Senior editor Gary Cartwright will always “Remember the Alamo.” After fielding phone calls and e-mails from members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) for this month’s article “Divine Secrets of the Alamo Sisterhood,” he’d probably be scared to forget it. Here Cartwright discusses the raging battle between the whiners and evildoers, the intense passion these women feel for a Texas landmark, and why he’ll be avoiding Odessa in May.
texasmonthly.com: How did you first hear about the Daughters of the Republic of Texas feud?
Gary Cartwright: I first heard of trouble brewing in the DRT in February 2001, when some anonymous reader sent me a package of documents relating to the lawsuit. Not sure what to make of it, I filed it away and waited. Some months later Anne Dingus brought up the DRT as a story idea at our monthly meeting. She had talked to some DRT members about the Galveston convention and the feeling by some that the vote for state officers had been rigged. Skip Hollandsworth also had a source in the DRT. Together, we agreed that I would follow up on all this material and see if I could develop a story, which over time I did.
texasmonthly.com: How interested were the women in sharing their stories with you?
GC: At first I wasn’t sure who would and wouldn’t talk—indeed, I wasn’t even sure what we were talking about. But after a week or so, I got one woman to talk freely, and after that I was flooded with phone calls and e-mails from DRT members wanting to tell their stories. Eventually, I identified the two opposing sides, which are designated in the story as the “evildoers” and the “whiners” (their terms for one another, not mine). After two months I had a mountain of documents, notes, and e-mails. At that point my problem was sorting through and making sense of the charges and countercharges. To these women, this was serious business, and I had to force myself to remember that. At times it got surreal, as when one member complained that celebrants at the Alamo movie premiere at the Alamo Plaza were “drinking margaritas on the graves of our fallen patriots.”
texasmonthly.com: Is there any difference between those who live in San Antonio, near the Alamo, and those who live elsewhere?
GC: One difference is that the members from San Antonio work closely with the Alamo—the Shrine—whereas women who live in outlying areas can’t be there on a daily basis. This gives a big edge to the three DRT chapters in San Antonio.
texasmonthly.com: How does the organization function when it isn’t convention time? Are there local chapter meetings?
CG: Basically, the DRT is made up of a number of local chapters that meet regularly, send representatives to the Board of Management (BOM), and sometimes back members for state office. The BOM meets, I think, four times a year and is the organization’s governing body. But much of the background work is done at the local level. Sometimes members get crosswise with others in their local chapter and go somewhere else and form a new chapter. That’s how Virginia Van Cleave, the president general from 2000-2002, started up the ladder.
texasmonthly.com: How did the nicknames evildoers and whiners arise?
CG: The term “evildoers” (borrowed from George W. Bush) was coined by women at the 2003 state convention who believed that Virginia Van Cleave and her loyalists had rigged the voting. I’m not sure who came up with “whiners.” But after a while, nearly everyone was using it.
texasmonthly.com: Why do you think there is such a connection to this organization? What makes it so special to its members and those affiliated with it?
CG: All the Daughters are deeply patriotic and steeped in Texas history. Each is required to document her ancestry back to the Republic of Texas, and all of them can tell you details about this or that great-great-grandfather who came to Texas from Alabama in a covered wagon or fought at Goliad or was part of the Runaway Scrape. The only thing more satisfying than talking about their own heritage is disproving the heritage of a rival member.
texasmonthly.com: Do you foresee this struggle being passed on to the next generation?
GC: I’m not sure there will be a next generation. The bitterness that has split the current membership is so deep and personal that some members may resign and others will not be inclined to encourage their daughters or granddaughters to seek membership. If the state legislature decides to take back the Alamo and give it to Texas Parks and Wildlife or some other agency, the DRT may wither away. Almost from the start, the Alamo has been its reason to exist. But if enough daughters and granddaughters do decide to carry on, I have no doubt the struggle will continue. It has always been about power, always will be.
texasmonthly.com: Will you travel to Odessa in May to check out the convention? Or are your days with the DRT done?
GC: No, I have no plans to travel to Odessa or write again about the DRT. Once was more than plenty.