Never Surrender or Retreat
When the General Land Office wrested control of the Alamo from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in mid-March, it really was a BFD. After all, the DRT had been custodians of the state’s most famous sanctuary for the past 110 years. Yet despite the historic (and controversial) changing of the guard, all those involved were rather cordial during the handover. As the Texas Tribune noted recently, “Bexar County officials were quick to praise the DRT for all the time it volunteered over the years.” And in a joint statement, the GLO’s new commissioner, George P. Bush, said this about the Daughters:
Without the early intervention of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, we would not be able to celebrate the Shrine of Texas Liberty today. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas will always have a special place of honor at the Alamo and have graciously worked with the GLO and the State of Texas in honoring and preserving the Alamo.
The DRT responded in kind with its own rhetorical curtsy:
While we regret our changing role in its daily management, it does not diminish our unending passion for the preservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty, and we look forward to maintaining our library collection as a historical resource for all Texans to enjoy.
Behind these niceties, however, was plenty of bitterness. In fact, in retrospect, the DRT’s comment looks an awful lot like a veiled threat since less than a fortnight later the group announced that it was suing the GLO and Bush, claiming that the DRT “owns some 30,000 books, papers and artifacts at the Alamo that the state is unlawfully trying to take,” according to a San Antonio Express-News story from last week.
Honestly, we all should have seen this coming—the takeover of the Alamo, the DRT’s response, everything. Because while the Battle at the Alamo is seared into our collective history, it’s the DRT’s reign that—by dint of both years and struggles—has made up the larger history and story of the Alamo. In this particular case, it’s a well-documented history (much better than the Alamo battle itself) of bickering and in-fighting, all for the control of our secular shrine. “We’ve all been watching this story unfold since 2011,” former state representative Mike Villarreal said last month. He was off by about a hundred years.
Below, a comprehensive history of the DRT’s involvement with the Alamo:
1895: The group formerly known as the Daughters of the Lone Star Republic renames themselves the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and files a charter with the Department of State on March 9.
1903: DRT member Adina de Zavala decides the Alamo needs to be preserved and arranges to try and buy the old Long Barracks from a “wholesale grocery firm.” (The state had already bought the church itself from the Catholic Church in 1883). Lacking the necessary funds, de Zavala convinces Clara Driscoll—a DRT member, philanthropist, and owner of Corpus Christi’s Driscoll hotel—to unload her family’s purse to purchase the shrine for a sum that totaled about $1.2 million in today’s dollars.
1905: On January 26 Govenor S. W. T. Lanham signs into law the act known as “Alamo—Providing for the Purchase Care and Preservation Of.” Hanging prepositions aside, the state buys, from the groccery firm owners, the property, “formerly a part of the old Alamo Mission and adjoining the Alamo Church property … and known as the Alamo.” They also reimburse Driscoll for her purchase and “deliver the property thus acquired, together with the Alamo Chruch property already owned by the State, to the custody and care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.” At the cost of nothing to the state, the Alamo property was to be “maintained by them in good order and repair.”
1908: Despite their victory, the honeymoon between de Zavala and Driscoll doesn’t last long. There is a disagreement, and “then began the most bizarre battle of the Alamo” (at least until that time). Per J. R. Edmonston in his book, The Alamo Story: From Early History to Current Conflicts:
Although her money had saved the long barracks building, Miss Driscoll advocated the removal of its second story so as not to obscure the view of the church, which the DRT had established as the Alamo shrine. … Miss Zavala argued the historical significance of the old convent. More Texans had died within its walls than in the church.
It’s pretty much downhill from here. As Gary Cartwright wrote for Texas Monthly in 2004, the fighting “got so vicious that Driscoll and her supporters ‘seceded’ from the de Zavala DRT chapter and founded a second San Antonio group, the Alamo Mission chapter.” When Driscoll attempted to literally change the locks on the door, “de Zavala put the poor locksmith ‘ignominiously to flight’” then “barricaded herself in the convent for three days and three nights,” according to an account by Jan Jarboe Russell in Texas Monthly. (Edmonston preferred the phrase “a three-day siege.”)
