The Alamo was founded as one of five Spanish missions established along the San Antonio River. Their rich history continues to influence the region today. These church missions were built primarily to link the Spanish influence between missions in east Texas and those in Mexico. The San Antonio River provided water for crops and for game animals, making this an attractive region for settlement – first by the natives and then by the Spanish Roman Catholic missionaries.
Mission San Antonio de Valero
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, stationed at Alamo de Parras, who 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 is key to the history of Texas. The battle cry, “Remember the Alamo” was introduced at the next large battle in the war between The Republic of Texas and Mexico.
The Battle of the Alamo
In 1835, at the Battle of Concepcion, James Bowie’s Texan troop defeated the Mexican soldiers led by General Martin Perfecto de Cos who withdrew to the Alamo and then 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) and held the storied defenders of the Alamo in a bloody 13-day siege. Because of that violence at the Alamo, the cry “Remember the Alamo” was the mantra in 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.
Other Nearby Missions
The mission story does not end with The Alamo. The largest of the Texas missions was Mission San José, founded in 1720, approximately three miles south of San Antonio. The adobe church at Mission San Jose had a bell tower, 84 stone houses for Indian residents, a granary and later a gristmill. This mission structure was referred to as the “Queen of the Missions of New Spain”, in reference to the beauty of the facilities and the surrounding area.
Crafter’s Community: La Villita
At the same time as the founding and establishment of the Spanish Missions, La Villita formed on the banks of the San Antonio River. The village began as huts for soldiers stationed at Mission San Antonio de Valero. After a flood in 1819, the area homes were reconstructed with such materials as brick, stone, and adobe. The village exists today as a small community of artisans and crafters. The architectural and historical elements of La Villita demonstrate the variety of cultures with simple buildings, Victorian Style houses, and German artisan construction intertwined.
If You Go
The Alamo, a Texas shrine since the war for Texas independence, is today 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, as well as scheduled tours through tour organizations. When we visited, we spent several hours touring the mission and the grounds, after seeing the IMAX movie at the nearby Riverwalk Mall. In the evening, we hunted for ghosts all around downtown San Antonio and the hunt ended at the Alamo. No ghosts were out that evening, but Oh! the stories we heard!
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.