Mexican soldiers held the mission until December 1835, when General Martin Perfecto de Cos surrendered it to the Texian Army following the siege of Bexar. A relatively small number of Texian soldiers then occupied the compound. Texian General Sam Houston believed the Texians did not have the manpower to hold the fort and ordered Colonel James Bowie to destroy it. Bowie chose to disregard those orders and instead worked with Colonel James C. Neill to fortify the mission. On February 23, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna led a large force of Mexican soldiers into San Antonio de Bexar and promptly initiated a siege. The siege ended on March 6, when the Mexican army attacked the Alamo; by the end of the Battle of the Alamo all or almost all of the defenders were killed. When the Mexican army retreated from Texas at the end of the Texas Revolution, they tore down many of the Alamo walls and burned some of the buildings.
For the next five years, the Alamo was periodically used to garrison soldiers, both Texian and Mexican, but was ultimately abandoned. In 1849, several years after Texas was annexed to the United States, the US Army began renting the facility for use as a quartermaster's depot. The US Army abandoned the mission in 1876 after nearby Fort Sam Houston was established. The Alamo chapel was sold to the state of Texas, which conducted occasional tours but made no effort to restore it. The remaining buildings were sold to a mercantile company which operated them as a wholesale grocery store.
After forming in 1892, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) began trying to preserve the Alamo. In 1905, Adina de Zavala and Clara Driscoll successfully convinced the legislature to purchase the buildings and to name the DRT permanent custodians of the site. For the next six years, de Zavala and Driscoll quarrelled over how to best restore the mission, culminating in a court case to decide which of their competing DRT chapters controlled the Alamo. As a result of the feud, Texas governor Oscar B. Colquitt briefly took the complex under state control and began restorations in 1912; the site was given back to the DRT later that year. The legislature took steps in 1988 and again in 1994 to transfer control of the Alamo to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department but the attempt failed after then-governor George W. Bush vowed to veto any bill removing the DRT's authority.
On May 1 the group created a temporary mud, brush and straw structure to serve as a new mission, named San Antonio de Valero. The mission was initially populated with three to five Indians that one of the missionaries had raised since childhood. One mile (two km) north of the mission, Alarcon built a presidio, San Antonio de Bexar. The Alamo was the first in a chain of missions established nearby along the San Antonio River.
About 1724, a stone church was completed. The church, its tower and the sacristy fell down in the late 1750s. A permanent Alamo complex was constructed in 1758. At the time, the complex was located just across the San Antonio River from the town of San Antonio Bexar, and several hundred yards north of a group of huts known as La Villita. The monastery was likely the first permanent building. The two-story building formed an L shape and made up parts of the west and south edges of an inner courtyard. At the south end of the courtyard stood the chapel building, constructed of thick limestone blocks, was intended to be three stories high, topped by a done, with bell towers on either side. It shape was a traditional cross, with a long nave and short transept. Construction was completed on the first two levels of the chapel, but the third level and the bell towers were never built. Although the dome itself was not built, four stone arches were begun as supports for it. As the church was never completed, it is unlikely that is was ever used for religious services.
The chapel was intended to be highly decorated. Niches were carved on either side of the door to hold statues. The lower-level niches displayed Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, while the second-level niches contained statues of Saint Clair and Saint Margaret of Cortona. Carvings were also completed around the chapel's door.
Additional adobe or mud buildings were constructed to serve as workrooms, storerooms, and homes for the Indian residents. At most, only 30 of these buildings stood at one time. The population of Indians fluctuated, from a high of 328 in 1756 to a low of 44 in 1777. By 1793, only 12 remained. As the nearby presidio was perpetually understaffed, the mission was built to withstand attacks by Apache and Comanche raiders. Walls were erected around the Indian homes in 1758, likely in response to the massacre at the San Saba mission. The convent and church were not fully enclosed within the walls. The walls were built thick and enclosed an area long (north-south) and wide (east-west). For additional protection, a turret housing 3 cannons was added near the main gate in 1762. By 1793 an additional one-pound cannon had been placed on a rampart near the convent.
Between 1806 and 1812 part of the complex served as San Antonio's first hospital. Spanish records indicate that some renovations were made for this purpose, but no details are provided. The mission held no special place in the lives of the locals - to most it was just one of the five missions near the town. An 1828 visitor to the area, Jean Louis Berlandier, was more impressed. He mentioned the Alamo complex: "An enormous battlement and some barracks are found there, as well as the ruins of a church which could pass for one of the loveliest monuments of the area, even if its architecture is overloaded with ornamentation like all the ecclesiatical buildings of the Spanish colonies."
