Saturday, February 20, 2016

Visiting the Home of the Alamo

The Alamo
San Antonio relishes its diversity. For five days our Road Scholar program immersed us in the city’s history, unfolding the story of how the land became home to settlers native and foreign.

The Spanish conquered and sparsely inhabited the wilderness in the 17th century, establishing missions, intent on converting the Indians. A few selected and unlucky soldiers stayed to protect the priests and natives. Then Spain forgot about their distant possession.

Decades later the French started a colony, which ultimately failed, doomed by marauding Indians. The Spanish then decided, since someone else wanted the land, to colonize this vast empty territory previously deemed worthless. In the middle of the 18th century, hoping they could coerce 400 Spanish families to excitedly brave the ocean voyage and inhabit the undeveloped boonies, they settled for 16 Canary Island families, about 56 people. 

American settlers began trickling into Texas territory at the dawn of the 19th century. Spain wanted to control these immigrants and arranged a deal. The Americans were supposed to convert to Catholicism, renounce their American citizenship, and learn Spanish. The pioneers met none of these conditions, but before the Spanish could make a fuss, Mexico won independence from Spain.

Texas became a Mexican state.

And Americans kept coming.

Meanwhile Santa Ana rose to power in Mexico and did his despotic best to rule. In far away Texas settlers balked at his tax demands (sound familiar!) and other indignities.

Santa Ana marched into Texas to pacify the rebellious Texians (as they were then called).

The result was the battle of the Alamo. Most of us know the story from the John Wayne movie. It was not a fair fight. About 189 defenders faced estimates of anywhere from 1,800 to 6,000 Mexican troops. The defenders died (David Crockett - he was never called Davey and never wore a coonskin hat, Jim Bowie, William Travis and others); the only survivors a dozen women, children, and slaves.

The Texians lost at the Alamo, but Sam Houston used the rallying cry “Remember the Alamo” to win a resounding victory a few weeks later at the Battle of San Jacinto, a rout lasting 18 minutes.

Santa Ana’s reign concluded at the end of a rope.

Texas wanted to join the U.S., the year 1836, but a bunch of Northern congressmen did not want to accept the territory as five separate slaveholding states. Texas became an independent republic – temporarily. It took a few years, but Texas became the 28th state in 1845.

Meanwhile immigrants kept coming. Americans, Germans, English…Creating a cultural melting pot in San Antonio today, an anomaly in the great state of Texas. It is one of the few blue counties in the state.
Sculpture at the Briscoe Museum
of - what else? - cowboys!

We visited the Alamo, a restored Spanish mission, the Briscoe Western Art Museum and the McNay Art Museum - interesting as a museum but even more fascinating was Mrs. McNay’s life story. One tidbit – she had four husbands (not at one time). We strolled along Riverwalk, an engineering response to a devastating flood in 1921. The long-term plan halted future floods within the city and sparked a growing tourist industry.

Philadelphia is not the only city with LOVE.
This one is at the McNay Museum.

A series of lectures by long-term, proud Texans, including a ninth generation descendant of the first Canary Island settlers, provided a personal and in-depth perspective on the city and sights visited.

We sampled local cuisine – Tex-Mex, Mexican (including a cooking demonstration), barbecue, Texas steak and other local favorites…

Then it was over, time to pack, load the car, and head out of the big city (relatively speaking) for the Texas wilderness – Big Bend National Park.

It is nice, easy, and convenient having someone else (Road Scholar, in this case), plan everything – hotels, meals, speakers, tours.

Now we are on our own again. 
Along Riverwalk, San Antonio.


  1. Glad your San Antonio trip was so good. Now onto the real Texas! Se you soon

    1. Looking forward to seeing you guys. Big Bend is awesome!

  2. Sounds like a great trip. I remember the Alamo ... it was much smaller than I'd imagined.

    1. The Alamo building is smaller than most of us imagine, but the compound was large. I think it seems small because it is now in the middle of the city.

  3. I'm enjoying reading about your travels -- the kind of driving trip my husband and I enjoyed but ceased to be able to make much too soon due to his medical issues.

    You've triggered some memories. I recall a few trips in Texas beginning with the first when I was a teenager. I recall driving on what appeared to be flat land for as far as the eye could see ahead, yet when we stopped, the car coasted backward. Ranchers spoke of how many hectares they had and didn't understand what acres were. The Alamo was less impressive a sight than I had expected -- truly small. The biggest mosquitoes I had ever encountered attacked me all night long in hot, humid, sticky San Antonio one night interfering with my sleep. Later years Dallas-Ft. Worth airport was not a favorite stop. Ccnsidering becoming a Houston resident years later, I recall an Astrodome football game watching miniscule players from a box high above the field. There is probably much more of interest for me in Texas I likely would enjoy seeing. That said, Texas has never been a favored state for me for a variety of reasons.

    1. Interesting to read about your Texas memories. We missed mosquito season - thank goodness! We will be passing through Dallas, visiting a relative, and I am not looking forward to driving through the metro area.