Deep in The Heart of Texas
Story and Photos by Kathleen Walls
The real Alamo
There is no question. San Antonio is the heart of Texas and the heart of San Antonio lies the middle of its 21st century downtown. There one piece of 18th century architecture reigns supreme. It is not the tallest or the largest. Not even the grandest but it is unquestionably San Antonio's crowning jewel. The Alamo! No other symbol in American history is more revered as a shrine to heroism in the cause of freedom.
Originally one of a string of five missions built by Spanish friars with the help of local natives, it was named officially Mission San Antonio deValero. Eventually it was secularized and the l;and returned to the natives who farmed it until the early 1800s when a Spanish military unit was stationed there. The soldiers nicknamed the post "Los Alamo" in memory of their hometown of Alamo de Parras in the province of Coahuila. The name stuck.
The Alamo continued to serve as a military barracks through the Mexican Revolution and was manned by Mexican General de Cós when the Texas Revolution broke out. The Texas rebels under Ben Milam took the Alamo and increased its fortifications.
A small band of Texans under Col. William B. Travis, with Jim Bowie in charge of the volunteers, held the small post on February 23, 1836 when a superior force of Mexicans under command of the Mexican president himself, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, appeared at its gates and demanded surrender. Travis answered with a cannon shot over Santa Anna's head. Santa Anna declared "No Quarter."
The defenders were a mixed bag. Men from 21 other states as wells as England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany and Denmark rallied together to become one united force. Legend states that the young Travis drew a line in the sand with his sword and asked all who would stay and fight to the death to step across. All but one man did.
These men knew the consequences. One soldier, Daniel William Cloud, from Kentucky, stated in a letter:
"If we succeed, the country is ours. It is immense in extent, and fertile in its soil and will amply reward our toil. If we fail, death in the cause of liberty and humanity is not cause for shuddering. Our rifles are by our side, and choice guns they are, we know what awaits us, and are prepared to meet it."
Letter on tablet in Alamo courtyard
Travis in his most famous letter begging for reinforcements states: "The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken -- I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls – I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch -- The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country -- Victory or Death"
Travis and his men held against insurmountable odds for 13 days but death was the final price for the approximately 189 defenders of the Alamo. (Historians differ in the actual number ranging from 150 to 250)
As a natural result of its turbulent history, the Alamo is reported to harbor
many spirits. ( I tell much more about that aspect in my book, Hosts with Ghosts.) One unexplained wraith appears frequently in the basement of the Alamo. Staff entering the storage area have reported seeing a tall native American who either just disappears or walks through a solid wall that once housed a tunnel into the Menger Hotel across the street
Travis stature in Menger lobby
Perhaps the fact that is it built on a battleground of the Alamo is what makes the Menger Hotel one of the most haunted hotels in America. True the hotel is so colorful and unique it has no need of ghost stories to enhance it reputation. The spirits that inhabit the hotel range from the Alamo participatants to one of America's most colorful presidents. They include the well known and the obscure among their resident phantoms. One sighting that must relate to the Alamo was witnessed by a hotel guest. He came out of his shower to hear an argument going on in his, supposedly empty room. Two men dressed in buckskin stood in the middle of the room. The conversion he heard consisted of "Should we stay?" "Maybe we should go." As the phantoms relived their fateful decisions after Travis offered them the chance to leave.
Life-size portrait of Teddy
Roosevelt at the Menger
The history of the Menger begins just 23 years after the most famous battle in Texas history. A German immigrant couple, William and Mary Menger built a 50-room hotel on what was once a bloody battlefield adjourning the Alamo.
Over the years such famous personalities as Theodore Roosevelt, Sidney Lanier, Babe Ruth, Mae West, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Sarah Bernhardt have made the Menger their temporary home.
The hotel has the feel of a museum with its elegant period furnishings and art but there is one piece that stands out from all the rest. When you enter through Victorian Lobby, you are greeted by a life-sized stature of General Travis drawing his famous line in the sand.
The bar is where a young Theodore Roosevelt recruited volunteers for his Rough Riders and still looks like he might strut in an any moment. If you are a believer in the many ghost tales, he just might!
Other Must See Attractions
Institute of Texan Cultures
One exhibit at ITC
This hands on interactive museum is an explosion of color and culture that makes San Antonio and the people of Texas come to life in an ever-changing series of exhibits. It is a trip through time and space from the pre historic inhabitants to its present day multicultural heritage.
The second best reason to visit San Antonio is its River Walk (Paseo Del Rio). After you have toured the Alamo, the next thing you want to do is get down to this city treasure and indulge yourself. The river walk has shopping, dining, river taxis and the most relaxing atmosphere in the heart of any city.
Follow the trail of the Spanish missionaries when they colonized Texas.
Of course there is so much more to see and do in San Antonio. Watch for my upcoming book, Hosts with Ghosts for lots more about San Antonio, The Menger and all the rest of San Antonio as well as famous hotels and wonderful cities all over the Southeast. It will be available at www.globalauthorspublications.com soon