THE ALAMO, SAN ANTONIO, TX – Legend tends to make an icon out of a place, so much so that the legend takes on a life of its own. The Siege of The Alamo happened over a thirteen-day period ending March 6, 1836, costing about 250 Texians and Tejanos their lives in the battle for the independence of the region we now know as the State of Texas. This one episode in American history has taken its place as one of the most defining examples of a man’s resolve to fight for that in which he believes.
That the battle may mean that one must give his life in order to make his point is a result for which he must be prepared. Such was the case with the battle for Texas independence from Mexican rule under General Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón. General Santa Anna would serve as the Mexican president and military leader several times before his death in 1876, some forty years after the Battle of The Alamo. He was known as a ruthless military leader. Following the battle, Santa Anna ordered the bodies of the Texas loyalists to be burned in the mission courtyard.
Because the story of The Alamo is told with such reverence and so represents the spirit of Texas, the mission church that served as an armory after being secularized some seventy years following its 1724 construction is treated with a respect often not afforded some of today’s active houses of worship. The frescos that once adorned its nave and anterooms have been discovered and are in the process of being recreated on the walls of the room where women and children were protected during the battle that cost their husbands and fathers their lives. Its barrel arched ceiling and roof have been reconstructed in concrete as preservation and conservation continues to restore the building as historians have determined it appeared in 1836.
For a place so revered by the public, time and real estate speculators/developers were not nearly so respectful to the church and its surrounds. They built a retail emporium on the site of the long barracks that had served as the convento during its days as a mission. Eventually, the rock walls that had surrounded the Alamo community were demolished as the city of San Antonio encroached on the very place that had been the turning point in the Texas Revolution.
Endangered by those who sought the valuable land on which the crumbling church ruin stood, The Alamo had no defender. It began showing the effects of time, the battle, and neglect. In 1924, Rena Maverick Green and Emily Edwards formed the San Antonio Conservation Society to protect, among other vestiges of San Antonio’s visible heritage, The Alamo mission church from “Progress”.
As San Antonio prepares to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Seige of The Alamo, the visitors who have traveled from other continents to visit the old mission church are living testimony to the universal mystique of The Alamo. As plaque after Texas Ranger after docent after tour guide recount the story of the bravery of a couple hundred men willing to give their lives despite the failure of others to come to their aid, there are many lessons to be learned from this little mission church. Its original purpose removed, it existed as nothing more than an unfinished building used to house soldiers and ammunition from both Mexico and Texas until the famous battle. It isn’t the massive structure one expects; its legend and our imaginations have made it so.
The Alamo’s place in the annals of Texas and American history are instantly brought to mind whenever we hear the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” Coined by General Sam Houston to inspire his soldiers to victory over Santa Anna’s men one month after the famous massacre, the sacrifice, bravery and determination of its defenders are embodied in the stone façade recognized around the world.
There’s a reason why Texas holds such an allure for anybody not from there: Texans are a plucky lot. They expect folks to play by the rules but, when they don’t, they settle their problems among themselves. They’re fiercely proud of the people and places that represent their history and will fight to the death to defend it. Thank goodness a handful of women knew how important it is to have the visible reminders of where they’d been and how far they had come. And they started with the ruins of an old mission church called “The Alamo.”
Helen Person is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.