The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 510
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
tribal pride in the Alamo story as the crucial event in the creation of the
Republic. Like the Exodus story in ancient Israel, the saga of the Alamo
has become part of the national storehouse of patriotic symbols, just as
its heroes and "lessons" have become the measure of each new genera-
tion and each new set of crises.2
This article traces the history of the symbolic interpretation of the
Last Stand at the Alamo from the time the Daughters of the Republic
of Texas (DRT) began reverent guardianship in 190o5. By that date the
Alamo already occupied an important place in the patriotic landscape
of the United States. There are numerous types of sacred patriotic sites
in America: birthplaces and burial sites of various national and re-
gional heroes, and national monuments and buildings, for example.
Battle sites function as ceremonial centers on this landscape, connect-
ing each generation with the actions of cultural heroes whose courage
and willing sacrifice have provided archetypal models of devotion to
the principles of the nation. Visitors to such sites, whether categorized
as tourists or pilgrims (the boundary is not always clear), have exhibited
the universal desire to be near a place of great power.
It is appropriate to use the language of religion to describe the sym-
bolic function or characteristics of these centers: forms of patriotic at-
tachment are surely religious postures, whether they engender deep
and abiding reverence or deep and abiding contempt for a particular
public symbol. Battle sites, like all sacred sites, are subject to veneration
and defilement, and their lessons are subject to revision. They are not
static symbols that convey only one constant meaning-they are very
much alive and changing. Our tour of the symbolic history of the
Alamo in the twentieth century focuses not only on how the symbol
speaks, but also on the struggle over who should speak for it: who
are the legitimate owners of the "true" meaning of the symbol? This
struggle for ownership has been characterized by attitudes of venera-
tion, defilement, and redefinition. Ideal types of each attitude provide
an appropriate beginning for our tour.
While the Alamo lay in ruins in the first decade after the battle, from
1836 until the United States Army occupied the site in 1847, visitors
often responded to the scene with words of awe and veneration, mixed
with regret that the heroes were not memorialized in a more fitting
way. Many still use the language of veneration. Edith Mae Johnson, for
example, is chairwoman of the Alamo Committee of the Daughters of
the Republic of Texas, whose mission has been to maintain the Alamo
2File: "Pilgrimage to the Alamo," Alamo, Historic Sites, San Antonio Chlipping File (The
Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo, cited hereafter as DRT Library).
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/582/: accessed June 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.