After hearing from Neill of the poor state of the Alamo, General Sam Houston ordered Colonel James Bowie to take 35–50 men to Bexar to help Neill move all of the artillery and destroy the Alamo. They arrived on January 19, where they found a force of 104 men with little supplies and gunpowder. Neill and Bowie decided they did not have enough oxen to move the artillery someplace safer, and they did not want to destroy the fortress. On January 26 one of Bowie's men, James Bonham, organized a rally which passed a resolution in favor of holding the Alamo.
The provisional governor of Texas, Henry Smith, ordered William B. Travis to raise a company of 100 men to reinforce the Alamo; Travis and his men arrived on February 3. Five days later, Davy Crockett joined the Texians. On February 11, Neill went on furlough, likely to pursue additional reinforcements and supplies for the garrison. Travis and Bowie agreed to share command of the Alamo.
On February 23 the Mexican army, under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, arrived in San Antonio de Bexar. For the next thirteen days, the Mexican Army led siege to the Alamo. During the siege, work continued on the interior of the Alamo. After Mexican soldiers tried to block the irrigation ditch leading into the Alamo, Jameson supervised the digging of a well at the south end of the plaza. Although the men hit water, they weakened an earth and timber parapet by the low barracks; the mound collapsed, leaving no way to fire safely over that wall.
The siege ended on March 6, with a Mexican victory at the Battle of the Alamo. As the Mexican army breached the walls and began gathering in the interior of the Alamo compound, most of the Texians fell back to the long barracks (convent) and the chapel. During the siege, Texians had carved holes in many of the walls of these rooms so that they would be able to fire. Each room had only one door which led into the courtyard and which had been "buttressed by semicircular parapets of dirt secured with cowhides". Some of the rooms even had trenches dug into the floor to provide some cover for the defenders. Mexican soldiers used the abandoned Texian cannon to blow off the doors of the rooms, allowing Mexican soldiers to enter and defeat the Texians.
The last of the Texians to die were the eleven men manning the two 12-lb cannon in the chapel. The entrance to the church had been barricaded with sandbags, which the Texians were able to fire over. A shot from the 18-lb cannon destroyed the barricades, and Mexican soldiers entered the building after firing an initial musket volley. With no time to reload, the Texians, including Dickinson, Gregorio Esparza, and Bonham, grabbed rifles and fired before being bayoneted to death. Texian Robert Evans was master of ordnance and had been tasked with keeping the gunpowder from falling into Mexican hands. Wounded, he crawled towards the powder magazine but was killed by a musket ball with his torch only inches from the powder. If he had succeeded, the blast would have destroyed the church.
Santa Anna ordered that the Texian bodies be stacked and burned. The only exception was the body of Gregorio Esparza, whose brother, Francisco Esparza, served in Santa Anna's army and received permission to give Gregorio a proper burial. All or almost all of the Texian defenders were killed, although some historians believe that at least one Texian, Henry Warnell, successfully escaped from the battle. Warnell died several months later of wounds incurred either during the final battle or during his escape as a courier. Most Alamo historians agree that 400–600 Mexicans were killed or wounded. This would represent about one-third of the Mexican soldiers involved in the final assault, which Todish remarks is "a tremendous casualty rate by any standards".
The Texians briefly used the Alamo as a fortress in December 1836 and again in January 1839. The Mexican army regained control in March 1841 and September 1842 as they briefly took San Antonio de Bexar. According to historians Roberts and Olson, "both groups carved names in the Alamo's walls, dug musket rounds ouf of the holds, and knocked off stone carvings". Pieces of the debris were sold to tourists, and in 1840 the San Antonio town council passed a resolution allowing local citizens to take stone from the Alamo at a cost of $5 per wagonload. By the late 1840s, even the four statues located on the front wall of the chapel had been removed.
On January 13, 1841, the Republic of Texas passed an act returning the sanctuary of the Alamo to the Roman Catholic Church. By 1845, when Texas was annexed to the United States, a colony of bats occupied the abandoned complex and weeds and grass covered many of the walls.
As the Mexican-American War loomed in 1846, 2000 United States Army soldiers were sent to San Antonio under Brigadier General John Wool. By the end of the year, they had apropriated part of the Alamo complex for the Quartermaster's Department. Within eighteen months, the convent building had been restored to serve as offices and storerooms. The chapel remained vacant, however, as the army, the Roman Catholic Church, and the city of San Antonio bickered over its ownership. An 1855 decision by the Texas Supreme Court reaffirmed that the Catholic Church was the rightful owner of the chapel. Even while litigation was ongoing, the army rented the chapel from the Catholic Church for $150 per month.
