San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For March | Texas Public Radio

San Antonio 'Tricentennial Minute' For March

Apr 9, 2018

From the invasion of the Alamo City to the maiden voyage of the San Antonio-Boerne passenger train to  integration of the city's lunch counters to the “Dirty Thirties,” San Antonio’s history is as varied and colorful as the people who inhabit it.

This is Texas Public Radio’s San Antonio Tricentennial Minute, a look back at 300 years of Alamo City culture, one day at a time, written and produced by David Martin Davies and narrated by contributor Yvette Benavides.

March Tricentennial Minute is made possible by The Witte Museum

For March:

March 1, 1981 — The San Antonio Museum of Art opens to the public. SAMA was christened four years earlier with the smashing of a bottle of beer rather than champagne because the grounds had been the Lone Star brewery. The castle-like brewery was built in 1903. Prohibition forced its abandonment. It was in the 1970’s that Witte Museum director Jack McGregor was hunting for a house and stumbled on the ruins. Others scoffed but he saw it as a location for the San Antonio Museum Association’s collection. It cost $375,000 to purchase the property and $10 million to turn it into a museum.

March 2, 1835 — Elected as a delegate to the Texas Independence Convention, Samuel Augustus Maverick is dispatched from the Alamo. This is the same day the other delegates in Washington D.C. on the Brazos sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. Maverick won’t arrive there until March 5. As Maverick left San Antonio, the Mexican troops were surrounding the Alamo and Commander William Barret Travis asked him to urge the convention to send reinforcements. The next day the Alamo would be overrun. Maverick added his name to the Independence document and began to help draft the Texas constitution.

March 5, 1842 — Mexican General Rafael Vasquez led his troops of about 700 to invade and occupy San Antonio. The Republic of Texas forces were not strong enough to hold the town and evacuated without a fight after Vasquez demanded the city’s surrender. Vasquez took San Antonio, raised the Mexican flag and declared Mexican law in force. Two days later, he abandoned San Antonio and began a return march to Mexico. The invasion was regarded as a plundering and more would follow.

March 6, 1836 — After being holed up and besieged for 13 days by Mexican forces, the defenders of the Alamo are overrun and defeated. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the dictator of Mexico, had declared that no lives of the defenders would be spared. It’s unclear how many Alamo defenders lost their lives. It could be as many as 257. On the Mexican side about 600 were killed or severely wounded. The defeat at the Alamo was critical for the Texican rebellion, but led to the war’s victory at San Jacinto. The battle has become a symbol of patriotic sacrifice and the story continues to be retold.

March 7, 1836 — The day after the Alamo’s fall General Santa Anna orders to raze the failed improvised fort. He may have sought to prevent the creation of a shrine for the Texican martyrs. He gave a direct order – he wanted not a single stone standing. But it didn’t happen. After the battle the outer walls were already rubble. But the roofless chapel remained.  In 1849 The U.S. Army turned the grounds into a quartermaster's depot and rebuilt the walls and reroofed the structure – providing what we recognize as the iconic Alamo today.

March 8, 1970 —  Otto Phillip Schnabel receives a proclamation from the city of San Antonio supporting his dream to make 1970 the nation’s “Clean-Up and Beautification Year.” O.P. was a local insurance salesman who was bit by the beautification bug in 1947 while in Switzerland.  For the next 40 years Schnabel used public relations, stunts and shame of city officials to fundamentally change San Antonio’s culture of trash pick-up and sanitation. San Antonio won the nation’s cleanest town contest in 1952, 53, 54 and 55. In 1970 Schnabel sent out 52 blinged-out push brooms to President Nixon, Vice President Agnew and the 50 U.S. governors.

March 9, 1731 — The Canary Islanders arrive at the Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar with a royal decree to establish the first civilian settlement in the area. The Islenos’ ship landed in Veracruz Mexico and they then marched overland to the villa of San Fernando de Bexar. They were led by the Canarian Juan Leal Goraz who would be elected  the first mayor of San Antonio. The new settlers were given exclusive use of the San Pedro channel which was called “acequia madre.”

