Defending San Antonio de Béxar
By: Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Director of History and Curation
Modern day San Antonio started with the founding of Mission San Antonio de Valero on May 1, 1718. Four days later, Spanish officials established Presidio San Antonio de Béxar nearby for the mission’s protection. When finished, the presidio lacked the walls one would expect of a fort, but it was reportedly well defended by its garrison. The site gained additional significance in 1772 when it became the home of the governor of San Antonio. Today, the sole remaining presidial structure on San Antonio’s old military plaza is the Spanish Governor’s Palace.
The number of soldiers stationed at Presidio San Antonio de Béxar fluctuated over the years, but usually consisted of around fifty personnel. Soldiers stationed here protected the town, helped guard the area’s five missions, and provided military escorts for missionaries and Spanish officials. Many of the soldiers stationed at the presidio opted to stay in San Antonio and married into the community. As the nineteenth century dawned, Spanish officials stationed additional troops in San Antonio after the United States became Texas’ neighbor following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Soldiers now had the additional duty of keeping American adventurers from establishing a foothold in Spanish territory.
One military unit in particular had a strong tie to San Antonio and the Alamo — La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Alamo de Parras. Transferred from its hometown of Alamo de Parras located south of the Rio Grande, the 100 man company arrived in San Antonio in 1803. They were not alone, however: their families also made the move. The unit took up residence at the recently closed Mission San Antonio de Valero. The mission’s old convento became a barracks for the soldiers. Spanish authorities even established a military hospital in the building’s second story. Within a short period of time people were calling the old mission the Pueblo de la Compañía del Alamo. Eventually, the compound was just called the Alamo and would be home for the company for thirty-two years (1803–1835).
La Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Alamo de Parras was well suited for frontier service. Designated a “flying company,” soldiers of the unit were mounted and armed with a lance, short sword, carbine, and pistol. For protection against arrows, they sometimes wore a padded leather vest and carried a thick leather shield. As with other frontier soldiers, the company’s original duties included protecting San Antonio and the area around it from Indian raiders, as well as escorting travelers, merchants, and officials to places like Monterrey, Monclova, and Saltillo. As the 1800’s progressed, their members were called on to intercept, capture or turn back encroaching Americans who increasingly showed interest in Texas. Momentous events, however, tested the loyalty of the Alamo Company.
Father Miguel Hidalgo’s 1810 anti-Spanish revolt spread across Mexico and extended into Texas. Although they were supposed to battle the rebels, some members of the Alamo Company switched sides and joined forces with the Mexican revolutionaries and American volunteers who attempted to transform Texas into an independent republic. In August 1813, a Spanish army crushed the revolt at the Battle of Medina. Many of the rebels, including members of the company, were forced to flee for their lives. With order restored, the Alamo Company resumed its traditional role of fighting Indians and interdicting interlopers.
In 1821, the Alamo Company shifted its allegiance to the newly formed independent nation of Mexico. In 1828, in the twilight of the company’s existence, a traveler through San Antonio commented on the company and its home, the Alamo:
An enormous battlement and some barracks are found there, as well as the remains of a church which could pass for one of the loveliest monuments of the area . . . . In the barracks of that mission lives a presidial company, long since come from . . . a presidio called Alamo de Parras, which has retained the same name in Texas. . . . Composed of some hundred houses, the quarters of the Alamo is considered as part of San Fernando de Béxar. It is subject to the same authorities, and is separated only by the river.
The Alamo Company witnessed the influx of American colonists to Texas throughout the 1820s and early 1830s and was drawn into the growing dispute between the newcomers and the Mexican government. With Texas in open revolt in the autumn of 1835, members of the Alamo Company were once again forced to take sides. Unlike the earlier revolt, though, this one spelled the end of the Alamo Company. The demise of the Alamo Company opened the way for another, more famous, frontier military unit — the Texas Rangers.
For More Information on Spanish Presidios, consult the following sources:
Daniel, James M. “The Spanish Frontier in West Texas and Northern Mexico,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Vol. 71, №4 (April 1968), 481–495.
de la Teja, Jesús F. and John Wheat. “Ramón de Murillo’s Plan for the Reform of New Spain’s Frontier Defenses,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Vol. 107, №4 (April 2004), 501–533.
Moorehead, Max L. the Presisio: Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.
Park, Joseph F. “Spanish Indian Policy in Northern Mexico, 1765–1810,” Arizona and the West. Vol 4, №4 (Winter 18962), 325–344.
Powell, Philip Wayne (1969). Soldiers, Indians, & Silver: The Northward Advance of New Spain, 1550–1600. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1952.
_________. “Genesis of the Frontier Presidio in North America,” Western Historical Quarterly. Vol. 13, №2 (April 1982), 125–141.
_________. “Spanish Warfare against the Chichimecas in the 1570's,” Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 24, №4 (November 1944), 580–604.
_________. “The Chichimecas: Scourge of the Silver Frontier in Sixteenth-Century Mexico,”
Hispanic American Historical Review. Vol. 25, №3 (August1945), 315–338.
“San Antonio de Béjar Presidio,” Alamo de Parras. http://www.tamu.edu/faculty/ccbn/dewitt/adp/history/hispanic_period/presidio2.html