As is often the case in battles, victory goes to the better-funded army. Driscoll’s group gets control of the Alamo, de Zavala is either “legally barred from any further association with the Alamo” or “excommunicated”—depending on how you want to phrase it. After that “bizarre battle of the Alamo,” things are relatively conflict-free for about 85 years, though there were a few hiccups along the way.
1911: The Alamo has been in need of repair basically since the day Davy Crockett took a last stand there. Unfortunately, the DRT isn’t keen on outsiders stepping in to intervene. Even if that outsider is the State of Texas. In 1911 the group bars state-paid repairmen—$5,000 in funds, appropriated by the Lege—from entering the premises. Why the DRT refused a little maintenance help is unclear but they got what amounts to a restraining order against A. B. Conley, superintendent of public buildings and grounds, and his crew. This leads Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt to “call for the removal as DRT custodians,” according to a history culled from The Second Battle for the Alamo by L. Roberts Ables.
1913: The fight over control turns into Conley v. Daughters of the Republic of Texas, which makes it to the Texas Supreme Court. At issue was the “legal implications of the 1905 Act and the nature of the DRT’s legal relationship with the State.” When the state sent the repairmen to spruce up the Alamo, it was unclear who had the authority to allow them onto the entire grounds—the caretakers who’d been given control of the Alamo by an official state act, or the owner (that is, the state) of the property. As part of a 2012 report (more on that in 99 years) concerning the Alamo, the Texas attorney general’s office wrote in its summation of the 1913 court case that due to the 1905 Act in which the DRT agreed to be “trustees” of the Alamo, of course the owner of the property had the final say regarding repairs. The DRT did have one small victory as “the court found that the appropriations act did not divest the DRT of control.”
1989: Despite the occasional state-supported financial help for repairs, the DRT maintains a no, we got this attitude. Except they don’t. An example of this is the fact that the group had resisted adding bathrooms to the tourist destination, and even after they finally agreed to add some in 1979, the project wasn’t completed for another three years. Not that they don’t have money for improvements. Despite selling only tiny little trinkets, a 1989 “audit … showed the Daughters’ Alamo chapter with a budget surplus of nearly $2 million,” according to an Associated Press article cleverly titled “Daughters Draw Line Over Alamo Control.” The DRT claims it’s not “hiding” anything, but this is enough fodder for state representative Ron Wilson to begin a decade-long campaign against the group. In 1989, he “introduce[s] legislation to transfer control of the Alamo from the Daughters to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which operates state parks and museums.”
1993: Wilson again files legislation to transfer control of the Alamo to a state agency. It is referred to Agriculture and Wildlife Management, which is Lege code for “left to rot in committee Purgatory.”
1994: Cox News Service reports that the DRT “has come under attack for its management practices, such as banning photographs and audio and video recordings inside the Alamo chapel,” and “a growing number of historians and preservationists privately are pushing for a professionally trained staff to decide the Alamo’s future.” In addition, minority groups start ganging up against the DRT. Native Americans, Hispanics, and African Americans with ties to the sacred grounds publicly admonish the DRT as racists, with some, according to Randy Roberts and James S. Olsen, authors of A Line in the Sand: The Alamo in Blood and Memory, “condemning the Alamo as a symbol of white racism and the DRT as an agent of Anglo oppression.” The DRT responded by noting that some of their
friends members were Hispanic. Six percent, to be exact.
1995: Wilson’s new bill gets “referred to State Recreational Resources.”
1997: Ron Wilson’s latest bill is again referred to the State Recreational Resources. It then gets scheduled for a public hearing; then it is considered in a public hearing; then testimony is taken in committee; and then it is … “left pending in committee.”
1999: Ibid., 1995.
2001: Ibid., 1997.
