Mission San Antonio de Valero, The Alamo -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission San Antonio de Valero, The  Alamo

Mission San Antonio de Valero, The Alamo
San Antonio, Texas

Coordinates: 29.426031, -98.486153
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Painting Fall of the Alamo
"The Fall of the Alamo“ or "Crockett's Last Stand“

Robert Jenkins Onderdonk [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The meaning of places can change drastically through time. There is no better example of this transition than the remains of the mission complex established by Franciscan missionaries as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718. Known today as The Alamo, this Spanish mission complex was the first of the San Antonio missions founded to convert the local American Indians to Christianity. The mission eventually became a community of Spanish, Mexican, and American Indian Catholics. After it was secularized at the end of the 18th century, and during Mexican struggle for independence from Spain, the building fell into disuse. During the Texas Revolution, a small garrison of Texan soldiers defended The Alamo against the Mexican army, and their defeat and deaths became a rallying cry for Texas independence. Today the Alamo, a National Historic Landmark, is located in the heart of downtown San Antonio and remains an important part of Texas history.
Illustration of the Alamo as a mission as imagined in 1883.
Illustration of the Alamo as a mission as imagined in 1883.

By William Ludwell Sheppard (1833-1912). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Spanish Mission

In the late 17th century, Spain's settlement of Texas was designed to deter French colonial expansion west from Louisiana. As they did in other parts of Spanish America, the Franciscans established missions in the lands of native peoples, spreading Spanish culture and Catholicism. Fray Antonio de Olivares led the Franciscan missionaries who founded the San Antonio de Valero Mission in 1718. It was moved a year later to a different location. Father Olivares reported 50 different tribes in the area north of the Rio Grande and San Antonio rivers, but over time raiding, epidemic disease, and the concentration of people at the missions caused an enormous drop in population. The groups originally at San Antonio de Valero included Payaya, Jarame, and Pamaya. One of the reasons these people chose to enter missions was the protection the presidios and missions offered against Apache raids.

In 1724, a devastating hurricane destroyed the mission church and the entire mission community moved several hundred yards to the north where The Alamo stands today. Construction of the current stone mission complex began in 1744. The complex included the chapel, a convento, small dwellings, storehouses, and workshops. The native people at the mission learned quickly, becoming adept weavers, carpenters, stone masons, blacksmiths, and farmers. Miles of acequias, or irrigation ditches, some of which remain visible, were dug and fed fields where corn, beans, cotton, watermelon, grapes, figs, and chili peppers were grown. Thousands of sheep, oxen, cattle, burros, and horses were also part of the mission's holdings.

The first person listed as a vaquero, or cowboy, at the mission in what became Texas was a Ziaguan Indian named Carlos who was killed by Apaches in 1728. As Apache raiding continued, the mission was fortified with a large gate, a turret, and three cannons. The Franciscan mission there lasted until the end of the 18th century, when disease, desertion, and raiding took its toll on the native population of the settlement. The mission was secularized in 1793 and became the self-governing Pueblo de Valero.
1907 postcard Save the Alamo
Postcard depicting a float in the "Battle of Flowers" parade in a rally to support restoration of the Alamo (Mission Valero) in San Antonio.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The mission becomes a fort

In 1803 Spain reinforced its garrison in San Antonio with 100 men from the La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Parras, (the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras). The company was also called "The Alamo Company" because it had been stationed at Alamo de Parras, a town in Coahuila, south of the Río Grande. At that time the mission's old convento became the barracks for the unit. Thus, The Alamo took its name from the company's popular name. In 1805 the army built the first hospital in the region.

The Mexican Revolution began in1810 and during that period the Spanish and the Mexicans fought for control of The Alamo. The Mexican army occupied the complex between 1821 and 1835. During this period of occupation the newly independent Republic of Mexico invited foreign immigrants, mostly American, to settle in the Mexican State of Coahuila y Tejas. Some immigrated legally, adopting Mexican culture and Catholicism, but others came illegally. By the end of the 1820s, Anglo-American immigrants outnumbered the Mexican population. When the government in Mexico City tried to remove the illegal immigrants from Texas and regain control of the region violence broke out between immigrants and those loyal to Mexico. After a period of mismanagement by the distant Mexican government, Texans of American and Mexican heritage organized a rebellion in October of 1835 to push out the Mexican government and form the independent Republic of Texas.
Antonio López de Santa Anna
Photo [attrib.] of the controversial Antonio López de Santa Anna, c. 1853.

