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We’re Supposed to ‘Remember the Alamo’ – Do You?

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By Tom Konecny

“Remember the Alamo!” is a call once used to rally Republic of Texas rebels who refused to surrender their fortress to Mexican forces. After the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, Mexican soldiers continued to storm Sam Houston’s brigade of rebel volunteers, and his troops were losing confidence and hope. But Houston kept training his men and used the now-famous cry to fuel their ire, and their never-give-up, patriot-like attitude – along with the saying – played a heady part in securing Texas’ independence.

So even today, nearly 200 years later, that battle and its rally cry is looked upon with reverence. But did you realize the Alamo was never intended as a military site? In fact, it started as a mission, and was founded exactly 300 years ago in 1718.

In the early 1700s, the new governor of Spanish Texas (which became a state in 1845) wanted to establish a provision station between settlements along the Rio Grande river and new missions in East Texas, because the nearest settlement was over 400 miles away. In April 1718, the governor founded a new community along the San Antonio River, whose growing group built a temporary home of mud, brush and straw, and eventually relocated other times over the decades.

The present location – visited by 4 million people every year – was chosen in 1724. The foundation of the stone mission church was laid in 1744, but was far more than a religious institution. It aimed to bring its people to Catholicism, but also to the Spanish way of life by creating a self-sufficient population who would grow into loyal Spanish citizens and fend off foreign powers in the future. Converts were taught about farming, carpentry, blacksmithing and other necessary trades.

The chapel was intended to be much larger with three stories and a dome, but it was never completed. Up to 30 adobe or mud buildings were constructed to serve as workrooms, storerooms and homes for the Indian residents. However, population fluctuated as the Texas frontier changed. Indians convert populations would dwindle, sometimes due to exposure to diseases carried by Europeans. By 1793, the Mission San Antonio de Valero – as it was named – was secularized and control passed to local authorities. Shortly after that, the mission was abandoned.

In the early 1800s, the former mission complex became known as “the Alamo,” probably due to a nearby grove of cottonwood trees known in Spanish as álamo. At that same time, it also was occupied by some mounted militiamen, often called by locals as the “Alamo Company.” In later years it was serve as a political prison during war, and then as San Antonio’s first hospital. By 1821 the buildings were transferred from Spanish to Mexican control, and soldiers occupied it as the Battle of the Alamo began.

As so often in history, we tend to forget the details but remember the deeds. Though millions visit the legendary site each year, we’re reminded that people believe in and fight for ideals.

The battle and rally cry may not be connected with national history, however, it had everything to do with those who battled bravely for independence – all of which is worth remembering.

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