Around the corner facing Commerce St on the Municipal Plaza Building—The General Adrián Woll Invasion. Continued hostilities between the Lone Star Republic and Mexico after the Treaty of Velasco resulted in an armed incursion by Mexican forces led by French-born General Woll. In September 1842, Gen. Woll led 1,300 infantry and cavalry in an attack on San Antonio. Many residents fled, and a group of Texians fortified a stone house owned by Samuel Maverick on the northwestern corner of Main Plaza. After the surrender, 52 Texians made prisoner and ten survivors from the Dawson Massacre, marched 1100 miles to Perote Prison in the Fortaleza de San Carlos, Veracruz, Mexico, there to remain captive an additional fourteen months before being released to return by ship to New Orleans.
Turn to the face the North of Main Plaza
The two-story building to the right, rising above the lower, flat-topped adobe structures is the Plaza House, the first genuine hotel. In colonial times, the residences of Tomás de Arocha, Vicente Travieso, and Simón de Arocha lined the block. At the corner of Soledad and Commerce, just visible at the right margin of the Samuel’s painting is Manuel Barrera’s home. Up Soledad street lay the “Palace and Gardens” of the Veramendi family, who went into business with and married their daughter to James Bowie in 1831. Teams of oxen and mules operating long-haul freight from Indianola on the Texas coast to San Antonio, and on farther west occupy the foreground along the north part of the Plaza and Commerce Street. The building to the right of Plaza House, on the corner of Commerce and Soledad Streets is San Antonio’s Fatal Corner.
A brutal, violent man and hunter of Indian scalps of the sort portrayed by novelist Charles Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian, named John Joel Glanton slashed and stabbed a man who innocuously spilled water on his boots at about the time Samuels painted this scene.
A pharmacy at the spot in the 1850s saw Dr. J. M. Devine fatally shoot Dr. J. H. McDonald there. McDonald’s friends would have lynched Devine but for the intervention of the law.
At the time of the Civil War, a dispute over command of a company of Texas volunteers led to a shoot-out in front of the Plaza House in April 1862. The rival claimants for the post, an ex-Sergeant and former city marshal, William Robertson “Big Henry” from Virginia married to a local bride Consolación Arocha, and Captain Warren Adams—who made a living pursuing runaway slaves before they could seek refuge in Mexico, had a brief argument about their respective leadership qualities. After an exchange of insults, Adams turned to leave when Henry threatened to put two bullets through Adams’s head and called him a coward. Hiram Mitchell, son of local vigilance committee leader Asa Mitchell attempted to intervene and de-escalate the situation, but to no avail. Henry drew his revolver and fired at Adams but missed. Adams shot Henry in the head and chest, killing him. The 8 April 1862 inquest absolved Adams on grounds of self-defense. Later still, two Confederate officers, Hunter and Phillips had a duel at almost the same locale. Hunter killed Phillips.
By the 1870s, a saloon keeper and professional gambler, “Rowdy” Joe Lowe and his wife “Rowdy” Kate—both from Illinois—moved from Kansas to open the Clipper saloon on the north side of Main Plaza. On either side stood barber shops, rival saloons, and a shop that sold pistols. In Wichita “Rowdy Joe” had shot and killed a romantic rival, beaten a patron of his dance hall for unruly, drunken behavior, and killed a neighboring dance-hall owner with a shotgun after the man had murdered a young woman in Joe and Kate’s place. Apparently the woman killed was not the intended victim. The Rowdy pair ran operations in San Antonio and Luling in Caldwell County, in cahoots with Joel Collins, a criminal and gambler who sometimes participated in Sam Bass’s outlaw gang. Ultimately, Rowdy Joe beat and assaulted Kate, for which he was fined $100 in May 1875. Later still, he abandoned her, and his saloons and gambling dens, and went west. It is thought he died in a drunken brawl in Denver, Colorado by 1899.
The stone home with courtyard and fig trees in the back owned by Vicente Álvarez Travieso was severely damaged by the 5 July 1819 flood. Later, County Clerk Sam S. Smith inhabited the structure through much of the 1840s, at approximately the time period the painting was made.
In the 1880s, the northwest corner of Commerce and Soledad on Main Plaza became the Vaudeville Variety Theatre owned by Jack Harris. This locale would be the first in San Antonio to install newly-invented electric lights. Jack Harris had run away from his Connecticut home and gone to see as a young boy. He accompanied the North American filibuster William Walker in Nicaragua. During the Civil War, he served with the Confederacy in the 2nd Texas Cavalry. Postwar, he served as a police officer before opening a saloon on Market St. by 1869. In 1871, he obtained the Cosmopolitan saloon just a few doors down from Rowdy Joe and Kate’s Clipper, and turned it into a saloon, variety theater and gambling establishment. Jack Harris also served as a powerful force in San Antonio Democratic Party politics and machinations.
