Tag Archives: San Antonio

Remembering the Alamo

Alamo Tejanos

At dawn on this day, 178 years ago, the Mexican army broke through the walls of the Alamo, killing the 180 to 200 of the Texian defenders. It was a quick & brutal end to a 13-day siege that went became a worldwide standard for sacrifice & honor.

Among them were a number of Tejanos – native-born residents of the northern Tejas province of Mexico. They were defending their homes and their families, and like their Anglo allies, knew they were going to die. But the Tejanos’ sacrifice was, for generations, forgotten.

I found this piece I wrote in 1989 about the Tejanos at the Alamo. This year, a new exhibit at the Alamo shrine, “Standing Their Ground: Tejanos at the Alamo,” brings the story of the Tejano defenders alive, with interactive displays in which visitors can hear the words of the Tejanos and Tejanas who were part of the final battle. And while we’ve come a long way from thinking only white guys fought at the Alamo, the Tejanos’ part is still largely ignored. If we’re going to remember the Alamo, we should remember all of it.

The Forgotten Sacrifices of Tejanos in Texas’ Fight

San Antonio — A Texas Independence Day pop quiz: On which side did Gregorio Esparza and Toribio Losoya fight during the siege of the Alamo?

If you answered, ‘the Mexican army, you’re wrong. They were among seven Tejanos who died defending the Alamo on March 6,1836.

Tejanos — Hispanics who were born in what would later become Texas — were an important faction in the fight for Texas independence. Influential Tejanos Jose Antonio Navarro and Lorenzo de Zavala proudly risked death with the other signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2,1836.

Yet the sacrifices of Tejanos were forgotten — sometimes purpose fully, historians remind us — while Hollywood and myth persist in painting the Texas rebellion against Mexico as a battle solely between Anglo settlers and the Mexican government.

“Little has been done to explore the depth of Tejano involvement in the 1836 rebellion,” said historian Gerald Poyo, a research associate at the University of Texas Institute of Texan Culture at San Antonio.

“Perhaps we’re better off not celebrating Texas Independence Day until we gain a fuller appreciation of all those involved in the struggle,” Poyo said.

Poyo and Gilberto Hinojosa, a historian and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, are writing a book on 18th-century Texas.

The roots of rebellion lie deeper the Tejano community than in the johnny-come-lately Anglo settlers, Poyo said.

There had been a pattern of resistance to the rule of central government from Mexico City since the Spanish period of the 1770s, he said. That feeling predated the dissatisfaction with the Anglos by 50 years, according to Poyo.

Many of the Tejano elite backed the abortive attempt to set up an independent Republic of the North in 1813. Later, Tejanos were ardent supporters of the successful Mexican revolt against Spain in 1821, only to grow as unhappy with Mexican rule as with Spanish rule.

There is indication that the Tejanos preferred working toward independence through legal channels, while Anglos always had annexation by the U.S. in the back of their. minds,” Poyo said. “When open; revolt was declared, the tejanos had to make a decision, and they sided with the rebellion.

” ln 1836, about 4,000 Tejanos lived north of the Nueces River, where settlement was concentrated. Anglos numbered about 35,000, most of them fairly recent arrivals from the United States, Poyo said.

While the full extent of Tejano participation is not known, Hinojosa’s research indicates that,Tejanos and established Anglo colonist participated equally in the rebellion but were far outnumbered the newly arrived Americans.

Juan N. Seguin, son of a pioneer Tejano family, formed a volunteer company of Tejano soldiers with the ringing proclamation that “Texas shall be free, independent or we shall perish with glory in battle.”

Members of Seguin’s company served as scouts for Sam Houston and fought in three battles of the Texas revolution, including the Alamo and the decisive battle at San Jacinto.

Seguin escaped death at the Alamo only because he borrowed James Bowie’s horse to seek help a few days before the old mission fell to Santa Anna’s soldiers.

In his book Anglos and Mexicans, University of New Mexico sociologist David Montejano calls the Tejanos a people of paradox.

“Jose Antonio Navarro and Juan Seguin believed it possible to be both a proud Mexican and a loyal Tejano,” Montejano wrote. Yet, “the political alliance between Mexicans and Anglos in Texas ….began unraveling soon after the rout of Santa Anna’s army at San Jacinto.”

What followed was a sad and brutal period of Texas history.

The Texas rebellion was an example of nation-building at work, and it was an Anglo nation being built,” Poyo said. “Land that had been in Tejano hands for generations was soon transferred to Anglos, often through threat or out right fraud.”

From 1836 until Texas statehood a decade later, Tejano communities in Victoria, Refugio, Goliad and other places were subjugated by Anglo settlers, Montejano wrote. In 1839, 100 Tejano families were forced to abandon their homes in Nacogdoches and flee south.

