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Human Remains Discovered At The Alamo Unearth Local Tribes' Frustrations Over Cemetery

The Alamo is the cradle of Texas liberty, but it’s also the site of a Catholic cemetery. The famous battleground served as a mission to area Catholics for many years before it was secularized and memorialized in Texas history.

American Indians in San Antonio used Indigenous Peoples Day to draw attention to the recent discovery of human remains on the site.

Antonio Diaz gestures to the Alamo across the street, and states his frustration at the excavation that continues at the Alamo.
Credit Norma Martinez | Texas Public Radio
Antonio Diaz gestures to the Alamo across the street, and states his frustration at the excavation that continues at the Alamo.

There are no gravestones that mark the final resting places of the 1,000-plus Canary Islanders, Spanish settlers and indigenous peoples buried on the grounds of the Alamo. Documents, however, prove those remains exist underneath tourists’ feet, nonstop traffic and surrounding buildings and parks.

Current archaeological research tied to a multi-million dollar renovation of the Alamo recently unearthed what the General Land Office described as “human bone fragments.” The announcement was made last Friday, Oct. 11.

Ramón Vasquez is a member of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation, the descendants of the indigenous peoples of South Texas and northern Mexico. He said that announcement came two months too late.

“I did an open records request,” Vasquez said. “These remains were found in August. Two months ago. And they’ve continued to find them since then. You’re in a cemetery. My goodness, why be surprised that you found human remains?”

Those remains had previously been disturbed by utility construction projects some years prior.

Antonio Diaz, a Pamoque Indian, has ancestors buried at the Alamo. He expressed his frustration Monday at a press conference in front of the Alamo.

“When they made this street, they dug them up. When they made this renovation, they dug them up,” he said, angrily gesturing to the street. “They’re doing this renovation, and they’re digging them up again!”

Diaz says his heritage and the larger history of the region are being erased by a project that is focusing solely on the timeline of one famous battle.

“Now they’re just glorifying that battle,” Diaz said. “I’m going to say it: It’s white supremacy. I’m gonna say it. That’s when they took over and they created their own narrative of the time frame and what matters to them, and the hell with everyone else.”

A peek over the fence shows construction workers on Alamo grounds.
Credit Norma Martinez | Texas Public Radio
A peek over the fence shows construction workers on Alamo grounds.

There’s an aggressive timeline to complete renovation work at the Alamo by 2024. An archaeological committee was selected that includes five federally recognized tribes to develop a protocol on how to address human remains. None of the tribes has direct ties to South Texas.

The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation is not a federally recognized tribe and was not invited to sit on the committee.

The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation sued the Texas General Land Office, the nonprofit Alamo Trust, the City of San Antonio and the Texas Historical Commission.

Vasquez said the suit is a David and Goliath scenario. 

“The defendants have 12 lawyers. We have our two from Von Ormy,” he said. “The Texas Historical Commission has already filed a motion to dismiss based on government immunity. We anticipate all the other governmental agencies will do the same. Our lawyers will respond accordingly, and we believe they will prevail.”

The Alamo site was declared a “Historic Texas Cemetery” by the Texas Historical Commission, which is a largely honorary label. The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation wants the Alamo site officially declared a cemetery. The group also accuses the state ofignoring federal laws that would allow lineal descendants a say in ongoing preservation efforts at the Alamo.

Archaeological research continues at the Alamo. A press release issued by the GLO stated the remains were respectfully covered under the supervision of an on-site tribal monitor.

The lawsuit filed by the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan gets its first hearing in court next month.

Norma Martinez can be reached by email at norma@tpr.org, and on Twitter @NormDog1.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1