The new Alamo Collections Center, set to open to the public on Friday, marks the start of a new chapter in the ongoing effort to present the full story of the much-revered Texas icon.

At a media preview Tuesday morning, Senior Curator and Historian Ernesto Rodriguez promised that several objects never before seen by the public would be on display in the new 24,000-square-foot, $15 million space.

With the addition of a recent mission-era collection and 430 objects donated in 2014 by British musician Phil Collins, Rodriguez said the constantly growing and evolving collection currently numbers around 2,500 objects. 

The Collections Center will showcase 500 of those objects in its 10,000 square feet of exhibition space, Rodriguez said, while the new visitor center and museum planned as part of a $388 million overhaul of Alamo Plaza is in the process of being designed and built. 

Once the new museum opens in 2026, the collection will move to the new space and the Collections Center will be dedicated to rotating exhibits focused on specific aspects of Alamo history. 

“While we try to fill a 300-year history, being able to dive deeper will be great for our public,” Rodriguez said.

The authentication debate

Diving deeper also means more work to authenticate artifacts and objects received by the collection, some of which have drawn intense debate over whether they were actually involved in the famous Battle of the Alamo of 1836 or were passed along to unwitting collectors by unscrupulous dealers.

The most notorious examples involve some of the most famous names associated with the battle: William Travis, Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie.

A Crockett rifle is on display at the new Alamo Collections Building.
A Crockett rifle is on display at the new Alamo Collections Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Chris Tomlinson, Jason Stanford and Bryan Burrough, authors of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, have come under fire for calling out as suspect objects in the Collins collection, particularly a knife attributed to Bowie, a shot pouch said to be Crockett’s and a knife attributed to Travis.

The “big three” objects, as Tomlinson calls them, “have absolutely no valid provenance,” he said, using a term that refers to documented possession of an object over time. 

Two of the artifacts dealers who sold the items to Collins sued Tomlinson and his co-authors — as well as the book’s publisher Penguin Random House and Texas Monthly magazine, which published an excerpt — for defamation. However, in November, the lawsuit was dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning that the judge concluded the plaintiffs’ case had no legal merit and couldn’t be refiled.

Tomlinson’s personal estimate is that 70% of the Collins collection is authentic. The issue for the Alamo Trust is whether it should display those objects that have come into question or cannot be authenticated as artifacts directly from the historical Alamo.

In response to several questions regarding the authenticity of objects in the collection, Rodriguez said research is ongoing, and that his department would be adding an additional researcher to help with the process of authentication. Objects that cannot be directly connected to the Alamo will be labeled accordingly, he said.

“There may be an object that is attributed to Bowie that we cannot find a direct connection to [him], so we have to show it as what it is,” said Rodriguez. “That’s one of the things we constantly work at. It’s a never-ending journey.”

Accurate representation

Regarding a question on how such disputed objects would be presented, the Alamo Trust released a statement saying: “At the Alamo, our onsite Curator and Historians follow strict guidelines when labeling artifacts, conducting thorough research on each item’s provenance to ensure accurate representation. Our commitment to historical accuracy means that we only label artifacts based on verifiable evidence.”

Tour groups gather around a large replica of the battleground from the Battle of the Alamo in the new Alamo Collections Building.
A tour group led by Ernesto Rodriguez, senior curator and historian at the Alamo, gathers around a large replica of the battleground from the Battle of the Alamo in the new Alamo Collections Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Tomlinson acknowledged the beauty of some objects in the Collins collection, citing a Mexican Army helmet of the Dolores Regiment. 

“It’s got nothing to do with the Alamo,” Tomlinson said. “They bought it in Mexico. It probably crossed into Texas territory for the first time when Phil bought it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s an excellent example of the kind of helmet the Mexican soldiers wore at the Battle of the Alamo. But it was not worn by a Mexican soldier at the Alamo. There’s a difference.”

Tomlinson said the distinction is important, “because just by putting an item in a museum, you’re elevating it, and you’re saying that it has some kind of special status. And all the explanation in the world is not going to … prevent that from happening.”

But Rodriguez said the purpose of the Collections Center and new museum will be not only to tell the story of the Alamo through the artifacts in its collection but to tell the story of “the collectors’ journey.”

Alamo artifacts are encased in glass where visitors can learn more about each of them and their place in history.
Artifacts are encased in glass in the Alamo Collections Center. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“What we’ve been focusing on for many years now is trying to tell the full story,” he said, including context before and after the 13 days of the 1836 battle, the story of the Indigenous peoples who occupied the site for thousands of years, and all the way through the site’s Civil Rights era and modern history.

“We are expanding what we tell people because we’re getting more space to tell it,” Rodriguez said. “And we’re not shying away from anything.”

The new Alamo Collections Center opens to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Friday, with free admission for members of Friends of the Alamo. Timed entry tickets for non-members are available ranging from $9-$14.

The Alamo is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.