From the filming of the Oscar-winning "Wings" to the Battle of Salado Creek to the opening of the oldest public two-year college in Texas still in operation, San Antonio’s history is as varied and colorful as the people who inhabit the Alamo City.
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.
This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
A cholera outbreak in San Antonio. Cholera is a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and dehydration. It can be fatal in a matter of hours, even in previously healthy people. The previous San Antonio cholera epidemic of 1849 lasted six weeks and killed at least 500 people. Word of a new outbreak caused people to immediately flee the city in fear. This time, the epidemic would claim 292 lives. To prevent future outbreaks the board of health recommended reforms in San Antonio, such as paving the sidewalks and grading the streets to provide gutters that would drain stagnant waters.
The hospital at Fort Sam Houston is designated Brooke Army Hospital in recognition of General Roger Brooke. Brooke entered the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1901 and became a specialist in infectious diseases. He served as the commanding officer of the hospital at Fort Sam from 1928 to 1933. The hospital’s roots go back to 1870 when the post was established in San Antonio. At the time, the medical facility was a small log cabin. Today, Brooke Army Medical Center leads the world in almost every aspect of healthcare and medical treatment, training, and research.
San Antonio recognizes Labor Day with a two-day celebration. Approximately 2,000 of San Antonio’s sons and daughters of labor representing 31 unions and organizations staged their annual Labor Day parade through the streets of downtown. While the nation was in the grips of the Depression, workers rights took on added significance. Members of different unions marched with pride in their working clothes. There was a Labor Day picnic at San Pedro Park. A softball game was played between the women workers of the Pearl Brewery: The Brewetts and the Bat Corrigans.
Bob Augustin was arrested for disorderly conduct. Augustin rode into town from Goliad to join Sibley’s Brigade — an ill-fated Confederacy plan organized in San Antonio to invade the New Mexico territory. Augustin’s crime was wrecking the chili stands of Main Plaza. Two days later, he was released from jail but he was then taken by a mob. They brought him to the southeast corner of Military Plaza to the hanging tree named, “La Ley de Mondragon.” The lynch mob declared by unanimous consent that Augustin was a “bad man.”
The motion picture “Wings” begins filming in San Antonio. Simultaneously, another Hollywood silent movie was shooting in town: “The Rough Riders.” The scrubland of Camp Bullis stood in for Cuba’s San Juan Hill, while at Camp Stanley a battle-scarred French village was constructed for “Wings.” During those months, Hollywood’s biggest stars occupied the city, including Clara Bow, Mary Astor, Gary Cooper, and Hedda Hopper. Hundreds of local extras were needed for the filming, including pilots, planes, and explosives supplied by the U.S. military. “Wings” was awarded the first Oscar for best picture.
The first synagogue temple in South Texas is dedicated. Temple Beth-El was a charter member of the Union for Reform Judaism. Jewish refugees found their way to Texas and became pioneers developing a community of merchants, bankers, and cattlemen. The temple was built at the southeast corner of Travis and Jefferson streets, and its dedication was an interfaith celebration with choirs from Protestant and Catholic churches singing together along with the temple. It was in 1927 that Temple Beth-El’s current sanctuary was constructed — an impressive red-domed structure on Belknap that is a San Antonio landmark.
The U.S. War Department designated the military post at San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston in honor of General Sam Houston. When originally established in 1845 it was called simply “The Post at San Antonio.” And over the 1870s, it started construction and land acquisition and by 1891 it was the second largest post in the U.S. Army. The post has played a critical role in protecting the San Antonio region during the Indian conflicts, securing the Mexican border, military aviation and training and deployment during the world wars.
The project to widen Commerce Street begins. As automobiles took over San Antonio, it became clear that the city’s Wall Street was too narrow. What was well suited for horses and buggies was too tight for streetcars and Model-Ts. During the city’s four-year Commerce-widening project, many of San Antonio’s most notable bullet-ridden and tomahawk-scarred structures were demolished. To save the new five-story Alamo National Bank building, it was physically raised, put on rollers and moved back 17 feet while banking operations continued uninterrupted.
When Saint Pope John Paul II came to San Antonio, he was welcomed by Mariachi music and given a cowboy hat. The popular pontiff paraded in the Popemobile in front of the Alamo and celebrated at least three masses. One was for parishioners at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on the West Side. Over a quarter of a million attended mass near Westover Hills. And In his homily, he spoke about the needs along the U.S.-Mexico border. He called San Antonio a crossroads for people and said it’s our duty to show mercy to people moving northward from Mexico.
The San Antonio City Council warned local Mexican-Americans that anti-American, inflammatory or anarchistic speeches will not be tolerated at the celebration of Mexican Independence. The city issued the order as Mexico was in the grips of a revolution and relations with the U.S. were so bad that there was an embargo on the crossing of the border by Mexicans. San Antonio leaders said the use of San Pedro Park was granted to local Mexicans but no disorder would be tolerated. They were concerned that cross-border revolutionaries would try to stir up trouble in San Antonio.
