Reflections 2015
Series 2
February 1
Texas I: San Antonio


Texas et moi   On our two grand "see America" trips, in 1968, when we spent all summer in our VW camper touring the western US & Canada, and in 1969, when we did a huge figure-eight in the East, we didn't stop in Texas. That's because we'd been there, just for half a day, the year before, in a rather unusual way. 1967 was our summer in Mexico, when we flew to New Orleans, then Mérida in the Yucatan, then to central Mexico, to study Spanish for three weeks. Before flying home to New York, we were to visit Beverly's family in Minneapolis, and had a puddle-jumper flight from Mexico City via San Antonio, Dallas, and Kansas City to Minneapolis. I think it was rather at the last minute that we decided to alter our flight slightly. We left Mexico City early, and got off the plane in San Antonio. We took a taxi into town, visited the Alamo and the River Walk, and several other places I'd have forgotten about if they hadn't been in the travel diary (la Villita, Spanish Governor's Palace, Cathedral). We then took a taxi back and continued on puddle-jumping to Minnesota. Since San Antonio was for us the principal attraction in Texas anyway, we early on checked it off our bucket list of US states and Canadian provinces to visit.


I won't count the time we took the Sunset Limited from Florida to California, since we were just on the train and didn't get off in Texas (or anywhere else in between). But in 2007 I was on the Sunset out of New Orleans through Texas, and got off in El Paso, just for a quick look-see overnight, and then walked over the bridge into Mexico at Juárez to get connections to see the Copper Canyon and Mexico City (2007/1). This was my first and only really genuine walk-across an international border without returning, since I returned on a flight to Florida.


Only now, when writing this summary do three things occur to me: (1) Unlike in all the other states, I never had occasion to drive a car in Texas before this trip; (2) Both fleeting Texas visits, San Antonio and El Paso, were in conjunction with visiting Mexico; (3) Of the two Texas visits, one involved entering the US one way only and the other leaving the US one way only. I never realized any of this before now.


I'd revisited other places over the years, but was never in a hurry to go back to Texas for a longer visit. It was the fact that the Texas Eagle ends there (principally) that inspired this visit at all, and that the last stop was good ol' San Antonio further strengthened the notion of a revisit. But still, regarding this, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that, after this trip, I've learned to like Texas (Like, not love. There are few places I love.) It seemed a nice, livable, enjoyable place that I was happy to travel around, and glad I revisited. The area of eastern Texas I was in was also a much lusher green than I, or others on the train, expected, although other areas might be more arid.


The bad news is that before that, I'd never liked the bigger-than-life attitude of some Texans. I just suppose it's a matter of the perceived attitude one visualizes about Texans having feelings of superiority, and of uniqueness, the feeling that Texas is better than other states. One thing I noticed on this trip was the remarkable preponderance of Texas flags, the "Lone Star Flag" from the "Lone Star State". Everywhere there's a US flag, there's a Texas flag (Photo by Ernest Mettendorf), which is not unusual. But beyond that, there are Texas flags by themselves everywhere (Photo by Sami99tr). Here's another example (Photo by Zereshk). (I found these three pictures online in just San Antonio alone; they are, in order, a landmarked house, a downtown office building, a hotel near the Alamo.) One would think that to be a Good Thing. But where else does that happen? Where else do you see a preponderance of local flags wherever you look? I think I'd recognize the New York State flag if I saw it, but would otherwise have to think hard as to what it looked like. In this way, Texas is different.


I think this extra-powerful local pride has resulted in an attitude among some Texans that I'd describe as "übermacho". (I'm pleased with this descriptive word I've coined, based on an easily recognizable German word and an equally recognizable Spanish one.) But on the other hand, I was very glad to see Texas kidding its own image when I saw many signs in an anti-litter campaign that said "Don't Mess With Texas". Cute, contrasting littering with a macho attitude. But on the other hand, the old Texas was still evident when I saw that same slogan in a shopfront window that had a display of knives and guns. Not cool.


I've been made more aware of the contrasts in Texas by two of my Texas heroes, both female, both now deceased, both due to cancer, Molly Ivins and Ann Richards. Molly Ivins (rhymes with "livens"), raised in Texas, was a newspaper columnist, political commentator, author, and humorist. She wrote for Texas papers, but I got to know her columns in the New York Times. She was best when writing satirically, stating, for instance, that she was not anti-gun, but pro-knife. She pointed out that you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him, so knives promote physical fitness. Also, knives don't ricochet, and few people are killed cleaning their knives. She called the Texas state Legislature one of the most corrupt, incompetent, and funniest in the US, and referred to it as the Lege. She is also given credit for the nickname "Shrub" for the younger Bush, George W.


Ann Richards was of course the onetime governor of Texas in the early 1990s who, as a woman, had deal with the old-boy-network of the Legislature. She came to national attention at the 1988 Democratic Convention where she gave the keynote speech, which has been cited by rhetorical experts as a historically significant one. As seen on this YouTube video (0:24), it's the speech where she famously used perhaps the most artfully mixed metaphor of the 20C, also about George W Bush. Later, after Nine Eleven, when some people decided to leave New York City, that event drove Richards to move to New York, where she spent the last five years of her life.


The actress Holland Taylor is also an admirer of Ann Richards. She researched Richards' background and papers, interviewed people, and wrote a one-woman play in which she herself put her hair up in a white beehive and starred, called Ann: An Affectionate Portrait of Ann Richards. It opened in San Antonio (!) and toured the country, playing in the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York's Lincoln Center, where I saw it. Taylor explained that much of the text was either verbatim Richards or paraphrased. In this YouTube video (1:57), Holland Taylor recalls actually having met Richards. Then watch this 4:10 video of excerpts from the play in Chicago. If you didn't know Ann Richards and her kind of Texas before, you will now. I was also pleased when she quotes Molly Ivins at 1:10.


I saw the play the year before I went back to Texas. I'm cured now of my conflicts about the state, and keeping Ivins and Richards in mind, I know there's hope for this Texas I now like.


1836 And All That    I admit it. The heading of this section is inspired by 1066 And All That, the English book that parodied the teaching of English history in England. Part of its extended title promised that it included "all the parts you can remember", and then some. Well, what do we remember about Texas history? Alamo. Battle. Davy Crockett. Santa Anna. Republic. State. End of story. What's for dinner?

 Santa Anna's name being spelled with two Ns has always bothered me, since the name Ana has only one N in Spanish. "Saint Anne" is "Santa Ana". So what's with the two Ns?

The next thing I'll admit is that that's just about all I knew when I went to San Antonio, certainly that first time, and this second time as well. Even when visiting the grounds, it all seemed to be mythology and folk history, but with little background. What really happened? What caused it to happen? As so often is the case, I find that only now, after the fact, does the full background emerge for me. It has to do a lot more with the Louisiana Purchase than I'd ever have imagined, with territory falling to the US like dominoes from the Mississippi River to the Pacific coast. I assume most readers know little more than what I did when I was there, so stay aboard for what I find to be an interesting ride.


When we look into early San Antonio and the roots of the Alamo, we find that this is where Western settlement first took place in what is now Texas. France had started settling Louisiana, and Spain felt threatened, so in 1690 Spanish authorities started constructing a series of missions in Texas, construction continuing into the early part of the next century. In 1691, a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries came across a Payaya Indian settlement on a river on 13 June, the feast day of St Anthony of Padua, and named their new civilian settlement and the river San Antonio. Settlers came slowly. Later, a missionary got permission to found a mission next to this new settlement, and government approval was given, again with the French in mind. Construction of the mission finally started in 1724 with the help of Payaya Indians, and it was called Misión de San Antonio de Valero. Four other missions were built in a line along the river not too far south of this one.


The civilian settlement just steps to the south of the mission was called Villa de Béjar (Bexar in the old spelling, both pronounced BE.khar; San Antonio today is in Bexar [] County). The civilian settlement and the mission are the core of modern San Antonio, which was, early on, the capital of the Spanish, later Mexican, province of Tejas. However, hostile native tribes and the distance of Tejas from the center of Mexico discouraged settlers, and Tejas was one of New Spain's least populated provinces.


Most people look at the Alamo and since it looks like a church, they may assume it still is. But at the early date of 1793, the mission was secularized, as were the four that lay further south along the river, and then abandoned. Ten years later, in 1803 (the date of the Louisiana Purchase) the former mission became a makeshift fortress housing a Spanish army unit. The cloister next to the church became a barracks, and the large walled compound (long since removed), which was meant to protect Indian families living within it from raids by other Indians, was also ideal for a fort. This recycling of buildings is not unusual today. I know of a large former bank building that became a supermarket, and a large former movie theater that became a church. So do understand that the Alamo was a fortress made from a recycled mission complex.


