How well do you remember the Alamo?
The church and a rebuilt portion of the long barracks are about all that remain of the compound stormed by the Mexican army 180 years ago. Efforts are now under way by the Texas General Land Office to reclaim and restore much of the original footprint of the old mission-fort and to turn it into a first class destination befitting its new designation as a World Heritage Site.
While I applaud this and support the effort, there are some behind the scenes things going on that most people are unaware of. For decades, visitors have flocked to the site in early March to watch costumed volunteers reenact the battle with flintlocks and cannons blazing away.
For the last few years, rules and regulations imposed on the reenactors have made it increasingly difficult for them to put on their performances. This year, as they saluted the 180th anniversary, they were forced by the San Antonio and the GLO to relocate from Alamo Plaza into the street by the nearby gazebo. According to my sources, that may have been the last battle reenactment at the Texas shrine.
Unless there is a change in the political winds, the traditional reenactments will be relocated. This is a shame. One of the main reasons people come to the Alamo on the anniversary is to see the battle reenactments. People like seeing – and hearing – the booms and bangs of the muskets and cannons being fired.
Not only are the reenactments entertaining, but they give the viewers a real sense of what it must have been like during the battle. Granted there is a huge difference between dozens of actors firing blanks versus hundreds and thousands of men fighting to the death, but it tells the story much more effectively than a classroom lecture or even a guided tour.
In the last year I’ve spent a lot of time with the reenactors and I can’t begin to tell you what a letdown this change in policy is for them. They’re not a bunch of gun-happy, beer-swilling rednecks out to grandstand in front of historic landmarks. These guys and gals take their craft very seriously. They invest a tremendous amount of time and money working on their costumes, weapons and various accessories and dedicate hours to education and training.
Each one is a Texas history buff and has spent many long hours learning their history well enough to teach it. Many are direct descendants from the people who lived and died during the Texas Revolution. They spend a lot of time in formal training learning how to use their weapons during demonstrations. They go through very specific and rigorous inspections and tests to make sure safety comes first. They may be volunteers in terms of pay but they are very professional at what they do.
Government intervention in their processes nearly caused the San Jacinto reenactment to be moved from the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site to George Ranch Historical Park. It took the reenactors to doggedly stick to their guns before the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department would relent and allow them to do their demonstrations the way they have for decades. As it is, the show will go on.
If you have an interest in Texas history or would like to see some of these reenactments, there are some great opportunities coming up.
One of the biggest and best reenactments takes place April 2-3 at Presidio La Bahia in Goliad. Inside the rebuilt walls of the mission that Col. James Fannin dubbed Fort Defiance, visitors can tour the museum, watch battle reenactments, visit reenactment camps, enjoy talks and demonstrations and, during a special event in the evening, participate in the candlelight tour. On Sunday is a very moving reenactment of the Goliad Massacre.
This event is a favorite of many of the reenactors because it not only takes place at the actual spot where events occurred, but it is also roomy and well coordinated, giving them license to put on a first class show.
If you’re looking for something closer to home, the annual reenactment of the Runaway Scrape at George Ranch Historical Park in Richmond takes place April 9. This is a newer event on the reenactment circuit and is growing in size and popularity. Not only can you see a great battle between the fleeing Texans and the advancing Mexican army, it is a good time to visit with these living historians and also to tour the park that traces its roots to the days of the revolution.
April 23 will be the annual San Jacinto Battle Reenactment and Festival at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in La Porte. This is typically a huge celebration of the April 21, 1836, battle and victory over Mexico, drawing thousands of people. Weather permitting, this should be a huge draw this year for the 180th anniversary.
These events provide an excellent opportunity for people to not only learn more about Texas history but also to experience it from a different perspective. It’s a chance to see the actual sites where history was made and to explore the heritage of this great state and her people.
If you haven’t been to the battlegrounds from the Alamo to San Jacinto, this is the time to do it. Don’t just remember the Alamo – relive it and the epic story of the Texas Revolution while you still have the opportunity.