History

A visit to San Antonio is not complete without an understanding of the pivotal role that the city played in world and American history. From Spanish colonial rule to Texas independence, and ultimately statehood, San Antonio draws from its history and intense cultural fusion—so much so, that the city once had street signs in three languages: Spanish, English, and German.

Spain's Colonial Influence

San Antonio's fusion of cultures began 300 years ago when Spain staked its claim in the New World and sent missionaries to colonize the native people. What is now San Antonio was originally a Coahuiltecan Indian village. In 1718, the Franciscans constructed a mission, San Antonio de Valero, to convert, educate, and serve as the economic core for the settlement. In 1731, Spain sent settlers from the Canary Islands to further establish their colonial presence and over the next few years, built four more missions along the river.

SunsetAlamo.jpgA lack of military support and raids by neighboring Comanche and Apaches weakened Spain's control of the original mission, and in 1794, Mission San Antonio de Valero was secularized and became a Spanish military installation—the Alamo. Eventually, Mexico waged a war for independence from Spain, and after ten years, won sovereignty over land that included Texas.

Settlers from the United States Head to Texas

In the early 1800s, land in the United States was becoming expensive for pioneers. Stephen Austin, who inherited a Spanish land grant from his father, brought 300 families to Texas in 1821. Mexico also encouraged Americans to purchase land in Texas at a considerably lower rate than they could get in the U.S.

After 14 years, Americans considerably outnumbered Mexicans. Threatened, Mexican dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna rescinded the country's favorable policies towards settlers. In 1835, Texas declared its independence from Mexico, and revolutionaries battled Mexico for control of San Antonio. One of the most pivotal battles occurred at the Alamo, where 189 Texas fighters held Santa Anna's 4,000 troops at bay for 13 days, fighting to their deaths. A mere 46 days after the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston's forces won the Battle of San Jacinto—achieving Texas independence.

Texas Joins the United States

In 1845, Texas joined the union as the 28th state. German immigrants flooded the city, building up the King William area of town and making their homes in La Villita. They brought European architecture and cuisine to this now multicultural city. After the civil war, the region's wealth came from the cattle industry, and San Antonio was the starting point for the Chisholm Trail, which provided a cattle route from Texas to Kansas. Fort Sam Houston, now a significant army base, was also used as a training ground for Buffalo Soldiers. The twentieth century brought more military bases to the greater San Antonio, with a strong Air Force presence.