This would explain why it's not called the Misión de San Antonio de Valero any more. But then the question arises: why do we call it the Alamo? Look for the answer, which is so obscure, that some sources will state that the origin of the name is unknown. People who know that álamo is the Spanish designation for a poplar or cottonwood tree might expect to see those in abundance, but I don't know that any are there at all. The obscure answer is complex, but I've tried to peel the layers away like when peeling an onion. I hope I've made it clear below.


The military unit that occupied the secularized mission-cum-fort of San Antonio de Valero in 1803 came from the nearby Mexican state of Coahuila ( The unit was officially called La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Parras (The Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras). However, the men in this company didn't exactly come from Parras, in southern Coahuila, but from a village nearby called San José y Santiago del Álamo. For the sake of convenience and identification, this village was commonly referred to as Álamo de Parras, and these men styled themselves the Compañía del Álamo de Parras, then shortened even further to the Compañía del Álamo. Then, in everyone's mind, the building they were occupying was no longer the Misión Valero, but the Álamo. Where else could it be that the Alamo Company is located in but a complex called the Alamo? It's amazing how the name of a tiny, distant village moved step by step to refer to soldiers, then to a building complex, but that's how language—and the associative qualities of the human mind—works.


So the unit took up residence in the Alamo in 1803, the year the US purchased Louisiana. That was more significant than one would believe, because there's a lot more to the Louisiana Purchase than I believed, certainly as it regards Texas and the American Southwest. For instance, who occupied the area of the Louisiana Purchase when the transfer took place? I know that, before having reviewed this material, I would have gotten that wrong. I would have said, logically France, since France was famously the one who sold it. Not so. It was Spain, and the area had become part of New Spain. La Louisiane (lwi.ZYAN), based on "Louis" (LWI in French) and named by La Salle in 1682 for the then-king of France Louis XIV, had become Luisiana (, based on "Luis" (LWIS in Spanish).


I first became aware of the Spanish history of Louisiana because of New Orleans Street Signs (you see, travel DOES broaden). Visitors to New Orleans expect to find many street names in French, especially in the French Quarter, and they do: Chartres, Bienville, Iberville, Bourbon (not the beverage, the Royal house), Burgundy (again not the beverage, but the French region), Dauphine, Dumaine, and more. Not only that, but no one is surprised to see the names in French as well as in English (Photo by Justin Watt), again particularly in the French Quarter. Here's another example (Photo by Dan Soto). The French heritage is visibly obvious.


But since the first time I visited New Orleans, I noticed that, where the lamppost sign may say Rue Bourbon, there were tile wall signs in virtually every block in the French Quarter that said something like this (Photo by Ebgundy). Note the interesting ligature of the D and E of "de" as one single letter; also Borbón needs an accent mark—but they got Luisiana right. But most especially note that Spanish rule, that started in 1762, came to an end in 1803, the very year the US purchased the territory from France. There is no reference to any French rule at that point. How can that be? Stay tuned.


I've found other examples online, which we'll look at just for the fun of it. Rue Royale has this sign (Photo by Infrogmation), and here (Photo by Infrogmation) you can see both signs (click), showing three languages. Rue Saint Louis has this (Photo by Tulane Public Relations); Rue Conti has this (Photo by Infrogmation); Rue Bienville has this (Photo by Infrogmation). It's not unusual to see two Spanish signs (Photo by Kaihsu Tai) at a corner. (Aduana is Customs House, but I believe this is now Rue Iberville). By the way, I just now found out while preparing this information, that the Spanish signs were a gift from Spain in 1959. Ergo, Spain has not forgotten!


Jackson Square, the French Place d'Armes, was the Spanish Plaza de Armas. The famous building on Jackson Square called the Cabildo, which to this day keeps its obviously Spanish name, was the seat of Spanish colonial government.


OK, if you stayed tuned, we're back on track. What did the area of the Louisiana Purchase being Spanish at the time of purchase have to do with Texas and the American Southwest? I think that question almost answers itself, but let's go step by step. First we'll look at the traditional map showing United States expansion. If you want it in a separate window for easier reference, here's the link:


We'll start with the brown area, the US as of the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Usually, one gets to see maps of the Thirteen Colonies clustered along the east coast, and less frequently, a map of the US as it was actually constituted when formed. Really, though, the US is here still an east coast entity, but with long back yards. It's like a row of townhouses, side by side, but with none of the group of families living there owning the corner property, Florida, so there's no Gulf Coast access.. While the western border is very conveniently a natural one, the Mississippi River, the US has a distinct southern land border.


We discussed all of this in detail in 2009/21-25 "The Thirteen Colonies: 1600-1800", starting in the south with the division of the Province of Carolina (no attribution), then the Colony of Virginia, and so on northwards. As we will be talking about the state of Mississippi later, note how Greater Carolina (and Greater Virginia) actually did reach the Mississippi River in the earliest days. Also, for our purposes when we get to Mississippi, and even right now, note what I'll call "The Point", the southwestern corner of Greater Carolina, in the state of Mississippi today, which just runs off this map.


Jump next out west to the Oregon Territory, acquired by treaty from Great Britain in 1846 when the Oregon Country, called in Britain the Columbia District (2008/20), was divided between the two. Other than that, we are about to discuss en masse EVERYTHING ELSE, because everything else is all related, and forget the French Connection—that was a movie. This is all the Spanish Connection. (In passing, note that, when the straight, long border between British America-cum-Canada and the United States was decided, the blue British area was ceded to the US and the green area, formerly part of the Louisiana Purchase, was ceded to Britain. In this way, a sliver of what had been Spanish is now part of Canada.)


So what's all this stuff about Luisiana (sic) being Spanish? It was all French, right? Yes, from when La Salle named it. Do continue thinking of the French heritage, particularly in New Orleans and Saint Louis and its area. Continue to picture it as a French haven sought after by the Acadians from the Maritimes, who became Cajuns in Louisiana. That all forms the historical foundation we're building on.


But in 1762, Louis XV of France, about to lose Canada to Britain, ceded to Charles III of Spain Louisiana, all on the west bank of the Mississippi, but including New Orleans on the east bank, in the Treaty of Fontainebleau ("T/F"). This reference to Louisiana is to all the French territory WEST of the Mississippi, that which we usually picture as the later Louisiana Purchase, Actually, the area of New France EAST of the Mississippi (Map by Pinpin) and north of the Ohio River had ALSO been called Louisiana, but France knew it would be losing what we can call "East Louisiana" to Britain the next year, so it arranged for Spain to take over "West Louisiana".


The T/F was signed in secret, and kept secret, even during the signing the next year of the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ("T/P 63"), that ended France's war with Britain. The T/P 63 gave Britain all of New France from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (that is, "East Louisiana"), and Britain would naturally think it would then face France afterward across the Mississippi, not realizing that it would be facing Spain because of the secret T/F. Spain, on the other hand, made no issue about the eastern side of the river, since it already knew it secretly had the western side in its pocket. Spain's ownership was finally announced the following year, 1764, at which point the French colonists rebelled and expelled the first Spanish governor, but were then suppressed.


The end of the American Revolution occurred with the signing of the NEXT Treaty of Paris in 1783 ("T/P 83"). It is ironic that East Louisiana went to Britain in the T/P 63 to become part of its province of Québec, and then Britain just signed it over to the new United States, along with the Thirteen Colonies, twenty years later with the T/P 83, at which point it became part of the Northwest Territories. So there is even more irony about the Louisiana Purchase, when the US got what was actually the REST of Louisiana. But this isn't how it's usually explained. You must look at this on another map (Map by Jon Platek). The pink area around the Great Lakes and to the Mississippi and Ohio is EAST Louisiana, which went to Britain in '63, then to the US in '83. The yellow area is WEST Louisiana, which we think of as the Louisiana Purchase, which went to Spain, whose other territory is in gold.


Now let's go back to the US expansion map, which, typically, simplifies things beyond what really happened. Nothing is said about East Louisiana, since it's already a part of the US as shown here after the T/P 83. (Keep your eye on The Point, that southwest corner.) Now if you believe the simplified story, the US bought the Louisiana Purchase ("West Louisiana") from France in 1803. Well, that's true, but that story tells little. Just keep on remembering those tile signs in New Orleans that say the area belonged to Spain between 1762 and 1803, and you'll know more, and understand Texas history better. It then identifies everything west of the "French" Louisiana Purchase as the only area having been acquired from Spain. Let's see.