Under the army's oversight, the Alamo was greatly repaired. Soldiers cleared the grounds and rebuilt the old convent and the mission walls, primarily from original stone which was strewn along the ground. During the renovations, a new wooden roof was added to the chapel and the campanulate, or bell-shaped facade, was added to the front wall of the chapel. At the time, reports suggested that the soldiers found several skeletons while clearing the rubble from the chapel floor. The new chapel roof was destroyed in a fire in 1861. The army also cut additional windows into the chapel, adding two on the upper level of the facade as well as additional windows on the other three sides of the building. The complex eventually contained a supply depot, offices, storage facilities, a blacksmith shop, and stables.
During the American Civil War, Texas joined the Confederacy, and the Alamo complex was taken over by the Confederate Army. Following the Confederacy's defeat, the United States Army again maintained control over the Alamo. Shortly after the war ended, however, the Catholic Church requested that the army vacate the premises so that the Alamo could become a place of worship for local German Catholics. The army refused, and the church made no further attempts at retaking the complex.
The army abandoned the Alamo in 1876, when Fort Sam Houston was established in San Antonio. At about that time, the Church sold the convent to Honore Grenet, who added a new two-story wood building to the complex. Grenet used the convent and the new building for a wholesale grocery business. After Grenet's death in 1882, his business was purchased by mercantile firm Hugo & Schmeltzer, which continued to operate the store.
In 1883, the Catholic Church sold the chapel to the State of Texas for $20,000. The state hired Tom Rife to manage the building. He gave tours but did not make any efforts to restore the chapel, to the annoyance of many. In the past decades, soldiers and members of the local Masonic lodge, which had used the building for meetings, had inscribed various graffiti on the walls and statues. In May 1887 a devout Catholic who was incensed that Masonic emblems had been inscribed on a statue of Saint Theresa was arrested after breaking into the building and smashing statues with a sledgehammer.
The 50th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo received little attention. In an editorial after the fact, the San Antonio Express called for the formation of a new society that would help recognize important historical events. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) finally organized in 1892; one of their main goals was to preserve the Alamo. Among its early members was Adina de Zavala, granddaughter of Republic of Texas Vice-President Lorenzo de Zavala. Shortly before the turn of the century, Adina de Zavala convinced Gustav Schmeltzer, owner of the convent, to give the DRT first option in purchasing the building if it was ever sold. In 1903, Schmeltzer announced that he wanted to sell the convent building to a developer so that it could be turned into a hotel. He offered to sell the building to the DRT for $75,000, which they did not have. De Zavala decided to ask for a donation from the owners of the Menger Hotel, hoping that they would be willing to pay so as not to have competition. On the day of her impromptu visit, however, the owners were away and de Zavala struck up a conversation with a hotel patron, Clara Driscoll. Driscoll was an heiress who was very interested in Texas history and especially the Alamo.
After their conversation, Driscoll joined the DRT and was almost immediately appointed chair of the San Antonio chapter's fund-raising committee. The DRT was able to negotiate a 30-day option on the property. The group would pay $500 up front, with an additional $4,500 due at the conclusion of the 30 days. On February 10, 1904, the group would owe $20,000, and the remainder of the cost would be paid in five annual installments of $10,000 each. On March 17, 1903, Driscoll paid the initial $500 deposit out of her personal funds. To raise the rest of the money, Driscoll's fund-raising committee sent tens of thousands of letters to Texas residents, asking each person to donate 50 cents. By the end of the 30-day option, the group had collected only $1,021.75 in donations.
On April 17, Driscoll paid the remainder of the $4,500 from her own pockett. At the urging of both Driscoll and de Zavala, the Texas Legislature approved $5,000 for the committee to use as part of the next payment. The appropriation was vetoed by Governor S. W. T. Lanham, who said it was "not a justifiable expenditure of the taxpayers' money". Undeterred, DRT members set up a collection booth outside of the Alamo and held several fundraising activities. Through these activities, they raised $5,662.23. Driscoll again agreed to make up the difference, and also agreed to pay the final $50,000. After hearing of her generosity, various newspapers in Texas dubbed her the "Savior of the Alamo". As news of her donation spread, many groups throughout the state began to petition the legislature to reimburse Driscoll. In January 1905, de Zavala drafted a bill to that effect that was sponsored by representative Samuel Ealy Johnson, Jr. (father of future US President Lyndon Baines Johnson). The bill was passed, and Driscoll received all of her money back. The bill also named the DRT custodian of the Alamo and convent, and they received official control on September 5, 1905.
Soon after the San Antonio chapter of the DRT gained custody of the Alamo, Driscoll and de Zavala began arguing over how best to preserve the building. De Zavala wished to restore the exterior of the buildings to a state similar to its 1836 appearance. As most of the defenders of the battle of the Alamo who died indoors had died in the convent (then called the long barracks), she wished to make that building a focal point of the site. She envisioned a museum and library on the ground floor, and a tribute to the defenders on the second floor. Driscoll, on the other hand, wanted to tear down the long barracks. According to Roberts and Olson, Driscoll wanted to create a monument similar to those she had seen in Europe, "a city center opened by a large plaza and anchored by an ancient chapel".
