State Compares Alamo Cenotaph to Confederate Monuments

The ghosts of old battles still haunt the Alamo.

An underdog Indian tribe has joined the progeny of warriors in court to fight George P. Bush for the shrine of Texas liberty. The city’s controversial Alamo redesign plan, a mixed bag of ideas that includes moving the cenotaph off the grounds, has been slowed by an unlikely coalition of Native Americans and preservationists held together by a common ancestry of war. Both groups argue that the mission grounds are a graveyard, protected by state law, with the cenotaph acting as a headstone. United in court, they face Mayor Ron Nirenberg, General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush and the increasingly foreign management of the embattled mission.

For descendants of the Alamo fighters like preservationist Lee Spencer White, the battle is personal.

“The Alamo is a cemetery, and we can prove it,” White told the Tower. “And the cenotaph is a funerary object. Under state law, you cannot move it off the cemetery.”

In addition to being an illegal removal of a funerary object, White claims moving the cenotaph off the grounds would disrespect the defenders. “They want to make money off them by selling coonskin caps in the gift shop, but you don’t want to honor the ground they bled and died for?” White said. “These were living, breathing people. This isn’t just some ancient history that doesn’t matter.”

White doesn’t understand budgetary arguments for moving the cenotaph. Engineer’s reports state that repairing the cenotaph would cost $140,000 to $160,000. “Just as a taxpayer, why would you spend millions to move the cenotaph when you can spend $200,000 to repair it?”

The Alamo Defenders Descendants Association filed a lawsuit late last year against Bush and the land office, asking the state the halt the cenotaph move. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans, a Native American tribe not yet federally recognized, filed an amicus brief with the descendants.

Art Martinez de Vara, who has been representing the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans in court, says that the state has offered mainly procedural arguments for the cenotaph move.

“In other words, they’re saying, ‘Because we can,’” de Vara said.

While Bush and the land office have kept mum in public about why the cenotaph removal would be justified, they have compared the cenotaph to Confederate monuments in court.

“Last month at Travis County District Court in Austin, they argued that the chain of cases surrounding Confederate monuments applies,” de Vara said.

“The General Land Office and the Alamo Trust are aware of the cemetery,” de Vara claims. “The evidence is just overwhelming… Dozens of bodies have been dug up, there was archaeological investigation in the past, there’s 1,300 people in the burial book of the mission… It’s on their public displays that they market. Yet they have refused to acknowledge the existence of the cemetery because it would put a big wrench in their project.”

In addition to recognizing the Alamo as a cemetery alongside the descendants, the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecans have also worshiped at the Alamo–until the arrival of Ohio-based museum consultant Douglass McDonald, paid $2,000 a day to oversee the Alamo.

“The tribe was locked out of ceremonies,” de Vara said. “The Indians have utilized the Alamo for over 300 years as a place of worship… They have themselves interred ancestors, once in the chapel and once in the plaza, and part of their religious beliefs are that once you disturb ancestral remains, there is a forgiveness ceremony that is conducted and there is an annual visit to the graves. They’ve been practicing that for over 25 years, and the Alamo has accommodated them. That stopped this year with the new management of the Alamo.”

The mismanagement of buried bodies at the Alamo has stoked the coals of centuries-old feuds between tribes. The Tonkawa Tribe and Caddo and Seminole Nations of Oklahoma joined the Mescalero Apache and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas in a committee organized by Alamo Trust to oversee the archaeological protocols, though none of the tribes claim ancestry from the Alamo. A tribal monitor from the Mescalero Apache has overseen the exhumations of bodies–even though the Apache may have put some of them in their graves.

“The land office and Alamo Trust have conducted the site as if NAGPRA–which is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act–applies to the site, though they acknowledge that it doesn’t, so they have voluntarily applied a federal law and have weaponized it,” de Vara said. “The reason why they did that is because NAGPRA requires consultation with federally recognized tribes. So they brought in five tribes, four of which have no historical connection with the Alamo, and the one that does was the historic enemy of the Coahuiltecan people and are responsible for approximately 30 of the deaths in the burial.”

White claims that the burials include defenders from the 1836 battle as well as the bodies of Indians who lived in the mission, citing similarities between archaeological finds and the journals of Sgt. Edwart Everett of the First Regiment of Illinois Volunteers during the U.S. War with Mexico. “They found a coffin with just two femur bones inside it, and the Indians did not use coffins,” White said. “This is like finding King Tut’s tomb.”

