As best I can recall, my early U.S. history lessons focused on Jamestown, the Revolutionary War and our Founding Fathers; perhaps due to my growing up in Arlington, Virginia. As the end of school year approached, the teacher hurriedly moved on to Lewis and Clark, the Civil War, and the California gold rush. I can’t remember ever studying the Spanish-American War, causes of WWI or a mention of Japanese sent to internment camps during WWII.
Recently, I made a trip to San Antonio, Texas, and sad to say, I didn’t remember much about the Alamo. Sure, I’d heard of bloodshed and bravery, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis. But, I didn’t understand the background of the battle. Fortunately, I had an excellent tour guide who provided me with details concerning the events and left me with a desire to learn more.
So, here’s what I’ve since discovered:
The original Mission San Antonio de Valero (now the Alamo) was constructed in 1718, and for 70 years served as a home to missionaries and Native Americans who converted to the faith.
In 1793, Spanish officials took over San Antonio’s five missions and distributed their lands. In the early 1800’s the site became a Spanish military station and in 1814 the Mexican’s took over.
In December 1835, during the Texas Revolution, a Mexican contingent was forced to surrender to Texans and Tejano volunteers (Texans of Spanish descent) fighting in San Antonio. The Texas group then used the Alamo as their base.
In January 1836, Sam Houston requested permission to “blow up the Alamo” as he didn’t think that group had enough men to defend it. He wanted the supplies and canyons moved to Gonzales for his use, but Texas Governor Henry Smith denied the request.
A group of only 200 defended the Alamo for 13 days against General Santa Anna and his 5,000 strong Mexican army. On March 6, 1836, the final battle erupted before daybreak when the Mexicans scaled the walls, rushed into the compound and seized the property.
Twenty six women and children survived including the widow of Gregorio Esparza and his four children. While Gregorio fought for freedom inside the Alamo, his brother Enrique had joined the Mexican army. Enrique survived and claimed his brothers’ body for burial, the only Christian burial Santa Anna permitted. All the other defenders were cremated. The manager of La Cantera Resort, where I stayed, showed me the Esparza Library in the hotel, honoring the family.
In 1884, the Alamo was sold to a grocery firm who wanted, in turn, to sell it to a hotel developer. Many people were opposed, especially Clara Driscoll who gave thousands of dollars to prevent the hotel construction. Driscoll eventually worked out a plan to purchase the property for the state.
In 1905, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) became custodians of the Alamo and remain so today. However, they are being investigated by the state of Texas for neglecting to properly maintain and preserve the site.
The Alamo receives no taxpayer funding and offers free admission to an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year. This year they are celebrating the Alamo’s 175th anniversary.
And, UK’s music legend, Phil Collins, has the largest private collection of Alamo memorabilia in the world.
So, there you have it, lessons learned from travel: I better understand the sacred piece of Texas history and promise to Remember the Alamo.