The reality of the matter is shown in this map of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Map by Giggette). If you want it in a separate window, here's the link:


This map is dated 1810 inaccurately, since the last time New Spain looked this way was in 1803, when it lost Luisiana. But first note how well the T/F, which gave Spain Luisiana, consolidated the Spanish empire in North America. Spanish territory completely and fully encircled the Gulf of Mexico, reached, within North America, from the Atlantic, at Florida, to the Pacific, at California, and reached north to British North America-cum-Canada—to which that sliver was later transferred. On the map, the Gulf surrounded completely by Spain is called the Gulf of Spain. With an independent Mexico, the name became the Gulf of Mexico, although by then, the entire northern shore was part of the US, so that name hasn't been entirely accurate since.


The US includes what was variously called Illinois Territory or Indiana Territory, as well as territory on the Ohio, which is why we have states with those three names today. And continue to keep your eye on The Point, at this stage, already part of Mississippi Territory. Note how it's the furthest southwest that the US reaches, and is completely boxed in by the Viceroyalty of New Spain. When you look at this map it becomes eminently clear that, not counting the Oregon Country, every bit of expansion of the US after 1803, both west and south, had nothing to do with France, and everything to do with Spain, earlier on, and later, Mexico.


Well, how did these dominoes fall? The French Revolution had come and gone, and Napoléon was in power in France. It was a king that gave away Louisiana, and the new regime wanted it back, not to occupy but in order to make a deal to resell it. In 1800, under some duress from Napoléon, Spain signed the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso ("3 T/I"), returning Louisiana and New Orleans to France. And again, the treaty was kept secret.


Still, the US was concerned about Napoléon sending ships to New Orleans. There also must have been concern about the US being blocked in and not having a "back door" leading to the Gulf down from The Point. To get this back door and to make sure Napoléon would be out of the picture, the US in 1803 offered to buy New Orleans and its environs (just that small area!) for $10 million. On the expansion map, and, even better, on the Viceroyalty map, picture what the US would have looked like with a strip of property down from The Point and encompassing New Orleans and its region. It would be like having an extended back yard far away from the front of the house, and having a strip of land to build a back exit from your property.


The American representatives made the $10 million offer for New Orleans, and were dumbfounded when the French representatives offered all of Louisiana ("West Louisiana") for just $15 million, which would be $236 million in today's dollars. They snapped up the deal. Why buy land just for a back exit when you can double the size of the US?


But while the French now OWNED the territory, it was still the Spanish who OCCUPIED it. I'd compare it to an apartment building that had had French tenants, but had been sold to a new landlord, who added Spanish tenants. Then, the first landlord renegs on the deal ("repossesses" the apartment building), the tenants notwithstanding, and sells it to a third party, who wants to bring his own people in. In other words, France pulled a slick deal, selling Louisiana out from under Spain.


Spain had owned Louisiana for 41 years. Check the Viceroyalty map again. When this Spanish domino fell because of France's financial dealings, it had effects that would rebound to the Pacific, starting with Texas.


Let's now move our "back door" metaphor from the original US territory ending at The Point, to all of Louisiana. Louisiana at that time started very obviously at the Mississippi River, which is why St Louis has the Gateway Arch we saw from the Texas Eagle as we crossed the river. The Arch indicates that you're crossing into historically new territory, the "front door" of the Louisiana Purchase. But where's the "back door"? It was very ill-defined, a fact that became the basis for US expansion to the Pacific.


If you were buying a piece of land that started at a well-defined road, but went into the woods an undefined distance, trouble will be afoot. Louisiana had a clear eastern border along the Mississippi River, but its western border was undefined (1) in the 1762 T/F that transferred it from France to Spain; it remained undefined (2) in the 1800 3 T/I that ceded it back from Spain to France, and continued to remain undefined (3) in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase agreement that ceded it to the United States. This vagueness was the basis for disagreements between the US and Spain (later Mexico) that set in motion the events that caused other Spanish/Mexican territories to fall to the US. On the Viceroyalty map, look at Spain and check out the provinces that now are names of US states, Louisiana, obviously, but also Texas, New Mexico, and California—all dominoes after Louisiana. And Florida as well. All this Spanish territory eventually became part of the US because of this lack of definition of the western border of the Louisiana Purchase. That was the first domino.


Because Louisiana was Spanish, the decision on where its western border lay dug either more or less deeply into New Spain. Spain, of course, defined Louisiana very narrowly, insisting that it comprised no more than the western bank of the Mississippi, including St Louis, plus the city of New Orleans on the eastern bank. By that definition, the US would be gaining the entire Mississippi River, but hardly more than that. The US claimed that Louisiana included (check the expansion map) (1) the entire Mississippi River drainage basin up to the crest of the Rocky Mountains, (2) all of the Texas area up to the Rio Grande (the present border with Mexico), and (3) West Florida because of its proximity to New Orleans. Dominoes, dominoes.

 It was precisely because the "back door" of Louisiana was so highly contested at this point that Jefferson sent out three expeditions to explore the area. All three started at the "front door", the Mississippi River. The most famous one left in 1804, the very year after the purchase, and that was the Lewis and Clark Expedition that went up the Missouri River (Map by DEMIS Mapserver & Shannon1). Actually, it went further, into Oregon Country (Map by Victor van Werkhooven) up to Fort Clatsop, as we described in 2008/20.

The next expedition further south was the Pike Expedition of 1806. Zebulon Pike also started up the Missouri, but then turned south to explore the Arkansas River watershed (Map by Shannon1) up into Colorado, where he sighted, but was unable to complete a climb of, what is since known as Pike's Peak. The third expedition was the Red River Expedition, also of 1806, which went further south still and explored the basin of the Red River (Map by Shannon1), which today separates Oklahoma and Texas.

The debate between the US and Spain that started with the Purchase in 1803 was decided in 1819 by the Adams-Onis Treaty. At least it was hoped to be the end of it, but because of Texas, didn't turn out to be. The US definition of the northern part of the Louisiana territory reaching the Rockies was upheld, but not the southern part. This kept Texas for Spain, by establishing the local boundary between Spain (Texas) and the US (Louisiana) as the Sabine River. Copy and paste this link:,+1836-1845+%28partial%29.jpeg


This period map shows the eastern part of Texas, that part that has always been the most populous, as it looked between 1836 (Battle of the Alamo) and 1845 (statehood). It shows the Sabine River border with Louisiana, as it still looks to this day, when I drove over it on Interstate 10 from Texas to Louisiana on this trip. I didn't realize at the time I was mispronouncing the name. I now learn that Sabine is pronounced like "marine". In any case, as of 1819, areas east of the Sabine had become US territory, but anyone wanting to settle west of the Sabine would be in Spanish/Mexican Texas.


Look back at the expansion map, and you'll see that the new Sabine River border did involve Spain ceding that triangular purple area that is now western Louisiana. But with that cession, plus Louisiana, the US also purchased West Florida. Furthermore, the Adams-Onis treaty resolved that Spain would give the US East Florida in exchange for the US not making any claims to Texas. Thus the United States, which had merely been looking for a back door to the Gulf in 1803 at New Orleans, in one fell swoop in 1819 had an extensive Gulf Coast from the Atlantic Ocean west to the Sabine River—but not beyond. Well, not for a while, as it turned out.

 Let's talk about the most interesting of these areas, West Florida. As you can see on the expansion map, it was later divided between three states. Louisiana gained the westernmost section, north of New Orleans. Up until then, only the west bank of the Mississippi, plus New Orleans on the east bank, had been part of Louisiana, but this treaty gave the state its first stretch of the east bank beyond New Orleans. The central and eastern parts of West Florida were added to Mississippi and Alabama respectively, giving those states access to the Gulf as well. East Florida became today's state of Florida, and was never subdivided, so Georgia's potential coastline on the Gulf (and Alabama's, too, other than Mobile Bay) remains within the Florida panhandle, making Georgia as an east coast state exclusively with no Gulf access, and only limited access for Alabama.

Now consider the original international southern border of the US at its independence. It still exists today in two segments in the form of state lines. The longer one is Georgia's southern border, plus about two-thirds of Alabama's. On different occasions, I've driven across both into Florida. The shorter segment of this old border is over at The Point, where Mississippi and Louisiana today come together, and on this trip, we'll drive across that one. But don't forget The Point, which includes the city of Natchez, as we'll get back to it later in the trip.

