Texas Ignores Pleas to Protect Alamo’s Indigenous Peoples’ Burial Site

court battle rages on as renovation plans proceed

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

An Alamo site renovation continues despite efforts to preserve the burial grounds. Several pleas to have the site designated as a historically significant cemetery have, so far, fallen on deaf ears. The state of Texas is focusing on the famous 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

The fall of the Alamo
The 13-day siege known as the Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal point during the Texas fight for independence from Mexico. Painting by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk (1852–1917) / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

By the time the Battle of the Alamo was fought in 1836, the walls of the mission complex were already crumbling. Established in 1718, it had been built by Spanish missionaries and American Indians. Missionaries buried converts as well as Mexican and Spanish colonists around and under the mission. Now, their descendants aim to seek protections for those remains, in contradiction to the Texas state government’s plans to build a museum and visitor center on and around the site. The legal battle is still pending, but renovation plans are moving along.

Proponents of the renovation wish to focus on the site for its historical 1836 battle. In his video series The American West: History, Myth, and Legacy, Dr. Patrick N. Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, described the events leading up to the famous confrontation.

Immigration Problems

Mexico’s General Colonization Law of 1824 invited people of any nationality to take Mexican citizenship, convert to Roman Catholicism, and set up in Mexico. Stephen Austin, whose father made an immigration deal with the Mexican government, took up his father’s mantle and became an empresario—someone who brought immigrants in exchange for land grants and six-year exemptions from taxation.

However, the law worked a little too well.

“By the late 1820s, the Mexican government was becoming alarmed at the rate of immigration from America—some of it legal, organized by the empresarios, and some of it illegal, as opportunists in search of land simply crossed the border on their own initiative and set up farms or plantations,” Dr. Allitt said. “In 1826, one empresario, Haden Edwards, tried to create an independent state around his land grant.

“Stephen Austin was horrified, and led his own colony’s militia in support of a Mexican army column to suppress this rebellion.”

In 1830, Mexican President Anastasio Bustamente suspended immigration from America and banished slavery, much to the chagrin of slave owners. Unfortunately, by this time, American settlers in Texas outnumbered their indigenous counterparts 10 to one.

Things Falling Apart

In 1835, Americans in Texas rebelled against the Mexican government and declared Texas an independent republic, electing one Sam Houston as their army commander. In response to this, Bustamente’s successor, Santa Anna, sent 6,000 men marching north to confront the settlers in 1836. This time, he couldn’t count on Austin to resolve things amicably; Austin had traveled to meet him in 1833 in a diplomatic fashion and Santa Anna had him imprisoned for two years.

“At San Antonio, Santa Anna fought the Battle of the Alamo,” Dr. Allitt said. “A few months earlier, the Texas rebels had ejected a Mexican garrison there, and this was an insult he meant to redress. The old, half-ruined mission church of San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was the American strongpoint, but it was not easy to defend.”

Its size and crumbling walls would’ve required a defensive force of 1,000 men, but it had just 150. Houston ordered rebel leaders William Travis and Jim Bowie to retreat, seeing that the Alamo was indefensible, but they refused. After a 13-day siege, Santa Anna overwhelmed the defenders and killed their survivors, possibly including legendary figure Davy Crockett.

“The event became one of the defining events in the history of Texas, so much so that the Alamo […] is the leading tourist site in the entire state,” Dr. Allitt said. “For a month, Houston continued to retreat and Santa Anna to advance. Finally, on April 21, 1836, he turned and fought at San Jacinto, despite being outnumbered. His 800 men, shouting ‘Remember the Alamo!’ surprised the Mexican force of about 1,500 men by advancing in the mid-afternoon.”

This time, the American settlers were victorious.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily