to adjourn sine die without accomplishing anything at all. Clara Driscoll, who was a member of the De Zavala Chapter herself, became so disgusted with the whole mess that she resigned from the organization.

In the meantime factions formed, as they will in any dispute, and charges began to fly. One of the charges leveled by Adina's faction was that the DRT as a whole planned not on tearing down the frame Hugo & Schmeltzer building at all, but on opening it as a saloon and vaudeville house, including - horror above horrors - women dancing in short skirts with their legs bare. This, the rumor-mill insisted, would never happen if the rightful custodians' of the Alamo, Adina de Zavala, and the De Zavala Chapter, were in charge. The thing finally reached such an absurd level that, on April 20, 1907, the attorney general of Texas, R. V. Davidson, was compelled to issue a three-paragraph opinion stating that the duly-elected executive committee of the DRT - not Adina de Zavala's rump-convention executive committee - was the only body authorized by the Legislature to "demand and receive and receipt for rents and profits of the (Alamo) property." The opinion went on the state that the Legislative act "places the care, control and custody of this property in the hands of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, as a State organization, and not in the care, control and custody of any one of the chapters of the organization." Even the attorney general's opinion didn't stop Adina's monomaniac attempts to seize control of the Alamo, and finally, on July 20, the main body of the DRT managed to get an injunction to get her out and get the relics back.

Adina wasn't quite finished. In February of 1908 the Hugo & Schmeltzer building was at last being vacated. Without the knowledge of Hugo & Schmeltzer, Adina de Zavala managed to get into the building. With the help from someone - still unnamed - she changed all the locks and literally barricaded herself in the building. At midnight on February 10/11 the possession passed legally to the DRT, and at that time Miss Emma K. Burleson, the DRT's appointed representative, two other DRT members, Judge J. E. Webb, the DRT's attorney' and the Bexar County Sheriff all went to the old frame structure to take legal possession. The doors were locked and barred from the inside, and a man inside refused to open them.

Apparently Judge Webb had been expecting this, because he came prepared - with an ax. In the presence of the three ladies and the county sheriff he applied it to the door, and the party entered just in time to see the man disappear up the stairs. They chased him and caught him on the second floor. He was asked who was in the building with him, and replied "No one."

Lots of people knew Adina de Zavala had gone in the building but nobody saw her leave, so Sheriff Tobin had a look around. He found her on her hands and knees, hiding under a desk. He took out a copy of the injunction to read aloud in her presence, at which point Miss Burleson's report says "she put her fingers in her ears and refused to listen." Adina refused to leave as well, and the sheriff declared he had to have a court order to eject her forcibly.

As soon as the standoff became public knowledge the newspapers, of course, had a field day. In a masterful demonstration of the accuracy of news reporting, one Texas paper reported that Adina de Zavala had barricaded herself "in the very room where James Bowie died" - which had been torn down and lost nearly fifty years before. Newspaper reports fueled by Adina herself and her associates - told of her "parched lips" and "starving countenance", and alleged that she was only allowed to sip coffee through an aperture in a door, the cup being held outside the door by whatever the early 20th century newspaper epithet for 'member of a goon squad' happened to be.

In fact, the 'goon squad' was made up of two Bexar County deputy sheriffs, W T. Ingle and Nat Harlan. Those two unfortunates were the target for every calumny a headline seeker could pile on them, and all they were trying to do was maintain an official presence in the building and see to it that nobody went nuts and torched the place. They guarded the Hugo & Schmeltzer building - not "the Alamo", as the news reports stated - from midnight Monday, February 10/11, until the final disposition of the situation on Thursday, February 15. In a letter to Miss Burleson, who was somewhat concerned that there might be some truth in the newspaper reports - Bexar County's deputy sheriffs were not known for gentle and understanding natures - they recounted the situation somewhat differently. "(W)e treated her with every possible consideration and respect, and during that time she had plenty to eat, and as far as we know, was as comfortable as she desired to be.

