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Fronteras: Local activists, historians, and writers say San Antonio’s historic West Side goes far beyond its outlaw history

San Antonio’s historic West Side has been demonized for decades, usually by outsiders. It’s often reduced to a violent, crime ridden, and poverty stricken area.

But the community has persevered— it survived urban renewal, gentrification, and the ongoing demolition of historic structures.

Trinity University Press recently reissued the book West of the Creek: Murder, Mayhem and Vice in Old San Antonio. 

The book by David Bowser documents true stories about the seamier side of San Antonio’s West Side. It features tales of madams, Old West shootouts, and famous figures that passed through San Antonio, like Wyatt Earp and Butch Cassidy.

Texas Public Radio hosted a panel discussion in January 2024 to talk about the book.

The panel — which included local activists, historians, and writers — used the book as a launching point for a broader conversation about San Antonio’s West Side and its people.

It was moderated by TPR’s Marian Navarro.

Elaine Ayala, a metro columnist with the San Antonio Express-News, was one of the women on the panel.

“When I first saw the topic, (it) kind of pissed me off that that’s what was written about (the West Side),” she said. “But all history is important. All of it has to be documented.”

Graciela Sánchez, director of San Antonio’s Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, has been an outspoken advocate for West Side preservation.

She said it’s important to remember the area is filled with historic buildings and people.

“I love the West Side. There’s so much richness and there's genius here, and there’s lovely, lovely people,” she said. “We have to stop demonizing the historic West Side … we need to preserve it.”

The panelists also included Claudia Guerra, a cultural historian and the city’s assistant director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility; and Antonia Castañeda, professor emeritus of history at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

Hear the first part of the panel here.

Watch the full video of the Jan. 24 panel below:

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1