The Alamo mission was founded as one of five Spanish missions along the San Antonio River. Their rich history influences the region even today. Spanish missions in East Texas linked programs in Mexico with the Catholic activities in Texas. The San Antonio River provided water for crops and for game animals. Therefore, this was an attractive region for settlement – first by the natives and later by Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries.
Mission San Antonio de Valero, The Alamo Mission
The first mission, founded in 1718, was Mission San Antonio de Valero. The Alamo name refers to a Spanish cavalry troop known as Alamo Company. This company was stationed at Alamo de Parras. These soldiers came into the area to defend the mission against Indian attacks in 1805. Well known in Texas for a fierce and bloody battle, the Alamo Mission is central to Texas’ history. The battle cry, “Remember the Alamo” was introduced at the next large battle in the war between The Republic of Texas and Mexico. Therefore, the remaining structures and grounds are generally referred to as “the Alamo Mission” area.
The Battle at the Alamo Mission
At the Battle of Concepcion (1835), James Bowie’s Texan troop defeated the Mexican soldiers. Led by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, the Mexican troops withdrew to the Alamo mission building. As a result, they surrendered at the end of that year. On March 6, 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took vengeance for the defeat of his brother-in-law (Cos). He held the defenders of the Alamo mission in a bloody 13-day siege. Also, because of the violence at the Alamo mission building and grounds, the cry “Remember the Alamo” became the battle cry for the Battle of San Jacinto.
It was the Battle of San Jacinto which sealed Texas’ independence from Mexico. The Republic of Texas was annexed into the United States and the mission buildings served as a depot center for the US Army. This undated photo from the Texas State Archives shows the interior of the Alamo mission building. (Photo Credit: Texas State Library and Archives)
Other Nearby Missions
The mission story does not end with The Alamo. The largest of the Texas missions was Mission San José, almost three miles south of San Antonio. Founded in 1720, Mission San Jose had a bell tower, 84 stone houses for Indian residents, a granary, and later, a gristmill. This mission was the “Queen of the Missions of New Spain”, in reference to its architectural beauty.
Crafter’s Community: La Villita
While Spanish missions grew near San Antonio, La Villita formed near the San Antonio River. The village began as huts for soldiers stationed nearby. Because of damage to the village in an 1819 flood, stronger materials such as brick, stone, and adobe were used for reconstruction.
The village exists today as a small community of artisans and crafters. Architectural and historical elements of La Villita include simple buildings, Victorian Style houses, and German artisan construction intertwined.
Alamo Mission: If You Go
The Alamo, a Texas shrine since the war for Texas independence, is a visitor center and museum of early Texas artifacts. It has been under the care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas since 1905. Self-guided tours are available at the entry, while various tour organizations offer scheduled docent-led tour programs.
When we visited, we spent hours touring the Alamo mission and the adjacent grounds. We learned more at the Alamo IMAX movie at the nearby Riverwalk Mall. After relaxing on a boat tour of the city, we had dinner and enjoyed outdoor entertainment near the San Antonio Riverwalk. Later, we hunted for ghosts all around downtown San Antonio. The hunt ended at the Alamo. No ghosts were out that evening, yet we heard some compelling stories.
In conclusion, the Missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada continue to operate as active parishes of the Catholic Church and all are open to the public. The history of San Antonio, Texas is as colorful as a traditional fiesta with mariachi musicians and cultural dancers in brilliant dresses.