The Alamo crowded with summer tourism on June 13, 2019
A federal judge dismissed a San Antonio group's lawsuit over human remains at the Alamo but will allow the group to amend its filing and narrow its scope. Credit: Stephanie Marquez / Rivard Report

A federal judge on Monday granted several motions to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Native American group against individuals and agencies in charge of the redevelopment of the Alamo and its surroundings.

The Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation has 30 days to refile its suit and amend its complaint using different legal reasoning, according to the order written by Chief U.S District Judge Orlando Garcia.

“The Plaintiff’s amended pleading should allege facts related to standing, sovereign immunity, and the elements of each legal claim,” Garcia wrote in his order.

Tap Pilam filed suit in September against the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office (GLO), the Texas Historical Commission, Alamo Trust, its CEO Douglass McDonald, and Land Commissioner George P. Bush for violating its civil rights by excluding its members from formally participating in the archeological work taking place at the site, among other allegations.

Garcia found that the group does not have the legal standing to sue the Texas Historical Commission or the City of San Antonio and must correct other issues of jurisdiction and immunity in its lawsuit.

Tap Pilam representatives could not be reached for comment Monday. Also listed as plaintiffs are the San Antonio Missions Cemetery Association and Raymond Hernandez, a Tap Pilam tribal council member. McDonald declined to comment.

Before the Alamo served as a military fort, it was a Spanish colonial mission. Tap Pilam leaders say they represent direct descendants of the indigenous people who lived, died, and were buried there. But Tap Pilam is not recognized by the federal government as a Native American tribe, a sticking point in the Alamo dispute.

“The ruling noted that the plaintiffs cannot trace their injuries to the City,” said Deputy City Attorney Ed Guzman. “As we have said in the past, we look forward to working with Tap Pilam to participate in the archeological process of the plaza area south of the church, which remains within the City’s purview, when all suits regarding the Alamo have been addressed.”

Archaeological work began this summer at the Alamo’s Long Barrack and chapel as part of the redevelopment of the area, and multiple human bones and bone fragments were found in August and September.

The remains of three bodies – believed to be a young adult, infant, and adult – were discovered in the Monks Burial Room and the main chamber of the church earlier this month. Last week, archeologists found a small cannonball believed to be from the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

The Alamo Master Plan, estimated to cost between $350 million to $450 million, calls for better protection and preservation of the Alamo and Long Barrack. Under the plan, the Cenotaph will be repaired and moved about 500 feet south of its current location,  a “world-class” museum will be built adjacent to the Alamo, and new entry points created for the plaza.

“I think this shows that everything we’re doing with the Alamo project, especially how we’re handling burial issues, is within the law and being followed in a manner that is respectful and appropriate,” Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) said.

A separate state lawsuit filed by the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association against the GLO, Alamo Trust, and Texas Historical Commission and their leadership is still pending. That lawsuit alleges that the redevelopment plan violates the Texas Health and Safety Code because the Alamo is a cemetery. The group hopes a state judge will grant a temporary restraining order to stop construction and stop the relocation of the Cenotaph.

The lawsuits have not delayed work from being done on the project, Treviño said. “We’re focused on getting the work done … we’ve got a very complex project that we’re trying to execute.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com