"She did not drink coffee through an aperture in the door, as stated by the papers-, in fact, she stated that she did not drink coffee, and on one occasion refused coffee offered to her. She was not a prisoner in the building, but was at liberty to go at any time she chose. She had the use of a telephone and electric light. "The newspaper reports regarding Miss de Zavala's 'parched lips' and suffering, from our observation, have no foundation in fact. The building is filthy and unfit for occupancy, and was full of rubbish and trash. During the daytime we brought her all the water she wanted, made fires for her, and were in every way respectful. We also answered phone calls for her, and would answer calls at the door and notify her that parties desired to speak to her at the door. Respectfully, W T Ingle/Nat Harlan. "

Adina de Zavala was finally ejected from the old building on February 15, the necessary court order having arrived, but she - and the De Zavala Chapter of the DRT - promptly filed a civil suit to try and recover control of the property. Control of the property was placed directly in the hands of the Governor of Texas, to be held by him until the litigation was settled. On March 10, 1910, all appeals on the part of Adina de Zavala and the De Zavala Chapter having been exhausted, the Alamo property was formally released to the DRT as a whole. The courts decided that Adina de Zavala and the twelve members of the De Zavala Chapter who had pursued the suit no longer had any claim to membership in the DRT, nor could they use the DRT's name or symbols in connection with their activities. This effectively dissolved the De Zavala Chapter. Former members of that chapter who had long before resigned in disgust at Adina de Zavala's actions formed a new chapter in San Antonio for the express purpose, under the auspices of the DRT's state organization, managing the affairs of the Alamo. That chapter, still in existence, is called The Alamo Mission Chapter, DRT.

Well, the Daughters had the Alamo and what we today call the Long Barracks, but they also had an unsightly monstrosity of a frame, building built over and around the Long Barracks, and they were very nearly broke from all the litigation. There wasn't much they could do until they raised some more money. First on the list of improvements, though, was the demolition of the frame structure built on the Long Barracks.

This raised a controversy. The original Convento had been two story, but how much of the original second story remained was questionable. In addition, the Hugo & Schmeltzer structure had been around a while, and there were people who actually believed it was part of the original structure. One of those seems to have been Governor Colquitt, who insisted that he, and he alone, could control what was demolished or built on the Alamo grounds. The Daughters were required to go back to court once more, and finally, in 1912, the Legislature settled the problem with an act that gave the Daughters control of the grounds and structures. Controversy has raged ever since as to whether or not there was enough of the second story of the old Convento to salvage, and both sides insist they arc right to this day. The winners, at least, insisted there wasn't and that what there was-which wasn't salvageable - should be removed so that the view of the chapel from the northwest wouldn't be obstructed.

During 1920, '21 and '22 the old 1849 roof on the chapel began to collapse. Working entirely from donations and organizational fund raising projects, and with a gift from the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which had belatedly come to realize that 'the old pile of rocks' was a great civic asset, the DRT reroofed the Alamo. Not one cent of taxpayer money was involved.

In 1925 the Daughters and the City of San Antonio came to an agreement whereby the property to the immediate north of the chapel-including a large stone building which served as a city fire house-was transferred to the Alamo park. That old San Antonio fire house today is the Alamo Hall-the souvenir shop for the, chapel. That fulfilled a long DRT dream to get all commercial activity out of the Alamo chapel and to make it a true shrine.

During all this time the floor of the Alamo chapel was the original floor - Dirt. Alamo steady influx of tourists, plus dampness, often churned this into mud. In 1935-'36-again working entirely with Daughters of the Republic of Texas raised and privately donated funds-the stone floor still in the chapel was laid. At the same time the State, private donations, and the DRT's fund raising efforts commissioned the art deco cenotaph to commemorate the Alamo dead that stands in Alamo Plaza today. At least four previous efforts to raise funds for an 'Alamo monument' had failed.

For ninety-two years the Alamo and its grounds have been in the charge of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. During that time not one cent of State money has been spent in the reconstruction, renovation, or conservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty. With the exception of the money that went into purchase of the actual ground, not a cent of taxpayer money has been spent. All operating expenses for the Alamo shrine, including the salaries of the management personnel and grounds people, have been paid for through that little donation box inside the chapel, or through the sale of souvenirs of the Alamo.