2002: Bitterness sets in among the DRT after Alamo Committee chairwoman Kathleen Carter seeks to charge $5 for a New Year’s Eve celebration at the Alamo. “They were hoping to raise money for the Alamo Fund, which had decreased $770,000 during the two-year reign of [President General Virginia] Van Cleave,” according to Cartwright’s account. Even though public advertisements had already been distributed, the event was canceled after another Daughter protested what she perceived as the crass commercialization of the Alamo, arguing that “a crowd of drunks was a recipe for disaster.”
A security guard files a lawsuit against the DRT after being fired “for speaking out.”
2004: Carter is relieved of her position, and she writes a scathing letter, saying, “If we reach our one hundred years as custodians of the Alamo, it will be in spite of you, not because of you.”
2006–2008: Despite that budget surplus a decade prior, the DRT has difficulty funding renovations. So they launch a campaign to raise $60 million and name Erin Bowman committee chairwoman. It is once again a clash of personalities. History repeats itself in the most comical way possible. From Russell’s Texas Monthly piece:
Traditionally most of the DRT’s money has been raised through the sale of tourist trinkets in the Alamo gift shop and through the sale of “Native Texan” license plates. Bowman had other ideas. She chose to meet with potential donors on her own but refused to share her list of contacts with the group.
Madge Roberts, the DRT’s president general at the time, and the other 23 members of the governing committee were infuriated. A wise move might have been to retreat and let Bowman, who had quickly raised $1 million, continue to collect the cash. … In May 2008 Bowman was fired. Undeterred, she and Dianne MacDiarmid, another well-connected Daughter, started the Alamo Endowment to raise money for preservation. Seven months later, the two women were summoned to a hearing at the exclusive Barton Creek Resort and Spa, in Austin. Both were expelled.
2009: Remember those accusations that the DRT is really bad at management? And how it hasn’t been great at raising funds despite the sale of specialty license plates? Well, there might be a reason for that, according to a San Antonio Express-News report: “Of more than $213,000 in license money spent, only $37,000 [about 17 percent] went to the Alamo and almost none went to preservation.” The rest of the money apparently went to the DRT’s other holdings, like the French Legation in Austin and the Republic of Texas Museum. As Russell noted in 2010, the Express-News had already “published editorials calling for the removal of the DRT.” In addition, a “renegade” member, Sarah Reveley, filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, calling for the official removing of the DRT as custodians, citing, among other things, a “lack of follow-through on preservation efforts” in her two-page complaint. “She received an official notice in late August that she too faces expulsion.”
2010: This is a very rough year for the DRT. Thanks to the complaint, the attorney general’s office begins its investigation into the group. In June, the story goes national, getting picked up by the New York Times, which notes that the AG is looking into DRT’s “finances and business practices, seizing thousands of documents. … As the inquiry has gone on, donations have plummeted and speculation has grown that the state may take control of the site in downtown San Antonio. Editorials in The San Antonio Express-News and on local television have supported that idea.”
In addition, the group comes under scrutiny from the Governor’s office, thanks to Reveley’s complaint, for trying to trademark the phrase “The Alamo.” The DRT had even received preliminary approval. After the state found out, there were “informal negotiations with the DRT,” which were “unsuccessful.” As a result, “the State was compelled to retain outside legal counsel to represent the State before the USPTO and formally contest the DRT’s trademark application.” According to an October Express-News story, Reveley’s membership was “permanently terminated.”
2011: A plan to have a commemoration of the Battle of the Alamo’s 175th anniversary—complete with a fundraising concert featuring Alamo-phile Phil Collins—is scrapped even after it has been publicly announced. “Instead, the group marked the anniversary Saturday with historic re-enactments and a concert by country singer Barry Michael,” wrote the Dallas Morning News.
By April, three bills have been filed during the legislative session to remove the DRT as the Alamo’s guardians, a severe reaction to the long-noted issues with the maintenance of the Alamo, which suffered crumbling limestone and gravitational attacks on the roof and ceiling. Representative Ryan Guillen, the author of the legislation, said, “Texas has been blessed to have the Daughters as the stewards of the site for so long,” according to the Texas Tribune, and “these bills merely seek to clarify the relationship between the state and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.”