Republic of Mexico    We've been talking about Spain, specifically the Viceroyalty of New Spain, but just as the expanded Thirteen Colonies changed from British to American rule between 1776 and 1783, a period of seven years, the Viceroyalty of New Spain had its own revolution, and it fell right in the period we're discussing in the early 19C. Mexican independence from Spain was declared in 1810, but only after the War of Independence was it consummated, after eleven years, in 1821, just short of four decades after US independence.


But in the US, those who believed in the new democracy and its new Constitution held sway. Tories, who wanted to retain the monarchy, either went into exile, most frequently to Canada, or became subservient to the new republic. Unfortunately, in Mexico after independence, the reverse was true. While the country was independent, the liberales, who wanted a constitutional democracy and a federal form of government were swept aside by the conservadores, who wanted a centralized, hierarchical form of government with continued close ties to Spain and the Catholic church. In my mind, in the first years of independence, it's as though control of the country flip-flopped between democratic forces and the Mexican equivalent of the US Tories.


It started with a "bad guy", when a certain Agustín de Iturbide, proclaimed himself emperor of the First Mexican Empire. He was overthrown, and the country was renamed the Estados Unidos Mexicanos / United Mexican States, which is considered the First Mexican Republic. In 1824, the Constitution of 1824 was drafted, and the first president of Mexico, Guadalupe Victoria, was elected. We're now back to the "good guys". The bad news was that Guadalupe Victoria was the only president in about the first thirty years of independence who completed a full term of office, since there followed a series of presidents, some with dizzyingly short terms of office.


Then, another flip-flop to a "bad guy". In 1833, Antonio López de Santa Anna became the constitutionally elected president of Mexico, but he was a centrist and became a dictator. In 1836 (the "Alamo" year) he had radical legislation passed that institutionalized the non-democratic, centralized form of government. He unilaterally rescinded the Constitution of 1824, dissolved Mexico's Congress and all the state legislatures, and asserted dictatorial control over Mexico. Again, draw a parallel to the US, and to what people would think if an early president tried to suspend the US Constitution and dissolve all the democratic governing bodies. In Mexico, civil war broke out across the country, and the governments of no fewer than three areas declared independence, although only one (you know which) with lasting success.


First, let's look at Mexico in 1824 (Map by Hpav7). If you want it in a separate window, here's the link:


This is what was left after the losses of Louisiana, the Floridas, and the land up to the Sabine. You can tell the concentrations of people by the size of the state or territory. Everything in the north was very sparsely populated, and therefore large. The peninsula of Lower (Baja) California remained a territory then, but today has become two states (see below). Upper (Alta) California and New (Nuevo) Mexico were territories. Actually, Texas was so sparsely populated and should have remained a territory, but, probably because of its proximity to the US and because of US settlers there, the Constitution of 1824 extended the boundaries of the state of Coahuila (where those soldiers came from) and formed a new state, Coahuila y Texas.


Back to the three self-declared republics (Map by Giggette) that Santa Anna had scared into being. Here's the link for a separate window:


First note on the map that the areas in light brown (Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Tabasco) were in rebellion. The republic with middling success was the Republic of Yucatán (see map) which existed for just seven months in 1823, but then again from 1841 to 1848. It eventually rejoined Mexico for purposes of protection. Now look in the north, where there are two adjacent republics.


South of the Rio Grande, in dark brown, were the Mexican states, including Coahuila, that formed the would-be Republic of the Rio Grande. They also had claims on the rest of the south bank of the river further west, in light red, involving Chihuahua and part of New Mexico, plus Durango. This was the weakest of the three republics, and lasted for just ten months in 1840 before disappearing. The only successful one was, of course, the Republic of Texas, also in dark brown, which had the claims in dark red, all on the north bank of the Rio Grande, up into New Mexico. What was the basis for this extended claim so far west? The Louisiana Purchase, of course! Ever since 1803, the US had declared that the far border of Louisiana reached the Rio Grande, and Texas picked up on that. So I'll say again, do not discount the Louisiana Purchase as forming a part of the history of both Texas and the American Southwest to the Pacific.


Developments in Texas    We've moved up to the pivotal year on the Mexican side, and now have to catch up on the Texas side, which we left when the Mexican soldiers took residence in the Alamo in 1803 and Mexico was still New Spain. The Spanish government was concerned that Texas was too underpopulated (Mexico's joining it to Coahuila was still in the future, with the Constitution of 1824) and they were concerned about the mostly Spanish population of Texas being plagued by the near-constant raids of the Comanches. What the Spanish did, apparently made sense at the time, but in retrospect was fatal to their ownership of Texas and the American Southwest. Hoping that more settlers would reduce the Comanche problem, Spain liberalized the immigration policies for Texas. From then on, not only could immigrants from Mexico and Spain settle Texas, immigrants from anywhere were welcome, which of course meant principally from the nearby US, now as close as Louisiana, and also from Europe.


As a matter of fact, immigration was no longer being left to chance. Entrepreneurs were allotted large pieces of land, and were told to recruit settlers. The first entrepreneur to receive land was Moses Austin, whose stewardship on his death was then passed to his son, Stephen F Austin, after whom the capital of Texas was later named. Twenty-three other entrepreneurs joined the Austins, and by far, the majority of settlers was from the US, swelling the population rapidly. This was aided by the fact that many US settlers were displeased with the 1819 agreement settling the Sabine as the border, and refused to recognize it. Then, after the US attempted to purchase Texas (purchasing had worked in Louisiana and West Florida), the Mexican authorities in 1830 prohibited further immigration from the US.


While people today from the state of Texas are called Texans, in this period of the early 19C, US immigrants there called themselves by the quaint word "Texians". In 1825, the population of Texas was about 3,500, almost all Mexican. Just nine years later, in 1834 (two years before the Battle of the Alamo), the population of Texas had grown by a factor of almost eleven, to about 37,800, and of these, about 30,000 were Texians and 7,800 were Mexican, a ratio of four to one.


A skirmish in 1835 at Gonzales TX is considered the beginning of the Texas Revolution, when Texians fought Mexican troops at various locations in Texas. Then Santa Anna rescinded the Constitution of 1824 and all legislatures the next year, and those three republics were declared, including the Republic of Texas.


I have to admit at this point that, while I've been aware that Santa Anna led the Mexican side at the Battle of the Alamo, I always thought he was some general the government had sent to settle some local fighting, which sounds reasonable enough. I never realized before now that, with his new dictatorial powers, he WAS the government of Mexico and it was because of his dictatorial, anti-democratic actions that the revolt had taken place in the first place. It tells more about his personality when you realize that he took these revolts as an affront to Mexican honor, and was headed for Texas to personally take care of the matter.


The San Antonio River starts about 5 km (3 mi) north of San Antonio and flows to the Gulf. In San Antonio, Texians had taken over the Alamo from the garrison there (whose general was Santa Anna's brother-in-law) and had occupied it. Further down the San Antonio River (Map by Kuru), the town of Goliad also had a garrison housed in a mission, and Texian militia took that over, too.


Santa Anna sent a smaller force under another general to Goliad, where they defeated the Texians between February 27 and March 12. Santa Anna personally brought the larger force to the village of Bejar/Bexar, with its Alamo, all of which is today San Antonio.


The Battle of the Alamo    About 100 Texians had taken over the fort, but it was undermanned and underprovisioned. Few reinforcements were authorized. William Travis had arrived on 3 February to take command, with 30 men, including the famous knife fighter Jim Bowie. Bowie is also known for the Bowie knife, named after him (Photo by Tim Lively). His name, and that of the fighting knife, have an unusual pronunciation, rhyming with "Louie", although a spelling pronunciation where it rhymes with "snowy" is very common, especially for the knife.


On 8 February, a small group of volunteers arrived, including the famous frontiersman, folk hero, and former US congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee. He had just lost reelection to the US House of Representatives, was peeved, and declared that he was leaving to go explore Texas, an unfortunate decision, since he would perish with all the others.


On 23 February, about 1500 Mexicans arrived in San Antonio de Béxar, ready to retake Texas for Mexico. They were under the command of the dictator, General Santa Anna. He promptly initiated a siege of the Alamo.

