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The Strange Legal History of the Alamo & The Daughters of the Republic of Texas

In our last entry, we discussed the current legal battle between the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the State of Texas over the materials archived in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library. As mentioned in the previous post, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas served as the custodial stewards of the Alamo complex from 1905 to 2011. The uneasy relationship between the State of Texas and the DRT began long ago, at the dawn of the 20th century.

The San Antonio de Valero mission was founded in 1718 and the construction of its famous chapel (what most people think of as “The Alamo”) was completed in 1744. After its abandonment in 1794, Spanish soldiers occupied the mission during Mexico’s war for independence. The mission was occupied by Mexican soldiers in 1803 until December 1835, when the company surrendered to Texan forces. The siege of the Alamo began on February 23, 1836 and continued until all Texan combatants had been lost, on March 6, 1836. For the next forty years, the mission was property of the Catholic Church (returned through an act in the 1841 Texas Republic legislature) and then the United States (who leased the mission from the church). In 1883, through an appropriations act in the legislature, Texas purchased the mission from the church and placed it in the custody of the city of San Antonio. This purchase, however, only included the chapel, and not the convent portions of the mission. The other parts of the mission were privately owned, and the convent was sold to the grocery firm of Hugo & Schmeltzer in 1886.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas was founded in 1891. In 1902 a powerful member of the group, Adina De Zavala, made a motion to protect the Missions of Texas and to ascertain if the Alamo could be placed in the control of the DRT. De Zavala, as early as 1892, was able to secure a purchase option of the convent portions of the mission. In 1903, there was rumor that the property would be sold to construct a new hotel on the site once the DRT’s option expired. In need of cash to secure their position, De Zavala brought in Clara Driscoll, who paid over $4000 to extend the DRT’s option until February 1904. With the option set to expire, the DRT had raised only $7,000 of the needed $25,000 down payment (purchase price $75,000). Again, Clara Driscoll used her personal fortune to save the day and bought the property in her own name.

By the 29th Legislative Session in 1905, the DRT had enough support to persuade the Legislature to pass an appropriations bill for the purchase and preservation of the Alamo. The act (Act of January 26, 1905, 29th Leg., R.S., ch. 7, 1905  Tex. Gen. Laws 7) provides that the state will pay $65,000 (the DRT had raised $10,000) for the Hugo & Schmeltzer property, bringing both the convent and mission under State ownership. The act further provided that once the land was acquired, “the Governor shall deliver the property. . . . to the custody and care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, to be maintained by them in good order and repair, without charge to the State, as a sacred memorial to the heroes who immolated themselves on that hallowed ground. . . “ While the DRT had achieved their goal, this was only the beginning of the battle among the DRT for control of the Alamo. Clara Driscoll and Adina De Zavala and their respective chapters fought on for control of the property, as described in juicy detail in L. Robert Ables, The Second Battle for the Alamo, 70(3) Southwestern Historical Quarterly 372 (Jan. 1967).

Only a few years later, the Texas Supreme Court laid the groundwork for what would become the key to divesting the Daughters of their custodial role. In 1911, the 32nd Legislature apportioned $5,000 for improvement of Alamo property under Governor Colquitt (Act of August 29, 1911, 32nd Leg., 1st C. S., ch. 3, 1911 Tex. Gen. Laws 7). The DRT opposed the Governor’s proposed changes, leading the Governor to to call for the removal as DRT custodians. The DRT sought an injunction and the case made its way to the Texas Supreme Court.  Conley v. Daughters of the Republic of Texas, 156 S.W. 197 (1913). In Conley the court found that the appropriations act did not divest the DRT of control, but the Governor could authorize improvements.

This narrow victory would come back to haunt the DRT a century later. The Conley decision describes the DRT as trustees of the Alamo. Conley, 156 S.W. at 200. In 2012, the Attorney General’s report calls on this language in its arguments to remove the DRT as custodians, claiming the DRT had not met the high legal standard that is required of a trustee.


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