Facing what is clearly a lost cause, the DRT begins doing something unthinkable: suggesting surrender. DRT president general Karen Thompson writes in a letter that “some members are tired of operating the Alamo entirely, (and) want to give it up and concentrate on DRT,” reported the Express-News. They even begin negotiating with Jerry Patterson, the land commissioner at the time, “to discuss what role the women’s group would play in the future of the San Antonio historical site.” The DRT has until January 1, 2012, to make a deal that would give them some control.
As the Express-News documented, during this same period:
Three members who criticized the DRT’s Alamo stewardship have been expelled in the past 18 months. A West Texas chapter has accused Atkins and the DRT board of breaking bylaws by hastily signing an Alamo promotions pact with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Although the DRT board voted Feb. 4 to cancel the contract, some members fear the company could demand payment from the Daughters or the state. The DRT also was criticized for seeking a federal trademark on the phrase “The Alamo.” Perry’s office has filed formal opposition, and Texas Monthly magazine recently gave the DRT a “Bum Steer” award for seeking the trademark.
The law giving the GLO full control of the Alamo goes into effect on September 1. As part of the law, the GLO and the DRT have until January 1 to reach an agreement regarding the DRT’s role in custodianship. If no deal is made, “all powers and duties held by the DRT will be transferred to the GLO,” reports the Texas Tribune.
2012: The DRT and GLO apparently strike a deal (there are no reports of a power transfer, nor did the DRT successfully trademark “The Alamo”). Not that there aren’t problems. In late January, the DRT terminates their PR man Tony Caridi, “the face of the Alamo for two years,” according to the Express-News. He is fired with the GLO’s consent for “inappropriate use of computers.” Through his lawyer, Caridi says he was “wrongfully terminated because he knew of discriminatory practices and misuse of money by DRT members and Alamo staff.” The GLO and the DRT strongly disagree with that assessment. Then the attorney general’s office concludes its investigation into the DRT. The report is not pretty:
DRT failed to fulfill its fiduciary duty to the State of Texas as trustee of the historic Alamo. Specifically, the DRT did not properly preserve and maintain the Alamo, misused state funds for the organization’s own benefit, failed to recognize or address conflicts of interest, and allowed its own organizational prerogatives to interfere with its duty to act in the best interests of the State of Texas and the Alamo.
The report makes a point of praising the DRT’s volunteerism and commitment, but it squarely assigns blame: “The misconduct detailed in this report is largely attributable to the DRT’s leadership.”
Two months later, the state tells a local chapter of the DRT to “remove its furniture and other privately owned items from the Alamo grounds,” according to the Express-News. Weirdly, the DRT remained in charge of operations.*
2013: In January, there is what might later be considered an ominous sign when the Alamo closes “for an inventory to determine which items belong to the DRT, and which are the state’s.” There are also some strange bubbling concerns that the U.N. will take over the historic site as part of a New World Order plot.
2014: The Alamo remains in the news, albeit with little mention of the DRT. A young man is made a felon and put in actual prison for relieving himself on the “sacred” grounds, and the Alamo-loving British smooth-rock musician Phil Collins announces he is giving the GLO his massive collection of Alamo and Texas artifacts.
Which brings us to present day. Just short of a week after the Alamo celebrated its 179th anniversary, the GLO cut all ties with the DRT, whose custodianship officially ends on July 10. The DRT filed a lawsuit a week and a half later, claiming that “it owns more than 77 percent of the collection, which consists of about 38,000 books, maps, flags and other items related to the history of San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas and the Alamo” and that “this attempt by the defendants to illegally claim ownership of the DRT’s Library Collection is an unconstitutional taking by the State of private property.” Invoking the words of a different famous Texas battle, come and take it, indeed.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the DRT was evicted from the Alamo grounds. Rather, it was a local chapter that was told to remove furniture and other possessions from the premises. We regret the error.