Land speculators benefitted by making quick, cheap real estate buys from Tejanos driven from their land.

According to state land records dating from 1837 to 1842,13 “American” buyers purchased 1.4 million acres of land from 358 Mexican owners, Montejano wrote.

Even such heroes of the revolt as Juan Seguin were not exempt. As mayor of San Antonio in 1840, he grieved over the treatment of Tejanos by Anglo newcomers.

“Could I leave them defenseless, exposed to the assaults of foreigners, who, on the pretext that they were Mexicans, treated them worse than brutes?” Seguin wrote. In 1842, after numerous death threats, Seguin left his native San Antonio for exile in Mexico.

Another round of anti-Mexican sentiment and expulsions followed Texas’ entry into the United States in 1845 and the Mexican War a year later, Montejano noted.

What we hope to do is open up areas of historical inquiry that have too long been ignored,” Poyo said. “Perhaps we can get into the school textbooks a more balanced view of Tejano participation in Texas history, one that does not stigmatize Hispanics as the bad guys.” 

Source: San Antonio Bureau of The Dallas Morning News, Thursday, March 2, 1989 pages 1a & 12a


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Visiting Hot Wells

The first time I ever heard of the Hot Wells Hotel was more than 30 years ago. San Antonio friends told me ab0ut this spooky old place out on the South East side – the ruins of an old resort spa. It had long been a particular favorite spot for people to sneak out to at night, drink beer and break other crimes that seemed best amid broken ruins in the moonlight.

I never went myself. Sometimes while going to Espada Dam or driving along South Presa Street, I’d catch the glimpse of the shadow of brick walls shrouded by overgrowth and tattered palm trees. But it always seemed oddly improper, like visiting a stranger’s sick bed, to sneak in past the fence and walk around.

Recently, I got the chance. Work and the new owner got me on the property. All that’s left are the sad remains of the bathhouse. And yet there is a regal sense of place. This was the queen of early 20th Century living and she may be down on her luck and broken, but she’s still lovely.

In 1892, workers discovered a hot sulphur artesian spring on the grounds of what was then called the San Antonio Lunatic Asylum. A year later, a far-thinking entrepreneur decided it would be the ideal spot for ‘a first-class bathhouse’ and leased the hot springs and the acreage around it. That was the first Hot Wells Hotel.

In the 1890s, folks were convinced that foul-smelling, sulphur-laden water was good for you, curing any manner of  “rheumatism, kidney, liver and skin diseases and blood poisoning.” Guests came, splashed in the pool and lived it up among the luxuries of the resort and its’ park-like grounds.

A fire in 1894 destroyed the hotel. The entrepreneur eventually sold out to San Antonio beer baron, Otto Koehler – think Pearl Brewery – in 1900. Koehler built on the theme, adding a bit of glitz to the healthy regimen of life at Hot Wells.

In 1902, Koehler added an area with three pools – for gents, for ladies and for those with ailments like skin diseases others wouldn’t necessarily enjoying the waters with. He provided electricity, hot and cold running waters in the hotel rooms and other amenities — including a bookie office on the first floor of the hotel.

Hot Wells became the place to play for rich and famous unburdened with daily labor. The days were brightened with concerts, domino tournaments, poetry readings and lectures. At night, there was dancing and drinks in the garden,

Rudolph Valentino came to play, as did Sarah Burnhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Tom Mix and a young Cecil B. DeMile. Teddy Roosevelt visited, as did Mexican President Porfirio Diaz in the waning days of his office before the Revolution.

Prohibition ruined the mood at Hot Wells and Wall Street’s collapse in 1929 spelled the end. Hot Wells was sold to a Christian Scientist group as a school. It later became a tourist camp, a care, a honky-tonk and a trailer park. Subsequent fires totally destroyed the old hotel and the bathhouse began falling down around the pools. Neighborhood kids would still drop in to sneak a swim in the sulphur pools. The last residents in the trailer park left in the early 197os.

Developer James Lifshutz hopes to bring Hot Wells back to life. He plans to preserve the ruins as an attractive center around another luxury hotel and upscale RV park (yes, such things exist) and build in the economic development boom rippling through the South Side. It remains, at this point, only a plan. There have been many plans over the years to save Hot Wells.

But on this hot, windless day, brush clogs the evidence of the entrance to the bathhouse and dying palm trees stand miserable guard. Weedy plants that have turned into ill-kept trees rise up above the brick walls and empty windows.

But turn a corner, and you can still hear ghostly echoes of the orchestra strike up a foxtrot. Or listen to the bright chatter of women in glittering gowns and men in black tie formality. Maybe they looked into the night sky and thought such a life, such beauty, would never end.

UPDATE: For an excellent slideshow of past and current views of Hot Wells, go here. This is also a shameless plug, since I also wrote the story for NOWCastSA. Any similarity in the two stories is purely intentional.

Photo courtesy of Heather DiMasi/NOWCastSA


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Where is Pogo When We Need Him?

Today, August 25, would be the 97th Birthday of Walt Kelly, the lovely man who gave us ‘Pogo.’ I used to read that strip every day in the Houston Chronicle or wherever I happened to be. It was the perfect combination of art, truth and joy. Thanks, Mr. Kelly, where ever you are.

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Why aren’t you out, enjoying Fiesta?

Go on. Get moving. Nothing to see here.


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The Rag Man Is My Friend

We first noticed it several years ago. Someone was stealing our junk. First, an explanation.

Twice a year in our neighborhood, the city of San Antonio sponsors what they fondly call ‘Brush Drives.’  All the cut tree limbs, fallen palm fronds, bags of leaves and poor, dessicated plants killed by the 102-degree summers and other stuff the bi-weekly trash pickup won’t take can be piled in front of the house and nice men in trucks come  by and pick it up.  Sometime back, the city let us add all the detritus crap that builds up in the garage, back closets, etc. So, we’d add broken dining chairs, moldy pillows (don’t ask), cracked bric-a-brac and the unidentifiable boxes we moved over from the old house and never  unpacked.

The next morning, things like the chairs & souvenir gee-gaws from Disney Land (20 years ago. Once was enough.) were gone. And someone had picked through the stack of boxes.

“Who the hell would take THAT crap,” I asked rhetorically.

My wife answered anyway. “Someone who needed it.”

And it was true. People would drive through the neighborhood, scavenging for used household goods or anything remotely usable to either use themselves or sell at swap meets.  We’d see the pickup wheezing along the street like rusty sharks.

It took a while, but the Light Bulb of Inspiration finally lit up.

Someone could use our old junk!

We began small at first – a few cracked dishes and some old music cassettes. (Fifth of Beethovan. Why?) The next morning, they were gone. Soon, it grew to stacks of old floppy discs, old computers, printer cables, old phones, a chair that needed upholstery, phone books…PHONE BOOKS! And they were gone.

We cleaned out closets and then moved to the garage. Stuff I hadn’t seen in years went to the front. Gone. Lumber from half-finished projects. Gone. Once, I moved two bags of books to the front. They were gone by the time I returned with another load.

When the basketball goal our younger son had spent many hours using lost out to Xbox, it sat rusting in the back yard for a few more years. But it didn’t last 10 minutes at the front.

Once, we had just manhandled a large hideous couch out to front. We were halfway up the drive when a smoky Chevy truck of uncertain vintage pulled up. A young man climbed and began trying lift the monster into his truck.  I turned around to help him and he backed away as though I was going to snatch the treasure away. His wife sat in the passenger side, watching us closely. A small child peeked out from her lap. “We need a couch,” he said. I told him it was his.

As I helped him load it up, my wife approached the side of the truck with an old stuffed toy, a ridiculous looking dog, that had belonged to one of they boys.

“We’re getting rid of this too,” she said to the woman, who I’m sure spoke no English. But the young child in her lap understood. He looked at his mother, who nodded. Then and only then he took the dog as his own.  We watched them drive away with the complete realization that we had far too much stuff.

It was time to simplify. Even after the city ramped up its recycling program with once-a-week pickups, we continued to place no longer wanted or needed items on the front walk. And it always finds a new home.

We don’t need it. Someone else does.


OK. In the interest of full disclosure and the fact that someone who knows us may stumble  upon this blog one day, I need to add something. We’ve  been known to scavenge the neighborhood too. We’ve gone on walks and returned with an ancient birdcage, a wobbly table and a plant stand with a broken leg. Our best find was a painting, a large,semi-expressionist work showing two fencers  at work in brilliant white, yellow & orange. It wound up in a son’s bedroom. I’d show you a picture, but he’s already liberated it and taken the artwork to Houston.

The point is, neighbor-assisted recycling isn’t something only the poor do. It’s human nature. We see something laying out by the trashcans and it’s too good, too neat to throw away. So we take it.  And something that people used or loved or simply needed/wanted for a while finds a new home and a new use. Though I’m still stumped why anyone would want our old phone books.


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A Bend in the River

As promised, some stuff about San Antonio. This is from the River Walk downtown. You’ve all heard the story: How in the 1920s, the river flooded downtown. In a practice repeated throughout S.A. political history, City Fathers thought the best solution was to pave over the river and turn it into a sewer. Hey! Problem fixed.  Wiser heads ruled, the river was saved and it developed into a tourism godsend. A half-century or so later, the city finally got around to flood control.

Anyway, this is from my experimental stage. The river isn’t this color in nature. No, really.

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