By 1882, Harris banned another Confederate veteran, Ben Thompson, from the place due to unpaid gambling debts to the house. Thompson had been involved in shoot-outs in Laredo in 1864, and Austin the following year. For two years Thompson apparently worked as a mercenary hireling of the Imperial troops of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico fighting against Mexican patriot forces led by Benito Juárez. Ultimately the Imperial forces and their Mexican collaborators faced defeat, and Maximilian was shot by firing squad in Querétaro. Thompson, back in Texas, shot a brother-in-law, and served two years at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.
Upon release, Thompson opened a saloon with Phil Coe in Abilene, Kansas, where Texas cowboys ran cattle along the Chisholm trail. Coe died at wrong end of a gun fired by the local police marshal, J. Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock. In 1876, and in spite of other incidents of gun play and shoot-outs, Thompson became the city marshal of Austin in Travis County, Texas. 11 July 1882, staying at the Menger Hotel in Alamo Plaza, Thompson traded oaths and vulgarities with Jack Harris. Constables intervened to head off a physical fight. At approximately 7:15pm that evening, an inebriated and wrathful Thompson stood outside the Vaudeville Theatre as though he was a doorman, opening it for patrons and hurling invective at Harris. Harris armed himself with a shotgun and came down the stairs, whereupon Thompson shot him twice through a lattice room divider. Harris was carried outside and down Soledad to his home, where he died of his wounds early in the morning. Thompson ran across Main Plaza, but was later found by investigating constables in his room at the Menger Hotel.
Source: Find a Grave, “Athanatos” 5 Jul 2008--Headstone of D.A. “Jack” Harris in City Cemetery #1, on San Antonio’s East Side.
Source: Find a Grave, “Carol,” 7 Nov 2008.
Thompson stood trial in the Bexar County Courthouse at the time it was located on Soledad St., not far from Harris’s killing, at the present Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Hotel at 114 Soledad Street. It had been the Free Mason Lodge, and acquired by the County for use as a new Courthouse, the address then was no. 16 Soledad. The jurors acquitted Thompson, who returned by train to Austin.
Two years later, another train brought Thompson and his friend from Uvalde, John King Fisher. Fisher had been a product of the hostile Indian and bandit-plagued are of South Texas near Crystal City. A cattle rustler, horse thief, and gun slinger, he also sided with the Democratic Party during the post-Reconstruction era in Texas. After being jailed by the Texas Rangers, John King Fisher reinvented himself as the sheriff of Uvalde, which is how he met Thompson. It may be that he accompanied Thompson to the Vaudeville in some misbegotten effort at reconciliation with the house card dealer, Billy Simms—who succeeded his slain boss, Harris as the head of the Vaudeville.
On 11 March 1884, Fisher and Thompson went to the theater of Turner Hall at Houston and St. Mary’s Streets and then the Gallagher saloon. At the Opera house they attended “Lady Audley’s Secret with Ms. Adah Gray playing the lead part. At 10:30pm, the pair strode into the Vaudeville. Billy Simms and Joe Foster had armed themselves, and were accompanied by Jacobo de los Santos Coy, a house security guard, and a few other special detectives. After strained conversation, they were ushered upstairs to watch the show, but Thompson, inebriated, became loud and disruptive. Fisher took Thompson, Simms and the rest down to the bar, where Thompson set eyes on Foster, and offered his hand with an offer to settle the old grudges from Harris’s death. His hand was politely but firmly refused. Thompson slapped Foster across the face and went for his gun. Special Officer de los Santos Coy had been told that the pair could enter the establishment armed, since they were both represented the law in Austin and Uvalde respectively. He grabbed at the barrel, and was shot by Thompson as a result. Partisans of the late Harris opened fire, cutting down both Thompson and King Fisher. Foster was also shot, possibly self-inflicted in his haste to draw and fire his gun. In any case, his leg wound led to the limb’s amputation above the knee and ultimately proved fatal. Officer de los Santos Coy recovered. Two undertakers, Carter and Mullaly, took the slain to the police headquarters in the old Georgian-style “Bat Cave” and summoned the coroner. The San Antonio Daily Express newspaper reported that some three thousand spectators gathered in Military Plaza to try to get a glimpse of the two bodies.
Source: Find a Grave—Headstone of Ben Thompson, by Bill Harvey. Oakwood Cemetery, Austin, Travis County, TX Section 1, Lot 71.
