Dozens of artifacts and documents donated by music star Phil Collins are the main attractions among the 500 historic items on display at the Alamo’s new Ralston Family Collections Center.
Collins’ influence is visible throughout the building. An exhibition panel in the hall, “From Rock Star to Collector”, highlights the British musician’s passion for collecting memorabilia related to the Texas Revolution of 1835-1836.
“In 2014, Phil Collins generously donated his collection to the people of Texas in the hope that the artifacts will inspire curiosity and offer new ways to learn about the history of the Alamo,” the panel states.
Nearly nine years later, the March 3 public opening of the collections center, featuring 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, allowed Alamo, for the first time, to display dozens of items from the Phil Collins Texana Collection.
Here are five items on display that Collins wrote about in detail in his 2012 book, “The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector’s Journey.”
Mexican cavalry officer helmet
Made of leather, brass and horsehair, this headdress is a “pristine example” of a cavalry officer’s helmet from the 1830s. In his book, Collin suggests that it was worn by an officer of the Mexican Army’s Dolores Battalion, stationed southeast of the Alamo to stalk and kill defenders fleeing the fort during battle.
The brass details of the helmet depict a Mexican eagle with a snake in its mouth. But Collins notes its resemblance to French military clothing.
“Even the uniforms worn by Mexican troops were modeled on those worn by Napoleon’s huge army,” he wrote. “Antonio López de Santa Anna, a great admirer of the French emperor, considered himself the ‘Napoleon of the West’. “
Henry Schively Bowie knife
Collins traces a long and interesting history of this knife and says it is believed to have been at the Alamo in 1836, although “we’ll never know” how it got there. It was made by Schively, a renowned cutler who lived from 1784 to 1863.
The knife is said to have been given to the Mexican brig. General Antonio Gaona at the Alamo by his infantry troops, then given by Gaona to US Marine Lieutenant Elisha Kent Kane more than a decade later during the Mexican-American War.
Kane, who went on two Arctic expeditions in search of British explorer Sir John Franklin, had the knife fitted with a reindeer antler which he found in the grave of Franklin and his crew. A silver plaque on one side of the handle read: “Reindeer Antlers from ‘The Graves’. “
Mexican 7 inch howitzer shell
Collins called the intact 26-pounder shell “one of the rarest items of battlefield weapons” in his collection. It was recovered from the “Sea of Mud” archaeological site in Wharton County in 2000, believed to have been discarded by Mexican General Vicente Filisola’s troops.
Only seven intact howitzer shells of its kind have been unearthed: one from the Alamo and six from the Sea of Mud site, Collins wrote. The shell has markings, perhaps a custom touch added by Mexican soldados or relating to its origin – “in this case, England”.
“When the bullet was found, it still had the fuse attached and its gunpowder inside,” added Collins.
Original Alamo Muster Roll
A January 1836 muster list listed 114 men in the Alamo garrison, including at least 60 who remained at the fort during the siege and died in the morning battle on March 6, according to Collins.
“It is a fantastic document to own and tells much of the constant ebb and flow of volunteers in and out of the garrison just weeks before the closing hours of March 6, 1836,” he wrote.
Collins theorized that the document was likely seized after the 1836 battle, then recovered six weeks later in San Jacinto before ending up in the possession of Thomas William Ward, who became a General Land Office commissioner and avid collector.
Receipt for 30 head of beef
Collins called Alamo Commander William Barret Travis’ receipt “one of the jewels in my collection.”
Travis wrote the bill in Spanish on February 23, 1836, at the start of the 13-day Siege of the Alamo, to Ignacio Pérez for beef to feed the men, women and children within the complex. He promised Pérez payment of 413 pesos from the provisional government of Texas by September 1836.
The purchase of the “thirty heffers” was referenced the next day in a postscript in the famous “victory or death” letter Travis sent in a request for reinforcements, noting “20 or 30 Beeves chiefs” in the fort.
The receipt also involved two prominent Tejano families in San Antonio: the Pérez rancher clan and the politically linked Ruiz family. Francisco Antonio Ruiz, mayor of San Antonio, paid Pérez the money owed on September 8, 1836.
“Although a very small piece of parchment and knowing the circumstances under which it was written, this receipt is a truly remarkable piece of Texas history,” Collins wrote.