Unable to convince de Zavala and her supporters to agree to tear down the convent, Driscoll and several other women seceded from the San Antonio chapter of the DRT and formed a competing chapter they named the Alamo Mission chapter. The two chapters promptly began arguing over which had oversight of the Alamo. Unable to quickly resolve the dispute, in February 1908 the executive committee of the DRT decided to lease out the building. Angry with that decision, on February 10 de Zavala held a press conference and announced that a syndicate wanted to buy the chapel and tear it down. She then barricaded herself in the Hugo and Schmetlzer building for three days.
In response to the drama that de Zavala created, on February 12, Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell ordered that the superintendent of public building and grounds take control of the property. The two DRT chapters took their dispute to the courts, which eventually named Driscoll's chapter the official custodians of the Alamo. The DRT later expelled de Zavala and her followers.
Driscoll was livid over Colquitt's decisions and used her influence as a major donor to the Democratic Party to undermine him. At the time, Colquitt was considered running for U.S. Senate. Driscoll told the New York Herald Tribune that "the Daughters desire to have a Spanish garden on the site of the old mission, but the governor will not consider it. Therefore, we are going to fight him from the stump. ... We are also going to make speeches in the districts of State Senators who voted against and killed the amendment" to return control of the mission to the DRT. In a compromise and to save face, Colquitt left the state, ostensibly on state business. This left Lieutenant Governor William Harding Mayes in authority. Mayes agreed to allow the upper-story walls to be removed from the convent, leaving only the one-story walls of the west and south portions of the building. The conflict over what to do with the buildings became known as the Second Battle of the Alamo.
Over the next several decades, Driscoll continued to work towards creating a plaza with the chapel as its centerpiece. In 1931, she convinced the state legislature to purchase two tracts of land between the chapel and Crockett street. The legislature appropriated most of the money necessary to buy the land, and Driscoll paid the remainder out of her own pocket. The legislature was later convinced to repay her. In 1935, she convinced the city of San Antonio not to place a fire station in a building near the Alamo; the DRT later purchased that building and made it the DRT library.
During the Great Depression, money from the Works Progress Administration and the National Youth Administration was used to construct a wall around the Alamo, to build a museum, and to raze several old buildings that were left on the Alamo property.
As recognition for their efforts in trying to preserve the Alamo, when Driscoll died in July 1945 and de Zavala died in March 1955, their bodies were laid in state in the Alamo Chapel.
The Alamo was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.
Shortly after that, San Antonio representative Jerry Beauchamp proposed that the Alamo be transferred from the DRT and to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Many minority legislatures agreed with him, with Ron Wilson remarking "It's one of the most important history structures in the state. It belongs to everyone, or at least it should... [It] shouldn't be managed by any private group-I don't care if it is the Daughter of the Republic of Texas, the Elks, the Muslims, or the Water Buffalo Club." However, the San Antonio mayor, Henry Cisneros, advocated that control remain with the DRT, and the legislature shelved the bill.
Several years later, Carlos Guerra, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, began writing columns attacking the DRT for their care of the Alamo. According to him, the DRT had kept the temperature too low within the chapel, causing water vapor to form. The water vapor would then mix with car exhaust fumes and damage the limestone walls. These allegations prompted the legislature in 1993 to again attempt to transfer control of the Alamo to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. At the same time, State Senator Gregory Luna filed a competing bill to transfer oversight of the Alamo to the Texas Historical Commission.
By the following year, some advocacy groups in San Antonio had begun pressing for the mission to be turned into a larger historical park. They wished to restore the chapel to its 18th century appearance and focus the complex on its mission days rather than the activities of the Texas Revolution. The DRT was outraged. The head of the group's Alamo Committee, Ana Hartman, claimed that the dispute was gender based. According to her, " "There's something macho about it. Some of the men who are attacking us just resent what has been a successful female venture since 1905."
The dispute was mostly resolved in 1994, when then-governor George W. Bush vowed to veto any legislation that would displace the DRT as caretakers of the Alamo. Later that year, the DRT erected a marker on the mission grounds recognizing that they had once served as Indian burial grounds.
Be silent, friendAccording to historian Frank Thompson, for the most part, a visit to the Alamo "is not particularly instructive". One of the complex building holds a gift shop along with several artifacts and a large diorama that faithfully recreates the compound as it existed in 1836. The DRT also commissioned a large mural, known as the Wall of History, which portrays the Alamo history from its mission days to more modern times. An additional small museum is located in what was once the Long Barracks. This museum contains paintings, weapons, other artifacts and a short video about the battle.
Here heroes died
To pave the way
for other men