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Dawn at the Alamo
Painting, Dawn at the Alamo, by Henry Arthur McArdle, hanging in the Senate Chamber of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

ALAMO. San Antonio de Valero Mission (originally referred to as San Antonio de Padua) was authorized by the viceroy of Mexico in 1716. Fray Antonio de Olivares, who brought with him Indian converts and the records from San Francisco Solano Mission near San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande, established the mission at the site of present San Antonio in 1718 and named it San Antonio de Valero in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua and the Duke of Valero, the Spanish viceroy. The present site was selected in 1724; the cornerstone of the chapel was laid on May 8, 1744. Founded for the purpose of Christianizing and educating the Indians, the mission later became a fortress and was the scene of many conflicts prior to the siege of 1836. Its activity as a mission began to wane after 1765, and it was abandoned in 1793, the archives being removed to nearby San Fernando Church.

In 1803 the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras, a company of Spanish soldiers from Álamo de Parras, Coahuila, Mexico, occupied the abandoned mission, using its buildings as barracks for a number of years.From this association probably originated the name Alamo.

Alamo Mission
Layout of the Alamo mission prior to the Battle of the Alamo on March 2, 1836. Courtesy of the Portal to Texas History.

According to some historians, the name was derived from a grove of cottonwood trees growing on the banks of the acequia, álamo being the Spanish word for "cottonwood." The Alamo was occupied by Mexican forces almost continuously from 1803 to December 1835, when the fortress under Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos was surrendered to Texan forces.

Fall of the Alamo
Fall of the Alamo, by Theodore Gentilz. Courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

On February 23, 1836, Mexican forces under the command of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna besieged Col. William B. Travis and his Texas garrison in the Alamo. The siege of the Alamo lasted thirteen days and was climaxed on March 6 with a complete loss of all the combatant Texans (see ALAMO, BATTLE OF THE).

After the fall of the Alamo, the building was practically in ruins, but no attempt was made at that time to restore it. The Republic of Texas, on January 13, 1841, passed an act returning the church of the Alamo to the Catholic Church. After Texas was annexed to the United States, it was declared that the Alamo was property of the United States, and in 1848 the United States government took over the building and grounds and until the Civil War used them for quartermaster purposes. For some time the Alamo was claimed by the city of San Antonio, the Catholic Church, and the United States government. The United States government finally leased the property from the Catholic Church and made some improvements. During the Civil War the Confederates used the building, but after the close of the war the United States government again took over and used it until 1876.

The Alamo (circa 1920)
Courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Under an act of April 23, 1883, Texas purchased from the church the Alamo property and placed the Alamo in the custody of the city of San Antonio on condition that the city should care for the building and pay a custodian for that purpose.This system continued until January 25, 1905, when the Texas legislature passed a resolution ordering the governor to purchase that part of the old Alamo fortress occupied by a business concern. It was further ordered that the governor should deliver the property thus acquired, with the property then owned by the state (the chapel of the Alamo), to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

The Alamo
Doorway to the Alamo, an 18th-century mission church in San Antonio, Texas. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

A controversy over custody of the Alamo developed between the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the De Zavala chapter of that organization at San Antonio, and for a time there was a controversy between the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and Governor O. B. Colquitt concerning restoration. Several appropriations for funds to improve the Alamo have been made, the largest being in connection with the celebration of the Texas Centennial. In the 1990s the Alamo was in custody of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and remained the center of disputes over the custody, presentation, and boundaries of the site.


Frederick Charles Chabot, The Alamo: Mission, Fortress and Shrine (San Antonio: Lenke, 1935). Anne A. Fox, Archaeological Observations at Alamo Plaza (Center for Archaeological Research, University of Texas at San Antonio, 1977). Anna B. Story, The Alamo from Its Founding to 1937 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1938). Henry Ryder Taylor, History of the Alamo and of Local Franciscan Missions (San Antonio: N. Tengg, 1908).

Amelia W. Williams


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Amelia W. Williams, "ALAMO," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed November 25, 2015. Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Modified on October 15, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.