SAN ANTONIO – There’s a new battle brewing at the Alamo and it involves iconic music superstar Phil Collins and his massive collection of Alamo and Texana artifacts.
Collins is the world’s foremost collector of Alamo artifacts and in 2014, he donated his entire collection, worth millions of dollars, to the Texas General Land Office with the hope of it one day being housed in a multi-million dollar museum on the grounds.
However, there’s been some recent debate about the authenticity of some of Collins’ most-prized items. Chris Tomlinson, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express News, co-authored a book with Jason Stanford and Bryan Burrough titled “Forget The Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth.”
In the book, the authors interviewed Dr. Bruce Winders, the Alamo’s official historian and curator from 1996 to 2019. Winders said he heard rumors questioning the authenticity of some of the items that had been sold to Collins over the years. Tomlinson joined a KSAT Explains Q&A livestream on Tuesday where he discussed more of their findings related to the Collins’ collection. The authors write in the book that while the majority of the items in Collins’ collection appear to be authentic, the flashiest ones have come under scrutiny.
“When we started working on this book, we went to Bruce Winders to get his take on the story. We wanted to tell our reframing of the Alamo story and he told us that there were some problems with the Collins’ collection. A lot of the big-name items like Jim Bowie’s knife, William Barrett Travis’ items, Davy Crockett’s shot pouch, these things were not what Phil Collins and his experts said they were,” Tomlinson said.
“We did a deep dive and tracked down the people who sold these items to Collins. We went through the paperwork at the GLO and discovered there are at least 18 items that cannot be supported, we can’t support the claims for what they are. And when you’re bragging about possessing these items and using this collection as the basis for spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a museum -- well, I think you have to come clean,” Tomlinson added.
WATCH: Co-Author of ‘Forget the Alamo’ discusses what history books get wrong about Texas Independence
Throughout the numerous plans to redesign Alamo Plaza, a proposed museum has always been one of the centerpieces. A museum would cost nearly $300 million to build with the Collins collection as its most prominent exhibit. But according to emails obtained by the authors of “Forget the Alamo,” Collins has grown frustrated with the process and the questions surrounding what items in his collection are real or fake. Below is an excerpt of the book adapted and published in Texas Monthly earlier this month.
“I have to admit I’m getting more than a little discouraged with the speed and urgency that is being displayed regarding my collection and related museum. Please update me with a likely museum date,” Collins wrote to George P. Bush aide Hector Valle on May 25, 2020. “I don’t want my collection sitting in boxes in a basement. This is the situation now it seems. I realize there are more pressing things on P’s list, but on my list, my hard-earned collection is important to me. Please let me know the situation . . . the REAL situation.”
Collins then wrote a follow-up email to Valle on June 15, 2020. The following is also an excerpt from the Texas Monthly article.
“I would like you to consider the real probability of me withdrawing my collection and giving it back to me. I’ll be happy to donate it when the museum is ready, but right now, I’d like to bring it back. I don’t want to bring lawyers in, but I will if need be. Plus I’m getting flack on what’s ‘real’ and what’s not. Please let me know,” Collins wrote.
Parts of Collins’ collection was finally put on display this past March through April at the Alamo. But the temporary exhibit did not include any of the big-name items in question, according to Tomlinson.
“Phil declined to be interviewed,” Tomlinson told KSAT during the livestream. “He said that people like us just tear people down and we don’t want to believe anything. He said ‘of course you can’t prove these items were at the Alamo. No one can.’”
“It’s a lot of disbelief. It’s a lot of anger. We’ve had some threats. We’ve had people get on Amazon who haven’t read our book and give us a one-star rating, been attacked on Twitter,” Tomlinson added. “Jerry Patterson, who we interviewed for the book, is now trying to retract some of the things that he told us. But this is in the interest of the truth. It’s the interest of making sure that no one’s getting the wool pulled over their eyes.”
According to a March press release from the Alamo Trust, the Alamo Exhibition Hall & Collections Building is set to open in the spring of 2022. It will provide exhibit space to display the Phil Collins Collection and serve as an additional gallery space to the future Alamo Museum & Visitor Center, which was also in the developmental stages as of this past March. The Alamo Trust had not responded to a request for a statement or comment on the scrutiny surrounding the items or funding for the museum as of 1 p.m. Wednesday.
KSAT Explains also did a deep dive into the controversy surrounding the Alamo. You can watch the episode called “KSAT Explains: The myths, truth and battle over how the Alamo is remembered” in the video player below.