By Erick Kolb, freelance TV and radio producer
UPDATED, 19 June at 14.20 BST.
On a warm spring afternoon last month, supporters and opponents of the proposed construction of a cemetery for the graves of the Texas colonists at the site of the founding of the Republic of Texas gathered in Austin to discuss Texas history and the proposed monument of the legendary Alamo.
Opponents of the cemetery say the plan is insensitive and that it will undermine the natural beauty of the area.
Supporters say their pilgrimage to the site every year has allowed them to see for themselves why the monument is needed to remember the lost lives at the Alamo.
With the current Texas legislature in session, the land where the Texas colonists are buried has recently gained some attention as it enters a sensitive phase before being auctioned off by the federal government to help pay for improvements to the VA Medical Center in Austin.
Governor Greg Abbott pushed for the intent of the land to be auctioned off so the money could be put toward the new VA hospital but was not able to succeed because of a Texas law that says the proceeds from the sale cannot be used for the general fund. The legislation was seen as a way to limit the sale to land that is likely to be regulated by the federal government.
With federal approval for the sale through the first amendment process in place for most federal land, which proponents of the cemetery say puts it in line with most federal land sales, the land is about to be auctioned to the highest bidder.
Some opponents of the cemetery disagree with the description of it as a monument to the lost lives of the Alamo, instead saying it is a glorification of the war fought to stop the Spanish conquest of Texas and demand Texas land.
“I think the whole idea of this memorial is that they are glorifying the battle,” said Joann Steele, a friend of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who has also seen the proposed monument for herself.
“To my mind, it’s not honoring the dead. And the Alamo was actually a major battle during the American Revolution.”
However, many of the residents of San Antonio say this is not the case.
San Antonio native Mary O’Bannon says the monument has restored the tradition of pilgrimages and to her that’s a good thing.
“This isn’t putting a monetary value on anything,” O’Bannon said. “It is strictly a memorial and it honors history. It’s a pilgrimage in my mind.”
Billing themselves as the actual descendants of the so-called “boys who built San Antonio,” the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Alamo Military Association have been building the legacy of the Alamo since 1929.
Since the beginning, they have pushed for a cemetery at the site where the Texas colonists are buried so they can reenact their annual pilgrimage to the site. The cemetery would hold the remains of 957 Texans who were taken prisoner, including Capt. Robert Ford, who is the son of John and Elizabeth Ford, two of the original inhabitants of San Antonio. The Ford family lived on the land before being kicked out by an army of Spanish colonists.
By that point, the original colonists had already lost their lands and property in San Antonio.
Liam Ford, who is the younger brother of Robert Ford, says his family has moved around many times throughout the years because of their war-related relocation. But he remains committed to the Alamo and to the cemetery he says will honor the American freedoms the war fought for.
“We sacrificed for them in the Civil War, and that’s where they decided to bury their war dead. I believe they should be re-buried here.”
Ford says they have stopped short of pushing for the monument in the past because they did not want to have to publicly endorse it, but now that it is a possibility, they have encouraged local interest in the project.
“I support anything which truly portrays the important parts of history of our nation, of the wars for liberty,” he said.
Unlike many of the residents of San Antonio, which is where the Alamo has been located since 1836, Liam Ford sees the proposed memorial as a fitting tribute to those Texans who made the ultimate sacrifice for the state.
“The military cemetery is a wonderful option,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think there is anything wrong with it but right now, I think it is just a matter of time before this goes through.”
Opponents of the cemetery say they have not yet chosen an opponent and hope to convince the federal government to allow them to buy out the developer who is going through the first amendment process.