By 1675, the Spanish realized the strategic value of this land and, feeling pressure from their rivals, the French next door in Louisiana, decided to send missionaries and colonists to occupy Tejas. Interestingly, believing they would acclimate well to the region, the King of Spain initially sent many settlers from the Canary Islands to settle San Antonio.
In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Native American settlement on June 13. As many of you may know.....that's the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padova, Italy, so they named the place and river San Antonio in his honor.
On May 1, 1718, a mission was completed and the responsibility for the establishment of the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar (Ok...pronounced Be-har...but in Texas it's pronounced "Bar". It's a Texanism...don't get me started), to the new governor. That mission, called San Antonio de Valero, (a name derived from "San Antonio de Padua" and Viceroy of New Spain, Marquess of Valero of course), will become today's "Alamo". By the way...the word Alamo does mean something too. In the early years, part of the old mission complex was used as the headquarters of a Spanish cavalry unit. During this time, the Spanish word alamo, meaning "cottonwood," was introduced by soldiers garrisoned there to honor their home at Alamo de Parras in the Mexican province of Coahuila. Now you know.
By 1821, Mexico had won independence from Spain and invited American settlers brought in by guys like Stephen Austin to settle the land and by 1833, then El President'e Antonio de Santa Anna (yep...the future General who retakes the Alamo) had mucked things up for the Mexicans and a civil war broke out. In Texas, the Anglo settlers joined many Hispanic Texans, who called themselves Tejanos, in demanding a return to the Mexican Constitution of 1824. In a series of battles the Anglo Texans, who called themselves "Texians", supported by a significant number of Tejano allies, initially succeeded in forcing the Mexican military to retreat from Texas. And so we come to the Battle of the Alamo.
By April of 1836, Santa Anna had had enough of those rabblerouser Texians and decided to make a political statement by defeating the insurgents and returning Texas back to Mexican control. By now, the Texian movement had moved from a political revolt to a full fledged secession of Texas from Mexico. Sam Houston was the leader of a small army of Anglos and Tejanos fighting a disparate war of attrition against the well-armed Mexican army. The Alamo was a shell of the original Mission having been abandoned back in 1793. It was basically four walls with no roof and a built-up dirt artillery platform for a cannon on the north end where the altar had been. Houston pleaded with William Travis not to defend the Alamo and fall back to Houston's lines but Travis, Bowie, Crockett, his Tennesseans and some Tejano volunteers numbering about 260 men decided to hold the fort anyway against an estimated 1,800 Mexican Army regulars.
The adobe walls were no match for Mexican artillery and gunfire and, after 12 days of siege, was overrun in a massive attack that wiped out all the male defenders leaving only the women and children of the defenders to be sent back to Houston to tell him of the battle and defeat. A message to them to quit the fight and surrender.
History shows the message was ignored and after rallying his forces under the famous battle cry, "Remember the Alamo", one of his Lieutenants, Juan Sequin, defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto a month later assuring Texas independence that same year. Interesting factoid, Juan was later elected Mayor of San Antonio but forced out of office at gun point by an Anglo mob. There would not be another Hispanic Mayor in San Antonio until Henry Cisneros in 1981.
Dianna and I have now been in Texas for about 9 years and had not been to San Antonio so we made it our 40th wedding anniversary destination. Yes, a mere 40 years ago we were young and impressionable without a care in the world. Now, two kids, a couple of houses, a grandson and several dogs later we are still together and trying to enjoy our later years as best we can.
As many of you (and to my wife's chagrin) have learned, I tend to make reservations at older historic hotels so I picked the oldest, the Menger in Alamo Plaza. Killing two birds with one stone in that it is literally steps away from the Alamo Memorial site. On our arrival, Texas was in the midst of its record setting rainy season and had just stopped as we checked in.
|River Walk view toward back of Menger|
Once settled in our room overlooking Alamo Plaza, we quickly walked over to the Alamo to get our vacation rolling. As we made our way around the front I was immediately struck by two things. The first was how small the Alamo Mission is. When you see the tourist literature or commercials on TV, you get the impression it's this big adobe monument to the heroism of the martyrs of the Texas Revolution. It turns out to be rather diminutive in size (which many friends had warned me about) but still revered as a sacred site by native Texans. I think I figured it out. When you shoot upward and keep the fence posts and people out of the picture, you skew the image and it looks bigger.
No matter your politics or where your from, Texans do hold this place in high esteem. You know...like when you overhear people speaking in hushed voices as they tell the tale of the Alamo to their children or guests as though they were in church. There's even a sign at the entrance reminding visitors the site is sacred, to speak softly, remove hats and absolutely no photography.
|Different color roofline|
When we got back to the hotel, we booked a Ghost tour that starts at the historic Colonial Room restaurant in the Victorian original wing of the Menger. It's a beautiful example of Victorian era architecture.
The original hotel space was originally two floors and 50 rooms but subsequent additions and remodels added floors and rooms which now hold 316 rooms. It was dinner and a walking tour of the haunted portions of the hotel as well as some hot spots by the Alamo and surrounding streets. Turns out the Menger is the most haunted hotel in America. Lots of crazy stuff happened in the hotel and significant figures have passed away within its walls. The historic Menger Hotel is said be called home or visited regularly by some 32 different entities.
|Teddy's negotiation table 2nd floor|
After a wonderful meal and the Menger's signature dessert, an incredible dish of Mango ice cream, we wandered around the three main floors of the old hotel and heard stories of apparitions who wander the same halls and bother the guests. We then walked out the front of the hotel for our street tour. First stop the Alamo. We were reminded of the horrific battle which took so many lives and that, while we walked on the street in front of the Alamo, we were actually walking on top of a mass grave which had been found when the street was excavated before paving. Excavations throughout San Antonio still expose graves of the fallen today.
Sisters Grimm Ghost Tours reminded us of an incident which sparked the haunted history of the Alamo. Ghostly tales about the Alamo can be traced all the way back to 1836. Several weeks after the Battle of the Alamo, Santa Anna ordered General Andrade to raise the Alamo and in doing so ensure that nothing was left standing. Like any military commander holding the rank of general, Andrade delegated this unwholesome task to a trusted subordinate, Colonel Sanchez.
Upon the arrival of Colonel Sanchez and his men, all that remained of the old mission was the chapel. Resolute to carry out Santa Anna's demands, Colonel Sanchez instructed his troops to begin tearing down the church. As the detail set about preparing to carry out the order, work was abruptly halted when six ghostly monks materialized from the walls of the chapel.
The soldiers watched in stunned silence as these "diablos" slowly advanced waving flaming swords over their heads, while all the time issuing a warning in an inhuman screech, "Do not touch the walls of the Alamo" (I wonder if it was in English or Spanish). Heading the ghostly advice, Colonel Sanchez and his men retreated with their tails between their legs.
|Nighttime carriages light the darkness|
An interesting stop was the Cathedral of San Fernando. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the seat of its archbishop. The original church of San Fernando was built between 1738 and 1750. The walls of that church today form the sanctuary of the cathedral, which gives rise to its claim as the oldest cathedral in the State of Texas. In 1836, the cathedral, still a parish church, played a role in the Battle of the Alamo when Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna hoisted a flag of "no quarter" from the church's tower, marking the beginning of the siege. Bones of some of the fallen are entombed in the walls of the church raising spectors of those men seen walking or standing by the church by passerbys.
We were drawn to the church by a video art installation spectacular on the facade of the Cathedral created by renowned French artist, Xavier De Richemontartist. It's a beautiful montage of the history of Texas and specifically a segment on the Alamo. Very cool.
|Kind of like the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland|