Alamo set will soon be history
If you can imagine Davy Crockett without envisioning John Wayne, you’re a more disciplined historian than I.
If you can’t, it’s understandable. Truth and myth emulsify in Texas, nowhere more so than at our most revered shrine: the Alamo. The stirring battle tale — generally factual, despite being massaged and hucksterized for nearly two centuries — informs a unique mindset that entails a pleasant Texan sense of self-satisfaction, and that tends to get on non-Texan nerves.
No matter. It’s our iconic story, and when it became an iconic movie, Texas was not re-created in Hollywood. Hollywood came to Texas.
Generations of Americans learned their version of Alamo history not by visiting San Antonio, but by seeing the 1960 film — Wayne’s passion project, his directorial debut, and maybe his most memorable role.
And for decades, the southwest Texas film set, built for the movie and used for countless other productions, was a popular tourist attraction — “realer” to some visitors than the actual Alamo, hemmed in over the years by downtown San Antonio development.
It was built to last, and it did — for a while.
But nothing, possibly barring Texas hubris, lasts forever. The old buildings grew rickety and unusable. Recent photos show the reproduction Alamo is cracking across its facade; shrubs are growing through its floor.
Now, the heir to the property — a Tarrant County resident who prefers to be anonymous — is ready to say goodbye. At the end of this month, a massive weekend tag sale will liquidate 50 years’ worth of movie history: wagons, arrowheads, photos, real and replica tools, knives, furniture.
It’s an accumulated collection of enough Wild West props and bibelots big enough to furnish a dozen dude ranches. But is it real Texas history?
Yes, it is. It’s history built on myth, on re-imagining, on remembering things the way we think they were. Like the Alamo itself. Like Texas.
The movie, in its heyday, got mixed reviews: It was long, talky, and riddled with historical inaccuracies. It’s hard to overlook such glaring anachronisms as teen idol Frankie Avalon in a skunk-skin cap and Wayne delivering patriotic monologues that reflect Cold War ideology more than disputes between Texian rebels and the Mexican government.
Moviegoers loved it anyway. And when some of them wanted to see the Alamo “for real,” they visited not the old mission, but the preserved movie set near the southwest Texas town of Brackettville.
A tourist destination for decades, the reinvented
western frontier town was the set for countless other films, commercials and videos. There were staged gunfights, stagecoaches, pony rides. The big draw was always the reconstructed Alamo itself.
“To many, it was more ‘real’ than the actual site,” said Alamo historian and curator Bruce Winders in a retrospective interview with the San Antonio-Express-News.
And it’s in those props, those odds and ends, that we can most readily imagine Texas as the sprawling territory where Mexico collided with the American frontier.
Old-timey whiskey bottles. Cannons. Dusty church pews, an undertaker’s funeral wagon, a blacksmith’s anvil, a peddler’s wagon advertising a tonic to cure all ills “of man and beast.” Alamo Village, corny though it might seem to tech-jaded millennials, was a stage set where Texans could imagine their own stirring legends — from fiery battles to homey hearthside spoons and barrels and buckets.
With the death of the village’s longtime owners and operator, the attraction scaled back its operations. In 2010, it shut down for good, just a couple of months short of the 50th anniversary of the movie’s premiere.
It was mourned as more than a roadside tourist stop: The village long held the unofficial seal of approval from loosely knit groups of hardcore enthusiasts sometimes known as SAG’s: Serious Alamo Guys (celebrity star: Phil Collins).
I was spoon-fed Alamo lore from infancy — a distant uncle perished in the storied battle — but some of these historians know virtually every known detail: the types of weapons used, hourly weather changes during the siege, and General Santa Anna’s per-head provision for women and children who survived the battle (two dollars and blanket apiece).
“Alamo Village was the only place on earth where visitors could get a sense of what it was like to be in the Alamo in 1836,” said Bill Chemerka, the founder of an all-things-Alamo organization called the Alamo Society, and who was dubbed “the Google of Alamo buffs” by Texas Monthly. The remote southwest Texas landscape, he told the ExpressNews, lent a 19th-century authenticity to the site.
It’s a movie-set mishmash of real and faux antiques; of working vehicles and cutout props; of artifacts documenting the film history that shaped the frontier Texas of our imaginations.
“We have a lot of stuff,” said Joanie Sellers-Edwards, who operates a Weather-fordbased estate liquidation firm overseeing the sale. “This has all been in my owner’s family for four generations. All the merchandise was used in various movies.”
It’s not an auction, Sellers-Edwards said, because not all the individual items can be specifically traced as having been used in particular films. It was a working collection of entertainment props and exhibits, used and reused over the years for movies, videos and the themed visitor attraction.
The sale will be held Jan. 27 and 28 (details are available at the Alamo Village Facebook page, where more than 4,000 users have expressed interest).
So: Do all those odds and ends and movie props represent “real” history?
They certainly represent film history. And they represent the Alamo as it still stands, after all these years, in the popular imagination — an American Thermopylae, an ideal of politics as noble and self-sacrificing, rather than greedy and selfdealing.
The reality, of course, often doesn’t match the myth. But it’s the myth that makes us Texans.
Tpn3o 7s2in 327ws3r7vin3tn23known as Alamo Village was used for many films, starting with John Wayne’s Tsp Alemo.