Photo by the Meade Bros[attrib.]. Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library

Texas Rebellion

The Texan rebels took The Alamo in December of 1835. In January, the rebels received news that Mexican General Santa Anna was marching north with a large army, but the disorganized Texan government could not get enough reinforcements to the Texan rebels fortified in The Alamo. A force of 5,000 Mexican soldiers arrived in San Antonio on February 23, 1836. Santa Anna's siege lasted 13 days, and Mexico lost 1,544 men in the fighting. By the end, 187 Texan men garrisoned at The Alamo died defending it against Santa Anna's attack. The only survivors were a small number of noncombatants, mostly women and children. Of the 187 who died, 13 of the men inside The Alamo were native Texans and 11 of the 13 were Tejanos, Texans of Mexican descent. Forty-one were born in Europe and the rest were from the United States. Ultimately, the Texas army, led by Anglo-American Samuel Houston, won the war and forced Santa Anna to concede Texas. In 1845 the United States annexed the Republic of Texas, an act that helped spark the U.S.-Mexican War the following year.

What you can see today

After the rebellion, the Republic of Texas handed The Alamo over to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1848 the Church leased the property to the U.S. government. It passed to the Confederacy and then back to the U.S. during the Civil War, and the U.S. government used it for quartermaster purposes until 1872. A private citizen purchased the convent from the Church in 1877, and in 1883, the State of Texas bought the chapel. In 1905, the Texas governor acquired the convent and bestowed the entire complex on the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who managed the historic site until the early 2010s. Today The Alamo is overseen by the Texas State Land Office.
The Alamo front view
Saved in the early 20th century, the Alamo remains popular with visitors today.

Photo by Bigroger27509. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Located within the restored ruins of the original mission wall, the church of The Alamo is a white stone building decorated with ornamental stonework on the front façade. The chapel appears as it did in 1849. Its solid masonry is four feet thick, 75 feet long, 62 feet wide, and 22 ½ feet high. The chapel is cruciform in shape and contains a baptistery, confessional, and sacristy.

In 1757 the original church had two stone towers flanking the front façade and a roof with a barrel vault and dome. After five years these towers and the ceiling collapsed, destroying the roof. These features were never replaced and the building fell into greater disrepair over time. By the 1830s, none of the roof remained above the chapel and the property was in poor condition. In 1920, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas put a metal roof over the chapel, replaced the woodwork on the side and rear doors, and replaced the windows. Other restored buildings on the property include two living quarters. One of the acequias that fed mission and village fields was Acequia Madre de Valero, built in 1719. It was hand dug, lined with limestone, used throughout the 19th century, and incorporated in to the city waterworks in 1877. A portion was preserved in 1968, and today it is listed the National Register of Historic Places.

Located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, The Alamo is open to the public year-round. The mission complex includes the buildings, exhibits on Texas history, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, the museum shop and gardens. The chapel now houses a gallery of historical paintings and artifacts from Texan history. The Alamo staff offer history talks and tours for the public. Other nearby San Antonio historical attractions include San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and the Spanish Governor's Palace.

Plan Your Visit

The Alamo, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 100 Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio, TX. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. It is open every day of the week from 9:00am to 5:30pm, except during June, July, and August when it is open until 7:00pm. The Alamo is closed Dec. 24-25. For more information visit The Alamo website or call 210-225-1391.
The Alamo and other San Antonio missions are the subjects of an online lesson plan, San Antonio Missions: Spanish Influence in Texas. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo) has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The Alamo is featured in the National Park Service South and West Texas Travel Itinerary and American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary. The Alamo has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last updated: April 15, 2016

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