Source: Find a Grave—headstone of John King Fisher, by David N. Lotz. Pioneer Park, Uvalde, Uvalde Co., TX intersection of N. Park and Florence St.
At the conclusion of an inquest, jurors returned the verdict that both “Ben Thompson and J.K. Fisher both came to their deaths on the 11th day of March, A.D. 1884, while at the Vaudeville theatre in San Antonio, Texas, from the effects of pistol shot wounds from pistols held and fired from the hands of J.C. Foster and Jacobo S. Coy, and we further find that the said killing was justifiable and done in self defense in the immediate danger of life. People in Austin, supportive of Thompson, claimed it was an assassination. While 3 six-shooters had been accounted for, the buck shot from a shotgun fired by the bar tender were not included.in the inquest.
At any time, from Main Plaza/ Plaza de las Islas, you can link up with the Texas Star Trail of the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Conservation Society here:
Source: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, UT-Austin, Perry Castañeda Map Collection. Sanborn’s fire insurance map, north side of Main Plaza. Note the locations of the many saloons, beer gardens, cigar shops, etc. The Fatal Corner is at the NW side of W. Commerce and Soledad Streets. The County Courthouse at No. 16 Soledad is in the Free Mason Lodge building. The Veramendi Palace and Gardens fronts “Veraminda” Street and includes a saloon and beer garden. The retaining wall along the west bank of the San Antonio River remains visible from the River Walk. Acequia Street is now Main.
Turning and facing the east side of the Plaza, directly opposite San Fernando Cathedral, you will see an urban park dedicated to the Yanaguana/San Antonio River and its utterly essential role in the development of Bexar.
In the colonial period, moving from left (north) to right (south) there would have been the home of Pedro Granado, and the Governor’s home. This may be confusing, since the “Spanish Governor’s Palace” is on the west side of Military Plaza/Plaza de Armas behind the City Hall building. In fact, the latter dwelling on Military Plaza was originally the military commandant’s home. For a very long time, the military commandant and the governor were the same person, but after the capital of the Provincia de Tejas was moved to San Antonio permanently in the 1770s, the Governor’s residence was here opposite the cathedral.
Above, the old Casas Reales on the east side of Main Plaza in the 1849 painting series.
The south side of Main Plaza/Plaza de las Islas in 1849, today site of the Bexar County Courthouse and Cadena Reeves Justice Center.
--Casas Reales—The building with the clock, which stood where the 1875 Ramsely & Ford Building is today, was site of the administrative buildings, courts, government archives and the center of government for the Bexar district. Today, Dolorosa Street runs in front of the Cadena Reeves Justice Center, and then gradually turns northeasterly into Market Street. Historically, the two were separate.
--Calabozo/Jaula/Jail—the corner of the Casas Reales that faced modern-day market Street was often named “Calabozo” after the cells that faced the south side. Here prisoners who had committed infractions were housed. There was also a cepo or public stocks where people convicted of minor offences could be locked up and subject to public scrutiny and humiliation. There was also a whipping post. More serious crimes often resulted in a certain number of “azotes” or blows in a public flogging. Wealthier persons could often avoid such beatings through the payment of fines.
--1840: The so-called “Council House fight” occurred in the Casas Reales during the Lone Star Republic-era when Texas was independent. On 19 March 35 Nermernuh/Comanche warriors, three chiefs constituting a peace party, and 32 women, children, and some elderly arrived arrayed in their finery, with a passel of trade goods and horses to discuss peace. They had been instructed to bring captives that were to be redeemed as a sign of good faith. The only captive handed over was a young girl, Matilda Lockhart. She had been repeatedly sexually assaulted, tortured, beaten, and disfigured while prisoner. This shocked and incensed the onlookers in Main Plaza, who had demanded the return of all Comanche-held captives. Inside the “Council House” or Casas Reales, the Anglo Texians demanded to know where the other captives were. Penateka chief Spirit Talker explained that the war bands over whom he had no real control held them. After trade and the exchange of gifts had been concluded, he explained that the other, more hostile Comanche would ransom the remainder. The Texans moved to capture all of the men present, including the chiefs there to parley, and hold them until the other captives were released instead. At this, a desperate fight broke out, as the warriors and chiefs attempted to get out of the building. The violence soon engulfed Main Plaza, and after about half an hour, 30 men, 3 women and two Nermernuh/Comanche children lay dead. The apparent violation of the truce to parley and the deaths of the delegation led to the reprisal killings of the captives and a resumption of ceaseless hostilities and open warfare between Texas settlers and Comanche that lasted for decades.
Across Market Street , you will see the 1902 Prudential Building and Morrison Apartments.
In colonial times, this was where the home of Francisco Chavez was.
