News & Politics

Does the Bullock Texas History Museum Want Texans to Forget the Alamo, Too?

The Bullock Texas History Museum. Image from the museum's website.

The Bullock Texas State History Museum is supposedly one of the guardians of Texas history and culture. Its mission is right there in the name.

The museum is operated by the Texas State Preservation Board and boasts exhibits across the breadth and scale of Texas and its history, from pre-history through the Spanish and French periods, the Texas Revolution, the Civil War, and even the space program. Houston, the state’s largest city, was the first word a human ever spoke on the Moon, after all. “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” astronaut Neil Armstrong said to the NASA folks back on this planet before he slightly flubbed his more famous line as he descended to the dusty surface.

The Bullock also has an IMAX theater and a gift shop. No museum can survive without either anymore, our culture and history no longer being of sufficient interest by themselves.

I like the Bullock quite a bit. It’s beautiful and up to now it’s well run. The Bullock houses and preserves a real French ship that sunk off the Texas coast centuries ago and it boasts a theater with a facade that’s a replica of the Alamo. It’s quite well done, and there are artifacts from the revolution period in display cases outside that theater that people walk past without noticing every day. It has airplanes suspended from the ceiling and well-made exhibits everywhere. Around the corner and up or down a floor from the faux Alamo is another theater that has to be experienced. It uses physical special effects — bursts of wind and the like — to immerse viewers into the action depicted on the huge screen. I once gave an Alamo talk in that theater with a giant backdrop of the Alamo to set the scene. It’s called the Spirit of Texas Theater.

Just what is the “spirit of Texas”? Until recently there was little debate about this beyond academia. The “spirit of Texas” was the spirit of freedom, of self-sacrifice, of fighting against impossible odds, of industry, exploration, building a civilization out of a rocky and difficult land. It was Big Tex at the State Fair in Dallas, it was Tex-Mex food and culture, it was Sam Houston and Topo Chico and firearms and football and all that.

But a few months ago the chief historian at the Texas State Historical Association started trashing Texas history and the Alamo publicly and rather specifically. His name is Dr. Walter Buenger and he has a prestigious university post, but no expertise in the Texas Revolution. He’d say the spirit of Texas is a lie based on white supremacy, basing that mostly on the spirit of the moment, which despises all things American and wants to zero out our history. That’s why his comments and their consequences rate a national story. The erasure of our history reaches well beyond the borders of Texas. Year Zeros have been tried before, with disastrous consequences. See: the French Revolution for one, Mao’s China for another, and the Khmer Rouge for another.

More recently a book carrying Buenger’s and similar ideas from other like-minded academicians has hit the bookstore. The media have promoted it uncritically. It literally calls on Texans and everyone else to forget the Alamo. That book is so unoriginal it borrowed its thesis from ’90s revisionist historians and its title from at least two previous books. And it gets Texas history entirely wrong.

The Bullock is hosting a couple of the authors of that book, which insults Texas history, for a public talk later this week.

The event gives them a platform, a place to stand on the Bullock’s own credibility, to declare that the Texas Revolution was really about slavery, not freedom, and the Alamo’s defenders were criminals and thieves who got what was coming to them.

The authors devote just a scant line or two to the massacre of about 400 Tejanos and Texians at Goliad, which happened a few weeks after the massacre of about 200 Texians and Tejanos at the Alamo. Santa Anna perpetrated those mass murders on Texas soil. The authors care more about his feelings than his crimes.

They don’t like Texas history, so they’re retconning the inconvenient bits out of their storyline to enable the telling of a new, less factual but more fashionable, tale.

They’re free to do that, as long as this remains a free country.

The Bullock Texas History Museum is under no obligation to lend them its credibility in their act of desecration.

The Texas State Preservation Board is governed by Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, state Rep. Will Metcalf, and Alethea Swann Bugg. They’re probably not aware of the museum’s day-to-day events. The public official who ran for office saying he would fight to preserve the Alamo no longer makes any public comments in the Alamo’s defense. So he’ll be no help.

The virtual event itself is free to the public, but you can be sure any questions asked of the authors will be screened. No one will get through with the simple question: If the Texas Revolution was really about slavery, why doesn’t the Texas Declaration of Independence ever mention slavery? And why don’t the dead men of Goliad rate more than one line in a book that’s supposedly about Texas history?