209 San Antonio, TX: Remember the Alamo

San Antonio, Texas: Corn Hill

"Like most passionate nations, Texas has its own private history based on, but not limited by, facts." -John Steinbeck
"Remember the Alamo" was a battle cry in the 1800s to spur U.S. troops in the Spanish War. Now it is a battle cry encouraging tourists to come visit the Alamo's hometown: San Antonio.

San Antonio lined its trickle of river with concrete paths, transforming it into the Riverwalk, where bars and specialty shops beckon. The buildings and grounds of the 1968 Hemisfair (World's Fair) were cobbled into a museum campus. Quaint old adobes were preserved in the part of town where Santa Anna quartered his troops before storming the Alamo and were now home to boutique shops. A downtown plaza housed what the city hailed as "the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico." The city built a large football stadium that hosts only one game a year: the Alamo Bowl.

But perhaps most savvy of all was that San Antonio preserved the nearby missions, including the Alamo. San Antonio takes its name from the Alamo's official name, Mission San Antonio de Valero. The 1718 founders were from a town in Mexico whose patron saint was Saint Anthony of Padua, and alamo was Spanish for cottonwood tree--many of which surrounded the Alamo.

In December, 1835, Ben Milam led Texan and Tejano volunteers against Mexican troops in the Battle of Bexar, which was what San Antonio was then called. In late February, they were surprised by the arrival of General Lopez de Santa Anna, self-declared dictator and "the Napoleon of Mexico." On March 6, 1836, he attacked the Alamo and killed its 189 Texas "patriots" (only eight were native-born Texans).1 They had held out for 13 days, partly because crossing the cold desert had Santayana's troops bedraggled by the time they arrived.

Legend holds that Col. Travis drew a line on the ground and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over--all except one did. That one lived. The facts surrounding the siege continue to be debated. But people "worldwide" (the handout insists) continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds. It opened as a museum in 1968, and more than three million people visit annually. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) preserve it with no funding from the government.

The Alamo was now just a series of low stone walls held together by adobe. Davie Crockett's rifle, powder, and balls are on display, as was a Bowie knife, named for Sam Bowie who died here [pronounced "Booey" by the locals]. A sign on the Alamo walls read, "Only the sturdiest of pioneers came as far as San Antonio, isolated by at least three weeks travel from either Mexico City or New Orleans." GTT was often seen painted on the front doors of houses in the South. It meant "gone to Texas." One Texas pioneer called the state "a heaven for men and dogs, but a hell for women and oxen."

1One underlying cause of the battle was that the Americans wanted to keep their slaves, which they couldn't do if ruled by Mexico, where slavery was illegal. Ironically, one of the few survivors of the battle was a slave.

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