By Ramon J. Vasquez
Executive Director, Ameri- can Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions
Last Thursday the TĀP PĪLAM COAHUILTECAN NATION demanded an Archeological Study of the Alamo at the South East Corner of the United States Postal Service Downtown. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, a tribe comprised of both direct lineal descendants and members with historic cultural affiliation ties to the Coahuiltecan Indians who lived at, got baptized in, and were buried at Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, is demanding a comprehensive archeological study at the Ala- mo Plaza site. The tribe is also demanding a seat at the table with project developers of the major renovations, dubbed the Alamo Redevelopment Master Plan Project and scheduled for completion in 2024.
On May 10, 2019 the Texas Historical Commission (THC) voted to designate a large por- tion of the Alamo Complex and Plaza, a “Historic Texas Cemetery.” Yet, less than a month later the Texas General Land Office (GLO) sent a letter to the THC saying they were refusing to acknowledge that cemetery designation.
Why? They had two primary illogical excuses.
One: “No markers or head- stones indicate the existence of a grave or graves.”
We are talking about burial grounds from the 1700s. The GLO, is discounting people because they were Native, materially less off, or because they couldn’t place a granite monument up that would last 300 years. The GLO’s is saying our ancestors are not equally deserving protection under the law.
Two: The definition of a cemetery is a “place that is used” for internment. And, the Alamo is a tourist attraction, and therefore “the land cannot be considered a cemetery.”
Apparently they expect big signs that say “Cemetery” rather than Welcome to the Alamo.
The 27-page GLO letter is filled with the lamest of ex- cuses for not recognizing the already named Texas Historical Cemetery. The real reason? They want their $450 million plan to be fast tracked. “Time is of the essence,” And, “put- ting preservation projects on hold to determine whether the Alamo Complex qualifies as an unverified cemetery could significantly impede the pres- ervation process…”
The GLO has blinders on. Our community leaders and experts are being ignored. Or, worse, buried. We cannot allow the GLO to ignore the history of the Alamo. It is nothing short of ignorance, and/or racism. It is another assault against people of color, who were the original inhabitants of this land. To say there’s no physi- cal evidence is intellectually dishonest. They want to plow under the very people that built the Alamo.
The first inventory of this land in question was in 1745. According to Fray Francisco Xavier Ortiz, by 1745, at least 600 people were buried here. Considering the Alamo was a Catholic church, historians agree that many more were buried in and around the church grounds in the subsequent years. Then, nearly 100 years after the initial inventory, hun- dreds more perished (and were interred) at the Battle of the Alamo and the Siege of Bejar. Thus, we must accept that Alamo Plaza and the church are burial grounds for upwards of 1,000 people. Among them, Antonio Elozua, Lt. Col. Com- mander of the army of Coahuila y Tejas buried November 17, 1833, and Juan Blanco, ances- tor of Victor Blanco, the first Black Mayor of San Antonio and Governor of Coahuila y Tejas, buried April 1, 1721.
Eight different institutions recognize the Alamo as a cemetery. Our city historians and archeologists concur. The burial grounds were on Jose Juan Sanchez Navarro’s map in 1836. The People of the Republic of Texas, and the Daughters of the Republic consistently acknowledged the land as burial grounds. Further- more, all of Alamo Plaza was registered in 2005 by the THC and listed in the Cemeteries of Bexar County https://atlas.thc. state.tx.us. Additional records document unbaptized Indians were buried outside the walls of the Alamo. And, if documenta- tion doesn’t suffice, there have been bodies found on what was the Southern wall.
We cannot roll back time, nor ignore what we KNOW. Most historians would agree that this cemetery should have been protected 60 or 70 years ago. The Tap Pilam Coahuite- can Nation has been fighting to protect these burial grounds for more than 30 years.
Our history is a gift to the city of San Antonio. Yet history is disregarded. Sabotaged. The powers that be are circumvent- ing evidence and state laws.
The Tap Pilam, descendants of the original inhabitants at the Spanish Colonial Missions, respect the Alamo as sacred burial grounds for our ances- tors, and the ancestors of many early San Antonians. Not just land upon which we can build more attractions to visitors that come and go without recogniz- ing our true history.
The Alamo now has a Texas Historical Cemetery designa- tion with boundaries. From Houston Street on the North, to Crockett Street on the South, Alamos Street on the West and the back of the Chapel on the East. The Texas Historical Commission, GLO and the Alamo Trust Inc. would have people believe that it has no protection under the laws. Yet, before it is Historical, it must be a cemetery.
We have the names of those buried here. But their names are unsung. We have to fight to preserve the final resting place of the first families of San Antonio. We cannot bury history. We are fighting for the descendants of the first Span- ish settlers…the first Indian families…and the families of the Defenders of the Alamo… all of whom are buried here.
A final vote on this issue is set for July 19. Not in San Antonio. Nor, South Texas. Rather, Paris, Texas. While we are not opposing the Alamo redevelopment, we cannot bury history. Recognizing and honoring history will only strengthen the experience for visitors to the Alamo.
Lend your voice. Insist that the THC and GLO preserve and honor the thousand souls laid to rest here. Our ancestors count.