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The story of the Alamo's second siege

 A black and white photo of the Alamo.
Ernst Wilhelm Raba, San Antonio Conservation Society via Portal to Texas History 2010-0053BR
An 1882 photo of the Alamo looking north.

This story was originally published on Jan. 6, 2016.

A militant group is now in day five of its occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. And, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Texas historically has seen its own share of standoffs involving armed militias.

It’s safe to say that every single one of the six flags that have flown over Texas have experienced armed resistance in one way or another over the years. But the state’s most famous siege, the Alamo, spawned yet another siege of its own 70 years later, when a beleaguered Daughter of the Texas Republic barricaded herself in a decrepit, rat-infested building that was once the mission's convent.

For years, Adina De Zavala, granddaughter of Texas’ first vice president, was a booster to preserve the site and was a founding member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).

In 1903, she partnered with fellow DRT member Clara Driscoll to purchase the long barracks from two local grocers – the state had purchased the chapel in 1883. Driscoll personally paid the state $75,000 for the property, and the legislature approved funds for the entire site’s upkeep.

However, they had differing views on the historical significance of the long barracks, the site's former convent, and the vision of the site’s future. Both agreed the mission’s chapel should be preserved and celebrated as a public monument, but Driscoll thought the barracks had no historical significance (namely because it was constructed after the 1836 siege). 

 A map of the Alamo
Credit Star of the Republic Museum via Portal to Texas History
A map of the Alamo with compiled drawings by Capt. B. Green Jameson, Texan Army, January, 1826,Col. Ignacio de Labastida, Mexican Army, March, 1836, Capt. Ruben M. Potter, United States Army, 1841.

Driscoll left the DRT in 1906, and the group became factious, with two of the two group’s chapters either siding with Driscoll’s vision to raze the long barracks and build a park or De Zavala’s to vision to preserve them. The two factions were tied up in litigation, with a district court initially siding with Driscoll’s.

In 1908, a St. Louis-based hotel chain agreed to demolish the two-story structure for the DRT if they could build an Alamo-adjacent hotel. Fearing they would be toppled, De Zavala enlisted three guards to accompany her to the long barracks, convinced caretaker Charles Heuermann to let her into the property and locked herself in before the site could be taken control of by the “syndicate” as she called it.

For three days, she camped out in the building. When the sheriff came to serve De Zavala an injunction barring her from the property, she obstinately refused to accept the order and reportedly plugged her ears when he attempted to read it aloud to her. Paraphrasing Alamo Colonel James Bowie, she reportedly said she “would rather die in these ditches than give it up to the enemy.”

Her occupation earned her national fame – she even had a song written about her – and that awareness led to a stay of demolition for the site. Finally, Texas’ superintendent of public properties, W.C. Day, and her attorneys convinced De Zavala to come out after insisting that the state would remand control of the property, as per orders from Gov. Thomas Mitchell Campbell.

The New York Times reported Zavala couldn’t even stand when she left, having eaten little to no food.

Turns out, the state recognized the research that accompanied De Zavala’s claim of the building’s significance – it was the final rallying point for the beleaguered Texan troops, and some suggest James Bowie made his last stand in the room in which De Zavala slept.

 An stone engraving of the Alamo with a colorful sky in the background.
Credit Star of the Republic Museum via Portal to Texas History
A hand-colored engraving of the Alamo by an unknown artist.

While the stand helped preserve the long barracks, the site’s second story was demolished a few years later in 1913, a year after De Zavala went on to help organize the Texas Historical Landmarks Association, get appointed to the Texas Historical Board and become a charter member of the Texas State Historical Association.

She was right about the historical value.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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