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Alamo gets generous gift

Phil Collins remembers the Alamo. Since he was a boy in England in the 1950s, his fancy struck by the adventures of a Disneyfied Davy Crockett, the incredibly successful singer and songwriter has been interested in the history of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution.

For the past few decades, he has been a serious collector of all things Alamo.

Collins recently announced that he will donate his vast collection of Texas Revolution artifacts to the Alamo. Details about the collection’s arrival in San Antonio and when and how it will be displayed remain to be worked out, but Collins’ commitment to the transfer is solid.

His donation is a generous act, and for his support of Texas history, Collins stands as an honorary Texan.

Only a select few have seen Collins’ collection, but its contents are no mystery. Collins documented the collection in 2012 in a 400-page photo book titled The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector’s Journey.

Collins’ personal museum, kept in the basement of his chalet in Geneva, Switzerland, is considered the world’s largest private collection of Texas Revolution artifacts. It includes items belonging to the battle’s big names — Crockett, Travis, Bowie, Santa Anna — as well as to defenders forgotten to most people, and to anonymous Mexican soldiers.

Highlights include a knife owned by Jim Bowie; the sword belt believed to have been taken off William Travis’ body on March 6, 1836, the day the Alamo fell; a shot pouch thought to have belonged to Crockett as well as a rifle owned by Crockett; battle orders dictated March 5, 1836, by Santa Anna; letters from Travis and others on both sides of the Alamo siege; and Mexican uniforms and muskets.

The monetary value of the collection is anyone’s guess. Not that the monetary value matters. It’s invaluable to Texas. It’s important that it will be housed here.

And while the young Collins may have had his interest in Texas history piqued when he watched a coonskin-capped Fess Parker in Walt Disney’s five-part Davy Crockett miniseries on British television in the 1950s, the mature Collins sees history clearly — sees its complexity and nuance. Sees its humanity.

“There is no doubt that the story we all grew up with has been romanticized and somewhat sanitized,” Collins told the Houston Chronicle in 2012. “I resent the views that clearly show racism and also show blatant heroism. Like all battles, it was terrifying for the soldiers on both sides of the walls.”

Music made Collins wealthy, and his wealth allowed him to pursue his Texas hobbyhorse. The records he made as the drummer and singer of Genesis in the 1970s and ’80s and as a solo artist in the 1980s and beyond have sold almost 300 million copies combined.

Plans in San Antonio, decades past due, are being developed to restore the Alamo site to as near its original footprint as possible. The plans include a new visitor’s center, which is where Collins’ collection is expected to be displayed.

Context has been promised to ground the Alamo myth to its historical reality, and Collins’ collection will play a key role in providing that context.

The collection that Collins largely has kept to himself and only rarely shared now is on its way to being shared with the world. We look forward to its eventual arrival.

— Austin American-Statesman