Phil Collins remembers the Alamo

  • Article by: STEVE CAMPBELL , Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • Updated: May 16, 2012 - 3:40 PM

The British singer and drummer's fascination with the historic battle site has turned into a quest for its artifacts.

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McMurry College football coach Hal Mumme gets musician Phil Coillins to sign copies of his book on the Alamo in Buffalo Gap, Texas.

Photo: Ron T. Ennis, Mct - Mct

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Sandwiched between two respected historians on a hard church pew, the compact Englishman looked nervous, stroking his stubbled chin as he eyed 60 or so people crowded into the Buffalo Gap Chapel in Texas waiting for the sound of that voice they couldn't have escaped hearing over the last 40 years.

Never mind that he has performed before crowds a thousand times bigger, sold a gazillion records, won Grammys and an Academy Award. British singer and drummer Phil Collins was fidgeting because he was about to give the world a first glimpse inside his own private Alamo.

It's a rarefied and improbable realm, filled with hundreds of Texas Revolution artifacts and documents painstakingly archived inside a basement room in Collins' home outside Geneva.

Rock stars are known for burning cash on Ferraris, yachts or trophy girlfriends. Collins? He never forgets the Alamo.

"It keeps me off the streets. What am I going to do? I don't want to traipse around the world anymore," he said. "I love it. I sit downstairs in my basement and looking at and sort of drooling over what I've got. It was never my intention to have this huge collection, but one thing led to another and it's my private thing."

Among his treasures are one of Davy Crockett's rifles and his post-death receipt from the Texian Army. They share space with Jim Bowie's knives, verbose William Barret Travis' letters, Santa Anna items and a snuffbox that Sam Houston gave to a romantic interest.

Perhaps more revealing about the depth of Collins' obsession are the hundreds of historical bits -- buttons, dice, letters, weapons and IOUs -- linked to the less-celebrated defenders who died at the Alamo or the hundreds of anonymous Mexican soldiers who died with them on March 6, 1836.

The recent private event at the Buffalo Gap Historic Village's 1903 chapel was the rehearsal for a five-day Texas tour to promote Collins' expansive new book, "The Alamo and Beyond, A Collector's Journey."

The 384-page book, published by the tiny State House Press based in Buffalo Gap, includes illustrations by another Alamo buff, Gary Zaboly, and photographs by Ben Powell of Austin. Essays by Alamo curator Bruce Winders and McMurry University professors Don Frazier and Stephen Hardin lend academic heft and a historical backdrop to Collins' personal stories about the individual artifacts.

"It's not ghost-written -- he wrote every word," said Hardin, author of "Texian Illiad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution."

Collins' relics are believed to make up the world's largest private collection of such artifacts, said Frazier, who also manages State House Press, a nonprofit publisher of Texas history and Civil War books.

"This guy is brilliant. Phil's not just a serious collector; he's a scholar narrowly focused on the four months of the Texas Revolution," Frazier said.

It's no surprise to Winders that an Englishman would be captivated by the Alamo. The fight for freedom speaks to people worldwide, he said.

"The fact that you have a rock star who has a love affair with it says it's everybody's Alamo," Winders said, noting that the San Antonio shrine draws nearly 3 million visitors annually.

Like legions of American kids in the 1950s, Collins was introduced to the Alamo by Walt Disney's "Davy Crockett" TV series, starring Fess Parker. An ocean away, in the London suburb of Chiswick, he eagerly waited for John Wayne's 1960 epic "The Alamo" to arrive in London, and he watched it repeatedly. Of course, he had a coonskin hat.

The Alamo story "changed my life," said Collins, who has retired from the music business because of medical problems associated with years of flailing on the drums.

Thoughtful, polite and studiously serious about his passion, Collins, 61, said his interest in the Alamo has never waned.

"I never lost the passion for it. I just never dreamt of making a collection of it," he said. "I had no inclination that I was going to make a lot of money, which is of course necessary if you want to collect."

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