San Antonio’s Tercentennial Year – 1718

I rise today to congratulate the City of San Antonio and its residents on the 300th anniversary of the city’s founding. San Antonio has grown from a small farming community along the banks of the San Antonio River into the 7th largest city in the United States. 

Its rich history and vibrant culture is what makes it truly unique. The first flag to fly over Texas was the Spanish flag.

Spain laid official claim to what is now parts of Texas from 1716 to 1821, as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, or Colonial Mexico. On May 1, 1718, the Mission San Antonio de Valero—later known as the Alamo—was established.

The Tejanos’ place in Texas history took root in the 1700s when the land was under Spanish rule. A group of mostly Spanish-Indians loyal to the Spanish crown pushed their colonial empire north from Mexico to found a military post and religious missions to establish San Antonio. 

As frontier people, they were mainly ranchers and farmers and developed a culture unique to them. Settling northeastern Mexico, the area of modem day San Antonio, many of their customs reflected that of traditional Mexican heritage, but with an independent Texas twist. San Antonio is home to five missions established along the San Antonio River in the 1700s by Catholic missionaries.

The five missions are all but three miles apart from each other: Mission San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. The missions served to make the American Indians into Spanish citizens. 

By entering the missions, the Indians pledged to follow the rules of Spain. They set aside their traditional life to learn a new language, accept a new religion and pledge allegiance to a new king.

Today the missions represent a connection with our past. The missions depict classic Spanish architecture, domes and bell towers, and sanctuaries that still have active parishes and cultural centers.

The missions are a part of every Texan’s history. Military Plaza was first established in 1722 as a parade ground and market square for the Spanish troops stationed there. 

Today, the only noticeable evidence of the Spanish troops marching and living in the plaza is the Spanish Governor’s Palace. The area has been the heart of the city and today is the commercial and government center of San Antonio.

Any Texan will tell you that water is very important to our state, and water is what contributed to San Antonio’s rich history. The San Antonio River comes from the Edwards Aquifer Spring Field north of downtown San Antonio.

With this natural resource, the missions and plaza were located close by. It provided a clean reliable source to the missionaries and soldiers.

The river supported agricultural operations at the missions through an irrigation system created by the early settlers. Portions of this water system remain used today, 300 years later.

Over the years, the Tejanos prospered and furthered their distinction from the Spanish crown and from other parts of Mexico. A failed attempt by the Tejanos against Spanish rule gained new hope when Mexico won independence from Spain in 1831. 

By this time Texas had seen a significant influx of settlers from the United States, and like the Tejanos, had a culture unique as the land it occupied. As Texas’ distinction from Mexico grew, so did the desire for local rule and sovereignty. 

The passion for independence spread throughout Texas and San Antonio and on March 2, 1836, 54 delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and the fight for freedom began. 187 freedom fighters started assembling in an old beat-up mission in San Antonio. 

Juan Segu? ´n and his company of Tejanos rode into the Alamo and readied for battle alongside William Barrett Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. This rag-tag group of relentless patriots, made up of men from nearly every state in the Union and 13 foreign countries, including Mexico, readied for one of the most storied battles in our history. 

Outnumbered by an overwhelming Mexican army, these Texas warriors knew that surrender was not an option. Retreat was never on the table.

Victory or death. On February 23, 1836, Santa Ana’s army of 1500 well-armed troops unleashed on the defenders of the Alamo.

During the siege, Travis sent out his famous call for reinforcements. Juan Segu? ´n was the last messenger to leave, riding through enemy lines carrying the final message from the beleaguered mission.

Unfortunately, the call for help was not answered in time. Travis and 187 volunteers sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom after thirteen glorious days at the Alamo.

Regrouping in Gonzales, Segu? ´n and his company of Tejanos joined General Sam Houston in the final battle for independence along the marshy banks of the San Jacinto River. This was the only Tejano unit at San Jacinto.

As not to confuse the Tejanos with Santa Anna’s army, General Sam had Segu? ´n put a playing card in the head band of each Tejano so they could easily be recognized. In an impromptu siege on the sleeping enemy, General Sam and his boys routed the Mexican Army yelling, ‘‘Remember the Alamo!’’ ‘‘Remember Goliad!’’ Most of the enemy were killed or wounded.

The rest were captured or disappeared, the victory was stunning. Texas became a free, independent nation that day and claimed what is now Texas and parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.

In June of 1836, Juan Segu? ´n accepted the official Mexican surrender of San Antonio and later saw that the remains of those that perished at the Alamo received an honorable burial. A plaque on the Alamo wall states: ‘‘The Alamo: The Thermopylae of Texas.’’ 

The Alamo is a tribute to all those that are defiant against any form of tyranny. It is important for us to recognize all those that sacrificed for freedom, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Remember who we are and what we stand for— remember the Alamo. Whether it is the river walk, historic missions, floating parades, amazing food or the Alamo that you love about going to San Antonio; there is something for everyone of every age.  

This year as San Antonio celebrates 300 years of history, I encourage everyone, whether you’re a longtime Texan or a transplant, to take the time and learn something new about San Antonio’s unique and fascinating history. Three centuries later, that same dogged determination that filled that little Spanish mission is what continues to set Texas apart from all the rest.

And that’s just the way it is.

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