Again, moving from left, or east, to right, the westerly direction: Historically, Dolorosa ended at Yturri street. Today, Yturri street is no more, having been dug out into a San Antonio River channel as part of flood control efforts.
San Antonio has been severely damaged and even almost swept away repeatedly in its history. Floods in the 1720s resulted in the Franciscan Mission San Antonio de Valero—the Alamo—being moved to its present location on the east bank of the river. 5 July 1819 saw torrential downpours and flash floods that severely damaged the colonial town, and resulted in the deaths of many inhabitants who were swept away and drowned. In sheer monetary and property losses, the 1921 floods stand as the worst in the community’s history. After 1921, the San Antonio would never again be a wild river. Flood control efforts included altering the river’s course, and enormous engineering efforts to restrain the river, including an underground channel that draws most of the river’s water through the downtown core of the city. Where Dolorosa St. formerly ended is today the Kallison walk.
You will see the Old Police and Health Department building, which was in use between 1927 and 1943. Francisco Rodríguez formerly had his home here in the colonial period. You will also notice a historical marker dedicated to the 5-9 December 1835 Storming of Bexar. Archaeology undertaken at the Main Plaza turned up one of the bastions erected by Mexican military engineers during the early part of the Texas Revolution. It included a log palisade, which retained packed earth. The position may have also had a shield supported by beams, to protect cannon gunners from “metralla” or canister and grape shot.
After a long and desultory siege through November, Ben Milam, who held a Colonel’s commission in the Mexican Army, famously declared: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” 300 volunteers rallied to him for the effort as the remainder of the Texian Army of the People prepared to return to their homes and kinfolk for the winter.
Above: Ben Milam: “Who’ll go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?” statue by Bonnie MacLeary at Milam Park near Market Square. His remains are interred there. A Mexican marksman armed with a British-made Baker rifle shot him while he was in the Veramendi Palace as he examined Centralist positions with a field telescope, 7 Dec. 1835. Samuel Maverick carried his body into the courtyard. Robert Morris assumed command of the Texians.
If you turn and face north, looking down Soledad Street, you will see the route the Texian Army of the People took. One group fought its way house to house down Soledad. Milam was with that column. The other group used the acequia principal irrigation ditch, about waist-high full of frigid water, and moved down Acequia Street, which is today’s Main Street, before fighting their way into structures near the San Fernando Church and the Plaza de Armas. Holes were knocked through interior walls so that the attackers could move within the structures, thereby avoiding the open spaces swept by musketry and shot from cannon and swivel guns. The Centralist general Martín Perfecto de Cos, commanding the defenders, had thought the fortified Alamo was the principal objective by feint attacks and artillery bombardment from the location of the Old Mill farther north along the river.
On 9 December 1835, at the “Cos house” in La Villita on the east bank of the river, the Centralists turned over control of the city to the Texians. They retained their weapons, and about ten paper cartridges per musket, as defense against hostile Indian attack. Wounded remained behind to be treated by doctors in town. The Centralists were to leave the immediate vicinity, and pledged to refrain from bearing arms against Mexican Federalists, who were in rebellion over the abrogation of the 1824 Constitution, and its replacement by a more top-down organization by General Antonio López de Santa Anna. They would return when the Centralists entered San Antonio de Bexar in February 1836 and the 13-day siege of the Alamo began. Some 1 in 10 of the 300 attackers died during the four day battle. The Mexican Army’s losses are difficult to assess given desertions—many were dragooned from jails or otherwise coerced into the ranks—as well as losses through disease, but may have been 400 all together, including deaths from all causes, wounds, injuries, illness, and desertion. Contra standing lore, there is no evidence that Cos and López de Santa Anna were related through family ties.
Each of the streets fronting on the Plaza de las Islas had a barricade constructed of a log palisade and packed earth with a small artillery piece—a muzzle-loading smooth-bore gun—mounted there, similar to the one excavated here.
Sanborn’s Fire insurance map of Main Plaza, 1877.
In colonial times, the homes on the south side of the Plaza de las Islas included those of Patricio Rodríguez, Bartolo Seguin, Clemente and Tomás Delgado. If you walk over to the VIA bus stop in front of the Cadena Reeves building, you will see a Veteran memorial, and a portion of the original acequia principal, or water course that diverted water from San Pedro Springs off the Arroyo de San Pedro, or San Pedro Creek, and supplied additional water for the Labor de Abajo, or lower irrigated fields between the Creek and the River. Immediately alongside the acequia stood the homes of Vicente Cabrera and Manuel Salinas.
From Main Plaza, it is possible to link up with very many other self-guided historical walking tours!