“I feel frustrated, I feel saddened that I cannot say a prayer over my ancestor,” White said. “I’m for anyone with proof of having an ancestor to be included.”

The removal of the cenotaph has been delayed, halted yet by the groundswell of descendants and worshippers for whom the Alamo is still sacred.

11 thoughts on “State Compares Alamo Cenotaph to Confederate Monuments

  1. dandrle

    Why are they so intent on moving this historical monument to the Defenders of the Alamo who were instrumental in the quest for Texas Independence? One reason given is that it would “look better” somewhere else. In other words, take away the centerpiece of the Alamo battle. The heroism of the Defenders is what people from all over the world come to see. It is what movies have been made about. It is our proud Texas heritage. The “reimagining” of the Alamo wants to change that. They want the brutal dictator, Santa Anna, to be honored equally. This is after the brutality he inflicted on the Defenders that would be considered war crimes today. What is the big deal about letting a few people spend an hour or so a year having a prayer service in the Alamo in remembrance of their ancestors? Why spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to dismantle our Texas history when most Texans are opposed to it? I will tell you why. There is money to be made. Millions of investor dollars, and they are fighting to the death to get their hands on it, just like current day Alamo defenders are fighting to save our history. The Texas Historical Commission’s own statute states that no historical monument should be moved unless it is in imminent danger. The only imminent danger the Cenotaph is in is from George P. Bush and his investor friends. By the way, he doesn’t have to get any bids for construction. Our taxpayer dollars are going to get burned up fast. They have already gotten $100 million from the state, and the roof isn’t even fixed yet. That money came from the Texas Rainy Day fund. I imagine that people still trying to recover from Harvey would have appreciated some of that. Then again, that is up to George P.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Karl Burkhalter

    Removing CSA monuments is an immoral perversion of History by radicals with no constructive ideas. The North invaded for cotton and tariffs not to do Blacks any favors. Jim Crow and Segragation were Northern constructs imposed on the South to facilitate the North’s Textile Industry, which was their #1 revenue source and the reason the North started the War.
    After selling the lie the South fought for Slavery against Unionists who fought for Black Suffrage, it is easy to distort the rest of US History with Orwelian cultural cleansing. All Bushs are Yankee Carpet Baggers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bruce Coons

    The Cenotaph should be moved to where the bodies were burned and the ashes went into the soil. There are no reasonable monuments to mark the location there. There is no more fitting monument needed at the Alamo than the Alamo itself.

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  4. Cathy Mounce

    Bush just sees a way to make money on the monument. He wants to move it inside a building so he can charge admission. It shd be maintained where it is now. It is part of the Alamo burial site. And please don’t put me on your donor list. I pay enough taxes to the a state.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pamela Pierce

      There’s an old saying “thise who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it”. But let’s not even discuss that these men were heroes if Texas, a young territory still being attacked by Mexican leaders (that isn’t meant derogatory, people from Mexico are Mexicans and we were nit yet a State, so technically so was anyone living in that area). Let’s touch on that whole cemetery thought. The whole purpose of the monument IS to mark where these people died. Not where their remains are, because that would be an enormous task at a huge cost. So it was decided and properly so, that one monument would stand for all of them. Each person who died, not just there, but in the entire skirmish of what is now the Battle of the Alamo, are lisyed on every side of the base. It stands as a tribute,and a grave marker, for thise whose bodies were never found, those who were, and those who died trying to bring hwlp for those who stood the ground of that Fort. No, not everyone who died is buried or has ashes there, but just like the Statue of Iwo Jima, it is a place marker, a tribute, to those who gave their lives to make a better place forntheir families to live. To be able to make their own laws away from thise of a dictator. That monument stands fir freedom, just as much as it reminds us that their were people willing to fight and die for what they believed in: the hopes of a young nation to grow.
      To move this away from the place they choose to stand their ground and fight, is sacrilege. Where does one go to fight this travesty.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jessie Smith

    The Alamo was an abandoned adobe mess after the Mexican War until the 20th century, was used as a barn, etc. until then. Once it was made into a monument to the past and became a money maker, then the politicians got all lefty about it and want to PC it up.

    Like

  6. Sam Young

    To compare an Alamo monument to a Confederate monument comes from the minds of deluded people more intent on “feel good” history, not the real history. I am for preserving Confederate monuments in place. The two wars are different, but the belief in self determination is the same. We are allowing our history to be twisted and/or destroyed. It goes back to the saying that if history is ignored then it will be repeated negatively.

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  7. Pingback: State Compares Alamo Cenotaph to Confederate Monuments | Metropolis.Café

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