How did British rock star Phil Collins become captivated by the Alamo? The answer is Davy, Davy Crockett.
As a 5-year-old boy growing up in a London suburb, Collins became enthralled by the Walt Disney series “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” playing on his family’s black-and-white television set. The budding musician put down his drumsticks and picked up his toy soldiers to re-enact the Battle of the Alamo in his garden, and his grandmother even cut up a fur coat to craft a makeshift coonskin cap like that worn by actor Fess Parker on the Disney series.
The former Genesis drummer and lead vocalist first set eyes on the Alamo in 1973 during the rock group’s first tour of the United States. “I was just spellbound when I first saw it in person,” Collins recalled during a visit to the Texas landmark last year.
The Oscar and multiple Grammy Award winner devoured books about the Alamo, and in the mid-1980s on a tour stop in Washington, D.C., he noticed a letter signed by Crockett in a Georgetown antiquities shop. Even on a rock star’s income, Collins thought the autographed document too expensive at the time, but it made him aware of the Alamo relics available for collectors.
When the musician’s wife gave him a receipt for a saddle purchased by John W. Smith, one of the couriers dispatched by Lieutenant Colonel William B. Travis during the siege of the Alamo, as a Christmas gift, it became the seed for what has sprouted into what is likely the world’s largest private collection of Alamo relics. As Collins stepped away from recording music, hunting for Alamo memorabilia became his new gig.
Among the hundreds of artifacts that Collins has purchased are one of Crockett’s four known rifles and his fringed leather shot pouch, a knife that belonged to Jim Bowie, Sam Houston’s snuffbox and a sword once brandished by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Over the years Collins has broadened his collecting to the Texas Revolution in general, purchasing items such as a letter written by Stephen F. Austin in a Mexican prison and artifacts from Goliad, San Jacinto and Gonzalez.
In 2012, Collins wrote a 416-page coffee table book, “The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector’s Journey,” that documented his collection, and the short documentary “Phil Collins and the Wild Frontier” chronicled his book tour through Texas. Then in June 2014—after storing the extensive collection in the basement of his home outside Geneva, Switzerland—Collins announced that he was donating the artifacts to the Alamo, even agreeing to pay for the cost of shipping the items to San Antonio. “There’s no point in my keeping the cream of it for me because I want everyone to see everything,” he said at the press conference announcing the donation.
“I’ve had a love affair with this place since I was about five years old,” Collins said. “Why I didn’t get as fascinated by something in English history, I’ll never know.” Of his nontraditional purchases for a rock star Collins said, “Some people would buy Ferraris, some people would buy houses. I bought old bits of metal and old bits of paper.”
“To me, these items aren’t just about a battle,” Collins said, “they are about the idea of these men and women having a choice and staying to fight for what they believed to be just and right. That’s what makes these things special.”
The treasure trove of relics, estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars according to Texas Monthly, is so large that the Alamo is raising money to construct a $100 million museum that will permanently house and interpret the Phil Collins Alamo Collection. The first items in the collection, some of which hadn’t been back in San Antonio since the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, were delivered in October 2014 and are being temporarily housed in a building across the street from the Texas landmark. “There were brave men on both sides of that wall,” Collins said, “and this collection will help to tell that story.”
In recognition of his gift, the state legislature named Collins an “Honorary Texan” in March 2015. In spite of the donation, the rock star’s collecting days are not over. He plans to continue to purchase relics and eventually send them on to San Antonio. “I can’t resist the idea. I’m kind of a bit of a magnet now for things relating to the Texas Revolution.”