Sunday – December 23, 2012
The sky was overcast today, but the temperature was in the mid 70s. We decided it would be a good day to visit San Antonio, Texas. Our visit included a tour of The Alamo, a barge ride on the San Antonio River through the River Walk, lunch at Mi Tierra Cafe in the Market Square and a visit to Lackland Air Force Base.
A visit to The Alamo is to relive a piece of American history. Prior to our tour, we viewed a short film on the history of the Alamo that was originally aired on the History Channel. The film provides a detailed account of the struggle of Texas to gain its independence from Mexico.
The River Walk is a required visit to San Antonio. A luscious green vegetation landscape, restaurants, boutique shops and hotels abound on both sides of the river. Several of the restaurants offer outdoor dining along the river. We walked the entire River Walk first, then we took the river barge ride. The river barge is a unique way to traverse the river and the pilot of the barge provides a narration of the history of the River Walk.
Prior to our departing the Chicago area, my research on the Casita Travel Trailer Forum for restaurants in San Antonio provided recommendations from several members for Mi Tierra Cafe. They were right on with their reviews. This is a combination bakery / restaurant / bar. Their website states: "They Never Close." The restaurant is quite large, the wait staff very friendly and attentive and the food preparation is excellent. This was a very pleasurable dining experience.
Before departing the San Antonio area, we visited Lackland Air Force Base. When I enlisted in the Air Force in February 1958, this is where I went through basic training. Non-military are not allowed on the base, except for authorized civilian contractors and retired veterns, so we had to view it from the frontage road that provides entry to the main gate. I spent four years in the Strategic Air Command, two years stationed in Topeka, Kansas and two years stationed in Puerto Rico. At that time the Strategic Air Command was home to the B-47 and B-52 bombers and the U-2 spy plane. This was the first time in 54 years, following my basic training there, I had returned to Lackland. It was quite a nostalgic visit.
San Antonio traces its roots to 1691 and a rudimentary settlement around springs in what is now San Pedro Springs Park, just north of downtown. Both Spanish missionaries and military men soon determined that a move south to the banks of the San Antonio river was a good idea. There, in 1718 they officially founded a mission that would become the Alamo and a garrisoned post that would give name to the Plaza de Armas, today Military Plaza.
The Alamo, Military Plaza, the San Antonio River and Main Plaza – previously called Plaza de las Islas in honor of the Canary Islanders who were brought to help tame this wild frontier – are the heart of current-day San Antonio. Today, a brief walk ties together the history and the form of the city, with its focus on plazas alive with activities, and its river banks teaming with visitors and locals alike.
San Antonio’s historic Main Plaza, which dates back to the early 1700s was restored in 2008. Huge trees, bubbling fountains, seating areas, soft landscaping and entertainment mark this public square.
The story of the Alamo: thirteen fateful days in 1836. In the early 1800s, the Spanish military stationed a cavalry unit at the Alamo (the Spanish word for cottonwood) in honor of their hometown Alamo de Parras, Coahuila. The Alamo was home to both Revolutionaries and Royalists during Mexico’s ten-year struggle for Independence. The military – Spanish, Rebel, and then Mexican – continued to occupy the Alamo until the Texas Revolution.
San Antonio and the Alamo played a critical role in the Texas Revolution. In December 1835, Ben Milam led Texian and Tejano volunteers against Mexican troops quartered in the city. After five days of house-to-house fighting, they forced General Martin Perfecto de Cos and his solders to surrender. The victorious volunteers then occupied the Alamo. On February 23, 1836, the arrival of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army (a force of approximately 1500 Mexican solders) outside San Antonio nearly caught them by surprise. Undaunted, the Texians and Tejanos prepared to defend the Alamo together. The defenders held out for 13 days against Santa Anna’s army.
William B. Travis, the commander of the Alamo, sent forth couriers carrying pleas for help to communities in Texas. On the eighth day of the siege, a band of 32 volunteers from Gonzales arrived, bringing the number of defenders to nearly 200. Legend holds that with the possibility of additional help fading, Colonel Travis drew a line on the ground with his sword and asked any man willing to stay and fight to step over – all except one did. As the defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and they were ready to give their lives rather than surrender their position to General Santa Anna. Among the Alamo’s garrison were Jim Bowie, renowed knife fighter, and David Crockett, famed frontiersman and former congressman from Tennessee.
The final assault came before daybreak on the morning of March 6, 1836, as columns of Mexican soldiers emerged from the predawn darkness and headed for the Alamo’s walls. Cannon and small arms fire from inside the Alamo beat back several attacks. Regrouping, the Mexican soldiers scaled the walls and rushed into the compound. The desperate continued until the defenders were overwhelmed. By sunrise the battle had ended and Santa Anna entered the Alamo compound to survey the scene of his victory.
While the facts surrounding the siege of the Alamo continue to be debated, there is no doubt about what the battle has come to symbolize. People worldwide continue to remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds – a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.