March 12, 1867 — The San Antonio-Boerne passenger train makes its inaugural voyage. The locomotive takes three hours to steam passengers each way. A stage coach would have required at least seven uncomfortable hours, and a full day for an ox pulled cart, which was common to ferry goods. The rail connection may have saved Boerne. Founded 18 years earlier with the name Tusculum, it was having trouble attracting residents. But the arrival of the iron horse changed that. Now Boerne could get daily newspapers, improved postal service, and other essentials such as fresh beer.

March 13, 1939 — Students at Thomas Edison High School walk out of class, carrying signs that read, “We want a gym.” About 400 marched for three hours in outrage over the failure of a school bond election. That afternoon, the Los Angeles Heights Independent School District board promised the students they would try to find a way to build the gym. The bond sought $75,000, which would have been matched with WPA funds. L.A. Heights ISD merged with San Antonio Independent School District in 1949. In 1958, Edison High School moved to a new campus complete with a gym.

March 14, 1941 — Maury Maverick announces his re-election for San Antonio mayor setting up one of the most bitter election fights in the city’s history. Promising reform Maverick was first elected mayor two years earlier. The previous mayor, C.K. Quin, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, enjoyed ties to the city’s saloons, gambling houses and brothels. Quin had been indicted in 1938 for misusing city funds to buy votes. He blamed Maverick for the indictment and entered the race to settle that score. Other corrupt local officials rallied behind Quin including Sheriff Owen Kilday. Quin defeated Maverick by about 1,000 votes.

March 15, 1956 — The San Antonio City Council promises a repeal of the “Juneteenth” city swimming pool segregation ordinance. The Reverend C.W. Black, Pastor of the Mount Zion First Baptist Church led a group demanding that the city rescind the quote “disgraceful” and “degrading” ordinance. It was passed on June 19, 1954, when seven African American youngsters dove into the “Whites only” Woodlawn Park Pool. However, there was no city rule against integrated swimming. That day the City Council passed the segregation order in an emergency meeting. In 1936, facing a federal court challenge, the council overturned the ordinance.

March 16, 1960 — San Antonio integrates its lunch counters. The NAACP had planned a March 16 day of action with sit-ins and pickets. San Antonio police told the restaurant owners it would not break up the peaceful protests. And the restaurants announced they would drop their Jim Crow barrier. In front of reporters and photographers four black people dined at the lunch counter. However, amid the appearance of progress two wooden crosses wrapped with kerosene soaked rags were found in the middle of downtown’s Travis Park. One was ablaze. And left there was a threatening note of warning from the Ku Klux Klan that read “Beware you Black People.”

March 19, 1840 — The deadly clash between San Antonio settlers and the Comanche known as “The Council House Fight.” Thirty Comanche leaders and warriors and five tribal women and children are killed by San Antonio soldiers and citizens in a battle that was waged in the dirt streets of the frontier village. What happened remains controversial even today. Comanche representatives came to San Antonio looking to trade captives for peace. Their prisoners were several Mexican children and 16-year old Matilda Lockhart. She had clearly been tortured and mutilated. When talks broke down and the Comanche attempted to leave, the shooting started.

March 20, 1912 — The clean-up continues after the Roundhouse Disaster. Forty eight hours earlier, at least 30 people were killed, dozens more injured when a locomotive exploded outside the Southern Pacific roundhouse on North Hackberry. This is one of the worst boiler explosions in the history of rail. Locomotive number 704 had built up a head of pressurized steam when safety valves failed. The eruption shot iron shrapnel a mile in every direction and the concussive blast damaged buildings equally as far. Lawsuits against the railroad were filed immediately. All the cases were settled out of court.

March 21, 1845 — New Braunfels is founded just north of San Antonio at the point where the Comal and the Guadalupe rivers meet. New Braunfels was the first Texas colony of German immigrants established by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels. During their first spring, the new arrivals built a fort, divided land and began building their homes. By the summer their numbers reached under 400. The German community thrived and began to influence San Antonio. In the 1850s, it was not uncommon to hear German spoken in the streets and shops of San Antonio. The city was seen as having three distinct languages — Spanish, English and German.