The Battle of Salado Creek drove out the final Mexican invasion of the Republic of Texas. Colonel Mathew Caldwell led just over 200 militiamen against 1,500 Mexican soldiers and Cherokee warriors and defeated them outside of San Antonio, along Salado Creek. On this same day was the Dawson massacre. When 53 Texicans went to join the Salado Creek battle, they were attacked by several hundred Mexican cavalrymen. After the Texicans surrendered and gave up their weapons, they were fired on and 36 were killed.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 18, 2018
Local newsstands sell out of the recent issues of Collier’s Magazine due to an article detailing the death of Charles Bellinger. The article called “Machine Made” explored Bellinger’s role in the Callaghan political machine of San Antonio. In the age of Jim Crow, Bellinger was a prominent African-American businessman, gambler and newspaper publisher. He was called the “Black Boss of San Antonio” and could deliver a quarter of the city’s votes to the politician of his choosing. Bellinger was able to leverage his political power to bring improvements to the city’s African-American neighborhoods on the East Side.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 25, 2018
San Antonio elects its first mayor since independence from Mexico. John William Smith wins in a landslide. He received 15 votes. Smith twice served as a messenger during the siege of the Alamo. He was known around town as “El Colorado” — a Spanish nickname for a redhead. As mayor, he prohibited public bathing in the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. He also allowed cows to roam downtown as long as they were milked and back in the corral before 10 p.m.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 20, 2018
San Antonio adopts a six-shooter ordinance. It requires everyone to get a permit to carry a hip cannon — even a police officer. City officials promise they will strictly enforce this ordinance — and they did. For example, three weeks later, Cliff Cook, a gambler, was at the White Elephant Saloon and attempted to terrorize the barkeeper with his six-shooter. In doing so, he frightened the men and women out into the street. He was collared by Captain Fowler and fined $50. It was common for laws to be passed that criminalized the possession and sale of certain guns in an era of the Wild West.
With an enrollment of 200 students, San Antonio College formally opens its doors as University Junior College. This is the oldest public two-year college in Texas still in operation. Classes were first conducted at the old Main High School building. When first opened, the school was part of the University of Texas system but three months later the Texas attorney general ruled that arrangement unconstitutional. The San Antonio board of education took over and later, the Alamo Colleges District.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 24, 2018
John Leonard Riddell arrives in San Antonio. Riddell was a physician, geologist, and botanist who was on an expedition to find the lost silver mine of San Saba. He didn’t find it but he did observe and record his observations in the book, “A Long Ride In Texas.” He found a lawless frontier that was being fought over by Anglo-American settlers, native tribes, Mexican forces and murderous outlaws of every stripe. In San Antonio, Riddell wrote about the community of La Villita with adobe huts with reeds for thatched roofs.
A deadly ambush for prohibition officer Captain Charles Stevens. The pitched gun battle between the dry agents and the bootleggers happened on Pleasanton Road after midnight. Earlier that night the agents had uncovered the city’s largest illegal distillery. Operated by the moonshine king of San Antonio, Lynn Stephens, he wanted revenge and set a trap to attack the agents. He fled to Mexico and hid out for 20 years. Broke and ill from a ruptured ulcer, Stephens eventually surrendered and was given 38 years in prison.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 26, 2018
President Harry Truman’s famous “Whistle Stop” campaign pulls into San Antonio. The cross-country trip resulted in his upset defeat of odds-on favorite Thomas E. Dewey. Truman attended Sunday service at the First Baptist Church. He also toured the old Governor's Palace and the Alamo. That night, he gave a dinner speech before guests that included House Speaker Sam Rayburn. Truman said Rayburn was a "hard-shell Baptist" and Truman was a "light-foot Baptist" but he couldn’t explain the difference given that he was speaking on the Sabbath.
Lt. Francisco de Castaneda and 100 Mexican dragoons leave San Antonio and head to Gonzalez to retrieve a canon. The bronze six-pounder was given to the settlers in 1831 for protection due to frequent Comanche raids. But the citizens refused to give up the cannon and they hastily prepared a flag — now a popular icon — an image of a canon and the words, “Come and take it.” Castaneda found himself outmanned and outgunned. He returned to San Antonio empty-handed. The battle of Gonzales is considered to be the first battle of the Texas Revolution.
— TPR News (@TPRNews) September 29, 2018
President Lyndon Johnson was in San Antonio speaking to the National Legislative Conference. LBJ offered to cease the bombing of North Vietnam if Ho Chi Minh would agree to begin serious negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict and if he would promise not to use the bombing halt as an opportunity to increase their infiltration of troops and supplies into South Vietnam. It was hoped this would end the war. Hanoi rejected the proposal. In diplomatic and journalistic circles, the president's offer became known as “the San Antonio Formula.”