Now that we have explored the history of the Missions of San Antonio along with Texas’ Spanish settlement, it is time to fix our eyes on the fifth San Antonio Mission and the most visited attraction in Texas. It is the heart of Texas’ fierce character of independence, and a shrine to the bravery and courage of all Americans. Its walls bear witness to the lands changing hands from Indians to Franciscans, from Spanish to Mexicans, from Texans to Americans. Its unprepossessing exterior belies greatness within. Its tragic significance calls all Americans to always “Remember the Alamo!”
Like the other Missions of Texas, after the Mexicans won their independence from Spain, all were secularized, meaning they were turned over to the community, and many began to fall into disrepair. However, their enclosing walls made them excellent sites for military outposts. In the case of The Alamo, it went from the Mission San Antonio de Valero to a Mexican military outpost. But before we can talk about the Battle of the Alamo, let’s back up a bit to find out how these Texans got here and why they were fighting.
Once Texas came under Mexican control, the first Texans to enter the state were led in 1825 by Stephen Austin, now affectionately known as the Father of Texas. Austin began a settlement that continued to grow. Once General Santa Anna became President of Mexico in 1833, he threw out the constitution and became more of a dictator than a President. The new laws he put in place made life more difficult for the Texans, and they reached their limit of obedience. Once again, the greed and power mongering of one man became the seed of rebellion in another. As several of the Mexican states revolted, Mexican troops were sent to retrieve a canon at the town of Gonzales that had been used to defend the town from the Comanches, who many believe were the best horseman the world has ever seen. The Texans denied access to the canon and stood their ground with the now famous sign “Come and Take It”, and thus another revolution was born on the world stage in 1835.
The Texans fought several battles against the Mexicans before securing their independence, but the most memorable battle was a defeat at The Alamo. Here, the 200 Texans faced Santa Anna and thousands of his troops. Notably, among the Texans were James Bowie (of Bowie knife repute) and Davy Crockett, already an American legend, but there were men representing many different states fighting at The Alamo. Despite the overwhelming numbers in Santa Anna’s favor, the men within The Alamo vowed to hold the site to the very last man. The siege lasted 13 days before the final victorious assault by Santa Anna’s men. All of The Alamo’s defenders were killed and their bodies were burned. Following the loss, Texans took part in the Runaway Scrape, a period in which civilians and government officials ran for their lives in front of the Mexican Army.
Yet take heart, my friends, a loss of this magnitude would not go unavenged by a people committed to their liberty. The Texans used “Remember the Alamo” as one of their battle cries as Sam Houston lead them to victory over Santa Anna in 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto. Texas was free. Texas became its own nation, known as The Republic of Texas, and the fourth flag was lifted to cover this land, after the Spanish, the French, and the Mexican flags. While they had a much larger area than what is currently known as Texas, they ended up selling much of the land off to cover their debts. The Republic of Texas lasted 10 years, from 1836-1846. On February 19, 1846, with the continued leadership of Sam Houston, Texas became the 28th state of the United States of America and now faced the Mexican-American War which would prepare so many of the leaders for their greatest battle – The Civil War.
My friends, there is so much more to the making of Texas, but I hope this very brief synopsis will refresh your memory and maybe encourage you to explore the history for yourself. There is much I do not know, but I have provided for you what I gleaned from my visit. I love putting history together, and the timeline for Texas is particularly interesting. We think that things are changing so fast in our lifetime??? Imagine a lifetime in Texas spanning from Mexican control and Indian raids to the Civil War. Be it a long lifetime, it could even witness the cattle drives, the railroads and the first automobile.
What can all Americans take away from The Alamo? The Spanish, French and British have all enjoyed great empires, but the United States rose from the ashes of their empires as a new nation. Texan independence was an integral part of defining that new nation and it was fought for by men from all over the United States and beyond. By fighting for and winning their independence, the Texans opened the West (almost half of the United States) to become a part of the new nation. It was not so long ago that our forefathers fought to create something new the likes of which the world had not yet seen based on liberty, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Be proud to be an American and grateful for all the sacrifices made in places like The Alamo, where our bravest clung to the belief of a better tomorrow where they would stand on their own merits free to work and build as they saw fit. Facing insurmountable odds, they stood together to the last rather than accept defeat. Texas is the only state that was once its own nation, and you can feel that proud independence at The Alamo and still see it on the faces of Texans around you. There are only a few better legacies to pass on than the courageous commitment to freedom for individuals to make their own place in this world. Texas gets that right, and I see it in every Lone Star flag flying across the broad, blue Texas sky.
How to visit? The Alamo sits in the downtown area of San Antonio just off the Riverwalk. It is FREE and while some parts of the main shrine have been reconstructed, much of the original walls still remain. There are several exhibits inside the shrine with actual artifacts from the battle, including Davy Crockett’s rifle. There are experts on the Battle and history of The Alamo within waiting for your questions. Adjacent to the shrine, the soldiers’ barracks have been renovated for a small museum featuring a movie and the exhibits about the history of the time period. The original acequia (waterway built to provide water in the Mission) is still intact and now holds some fish. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and check the site’s website for events before you go. There is a gift shop and restrooms as well.