March 22, 1884 — Joe Foster dies of wounds from the Vaudeville shootout. The Vaudeville was a saloon known across the West for being well stocked with wild women, whiskey and ways to gamble. On March 11, again was the scene of a gun battle and two of the most feared pistoleros in Texas were killed — Austin Marshal Ben Thompson and Uvalde Sheriff King Fisher. They walked into an ambush set by Vaudeville owner Jack Harris and Foster, who ran the card game there. The story made the front page of the New York Times and became the model of the cliché western saloon shootout.

March 23, 1906 — Lucille LeSeur is born in San Antonio – later known as Joan Crawford. Crawford arrived in San Antonio in poverty and unwanted. Her father deserted the family before she was born. The LeSeurs lived on South Cherry street in what she called “a drab little rented house on the wrong side of the tracks.” She didn’t stay there long. The mother with a new husband moved to Lawton Oklahoma. Later Crawford became a showgirl dancing in traveling reviews. She was determined to become a Hollywood star and let nothing stand in her way. In 1945 she won the Oscar for “Mildred Pierce.”

March 26, 1916 — Suffrage Week kicks off in the Alamo City. The Equal Franchise Society planned events for each evening of the week to drum up support for recognizing the women's vote. Led by Eleanor Brackenridge, San Antonio was blazing the Texas trail in the fight for equal gender rights at the polls. It was two years later, on March 26, 1918, that it paid off. Governor William P. Hobby signed the Texas suffrage bill. But nationally it would be two more years, 1920, before the 19th Amendment would be ratified, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote.

March 27, 1941 — Archbishop Robert Emmet Lucey is installed at San Fernando Cathedral. Lucey worked to modernize the catholic community, promote social justice and improve conditions for the poor. In 1950 President Truman appointed him to the Migratory Labor Commission. In 1953 he integrated San Antonio’s Catholic schools. He was close with President Lyndon Johnson and supported his views on the Vietnam War. In 1968, San Antonio saw the “Priests Revolt” against Lucey’s opposition to the farm workers strike. Under pressure Lucey retired in 1969.

March 28, 1935 — The Dust Bowl comes to San Antonio. For two days a dust storm battered South Central Texas delivering a sheet of black dirt, lowering visibility and dropping temperatures about 10 degrees. The worst of the “Dirty Thirties” was about to hit Texas and Oklahoma. The term “Dust Bowl” wouldn’t be coined for another month, on April 14 1935, when the Black Blizzard hit the Panhandle. It wasn’t known at the time that this was a man-made environmental disaster. The solution was the federal government stepping in and requiring soil conservation and better land management.

March 29, 1813 — The Battle of Rosillo. In Southern Bexar County at the confluence of Rosillo and Salado creeks forces of Spanish Royalists clashed with the Republican Army of the North. This was mainly an American filibuster expedition led by Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara and Samuel Kemper. After victory at Rosillo the Spanish Governor surrendered San Antonio. He was executed and the first Republic of Texas was declared. That republic came to a quick end. On August 18, 1813 at the Battle of Medina, Spanish forces crushed the Republican Army of the North, followed by bloody reprisals against the Texas rebels.

March 30, 1924 — Alamo Heights appoints a town marshal to halt the destruction of wild flowers. Inhabitants of the town were up in arms over what they called the ruthless vandals destroying fields of laurels and bluebonnets. The Alamo Heights City Council enacted an ordinance protecting the wild flowers and Paul Villaret was empowered as wildflower marshal. Violators could be fined not more than one hundred dollars. Alamo Heights Mayor Robert O’Grady blamed the problem on thieves who ripped bluebonnets out of the ground by the roots and chopped laurel blooms off trees. He said they hauled the flora to town to decorate places of business.

Vince Kong can be reached at vince@tpr.org or on Twitter @teamvincek