Davy Crockett’s bullet pouch, Jim Bowie’s sword, Sam Houston’s snuff box and more than 200 other artifacts connected to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo arrived in San Antonio this week. Phil Collins was there to greet them.
The British music legend has maintained a fascination with this bit of Texas history since childhood. Roughly two decades ago, after receiving Alamo courier John W. Smith's saddle receipt as a gift, he began collecting. Much of his private collection, believed to be the world's largest, was documented in his 2012 book, The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey.
In June, the singer, whose hits include “In the Air Tonight” and — appropriately, in this case — “Take Me Home,” announced that he was donating it back to the Alamo. “This is exactly where it should go. This is the stuff going home,” he said last week on the phone from his New York City apartment.
The artifacts were boxed up and removed from the basement of Collins’ home in Switzerland earlier this month, and were en route to Texas as he spoke. Their much-anticipated arrival in San Antonio this week will be marked with a black tie gala on Thursday.
“Intellectually, we have known it’s coming,” said Bruce Winders, historian and curator at the Alamo, “but it’s another thing when you get to open it up.”
Collins admitted that he is keeping some things — in part, for his younger children, who share their father’s enthusiasm for the history. “Just some odd trinkets,” he said. “Nothing the Alamo will miss.”
Otherwise, Collins, who first confronted the disposition of his Alamo artifacts a few years ago when preparing his will, is adamant that the items stay together as a collection. He did not initially expect that the Alamo would be the recipient.
“I never actually thought they would go for it, because of space, money and time," he said. "They always seemed to be needing money.”
For most of its history, the Alamo historical site was maintained by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, but in 2011 the Legislature transferred control to the Texas General Land Office.
When Collins heard that the state was interested in acquiring his collection and displaying it at the Alamo, he said, “You could have knocked me down with a feather.”
The acquisition is part of larger plans in the works, both for facilities and presentation, for the Alamo’s future.
“The story is bigger and better than is traditionally thought to be,” Jerry Patterson, the outgoing land commissioner, said last week. “The premises should be bigger and better than they are today.”
Highlighting lesser-known facets of the Alamo story, like stories of Tejanos who died defending the mission, should be a priority in future exhibits, Patterson said.
“We want to make sure that people know that this battle, and that war, was between tyranny and liberty, not between Mexicans and Texicans,” he said.
The agreement with Collins calls for a new visitor’s center to house the collection. “It’s a long process, but they are starting to give the visitor much more of an experience,” Collins said.
If the new center never materializes — and Collins acknowledged it could be the better part of a decade before the necessary funds are raised and construction is completed — the contract allows him to take the collection back.
He does not anticipate that happening, he said. With no plans to stop collecting, he expects to add to the collection over the years.
It will still be a while before the public gets a chance to view all of goods arriving this week.
“Though we can’t put everything out right now, we know people are going to drive down and want to see it,” Winders said. “We need to be able to not disappoint people.”
The Alamo staff hopes to put up what it can right away, but a full exhibition of Collins’ collection is not expected until next year.
When he took the job at the Alamo, Winders said, he never expected to work so closely with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. Neither did Patterson, a classic country fan who was stumped earlier this year when asked to name a Phil Collins song. (Patterson said he has since delved into the Collins catalogue — and enjoyed it. “It’s great music. I just never knew that was Phil Collins,” he said.)
It is equally unexpected for Collins, who still gets goose bumps when he thinks about holding the same documents and weapons held by the soldiers at the battle 178 years ago.
“Suddenly, I’m in business with the Alamo,” he said. “That is kind of an amazing thing for me.”
--By Reeve Hamilton with The Texas Tribune