At the same time, no one-neither Texan nor tourist has ever been charged a single cent to walk through the most sanctified structure in Texas. Nowhere else in the United states-and quite possibly in the world-is that true. Every other park or shrine has an admission fee of some sort, whether state-run, federally or, outside the US, nationally operated, or privately maintained and operated, operates on admission fees. At the Alamo, though, any schoolchild can walk were Jim Bowie and David Crockett walked-and it won't cost a cent.

The Alamo is unique-not just in being the Shrine of Texas Liberty, but in being the only major tourist attraction in the United States and perhaps in the world that has been efficiently managed for nearly a century without becoming-even during the Great Depression of the 1930's-a burden to the taxpayer. In the meantime, what has happened to the rest of the parks and shrines in Texas?

If you've tried to enter most state historical parks, you've found that there's an admission fee of some sort. You've also found that they are pretty much in a state of dilapidation. The San Jacinto monument had to be closed a few years back because its maintenance had been so sorely neglected for so long that the monument itself was unsafe. It cost you, the taxpayers of Texas, a bundle to fix it. The forts of a later era on what was once the Texas Frontier, are for the most part, preserved in a state of 'arrested decay'. That means they were falling apart, so the state went in and put some cement in strategic places so they won't fall apart any worse.

What about in other states? Texas has perhaps the lowest park-use fees in the lower forty-eight. When my wife and I lived in Kentucky, we tried to visit some of the more famous spots there - among them Andy Jackson's home, The Hermitage; Fort Boonesboro State Park, Federal Hill Plantation House, which is the original 'Old Kentucky Home' about which Stephen Foster wrote the song; and the Shaker settlement in Kentucky. Admission fees-in the mid sixties-were $5 per person and up, just to tour the houses.

Have you tried a National Park recently? In 1994, when we visited my wife's relatives in Washington State, it cost us nearly $20 per car to get into Mount Ranier National Park. We understand the fees are substantially higher at other National Parks.

Yet here in Texas, to visit the most famous site in the state-one that's known the world over-it doesn't cost you a cent. Now, why is that?

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas-the 'li'l ol bluehaired ladies'-made that possible. By efficient management and volunteer help, they've made it free, for nearly a century, to visit our greatest shrine. Now some people in Austin want to take the Alamo away from them. We might be moved to ask why. As a fact, the Alamo is the single most widely visited historical site in Texas. If it were run by, say, the Parks and Wildlife Department, with-suppose-a $2 entry fee for adults, 500 for children, it would furnish a sizeable part of the Parks side of Parks and Wildlife's budget every year. That, perhaps, would be beneficial; but it would also mean that the revenue from the Alamo would be going to support other state parks and historical sites, and it's entirely possible that the Alamo and the grounds around it wouldn't be anywhere as well maintained as they are today.

For ninety-two years the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have made the Alamo the best-run, most efficiently managed tourist attraction in Texas and probably in the United States. Instead of thinking about taking it away from them, we might suggest that the state of Texas make the Daughters custodians of all our historic sites. From all indications, they'd do a better job than has been done to date.

I tip my hat-be it Panama or John B-to the ladies of the DRT. Ladies, you have done a magnificent job of preserving and protecting one of the most significant historical sites in the world. You've made it where any schoolchild can enter the Alamo and walk where Travis, Bowie and Crockett fought and died-and it won't cost them the price of an Alamo Plaza raspa to do it. About no other site in Texas-nor in the US and probably not in the world can that be said. You haven't cost the taxpayers of Texas a cent in the process. May your shadows on Alamo Plaza never diminish.

 

C. F. Eckhardt is the consummate Texas story teller and historian. This article originally appeared in Charley Eckhardt's Texas, a newspaper column which runs in the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise. The Texian Heritage Society, Inc. is grateful to Mr. Eckhardt's for his permission to reprint this article. Charley Eckhardt has also written: Texas Tales Your Teacher Never Told You, Published in 1991 and The Lost San Saba Mines, Published 1982. Both will be found in any good collection of Texas history.

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