 This drawing is an excerpt of the official 1836 Mexican report on the fall of the Alamo. North is to the LEFT. In the upper right is the chapel (C) and what looks like three thick sections of wall at (E) is the former cloister, which by now was the Long Barracks. These two buildings are all that still exists today. The remaining huge compound is where most of the fighting took place. It had been built as part of each of the five San Antonio missions, and was meant to protect local Native Americans from marauding tribes. It could withstand that sort of an attack, but not an artillery-equipped army attack. Several weeks after the fall of the Alamo, when the Mexican army retreated, they tore down the walls of the compound so that it couldn't be used as a fort again.

Note the San Antonio River across the fold in the book, flowing south (right), and particularly the large loop approaching the Alamo compound. This comprises today's River Walk. But back to the Battle.

The siege went on, with the defenders repelling two attacks. Finally, in the early morning hours of 6 March, the Texians were unable to fend off a third attack. Mexican soldiers scaled the walls of the large compound part of the complex, and most of the Texian soldiers withdrew into the barracks and chapel. Those that didn't reach the buildings were killed on the spot. Between five and seven may have surrendered, and they were nevertheless killed on the spot as well. By the time the battle was over, all had been killed, with no prisoners taken, on Santa Anna's orders. Most eyewitness accounts reported between 182 and 257 Texians dead. Historians agree that around 600 Mexicans were killed or wounded.


Goliad   Downriver, the right wing of Santa Anna's offensive defeated the Texians who had taken the fort at Goliad and captured the survivors. Santa Anna ordered the Goliad prisoners to be shot or bayoneted on 27 March, which was Palm Sunday. The general in charge resisted the orders at first and sent a special message to Santa Anna to confirm the order, which Santa Anna did. The general had granted clemency to those POWs who'd surrendered unarmed, but he now had to figure out how to execute hundreds of prisoners. Those who could walk were told they were being moved to another location. As they walked down the road in three columns, two lines of Mexican soldiers on either side opened fire. Of 303 Texian prisoners, 28 escaped, of which six were able to carry word of the massacre to Sam Houston's militia. In addition, of the 40 Texians who had remained in the Goliad fort because they couldn't walk, 39 were shot and killed on the spot after the others had left. This execution of 342 POWs, less escapees, is now known as the Goliad Massacre.


San Jacinto   At this point, the Mexican army in Texas outnumbered the Texian army by almost six to one. Santa Anna assumed that the knowledge of both this disparity and of the Alamo and Gilead killings would keep down Texian resistance. While news of the defeat at the Alamo spread panic among the Texas settlers, Santa Anna's cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians, both Texas settlers and adventurers from the US, to join the Texian army, looking for revenge.


The San Jacinto River (Map by Kuru) lies southeast of San Antonio and Goliad. Jacinto ( means "hyacinth" in Spanish, applying to the flower, the mythological figure, and, in this case, Saint Hyacinth, an early Christian martyr. At a point on the wide part of the river (see map), today due east of Houston and opposite Baytown, was fought the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April, still in that fatal year of 1836. Led by General Sam Houston—it's logical that the city named for him is so close by—the Texian army defeated Santa Anna's army in the Battle of San Jacinto, which lasted a mere twenty minutes. It was the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution, and completed it.


Santa Anna was captured the following day, surrendered to a wounded Sam Houston, and held as a prisoner of war himself (he was NOT shot). But three weeks later, he signed the peace treaty requiring the Mexican army to leave Texas, allowing the Republic of Texas to become an independent country. Sam Houston became a celebrity across both Texas and the US (note city's name above). All the Texians that had died were seen as martyrs, and during the Battle, both the cries of "Remember the Alamo!" and "Remember Goliad!" were heard.


Republic of Texas   Texas, standing alone as a republic, apparently still felt an association with the US, since it adopted a single star for its flag to reflect the stars in the US flag. But the republic lasted only a decade.


There were two political factions within Texas. One wanted (1) the expulsion of all Native Americans, (2) the continued independence of Texas, and (3) expansion of the Republic to the Pacific. The other faction was led by Sam Houston and advocated (1) peaceful coexistence with Native Americans, and (2) the annexation of Texas to the US. It was the knowledge that the Republic wouldn't be able to defend itself against any further hostilities on the part of Mexico that swung opinion toward annexation, and in 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union—and remained in peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans.


Mexican-American War    But the desire of the other faction to reach the Pacific ended up expressing itself anyway with the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, which started in 1846, the year after Texas became a state, and lasted almost two years, to 1848.


All the northern territories of Mexico, including Texas, New Mexico, and Upper California, had all along been subject to raids by the Comanches, especially, but also by the Apaches and Navajos—that's why the Alamo's walls had been built, and why Spain had welcomed outside settlers to Texas in the first place. The population across this huge strip of land was demoralized, and there was little resistance when American troops later entered the area. But as early as 1842, a US official had suggested that Mexico might want to cede California to settle debts.


But closer by, Texas, now part of the US, continued to have border issues, a remnant of the same problem about the western border of the Louisiana Purchase never having been made precise. At this stage, Texas (Map by Ch1902) occupied only about a third of today's Texas (see modern borders on map), but still relied on the old claim to all land up to the northern bank of the Rio Grande, an area that today also encompasses the eastern half of the State of New Mexico, and pieces of four other states. Most pressing was the southern part. On the map, south of San Antonio on the San Antonio River is the Nueces River (Map by Kuru)--nueces ( are nuts--and this is the southernmost limit to Texas that Mexico had ever agreed to. The area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande, a distance of about 240 km (150 mi) became known as the Nueces Strip, and was shortly the scene of the first fighting of the Mexican-American War, in 1846.


Late the previous year, President Polk sent a secret representative to Mexico City with an offer of $25 million (over $681 million today) for the Nueces Strip and the territories of Nuevo Mexico and Alta California, but the offer was refused. The offer was then raised to both forgiving the $3 million ($82 million today) owed to US citizens due to damages caused by the Mexican War of Independence, and also to more than double the cash offer by paying an additional $25-30 million for the territories.


But Mexico was in chaos. In 1846 the presidency alone changed four times, and anyway, public opinion was against it. When the Mexican president wanted to settle the Texas situation peacefully, he was deposed, and the claim to Texas was renewed. Mexico prepared for war. Believe it or not, Santa Anna was asked to take over control of the government and its border claims, and he ruled in an even more dictatorial way than earlier, banning newspapers that were against him and jailing dissidents.


While an independent Texas couldn't enforce its border claims, the US had the military strength and political will to do so. President Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor south to the Rio Grande in early 1846, and war broke out. American forces quickly occupied New Mexico and California (Map by Kaidor), and invaded parts of northern Mexico (click). Another American force even captured Mexico City, and then the war ended with victory for the US.


The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo forced Mexico to accept the loss of Texas and to furthermore cede Alta California and New Mexico to the US, but with a cash payment of $15 million, plus the US assuming $3.25 million of debt owed by the Mexican government to US citizens. This is less than half of that doubled amount that had been offered before the war.


Refer once again to the US expansion map to inspect the addition of Texas and the Mexican Cession. In addition, in 1853, US Ambassador to Mexico James Gadsden purchased an area known as the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico for $10 million ($260 million today) that became southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. It was purchased for the later construction of a southern route for a transcontinental railway, and in 1881-3, the Southern Pacific route was built here.


These three territories, much of which now forms the American Southwest (and no longer The Point in Mississippi!!!), are comparable in size to Western Europe, but were, as mentioned, very sparsely populated. In addition to Native American populations of Navajo, Hopi, and others, there were about 14,000 Mexicans in all of Alta California and 60,000 in Nuevo Mexico. While a few of these relocated south back into Mexico, the great majority remained and later became US citizens.


On this map, we can summarize expansion of the US AFTER independence in 1783 as follows.
In the early 19C: to Louisiana (think of Spain as well as France) in 1803, and to the Florida area up to the Sabine in 1819.
In the mid 19C: to Texas in 1845, to the Mexican Cession in 1848, to the Gadsden Purchase in 1853, and sandwiched in, to the Oregon Territory in 1846.
These are a lot of changes in a half-century, covering a lot of territory.


Mexican territory from independence through the Gadsden Purchase had been reduced by an incredible 55%. Historians rank Santa Anna as the primary individual of those who most "failed the nation" through his centralist, dictatorial policies and military failures. This is again how Mexico had looked at independence in the early 1820s (Map by Hpav7) and this is how it looked by the mid-19C (Map by Hpav7). It occurs to me that Spain must have been smirking, though with frustration, since they had turned over New Spain to Mexico, who had succeeded in shrinking it by more than half.


