More than 150 years ago, legend has it, William B. Travis, commander at the Alamo, drew a line across the grounds of the old Spanish mission. He asked his men to step over it and defend Texas against thousands of Mexican troops.
Today, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, keepers of the Alamo for 84 years, are emulating Travis' legendary gesture as they battle with legislators and Latino leaders who want to wrest control of the historic battle site from the 6,000-member group.
Travis lost the battle with Gen. Santa Ana in March, 1836, but Texas troops rallied to the cry "Remember the Alamo!" as they continued to fight, later winning Texas' independence from Mexico.
Now, critics of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas say the mission would be better run by a state agency accountable to the public, particularly in light of an audit that showed the Daughters' Alamo chapter with a budget surplus of nearly $2 million.
"We aren't hiding anything. Our books are open, and we are complying with the open records and open meetings laws," said Marjorie Hardy, a chapter chairwoman. Tourism officials estimate that chapter members usher close to 10 million visitors a year through the mission in the heart of downtown.
Shifting control to the state, Hardy said, would cost taxpayers because state workers would have to be paid for duties that volunteers now perform. As for the surplus, she said it is being saved to build a larger theater in the complex.
"We are very proud of what we have done with the Alamo, but we are not bragging about ourselves. Maybe we should," she said.
Members of the Daughters are descendants of people who lived in Texas between 1836 and 1845, when it was an independent republic not yet part of the United States. The Daughters received a state charter in 1905 to operate the Alamo.
The complex includes a chapel with artifacts and flags, a souvenir shop and research library, a small building where documentary films are shown and enclosed grounds with several cannons on display. Admission is free and operating expenses are covered by souvenir sales profits. No state money is used.
Recently, the Daughters asked Atty. Gen. Jim Mattox to clarify their legal status, and he said the group must comply with the state open-records law because it manages a state-owned property.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Ron Wilson has introduced legislation to transfer control of the Alamo from the Daughters to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which operates state parks and museums.
"It's a historical structure, probably the most historical structure in the state, and for the state not to have control or management of it is a little absurd," Wilson said. A House committee is to consider the bill later this month.
Meanwhile, Jose Garcia de Lara, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, criticizes the way the Alamo has been run. Garcia, who says he is descended from Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara, author of the Republic of Texas declaration of independence, says the Alamo is a symbol of oppression to Latinos.
He said the League and the Daughters should work together to see that Latino heroes of the Alamo--Mexicans who fought alongside the other defenders--are afforded the same respect as Travis, James Bowie and Davy Crockett.
"The DRT has a perception that they own the Alamo because they have managed it and handled it in a way that has excluded Hispanics from participating in historical activities," de Lara said.
Supporters of the Daughters, including Mayor Henry Cisneros and state Rep. Orlando Garcia of San Antonio, say the group has done an admirable job of restoration and of telling the history of Texas accurately.
"They are blood descendants of the heroes of the Alamo," Cisneros said. "No one else will treat either the building or the history of the period with the care and reverence they bring to the task."