Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Visit to The Alamo

Along the Mission Trail
San Antonio, Texas

Having grown up watching Disney's Davy Crockett on t.v., this famous American frontiersman became part of my childhood.  (As did Daniel Boone and Annie Oakley) I'm not sure I realized they were real people.  To me the Six Flags over Texas was an an amusement park with a ginormous roller coaster.  I have happy memories of my parents taking me to the one near St. Louis, Missouri.

But then again, I'm not from Texas.  Every child in Texas knows that the six flags flying over their great state represent Spain, France, Mexico, the Texan Republic, the Confederacy and finally, the United States.  To a Texan, the Alamo is a sacred shrine.  It is a symbol of heroism, rebellion and independence.

But to me, the Alamo is the Mission San Antonio de Valero.  Its name got changed in the early 1800's by Spanish Military troops who were homesick.  They named the church and surrounding complex after their hometown in Mexico, Alamo de Perres.  Alamo means "cottonwood" in Spanish.

But the Franciscans were there first.  It was occupied by them from 1724 until 1793.  Four other missions would be built along the San Antonio River and today, all five of them are World Heritage Sites.  To put things in perspective, the first mission in San Diego, California, wasn't founded until 1769.  There were 21 missions established in California; 35 in Texas.

The establishment of missions in Texas by the Spanish government was (like in Alta California) an effort to colonize and evangelize the natives in its northern frontier.  Presidios were built and Spanish soldiers moved in to defend the missions.  Their families reluctantly followed, but no one else did.  Fear of the unknown and terrifying stories of Apache massacres prevented further Spanish immigration.

At Mission de Valero's peak, there were only 300 converts living within the mission grounds.  By the time it closed, there were only 57.  Spain was losing its grip on its territory.  What to do?

Invite the colonists from the United States and Europe to settle in Texas.

Big mistake!
Between 1821 and 1836, Americans poured into Texas at such an alarming rate that the population outnumbered the Spanish/Mexican one by 10 to l.  The Mexican government prohibited any further immigration into its territory.  But it was too late.

Americans had already taken over the Alamo and other parts of Texas, as well.  The road to independence was being paved.  President-General Santa Anna, however, decided it was time to put a stop to this nonsense. Texas belonged to Mexico now.  The rebels had to be removed.

We all know the story (thanks to John Wayne and Billy Bob Thornton).  On March 6, 1836, after a valiant effort to remain in control of the Alamo, the Americans were finally defeated.  All the defenders was killed including legendary Davy Crockett and James Bowie.
  The Alamo opens at 9 am and believe me, get there early!  We were able to see the movie and walk through the exhibits before long lines started to form.  There is no photography allowed within the church, but it is an empty space anyway with not much to see.  I learned that the church never was completed.  Even during the siege of the Alamo, it lacked a roof,

Once the Franciscans left, the makeshift fort had been used by various military troops, the Spanish, the Mexican rebels and finally the American ones.  The U.S. Army used it as a warehouse until 1883 when the State of Texas purchased the church and made it into a shrine.

Allow about two hours to walk through the complex.  There are special exhibits and lectures going on all the time. We listened to an interesting one about the cannons and other firearms used in the famous battle.  Then we walked across the street to the dark and air conditioned Menger Hotel bar.  While enjoying our cold beers and club sandwiches and recharging our batteries, my travel buddy and I debated the question:  Should there be monuments glorifying war?

We had left the Alamo feeling conflicted.  More depressed than cheered.

But then again, we aren't from Texas.

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