Review three things on this map. (1) In the north are the losses to the US we've discussed. [Baja California is no longer a territory, since the northern part became the state of Baja California in 1953, and the southern part became the state of Baja California Sur (South) in 1974 (click).] (2) But in the south, there are some gains. The Republic of the Yucatan rejoined Mexico in 1848. Chiapas, which had wavered in 1821 between independence, joining Guatemala, or joining Mexico, chose Mexico in 1824. But the most unusual event is (3) an in-and-out area, one that joined Mexico, but then left. It's worth taking a moment to look into it. I for one, never knew the history of Central America.


The area had not belonged to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, but to a separate entity, the Captaincy General of Guatemala of New Spain. It had declared its independence from the Spanish Empire as well, was promptly annexed by Mexico in 1821, but then became independent, this second time from Mexico, in 1823, and formed the Federal Republic of Central America, a democracy. But that only lasted until 1841, because civil war broke out between those that wanted unity, and those that wanted to secede. The Republic broke up into its constituent provinces of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. (You will realize that Belize had been British Honduras, and Panama had been a province of Columbia, until the US helped it secede to allow the US to build the Panama Canal.) This is why there are so many small countries in Central America today—most had been provinces. It's worth contemplating that the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, and surely others, grew by uniting, whereas this is an example of a united country in Central America that disintegrated into its constituent provinces.


Visiting San Antonio   Back to the narrative of the trip. But it's worth considering again that, as the Texas Eagle crossed the Mississippi at St Louis's Gateway Arch, we were leaving what had been (on the expansion map) the US of 1783 and entering the first of the added territories, what had been Greater Louisiana. But we also should continue to reflect on how the fact that that territory's lack of an agreed-upon western border affected the Texas we were headed for, and subsequent areas as far as the Pacific. And the Alamo played a key role.


Let's take a look at the Texas we've arrived in. Discard other maps you've been holding in separate windows and keep this map of Texas:


Click to inspect how the western and southernmost areas of the state, beyond the "original Texas", remain areas of low population, and that, other than El Paso at the westernmost tip, where I walked into Mexico at Juárez (2007/1), most of what you'll find of interest lies in the eastern third of the state. Trace the route of the Texas Eagle from up in Arkansas, through Hope and the Texarkanas, via Longview to Dallas and Fort Worth, and via Austin to San Antonio, with 1.4 million people, the second most populous city in Texas after Houston, and the seventh most populous in the US. But we can also pay our respects in Goliad, southeast of San Antonio, and locate the (unnamed) San Jacinto, across from Baytown, on the Houston side. Also note the historic Sabine River border with Louisiana. If you're as unfamiliar with Texas sites as I had been, these should now all fall into place.


The Michelin Guide says, and I quote verbatim: "No city in Texas is as appealing to visitors as San Antonio." Although San Antonio isn't perfect, I agree with that, which is why in 1967 we were eager to take advantage of that airline stopover there for our first visit to Texas. While others might find additional things appealing, the appeal to me comes from the Alamo complex and the River Walk a little more than across the street, plus a couple of other incidental locations. Copy and paste this link so we can take a look:


THE ILLUMINATED FAIRY-TALE HOUR The Texas Eagle was a mere eight minutes late when it arrived at 10:03. Running north-south to the right of the freeway you can see the Amtrak tracks. The station is immediately to the south of Commerce Street (click), a major thoroughfare. I had known this layout perfectly from seeing it online—I don't remember how people used to travel accurately before the internet—and I was concerned about the scheduled late arrival (even moreso when it looked like a delay longer than eight minutes). I knew it was about a fifteen-minute walk, but was concerned by the late hour, so I checked with a couple of conductors on the train, who both lived in town. They said I certainly could take a taxi, but there should be no problem with safely by walking down Commerce Street, which was busy with restaurants and bars. One conductor even joked that I'd be interested in the freeway overpass being gaudily illuminated below in multicolors—"Texas style". After a couple of blocks, I could see what he meant, and it was nice to see a landmark on the way. On the way, a bridge crossed an unusual extension of River Walk (see map) that must have been quite new, and certainly not original to the river, which is the bend further to the left. Actually, you can get used to it now, that River Walk is more than a loop off the river, it's shaped like the archaic letter thorn, "þ", a vertical line and a loop to the right. But that's for tomorrow.


Find where Commerce Street crosses Alamo Street, and we're almost there. You'll see the walk from the station isn't far, and more pleasant to be among people out for the evening. But this intersection is right between the old civilian town, Villa de Béjar (Béxar), on South Alamo Street, which is referred to today as La Villita (The Tiny Village) and is on both sides of Villita Street, south of River Walk. But that, too, is for tomorrow.


Instead we turn right at this intersection or just one block up North Alamo Street to the wide plaza visible, which is Alamo Plaza. Another right turn has us facing the historic Menger Hotel (its two courtyards are visible) in the lower Plaza, while the green space at the upper Plaza is the Alamo complex, separated from the hotel by just Crockett Street. When I say I choose a hotel because of location, location, location, I mean it (but history, too). You should now be completely oriented as to what we'll have fun seeing tomorrow: the Alamo (with La Villita) and River Walk, plus a bit more.


OK, I lied. Actually, the best part of the visit to San Antonio is still coming this evening, what I've described to myself as what turned out to be an unplanned, fairy-tale hour.


So on the south side of Alamo Plaza we come to the historic Menger Hotel, which today takes up a whole block, as we saw on the map. But the original hotel that was built in 1858, just over two decades after the Battle of the Alamo, takes only the southern third of the block, and the entrance there is now secondary. The balance of the block is the newer part, which looks 1950s-ish, and is really less interesting, but we enter there, register, and go to the room. But we've been on the train all day and a look-see is in order, starting with the hotel.


The new part is average, the old part is interesting, but there is history on every wall, showing who had stayed there. The Menger was built in 1858 by German immigrant William Menger, who had a brewery and a boarding house. The hotel developed out of his boarding house, right at its present location. I now find that the brewery filled the rest of the block, so the modern extension is on that same land. The hotel was so successful so quickly that before the building was completed, the earliest of extensions was started the next year. By the 1870s, the Menger was the best-known hotel in the southwest. O. Henry mentioned it by name several times in his works, and President Ulysses S. Grant stayed there in 1880. Theodore Roosevelt stayed there at least three times, including in 1898 when he even recruited some Rough Riders in the hotel bar. Walking through the new and old parts of the hotel, one sees pictures of guests such Robert E. Lee, Oscar Wilde, Lily Langtry, Cornelius Vanderbilt, William McKinley, Babe Ruth, Mae West, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Menger is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


It's a delight to walk via the modern lobby to what is now called the Victorian Lobby, which is that original entrance. Quality immediately becomes evident. Mahogany is everywhere in that lobby, which is a petite atrium open to the floor above, with a railing surrounding it upstairs. There are a couple of grandfather clocks, and it remains the most attractive part of the hotel. Adjacent is the restaurant, where I had my breakfasts.


We go outside to the illuminated Alamo Plaza. Even from the room, we can see the bandstand in the center, and now inspect it more closely. It's time to take a quick peek at the Alamo itself. After all, that's the purpose for me of finding an appropriate hotel, combining location with history. Believe it or not, it's just after 10:30, and the train got in at 10:03!


Crossing Crockett Street, we walk along a garden wall—everything is beautifully illuminated—and come to the iconic façade of the Alamo chapel, as seen in this 0:29 YouTube video, set back from Alamo Plaza on its own little sub-plaza. We review historic markers, and joke with a couple doing the same thing about "midnight sightseeing". We find the projected area that was the Long Barracks, connected by a wall to the chapel. There's a gated opening in the wall, and inside, in a garden area, is the most beautiful well overhung by the many low-hanging branches of a massive oak.


The fairy-tale aspect of suddenly seeing all this history under illumination is enhanced, when we strike up a conversation with a security guard standing under a tree near the gated opening, which can possibly be made out in the above video. We ask about the two high-rises further away that have beautifully illuminated crowns, and he explains that one in the distance is the Tower Life Building (Photo by Zereshk), and the other, just above our heads on the other side of the Alamo courtyard, is the Emily Morgan Hotel (Photo by Corey Leopold).

 [Internet availability is truly astounding. I never thought I'd actually find a nighttime video of the Alamo to illustrate this narrative, nor photos of the only two illuminated high-rises in all of downtown San Antonio. It's almost creepy, like there was some unseen photographer behind me taking pictures of what I saw, and knowing what I'd later want to say about it.]

