The Next Battle of the Alamo! (Excerpt)

Historians in the News
tags: Texas, Alamo, myth, public history

Kaye Tucker thought she had come up with a clever idea. If everything fell into place just right, she could accomplish two things at once: transform the Alamo into a world-class historical site and help an aging British rock star clean out his basement. 

The path to that strange opportunity began about a decade ago, when Tucker was given an important assignment. A mid-level bureaucrat in the General Land Office, she was tasked with helping turn things around at the Alamo, where visitor surveys show that most tourists are disappointed with the outdated exhibits and lowbrow surroundings. In 2011 the Texas Legislature had asked land commissioner Jerry Patterson to shore up the “Shrine to Texas Liberty” after years of neglect by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, giving him $6.5 million for overdue repairs. But Patterson wanted to do more than patch some crumbling walls. He envisioned a first-rate historical museum and an expansion of the site that would approximate the 1836 footprint of the fort—an area that currently houses, among other things, T-shirt vendors and a wax museum, the kinds of fringe businesses found on the Las Vegas Strip or Bourbon Street.

Such grand plans were going to require a lot more than $6.5 million. The bill would almost certainly run into the hundreds of millions. Tucker knew that raising that kind of money from lawmakers and private donors would require a flashy draw.

Soon after she set out on her task, Tucker struck up a friendship with Jim Guimarin, owner of the History Shop, a touristy storefront around the corner from the Alamo. One day, she and Guimarin were talking about how he had spent much of the past half decade helping Phil Collins amass what was reputed to be the world’s most extensive collection of Alamo artifacts. Collins, the front man of the multiplatinum British band Genesis and one of the biggest pop stars of the eighties, had been obsessed with the Alamo since he was a child. But now, Guimarin explained, the wealthy musician was running out of room at his Swiss villa for his sprawling collection. Collins was hoping to find a museum that would display the hundreds of items he’d assembled, including what he claimed may have been Jim Bowie’s knife and Davy Crockett’s shot pouch and what he was convinced was William B. Travis’s knife—objects belonging to the three most famous defenders of the Alamo. 

When Guimarin casually asked Tucker if she’d ever met Collins, Tucker said that she hadn’t but that she very much wanted to. And not just because she was a fan who’d seen him in concert back in the day. “We’d like his stuff,” she recalls telling Guimarin, who didn’t seem to take her seriously. 

Adapted from Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House company. Copyright Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford, 2021.

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