By Mark W. Danielson
I’ve spent twenty years living in Texas in cities from the panhandle to the Gulf Coast. Each city and region has its own special characteristics, but San Antonio is by far the most historical because of what is known as The Alamo. Many know of its famous battle between Texan rebels and the Mexican Army, but few realize our entire western expansion is a result of the defenders of this small outpost. While it’s impossible to discuss its significance in this blog, I can present a simplified timeline, and why Texas was governed by six countries.
When Spain assumed control from French in 1691, they named the new land Texas [pronounced Tey Has]. As with much of Spain’s western expansion, the Catholic Church established missions to aid in colonization and their interpretation of civilization. In 1718, Mission San Antonio de Valero was established near a river where crops could be raised. The hurricane of 1724 destroyed the mission, but the suitable location prompted the church to rebuild its lost structures. The first stone church was erected in 1744.
By 1793, the mission role had been fulfilled so secularization designated the compound as Pueblo [meaning town] of Valero. Threats to Spanish Rule dispatched the Company of Alamo de Parras, later known as Alamo Company, to the compound to occupy it as a fort. As time passed, the compound simply became known as The Alamo.
In 1806, famed outdoorsman Daniel Boone petitioned to settle in San Antonio de Bexar [pronounced Bay-Har] because of a land dispute in the U.S. Settling there, Boone became a gunsmith for the Spanish until he was ironically killed by Indians.
1810 brought more war to the region as the Mexicans fought for their independence. This goal was not achieved until 1821 when a Mexican flag flew over the Alamo.
In 1823, an effort to populate Texas led to the Mexican government offering land to U.S. citizens, granting 4,428.4 acres for a tax of $117.00, payable over a six year period. Soon-to-be ex-patriot colonists eagerly took the bait and rapidly increased the population from 500 to over 30,000, with James Bowie being among them.
Ever-present change led to a shift in government in 1824 when Mexico adopted a Federalist Constitution and divided Mexico into 18 states. Texas was designated the Department of Texas and placed within the State of Coahuila y Tejas. The political change led to friction between Centralist and Federalist supporters.
The Texas colonial expansion ended on April 6, 1830, when Mexico passed a law to stop the flood of Anglo Americans. Tired of losing control of their lives, native and colonist Texans began organizing opposition to the Federal government. Because of ongoing civil strife, the Mexican Army’s Alamo Company returned to The Alamo in 1832.
As tensions rose, the Mexican Army attempted to reclaim a cannon loaned to the nearby town of Gonzales. Rebel forces answered with a shot at Mexican forces, yelling, “Come and Take it!” waving a flag with the same words. The beginning of the Texas Revolution is attributed to this October, 1835, incident. The Mexican Army responded by fortifying The Alamo, but successful rebel attacks, particularly at the Battle of Bexar [now known as San Antonio] defeated the Mexican forces after a 56 day, door-to-door siege. With the enemy defeated and sent back in shame, rebel forces claimed The Alamo for themselves.
Unamused by the defeat, President/General Santa Anna [elected to that position in 1833] issued the following orders on December 7, 1835: “The foreigners who are making war against the Mexican Nation, violating all laws, are not deserving of any consideration, and for that reason, no quarter [mercy] I will be given them. They have, with all audacity, declared a war of extermination to the Mexicans, and they shall be treated the same way.” While the Texas Volunteers watched from a few hundred yards away, Mexican forces continued to build in San Antonio.
Believing it impossible to adequately man The Alamo with volunteers, on January 17, 1836, Texas General Sam Houston wanted to level The Alamo and evacuate it to keep it from enemy hands. The next day G.B. Jameson presented engineered plans to further fortify it and the compound remained intact.
On February 25, 1836, Colonel Bartes, Assistant Major of President General Santa Anna, demanded unconditional surrender of The Alamo. Texas Colonel William B. Travis answered with a single cannon shot, to which the enemy responded with harassing bombardment. Inside, Travis ultimately drew his famous line in the sand, offering open gates for anyone wishing to leave. Most chose to fight and die as patriots of Texas.
With thousands of Mexican troops surrounding The Alamo, the inevitable attack began before the sun rose on March 6, 1836. Exhausted and severely understaffed, the first Mexican troops were able to enter undetected, but soon all hell broke loose. Outnumbering the Volunteers nearly twenty to one, the Mexican Army promptly defeated the Texans with Travis, Bowie, and David Crockett among them. Surprisingly, twelve survivors, including Travis’ slave, Joe, were released. To clear the battlefield, Santa Anna had the rebel bodies burned.
Determined to rid the region of rebels, Santa Anna then marched his troops to the Goliad region where rebel forces were gathered, held in the mission, and then executed on Palm Sunday. As with The Alamo, women and children were spared to tell the tale.
But rather than deter the rebel spirit, The Alamo and Goliad massacres rallied supporters from the United States. On April 21, 1836, General Sam Houston’s troops made a surprise raid on the Mexican Army, capturing hundreds, and killing hundreds more. Santa Anna, who escaped the battle, was captured alone two days later. As supreme commander of Mexico, his capture led to his seceding the land that became Texas, New Mexico, California, Utah and Nevada. As a result, Texas became an independent nation. The Republic of Texas ended in 1845 when voters agreed to be annexed by the United States of America, but in 1861, it flew the Confederate Flag during the Civil War. Texas flew the U.S. flag again in 1865.
Again, there is no way for me to adequately tell the tale, but to understand The Alamo is to understand why Texans are proud of their heritage. When visiting The Alamo, take the outside tour with a docent before going inside, and then take time to listen to the audio tour. Then walk over to San Fernando Cathedral where Santa Anna raised his blood red battle flag and where the remains of the Defenders of The Alamo are interned. Do this and you will barely notice the exploding city surrounding The Alamo as Santa Anna once did.