History of San Antonio

United States > US City Index > San Antonio > History

What began as a small settlement of missionaries, priests, and local Native Americans has swelled into a metropolis of nearly one million citizens of varying ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds.

The area was originally occupied by Native Americans who lived along the stream that is now known as the San Antonio River, some as early as 9000 B.C. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Spanish settlers migrated north from what is now Mexico to settle along the banks of the stream, claim the area for themselves, and Christianize the peaceful tribes inhabiting the area. As decades passed, the Spanish colonists dominated the area both agriculturally, spiritually, and culturally. In 1718, Mission San Antonio de Valero was established along the river; the chapel and its grounds would later be known as the Alamo. Over the next few years the Spanish culture and the Catholic faith would come to play an integral role in the settlement's development.

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and held its claim to northern territories, including that which included San Antonio, with the aid of US settlers who had entered the area while it was under Spain's rule. Tension slowly arose between the US settlers and the Mexican government, particularly over the issue of slavery. In 1833, that tension flared into all out disdain following General Santa Anna's declaration of himself as president. The settlers refused to acknowledge his authority, trounced him in a confrontation the general instigated over the rebellion, and braced for the backlash. Retribution was harsh. Led by Santa Anna himself, thousands of Mexican soldiers marched into the territory and confronted a rag-tag band of only 188 rebellious Texans barricaded within the Alamo. The battle that ensued resulted in over 1000 Mexican deaths, the deaths of all of the Texan rebels, and numerous myths and legends that are still debated by historians today.

Ultimately, Texas won its independence from Mexico and San Antonio became a part of the Republic of Texas. An influx of European immigrants followed the Mexican-American war. San Antonio's inherent Tex-Mex style blended with the new European influences to create a vibrant, growing town. However, the city's isolation from the remainder of the state helped preserve its reputation as a rowdy, rebellious town and resulted in the gradual decline in new residents. The reputation diminished only after the arrival of the railroad and the construction of Fort Sam Houston.

Progress ensued, the population grew, and the city prospered. Over the following decades the city witnessed the confluence of wealth in neighborhoods like King William, Monte Vista and Alamo Heights. Downtown developed into the city's business center with the construction of the Tower Life building and Joske's department store. And, thanks to the brilliance of a local architect and the support of business leaders, the River Walk and all its beauty was created out of a seedy, run-down flood zone running through downtown.

As the city grew, several industries became quite dominant in the economy. Five US military bases, including one of the Airforce's largest training academies, located here and for years have influenced the cultural climate and have contributed to the city's grown. The University of Texas Health Science Center, along with several other top medical entities, have made the city a leader in that industry. San Antonio's designation as one of the top tourist destinations has sparked phenomenal growth in the city's tourism and convention business and has led to the expansion of the convention center downtown. In recent years, telecommunications has come to play a vital role in San Antonio's economy as Southwestern Bell Telephone continues to relocate large divisions of its business to the city.

Culturally, San Antonio continues to be a fascinating blend of many cultures. Festivals, art openings, theater, music, fine dining, and dancing reflect the city's influences from Central and South America, Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa and offer locals and visitors alike magnificent opportunities for discovery.