Mission San Antonio de Valero, commonly called The Alamo, is an 18th century Spanish mission, located in present day San Antonio, Texas, USA. It was the site of a battle during the Texas Revolution in which the Mexican army besieged and defeated a force of Texans and Americans in February and March 1836.
Early Years 1700s
Mission San Antonio was the dream of Franciscan Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares who first visited the site in 1709. He soon lobbied the viceroy in New Spain, Don Balthasar Manuel de Zuñiga y Guzmán Sotomayor y Sarmiento, Marquis de Valero, for his permission to transfer his mission of San Francisco Solano to the region.
Father Olivares chose the name San Antonio de Valero in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua and the Marquis of Valero; the viceroy of Mexico. The mission was officially begun on 1 May 1718 on the banks of the San Pedro Creek with seventy men, women and children, in addition were two thousand sheep, cattle and horses. Located a few hundred yards away the presidio San Antonio de Bexar and the civil settlement of Villa de Bexar were settled as well. By 1727 the mission was serving almost three hundred resident Indians. Some of the tribes working and living at the mission were the Jarames, Payayas, Zanas, Apaches and Karankawas. The years 1718-1731 saw the growth of five missions near the San Antonio region. On 9 March 1731 the arrival of fifty-six immigrants from the Canary Islands bolstered the total Spanish presence at the mission. They laid out the town site; the location for San Fernando Cathedral and elected the first alcade (mayor) and cabildo (council). Eventually the community would briefly become the capital of Spanish Texas by 1772. On 8 May 1744 work begins on the first stone church at Mission San Antonio but it is destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. Work begins again for a second attempt at building a permanent stone church, the present day Alamo in 1756.
In 1724 a hurricane leveled most of the two-story tower structure that housed the chapel and priests ‘quarters. As a result of the damage, Father Olivares moved the mission to its present day location. Building on the mission continued over the next forty years culminating with the total collapse of the church in 1762. A new church was never completed. By the 1770s mission life at San Antonio was in the decline. Many Indians found the rigid and strict mission life of daily prayer, work and training unbearable and would often wander off or move to other local missions. Although the priest at the mission had baptized over 1, 500 Indians and over three hundred marriages in the mission’s duration, the dual goal of converting the Indians to Christianity and settlement became an expensive failed dream. On 12 April 1793 Spanish officials secularized Mission San Antonio and the five other missions in the area. The one hundred year Spanish mission system experiment came to an end. The missions were designated as self-governing and distributed their lands to the Catholic Church and the remaining five hundred Indian residents who remained. Mission San Antonio’s name was changed to Pueblo Valero. By 1812 church at the Mission San Antonio is closed and the Convento is used as a hospital.
The ornamental entrance was carved by Dionicio de Jesus Gonzales. The church was to be topped by a dome with four niches on the façade for statues of St. Claire, St. Margaret of Cortona and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The late 1750s saw the construction of a protective wall around the perimeter of the compound. The wall was constructed eight feet high and two feet thick to protect the missionaries from hostile local Apache and Comanche Indians.
Alamo in Use
In 1803 a Spanish cavalry unit consisting of one hundred men was sent to occupy the former mission. The unit was from a small town in Mexico named San Jose y Santiago del Alamo and called themselves “ La Segunda Compania Volante de San Carlos de Parras” or the Second Company of San Carlos de Alamo de Parras. Eventually the named was shortened to the Alamo Company and the former mission turned fort’s new name became the Alamo. They occupied the Alamo from 1803-1825. The post's commander Colonel Don Antonio Cordero established the first recorded hospital in Texas in 1805 when he employed Dr. Zervan and Lazaro Orranti to serve as a military infirmary. On 7 August 1806 Dr. Pedro Lartique was granted permission to practice as “Master of Surgery in the class of Dentistry”.
In 1827 Governor Rafael Gonzalez gave his permission for stones from the outer walls and Alamo proper to be sold off to help raise funds for the State Treasury. Future president of Mexico, Commandant Anastacio Bustamante stepped in and halted the plan to dismantle the Alamo.
Over a ten year period, (1810-21) the Alamo was home to Spanish Royalist, Rebels and then Mexican forces until the Texas Revolution (1835-36).
The Alamo would serve an important and central role during the Texas Revolution (1835-36)
After the thirteen day siege by Mexican forces,under the command of Antonio Lόpez de Santa Anna, General Juan Andrade was left in command of the Alamo with a force of over 1,000 men to garrison the fort. He was ordered on 19 May 1836 to withdraw to from the fort, spike the cannon and demolish the repairs he had made to the Alamo. All single walls were torn down and fires set to consume any wooden buildings within the fort. Lt. Francisco Castanada and eighteen soldiers were left behind to look after the soldiers who were too ill to travel till Colonel Juan Seguín of the Republic of Texas and his twenty men could take possession of the fort.
January of 1839 Texas Cavalry under the command of Captain George Howard entered the Alamo and used it as a base of supply to help drive out the Cherokee from Texas.
March of 1841-Mexican General Rafael Vasquez with over 500 troops enters San Antonio and occupies the Alamo. They stay only a few days then withdraw.
September of 1842- Mexican General Adrian Woll with a force of 1,200 soldiers entered Texas and temporarily occupied San Antonio and the Alamo. The Texans mounted a pursuit of Woll’s forces for three days finally turning back to San Antonio.
After the United States acquired Texas in 1845, the US Army agreed to rent the Alamo from the Catholic Church for $150 a month in 1849. The army began repairs and by 1850, under the direction of Major E. B. Babbitt and Captain James H. Ralston, assistant Quartermaster of US volunteers, the campanulate, or bell shaped familiar ornament hump, was added atop the Alamo’s west front wall façade.
When Texas passed an ordinance of secession from the United States on 1 February 1861, the Alamo passed into Confederate States of America hands. General David E. Twiggs surrendered all US troops and supplies to the Confederates and resigned his commission to join the CSA.
In 1871 the old Spanish main gate was in the way of a growing city who needed the room. Who exactly owned the “old galera” wasn’t solved till the city purchased the site from the Catholic Church for $2,500 and totally leveled the site.
In 1877 Honore Grenet purchased the Convento building and courtyard from the Catholic Church for $20,000. He enclosed the Alamo courtyard on the east, did extensive remodeling and operated a museum and grocery store till he died in 1882.
On 16 May 1883 the State of Texas buys the Alamo Church from the Catholic Church for $20,000.
1886 Hugo and Schmeltzer Company begins full operation from Grenet for $28,000
Historian and teacher Adina De Zavala (grand daughter of Lorenzo de Zavala-the first vice president of the provisional government of Texas) and philanthropist Clara Driscoll both worked to preserve the form Spanish missions along the San Antonio River. Developers wanted to tear down the Alamo mission and build a hotel on the site.
By 1905 the entire Alamo property was handed over to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas who currently still maintain control over the property. The Alamo site was declared a National Historic Landmark on 19 December 1960.
- The Alamo; A Cultural History; Thompson, Frank, Taylor Trade Publishing; 2001
- Lone Star Nation; Brands, H.W.;Anchor Books, 2005
- Inherit the Alamo; Brear, Holly Beachley, University of Texas Press; 1995
- Southwestern Historical Quarterly; Vol. 50, Number 2
- Southwestern Historical Quarterly; Vol. 44, Number 1
- Southwestern Historical Quarterly; Vol. 001, Number 3