SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS — THE Alamo, one of Texas's most enduring symbols, lies at the heart of a modern dispute over politics and race as sharp as a bowie knife.
Critics charge that the group overseeing management of the historic site - the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) - isn't giving a complete picture of the epic event that transpired there 158 years ago.
They want more emphasis given to such things as the role Hispanic and Native Americans played in the fight for Texas independence. But DRT leaders defend their stewardship and dismiss the critics as mere ``revisionists.''
The result is a tale about the Alamo that now, as then, is as big as Texas.
``What we are talking about is who is going to tell the founding epic of Texas,'' says Gilberto Hinojosa, dean of the humanities department at San Antonio's Incarnate Word College and a leading critic of DRT management.
The most-visited tourist site in Texas, the Alamo attracts more than 3 million people a year. The former Spanish mission, often called the ``cradle of Texas liberty,'' is considered a shrine by Texas historians.
In fact, that's what the DRT calls it: the shrine. And ever since 1905, when the group began managing the adobe and limestone church, the Alamo has been the altar at which Texans and non-Texans alike pay homage to Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and the 185 others who died in 1836 fighting for independence from Mexico.
But Crockett and Bowie weren't the only ones who died in the seminal struggle, and that's what upsets people like Dr. Hinojosa. He thinks the DRT does not offer a complete version of the battle or of the non-Anglo participation in it on the Texan side.
``There were seven or nine Mexican Texans inside the Alamo,'' says Mr. Hinojosa. ``But in the retelling of the battle, they don't get mentioned. Their story wasn't told until the 1930s. In weaving the story of the Alamo together, it's [become] the foundation of a new, exclusively Anglo society.''
`Bring in the state'
For years, the Alamo was quietly run by the DRT. But more recently, the DRT has been under siege by Hinojosa and others who disagree with the group's methods and history. Last month, state Rep. Ron Wilson (D) of Houston filed a bill in the Texas Legislature that could take the Alamo out of the hands of the DRT and transfer it to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Hinojosa, too, wants to take the Alamo away from the DRT and have it run by the state. ``I don't think they [DRT] should only be answerable to themselves,'' says Hinojosa, who wants visitors to learn more about the Alamo's pre-battle history as a Spanish mission and colony.
Native American representatives also want the DRT to acknowledge the presence of Indian graves on the site. Carlos Guerra, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, has penned several articles criticizing the DRT. ``They refuse to accept the fact that there is even a cemetery there,'' Mr. Guerra says. ``It's a slap in the face.''
Located in a city that has more Hispanics than whites, the Alamo is run by the DRT, a predominantly white volunteer group. All the DRT's 6,800 female members can trace their family roots in Texas to at least 1846, the year Texas gave up its nationhood to become the 28th state.
Depicted in numerous movies and books, the battle of the Alamo has achieved mythic status in Texas history and Texas folklore because the men who fought there faced overwhelming odds. Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna commanded about 5,000 troops, yet the Texans held them off for nearly two weeks. Only four people - two women and two children - are believed to have survived the battle.
A month after the battle, ``Remember the Alamo'' became the rallying cry for Gen. Sam Hous-ton's soldiers, who vanquished Santa Anna's forces and gained their independence from Mexico at the battle of San Jacinto.
The new conflict over the Alamo has left DRT president general Gail Loving Barnes nonplussed. She says the DRT restored the old building at no cost to taxpayers and maintains it with private, donated funds.
``We will always have critics,'' she says. And unless the ``revisionists'' can come up with ``proof'' of their allegations, Barnes says DRT will not change anything.