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Remember the Alamo

The Alamo Mission in San Antonio. Photo by Alisha Wood. Public domain.

This week marks the 180th anniversary of the beginning of the siege that is known as the Battle of the Alamo. For 13 days, San Antonio will "Remember the Alamo" with live reenactments and special events to commemorate the anniversary of the siege and battle of the Alamo. Special 180 Anniversary events will be running through March 4th. See TheAlamo.org for more information. Every year over 2.5 million people visit the Alamo. This relatively small mission is the pride of Texas independence.

The Alamo was first and foremost a mission. Spain, as a way of protecting its lands in the New World, set up a series of missions in the West. Five such missions were established around present day San Antonio. The foundation for what is known today as the Alamo was laid in 1744 and was the Mission San Antonio de Valero. According to the Texas State Historical Association, "the Spanish mission was a frontier institution that sought to incorporate indigenous people into the Spanish colonial empire, its Catholic religion, and certain aspects of its Hispanic culture through the formal establishment of Indian communities entrusted to the tutelage of missionaries under the protection and control of the Spanish state." Although today the missions have been strongly criticized the frontier had become a very dangerous place for Indians, often resulting in death or enslavement.

A Spanish mission was much more than a religious institution. Its purpose was to take an indigenous population and convert it not only to Catholicism, but to the Spanish way of life. In establishing the missions in Texas, the Spanish hoped to create a self-sufficient population that would continue to exist and grow as loyal Spanish subjects, thereby staving off any involvement of foreign powers like France. Indian converts were taught farming, raising livestock, blacksmithing, carpentry, stonework, and weaving. They were also given shelter and a more stable food supply. By the late 1790s, a dwindling indigenous population, caused by changing lifestyles on the frontier, along with low birth rates and increased death rates caused by illnesses brought by Europeans, brought a sharp decline in the need for the missions and they slowly were turned into military garrisons.

Name Change to the Alamo

By 1793 when San de Valero had become secularized, Spain was building up its resources to fight for control of its territory. Spain's archenemy, the French, owned all the land east of Texas almost to the Canadian border. It would be another ten years, in 1803, when Thomas Jefferson would seal the purchase of Louisiana from the French. According to the TheAlamo.org, "The first soldiers to arrive were a troop of presidial soldiers called La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Parra, the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras. Also called 'The Alamo Company' because of its hometown of Alamo de Parras located south of the Rio Grande, the 100 troops and their families arrived in force in 1803." Within a short period of time this building, with a hospital for soldiers, was called simply The Alamo.

On September 27, 1821, the Army of the Three Guarantees triumphantly entered Mexico City. The following day Mexico was declared independent. Mexico may have gained its independence from Spain, but it quickly learned that defending its interests in Texas would be no easier for them than it had been for Spain. Part of the problem was the sparse population. Mexico tried to encourage settlers by offering a program called colonization, which may have been a good policy but it couldn't be controlled. There were just too many settlers from the East moving to Texas to find a new life. Simultaneously, Mexico was establishing a new constitution and divided the country into different states. Because Texas still did not have a large enough population, it was not designated a separate state of Mexico. This was probably a huge mistake and only fueled the fire for the cry of independence from Mexico that had already begun. In 1830, Mexico went as far as to prohibit immigration from the United States into Texas! Pretty ironic, but it just fueled independence cries. At the same time, a general had pretty much taken over Mexico, the famous General Santa Anna and his part of Texas history is about to begin.

The Siege

The siege lasted 19 days but when the attack started it was over in 90 minutes. Santa Anna called it "a small affair" - underestimating the fight for independence and moved his troops toward Louisiana. Only a month later General Sam Houston realized Santa Anna had divided his troops and "Houston seized the opportunity and attacked, surprising the larger Mexican force. In a bloody, 18-minute battle, Texan forces defeated the Mexican troops, captured Santa Anna and achieved independence to the cries of "Remember the Alamo!" Read more about the exciting final days of the Alamo and Texas independence at TheAlamo.org.

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