The History Of The Alamo

The Alamo was not always the Alamo, it served other purposes; learn about them here!

For a Texan, it's almost blasphemy to suggest that the Alamo was ever called anything but "The Alamo". The rumor is that the Alamo that Americans know and revere is not really the Alamo at all. Texans would rather not hear such rumors. For Texans the Alamo has always been the Alamo. It just had another name in the past.

San Antonio has always been mainly Spanish. In 1691, a Spanish missionary expedition led by military commander Domingo Teran de los Rios, called the spot "the most beautiful part of New Spain." They had stopped under a cottonwood tree in central Texas and enjoyed the hills and the gently flowing local river. The Father, Damien Massanet, agreed and named it San Antonio de Padua since the date was June 13, the feast day of Saint Anthony. "I call this place, San Antonio de Padua, because it was his day."

On their return to Mexico, they considered building a mission there. Father Massanet wanted a fort built and wanted it manned by enough armed men to protect the missionaries. Church authorities were upset with Father Massanet and sent him a letter part of which said, "The [church] marvels at the proposal of violence and the use of the force of arms in the conversion of these savages to our holy faith...."

Years later, the Franciscan Seminary in Mexico City was planning on building missions across the isolated outposts and the colonized areas of New Spain. They would be built in a series, like stepping stones, with an army presence. In 1699, at Laredo, on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, construction began on San Juan Bautista. A fort or "presidio" went up nearby for Spanish soldiers. On January 1, 1700, construction was started on San Francisco Solano about 10 miles upriver.

Civilization came to San Antonio de Padua in 1718 and a new mission stood near the river. San Francisco Solano had been moved from below the Rio Grande to a new site and been renamed San Antonio de Valero, after the viceroy of New Spain, the Marqués de Valero. The San Antonio de Béxar presidio, named in honor of the Marqués father, was built close by. The area grew and became the capital of New Spain.

In the beginning, the mission was located on the east bank of the San Antonio River where it meets San Pedro Creek. When the river flooded the Church decided to move it to the west bank and farther away from the stream. High winds from one of the famous Gulf Coast hurricanes destroyed the flimsy structures, and the mission was moved again, upstream and to the east of the river where it is today. Twenty years later, the deteriorating adobe walls were replaced with stone ones and a stone church was also constructed. The new stone walls provided the fathers and Christian Indians protection from local Apache on the warpath. Across the river, on the west bank, the city of San Antonio de Béxar prospered around the presidio.

San Antonio de Valero was a success and the river corridor through central Texas to the Gulf Coast was soon dotted with missions. The priests at San Antonio de Valero thought that a nearby mission was too close and in direct competition for souls with their own. Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo was less than four miles downriver on the west bank. It was the usual practice to establish missions about seven miles apart, but the fathers convinced the New Spain authorities that by following the twisting turns of the San Antonio River, their mission was actually seven miles away. San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo became the "Queen of Missions" in Texas until her poor sister upriver achieved fame years later.

In 1758 there were five missions in the San Antonio area, all within nine miles of each other and still being used today. One of these, Nuestra Senora de la Purísima Concepción, was the site of the Battle of Concepción in October 1835. In that battle Stephen Austin, Jim Bowie, James Fannin, Juan Seguin and 90 volunteers defeated a force of at 230 regulars of the Mexican army under General Martín Perfecto de Cós. One Texan died, while the Mexican army lost about 60 soldiers.

The Spanish began to secularize the missions, starting with San Antonio de Valero in 1793. Mexico began its fight for independence 10 years later and Spanish troops from San José y Santiago del Alamo de Parras moved into the abandoned mission and stayed for many years. It was the common practice then to call men by the full name of their town, and their town was named after a cottonwood (alamo) tree growing on a nearby ranch at Parras, the Spanish soldiers were known as "los Hombres del Alamo." San Antonio de Valero eventually became El Alamo. Today, Parras is called Viesca and is in Coahuila, Mexico.

This may or may not be the only reason why the fortress eventually became known as The Alamo. Does the name really refer to the cottonwood trees that line the river in front of the church? By the time the Texans (Americans) arrived, the old fortress had already been called "the Alamo," for a long time. Its "official" name is still San Antonio de Valero.

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