When we comment on the impressive lighting of the Alamo itself, the guard tells an interesting story. Some time back, the lighting wasn't so good. A visitor one day commented to officials that he was a lighting contractor, and he'd like to donate and install, free of charge, a new lighting system for the Alamo. He set up the current system, and the officials were so impressed, the later hired him other lighting jobs in the area.


It's just been a charming time, and we're back in the Menger by about eleven, meaning it's been just an hour since stepping off the train. This fairy-tale hour was the most enjoyable time we had in San Antonio. It was good off-the-cuff planning.


THE FULL DAY We have one full day for the actual visit in town, plus a half-day tomorrow to go see the other missions before leaving the area. As it turns out, this one full day is not only HOT, but it's the only hot day of the four weeks of this trip. From the half-day on, it'll be comfortable, even jacket weather and more, and by the time we're on the boat some days will be uncomfortably cold. But today, it's hot. You can hold on to the quality San Antonio map if you like, but for now, it'll behoove us to use this touristy one. Copy and paste:


This grossly exaggerated, cartoon-like tourist map of San Antonio will actually work to help guide us all, despite its inaccuracies. It doesn't reach as far as the rail line, but click to find Commerce Street from last night going under the freeway, about 1/3 of the way from the top. You can see where we walked over that bit of River Walk extension near the Rivercenter Mall, and then turned right on North Alamo Street for a block. You can see Alamo Plaza and the bandshell, with the Menger opposite its lower half—the older part is shown with the blue roof. Behind its upper half is the grossly exaggerated Alamo chapel with its iconic rounded-peak façade and exaggerated sub-plaza in front of it. Then comes the wall with the (gated) opening and the well, and a right turn brings us to the outside of the Long Barracks. The torn-down enclosure where most of the fighting took place would have encompassed Alamo Plaza, Alamo street, and the upper stretch of the tourist traps that run down Alamo Street.


After breakfast, we step outside the Menger, to go look at the hotel's original façade first. This was the Menger circa 1865 (Photo by Ted Ernst of a historical photo in the hotel), and this is the Menger today (Photo by Billy Hathorn). The vehicles up front are a little different, aren't they?. The Victorian Lobby and dining room are here, and you can see on the left where the newer section is attached.


If we turn from looking east to looking north, we can see the full length of Alamo Plaza, as depicted on this 1917 postcard (the vehicles are different again!). The tourist traps don't seem to have appeared yet on the west side of Alamo Street, the bandshell is already there, the Menger is off the picture on the lower right, but the Alamo chapel with its iconic façade is on the upper right, not set anywhere nearly as far back as the tourist map shows. Alamo Plaza is a historic district that includes the Alamo, but the Alamo is a separately listed Registered Historic Place and a US National Historic Landmark.


It's a short, one-block walk to that little sub-plaza where we can visit the Alamo. It's Texas's top tourist (visitor) attraction, which is why we stopped in Texas at all coming up from Mexico in 1967, and why we came running over here last night. And this is the main entrance via the Alamo chapel (Photo by Mattstone911). Click to see the beautiful architectural detail. "Chapel" here means "chapel building", since, as we know, it was secularized in 1793 to become a fort. The people here refer to it as the Shrine. I find that term very overblown. I consider it a monument, and a memorial, but hardly a shrine. But that's Texas hyperbole.


When you step back a bit in the little plaza, you get a much more encompassing view of the area (Photo by Daniel Schwen). Click again for detail, and notice how narrow this building is. Those are add-ons on the sides, since the nave is primarily just the center area. The petite interior has some historical displays, but I was dismayed that by far, the displays were of guns. Historical guns, but guns nevertheless. Well, this IS Texas. Could all of them have dated to the Battle? I really didn't stay inside long enough to find out.


There are gardens today all around the compound, and a garden entrance is on the right in the picture. On the left is, once again, a security guard, and off the picture is the gated entrance to the other garden, now open. And one other thing—the flag, with its obvious Lone Star. Sure it's appropriate that a Texas flag should fly at the Alamo. But isn't this a location that should have the national flag too? Well, Texas is Texas.


If we step further back still, and off to the side, we get the most complete view of the area—click again (Photo by Zygmunt Put Zetpe0202). In the center, you can look into the garden, whose gate is open, and that might even be the well you're seeing, I'm not sure. You then see the side wall of the garden, and you're looking at the END of the Long Barracks, whose length faces Alamo Street to the left. On the north side of the compound, you see the neo-Gothic Emily Morgan Hotel, originally constructed as the Medical Arts Building in 1924. It's one of the buildings we used as an illustration earlier when we said you often see Texas flags flying without the national flag, which is just the case here, twice in this picture.


When you enter through the gate here, you do get to see the Old Well under the massive oak tree (Photo by TheConduqtor) in the courtyard that looked so attractive when illuminated from below last night. The garden entrance is behind us to the left, and we're looking into the Long Barracks here, which his a historical museum. In an earlier life, it had been where the monks lived, around this courtyard.


One can imagine that the ex-chapel would have been preserved over the years in some recycled capacity, but the Long Barracks are much less iconic. Why is it still here? I wondered that, and looked it up. The answer is in this picture (Photo by George Fuermann). The Long Barracks and garden walls had apparently been recycled into the Hugo & Schmeltzer mercantile store in the 1880s-1890s. My guess is that that's what probably saved them so they could be restored at a later date.


But we're on a fool's errand if we don't envision what the Alamo compound looked like in 1836. I can't link to these illustrations, so copy and paste the links yourself:


The drawing is turned-around; north is to the upper left. The chapel is at the upper right—no gardens then. You see the small plaza before it. The courtyard and Long Barracks are to its left. Most striking is the huge walled compound that had been built on all these missions to protect local natives from the Comanches. This is what became the fortress walls where most of the fighting took place, until it moved into the Long Barracks, and these are the walls the Mexicans tore down. Surrounding the entire compound was the acequia (a.SÉ.kya), or irrigation ditch, that had been dug as the water supply for the area. The side of it on the upper right still exists in the park gardens behind the Long Barracks.


In addition to this sketch, I found two more maps of the original compound. I like them both, and will present them both. Copy and paste this link:


This is the first overlay of the historic structures on the modern street plan. You see the chapel, courtyard and barracks, much as they still are. The walled compound would have covered the upper part of Alamo Plaza, Alamo Street, and the buildings on its west side. You can also see better here that a temporary wooden palisade had been put up during the Battle between the chapel and the wall to further enclose that tiny plaza area. You can see how the entire city block behind the ex-chapel has now been filled with a park and gardens. Flowing under the park's pathways, you can make out the winding remnant of the acequia, which has fish in it today. Finally, copy and paste this:


I like this map, too. You can better see the structures in the large compound, and can better see that it had its own entrance. The wooden palisade and acequia are clearer, and you see the other buildings in the park. You can also see more precisely the location of the Emily Morgan Hotel.


San Antonio River Walk    We noticed last night the other major San Antonio attraction, and the second most visited one, the River Walk. If you look at it on the first city map we used, you can verify again that it has that odd shape, that of the letter thorn (þ). I had wondered at first if the straight line or the loop came first (we actually had an indication on the 1836 map), but I went and found this interesting lithographed map of San Antonio in 1873. If you want it in a separate window, here's the link to copy and paste:


Once again, we're upside down, looking SOUTH, or actually approaching southeast, so adjust your mindset. Click on the large plaza just left of center and you'll see just how accurate a lithographed map can be. Yes, it's Alamo Plaza, and #16 is the Alamo. Perhaps the Long Barracks is already the mercantile store, I can't be sure. You can see the route in blue of the acequia. To the right are some houses where the garden is today, then Crockett Street (misspelled as Crocket). #35 is the Menger Brewery, and #18 is the Menger Hotel. One block further right, Commerce Street seems to have been called Alameda Street. But as Alameda/Commerce crosses the river, you can see the horseshoe-shaped bend bulging left (east), so the loop predates the straight line of the river.

 Texas has a long German tradition. In addition to the very German Fredericksburg, which will be our next overnight stop, San Antonio had a significant German population. At the very bottom of the map on the right, notice a few German names, including Menger being mentioned twice. Moving to the left, note that #13 is the German and English School, and the first column lists both German and Polish churches. Also, as a sign of the times, there's a "Colored" church and a "Public School for Colored".

