A New History of Old San Antonio

Episode 22: The Past is Present

The past lives in San Antonio.

Episode 21: A City Divided

San Antonio in 1860 didn’t look like the rest of Texas, or for that matter, the rest of the United States. The U.S. Civil War nearly tore the town apart all the same, and almost 1/3 of her sons fell on distant battlefields. As it had previously, however, war created opportunity, and this war helped create some of the great businesses that would lead San Antonio into the industrial age.

Episode 20: San Antonio on the Brink

In 1845, San Antonians voted to join the United States and plunged themselves right back into war with their old foes in the Valley of Mexico. The war, however, brought new prosperity to the frontier outpost, and new prosperity brought new immigrants from all over the globe. These new immigrants reveled in the freedoms the isolated town offered them and soon made San Antonio the largest city in Texas.

Episode 19: The Fall of San Antonio

In the first years of the Republic of Texas, San Antonio was attacked by Mexican Centralist forces almost every year until finally falling – twice – to Mexican armies in 1842. These invasions struck a tragic blow to the unity of the fragile new multi-ethnic Republic, even as the period gave birth to the national symbols of the two peoples warring over the little frontier town.

Episode 18: Texian San Antonio

The new Texian government broke off San Antonio’s special relationship with the Comanche empire, provoking renewed hostilities from the horsemen off the plains. Newcomers to the town had to integrate themselves into the fighting units of Old San Antonians and learn the lessons of frontier warfare firsthand.

Episode 17: The Battle of the Alamo

The Battle of the Alamo as you’ve never heard it before.

Episode 16: The Siege of Bexar

In late 1835, Centralists and Federalists clashed in San Antonio over the course of a two-month long siege that culminated in five days of brutal house-to-house fighting.

Episode 15: Santa Anna

In 1833, Santa Anna was elected President of Mexico. In 1834, he declared himself dictator. Mexico rose in revolt and San Antonians rode to Coahuila in support of their fellow Federalists.

Episode 14: Illegal Immigration

In 1830, Mexican Centralists outlawed future Anglo immigration to Texas and walked back the freedoms recognized by the 1824 Federalist Constitution. San Antonians – who had long been the loudest advocates for both immigration and liberty – responded with a bold defense of their new neighbors and an even bolder threat to break away if Centralists wouldn’t respect their hard-won rights.

Episode 13: Sons of Libertad

The most fascinating account of Jacksonian America doesn’t come from a French aristocrat who spent barely nine months on the continent. It comes from Lorenzo de Zavala, author of the 1824 Mexican Federalist Constitution, signer of the Texas Declaration of Indepedence, and first Vice President of the Republic of Texas.

It was in Texas – and in particular, in San Antonio – where De Zavala saw the ultimate opportunity for a new “mixed society of the American system and the Spanish customs and traditions,” which would represent the triumph of the New World over the tired ideas and prejudices of the Old.

Episode 12: Mexican San Antonio

In 1821, Mexico finally won its independence from Spain. In 1824, the new nation promulgated one of the most enlightened constitutions in the world, establishing a federal republic with clearly-defined civil liberties and checks and balances. San Antonio appeared to be on track to recover from the trauma of 1813 and to emerge from the poverty that the old Spanish system had left behind. And the key to their prosperity, they believed, was immigration.

Episode 11: The Battle of Medina

Spanish Royalists responded to San Antonio’s 1813 Declaration of Independence by massacring the Republican Army of the North and by implementing a deliberate policy of terror against San Antonio’s civilians, summarily executing almost three hundred of San Antonio’s leading men while forcing their wives, daughters, and mothers to make tortillas for the soldiers murdering their loved ones. No community in New Spain suffered the way that San Antonio did for Mexican Independence, and it remains the bloodiest episode in Texas history.

Episode 10: The First Republic of Texas

In 1813, San Antonians declared their independence from Spain. The 1813 Texas Declaration of Independence and the 1813 Texas Constitution show San Antonians drawing from both Hispanic and Anglo legal traditions to develop their own political ideology, shaped by and tailored to the hard realities of the Texas frontier.

Episode 9: San Antonio Revolts

The first decade of the nineteenth century brought more tumult to San Antonio than she had experienced in the entire century before. The missions were shuttered, a menacing new neighbor arrived on Texas’s Eastern border, and a civil war erupted in town between republican and royalist factions, as San Antonio took on a tragically leading role in Mexico’s War of Independence.

Episode 8: San Antonio Strong

In 1790, San Antonians finally won peace along the frontier from their old foes: the Apaches and the Comanches…though at a terrible cost.

Episode 7: The Capital of Texas

When San Antonio became the Capital of Texas in 1772, it was a recognition in law of something that was already true in fact. The new concentration of resources on the town and the opening of new lands led to a minor boom, particularly in the cattle business, which immediately ran afoul of Spanish royal authorities and their inflexible mercantile system.

Episode 6: The Comanches

The Apaches just used horses…the Comanches were horseMEN. Had they lived in a different time and place, you might have sworn that they were the inspiration for the legend of the Centaurs.

And in 1759, San Antonians launched an expedition 400 miles into their territory…


Episode 5: The Apaches

After thirty years of constant harrasment by the Apaches, San Antonians did what few other frontier peoples ever could: beat them and force them to seek peace.

Episode 4: Building San Antonio

Between 1718 and 1768, Spanish friars and Native American converts moved nearly 1 million metric tons of limestone around the San Antonio River valley and erected the UNESCO World Heritage San Antonio Missions, using only crude hand tools and native ingenuity.

Episode 3: The Canary Islanders

When the Canary Islanders arrived in San Antonio in March of 1731, they quickly made an impression on the small town. Their first fourteen years in San Antonio would be marked by political conflict, as they formed the first civic government and used their political savvy to advance their vision for their new home.

Episode 2: Missionary San Antonio

By 1731, San Antonio had grown to almost 300 “vecinos,” thanks to the establishment of four new missions and the “entrepreneurialism” of the soldiers stationed there, who defied Spanish import restrictions to blaze the first trade routes between Spanish Texas and Eastern North America.

Episode 1: Founding San Antonio

On June 13, 1691, Spanish explorers gave a name to the spring-fed river whose banks they crossed on that feast day of St. Anthony de Padua – San Antonio. It would take twenty-seven more years of political intrigue, religious zeal, and French incursions before they would be able to plant a permanent settlement there, seeding it with a hardy mix of soldiers, missionaries, and frontiersmen.

Selected Bibliography for A New History of Old San Antonio

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