Before the establishment of the Spanish missions, Native American tribes had long been associated with the San Antonio area. Coahuiltecans were hunters and gathers ranging throughout south Texas and northeastern Mexico, following the seasonal availability of food. Conflicts between the Coahuiltecans and Spaniards are documented beginning in the 16th century. For the Spaniards, the acculturation of Native Americans was a major means for securing their claim to vast lands in North America. With few soldiers or settlers, Spain’s claim to these areas in the face of encroachment by France and England depended on the success of the missions. Presidios, a system of frontier military outposts, were established near the missions to protect Spain’s expanding territory.
San Antonio de Bexar under Spain and Mexico
Spanish expeditions in 1691 and 1709 explored the area and named the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. Beginning in 1718, five Spanish missions were established near the head of the river to evangelize the Native Americans of the region. In 1718, San Antonio de Bexar Presidio was founded. Early the next year, the king of Spain approved the Marques de San Miguel de Aguayo’s proposal to transport families from the Canary Islands to populate the province of Texas. By March 1731, 15 families arrived and the villa of San Fernando de Bexar was founded between the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek, east of the presidio. It was the first chartered civilian settlement in Texas and served as the provincial capital from 1773 to 1824.
Native Americans were relatively willing recruits for the missionaries as their population had been decimated by European diseases and they faced an ongoing struggle against encroaching nomadic tribes from the north and south. The natives found food and refuge in the missions in exchange for a strictly regulated mission life that included their labor and their submission to religious conversion.
Increasing hostility from the mission natives’ traditional enemies, the Apache, and later the Comanche, coupled with inadequate military support caused the communities to retreat behind walls. In 1792, all missions were closed by order of the Spanish government, and in 1793 the abandoned Mission San Antonio de Valero, later called the Alamo, became a barracks for Spanish soldiers from Alamo de Parras, Mexico.
From 1811 through the mid-1830s, political and military upheavals hindered growth in San Fernando, and when hostilities between Texas and the Mexican government erupted in 1835, it became a base of operations and battlegrounds in the siege of Bexar in December and the battle of the Alamo in March 1836.
Era of Texas Independence and Early Statehood
From 1836 to 1845 the city was a part of the Republic of Texas until Texas was annexed into the Union. In 1837, San Fernando was renamed San Antonio and became the seat of Bexar County. The Mexican War (1845 to 1848) led to Mexico ceding Texas, California, New Mexico and most of Arizona to the United States for $18.25 million. After Texas entered the union in 1845, San Antonio grew as a servicing and distribution center for the western movement of the United States.
San Antonio During the Civil War and Reconstruction
Texas had been a part of the United States for 15 years before Texas formally seceded March 2, 1861, and like the rest of the country, it was divided with conflict and controversy. Some Texans supported the Union — Gov. Sam Houston refused to declare loyalty to the Confederacy. He was removed from office by the Texas secession convention.
In 1861, a local militia forced the surrender of the federal arsenal at San Antonio even before the state seceded. San Antonio then served as a Confederate depot, and several Confederate units were formed.
San Antonio Becomes a Modern City
After the Civil War, San Antonio was the southern hub and supplier for the cattle trail drives. It was the starting point for the Chisholm Trail, a cattle route from Texas to Kansas. The cattlemen who drove the longhorns north to Kansas railheads launched the legend of the American cowboy. The city prospered, serving the border region and the Southwest as a center for distribution, merchants and the military. In 1873, John Dobbin was appointed marshal and transformed the police force from a frontier, cowboy-type group into an organized, uniformed police department.
When barbed wire was introduced to San Antonio in 1876, its widespread use led to “fence cutting” and range wars. Fort Sam Houston was established in 1876. Railroad service reached the city in 1877, and street car operations began too. Two years later, Western Union brought telephone service to San Antonio, and in 1883, electricity was extended to the city center. Automobiles began to arrive in San Antonio by 1899. The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio served as headquarters in Texas for the construction of the southern transcontinental highway named Old Spanish Trail during the 1920s.
The 20th century brought more military bases to greater San Antonio, with a strong Air Force presence. San Antonio celebrated its 250th birthday in 1968 when it held the World’s Fair, HemisFair ’68. The Tower of the Americas was the theme structure of the fair, and today it is among the tallest observation towers in the U.S. with a lounge and revolving restaurant at the top.
Lying 156 miles west of San Antonio along U.S. Highway 90 is Del Rio, Texas, home of Laughlin Air Force Base. Del Rio is the county seat of Val Verde County and just a heartbeat from the international Amistad Reservoir, shared with Mexico, and the Amistad National Recreation Area. Del Rio connects with its neighbor, Ciudad Acuna in Coahuila, Mexico, by two border crossings: the Del Rio-Ciudad Acuna International Bridge and the Lake Amistad Dam International Crossing. Del Rio lies in the Gulf Coastal Plains of Texas, a remote region near the Rio Grande.
The Del Rio region is semiarid, with a mix of desert shrub and steppe vegetation, depending on soil type, with several acacias, cacti and grama grasses as the dominant flora. Summers are long, hot and frequently humid, when daytime temperatures typically reach into the upper 90s or higher.
What began as Laughlin Army Air Field in March 1943 was renamed Laughlin Air Force Base in 1952. Today, it is an Air Education and Training Command installation and the U.S. Air Force’s biggest pilot training base. The base has 1,387 active-duty military, 1,032 civilians, 1,268 family members, 72 reservists, 32 foreign student pilots and 267 contractors who live and work on and around the base.