So the bend of the river in the form of a backwards C through the center of town was always there, and we need to know how the straight channel developed and how it all became River Walk. In September 1921 there was a disastrous flood on the river that killed 50 people, and it was decided to do something about flood control. In addition to an upstream dam, that bypass channel was constructed in 1926 to straighten out the river. Then the bend would no longer be needed, and the plans were to pave it over and make it into a storm sewer. (!!!) But fortunately, the San Antonio Conservation Society protested that latter suggestion, which was never executed. By 1929 the suggestion had been made to instead to create what eventually became the River Walk, also known as the Paseo del Río. It took a decade for support for commercial development of the bend to grow. finally in 1939 funding came via the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and from then until 1941, some 5,200 m (17,000 ft) of flagstone and cobblestone walkways, usually on both banks, and about twenty bridges for city streets to cross the river were built. To convert the riverbanks into parkland, there were extensive plantings made, including adding bald cypress trees to the ones already there that were several hundred years old, whose branches reach up from the riverbanks below up beyond street level to many stories in height. It was one of the first restorations of an urban river, and eventually, it was lined with many shops, bars, restaurants, and sidewalk cafés along the promenade below street level.


Because of the difference between street level and river/promenade level, the bluffs along the river must have been significant, at least a story tall, because when you're strolling down below, you look up to street level and walk under the bridges carrying the streets across the river. It seems that most buildings along the Walk have a restaurant or shop in what would be their basement level on, and facing, the River, while one floor above they have a street level facility facing the street on the other side. Some stretches of River Walk are busy, others are more calmly park-like.


Now go back to the cartoon-ish city map you've been holding on the side and we'll go for a stroll on the River Walk, and visit adjacent attractions. Click on Alamo Plaza, and, instead of rushing right over to the Walk, let's stroll south on Alamo Street, past the intersection with Commerce Street from last night, and a couple of blocks further, to la Villita. It had been the location of the civilian settlement, settled c 1722, then in the early 20C became a slum, but has now been restored to an arts community (Photo by Johnpeter2008) officially called La Villita Historic Arts Village. There are artisans in shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, pottery and jewelry shops, and some restaurants. As much as I like history, this is a bit too artsy-craftsy and touristy for me, so a quick glance should suffice.


But on the north side of La Villita, there's a good place to enter River Walk, at the 1939-1941 Arneson River Theater (see map). You can see the back of the amphitheater behind the pink sign, and the open-air stage is across the river (Photo by Zereshk). We can look at the stage and river if we sit down for a while in this warm weather on the grassy steps that constitute the terraced seating of the amphitheater (Photo by Zereshk). 13 rows accommodate 800 spectators.


We can use the theater to go down to river level instead of using one of the many staircases. Let's turn left and walk clockwise. We walk under a bridge, and then look back (Photo by Matt Harriger) at the peaceful scene to watch one of the river boats making a stop. But if we look up to our left (see map) we'll see up at street level the Tower Life Building (Photo by Leaflet) of 1929, our other old friend with the illuminated crown we saw from a distance last night.


The building is on St Mary's Street (click) (Photo by Muhgcee), which passes overhead us on a bridge in a particularly park-like setting, while other locations on the Walk are busier, such as the Casa Rio Restaurant (Photo by Daniel J Simanek). Click to see the ducks, and read its sign. Find it on the map, over to the right, and you'll see that it's an extension of Commerce Street from last night that's passing over that bridge. Also note on the picture the staircase on the right leading to the street, plus the point where that odd river extension we passed over last night joins the "real" River Walk under an arch.


But we're over at St Mary's, where we'll temporarily leave the River Walk to go up to Market Street, pass over the "newer" straight channel of the river for two blocks, and visit San Fernando Cathedral (Photo by Daniel Schwen). Then, two blocks further west, we find the so-called Spanish Governor's Palace (Photo by DLS Texas), which reminds me of the very similar Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I remember visiting it on my other visit here, way back in 1967, but why don't you get a ticket and take a look inside (Photo by Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht). It's a National Historic Landmark, built possibly as early as 1722. It was originally intended to protect the nearby Alamo and civilian settlement, and was a military residence and office, and had nothing to do with a governor. It's just one-story, made of masonry and stucco, and is in the Spanish Colonial style (no surprise, there). It has ten rooms plus a grand courtyard and fountain. It's Texas's sole surviving example of an aristocratic colonial home.


We head back and reenter the straight channel section of the River Walk near the northern part of the loop. In between the cafés (Photo by Zereshk) are pleasant stretches (Photo by Kkmd) seemingly wherever you look (Photo by Kolomichuk). But we've seen the best and most significant of downtown San Antonio, and, given the heat today, by mid-afternoon it's worth going back to the Menger, taking a shower, relaxing and writing.


THE HALF-DAY That was the best of downtown, but that isn't all. We still have the four missions to the south of town, sister missions to the Alamo. While the next day involves getting the car and driving north into the Texas Hill Country to Johnson City and Fredericksburg, we can first take advantage of having the car and spend a couple of morning hours driving SOUTH to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.


I've gotten more and more pleased with Enterprise car rentals, largely because of their special pick-up and drop-off service, and I'd planned much around that point. I gave them a call in the morning, and they sent someone around to pick me and my bag up at the Menger and bring me to their office, which, handily, was also somewhat to the south. When I returned the car in Memphis a week-and-a-half later, they again had someone drive me to my hotel. Leaving Enterprise, I continued south. Copy and paste this link:


Follow the red line from downtown to the four missions--is the Mission Trail. The missions are located along the continuation of the San Antonio River, more or less in parkland, although at some points, the suburbs encroach a bit. All four were built between 1720 and 1731 and originally comprised a church, convent, living quarters for natives within and along the inside of the fortress-like wall that they all used to have, farmland, a granary, and a blacksmith. Today they are all active local parish churches.


The first mission encountered is Mission Concepción (Photo by Travis Witt). Michelin gives it one out of three stars. It's considered the best preserved (Photo by Archinia) of the four, although, as with most of them, the large walled enclosure missing at the Alamo is also missing here. I was particularly impressed with the stark stonework (Photo by Archinia), as seen here in this arcade, which gives it a medieval quality.


Michelin gives Mission San José two of three stars, since it's the most complete of the missions, as it still has all of its rather large, walled, fortress-like enclosure (Photo by Cqui). This enclosure—the entrance is visible here near the church--is surely bigger than the Alamo's ever was, but still gives an idea of what's today visibly lacking at the Alamo. At its peak, the mission was home for 300 people, and is referred to as the "Queen of the Texas missions". The dome and belfry visible in this picture are better seen from inside the gate (Photo by AdamselinDesign). As at the Alamo, the church has living quarters adjacent, here including the cloister at the right. Click to inspect the far wall, to get an idea of the size of this compound. This gives an idea of the sort of structure that the Alamo defenders were defending, though much smaller. Built into the interior of the walls were the living quarters (Photo by Travis Witt) of the Native Americans, here with a stone oven.


This is a view of the church from the front (Photo by Travis Witt), with the bell tower and dome. The cloister is to the right. Click to inspect the façade, as well as the fenced-in rose window at the right. In any case, here are detail views of the elaborately carved front portal and rose window (Both Photos by Travis Witt). Click to better inspect both photos.


Michelin gives no stars to the remaining two missions, although both have their quiet charms. Mission San Juan Capistrano (Photo by Larry D. Moore)—the same name as the famous one in California--doesn't seem to have a cloister any more, and also lacks its wall, but the size of the park-like compound is evident from the size of its lawn. It's quite petite inside (Photo by Zereshk).


Finally, Mission Espada (Photo by Travis Witt) is also quite petite and has a charming mien—here's a detail of one of its bells (Photo by Zereshk). It has a cloister to its left (Photo by Mike Fisher), and its lawns indicate the size of the former compound. Because this charming little building was being renovated, its interior wasn't accessible (Photo by Travis Witt), so we'll have to enjoy it vicariously.


Our visits to the Missions only took a couple of hours, so it's still late morning, an we have plenty of time for our other activities. If you check the Missions map, you'll see how easy it is to get on I-410 eastbound, then connect to I-37 northbound, back through downtown. As we pass over Commerce Street, we realize that only two nights ago, we were walking underneath the overpass we're now on, whose underside was so gaudily illuminated. Time does fly. The road becomes US 281, and we pass the airport on our way to the Hill Country, with Johnson City as our first stop. Scroll down to the lower map for a final view of downtown San Antonio, from the Amtrak station on the right to San Fernando Cathedral and the Spanish Governor's Palace on the left, beyond River Walk.

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