Before European influence was introduced to the area, the land we now know as San Antonio was inhabited by the Payaya people. The Payaya people referred to the land as “yanaguana,” which means “refreshing waters,” likely referring to the San Antonio River. On St. Anthony of Padua’s Day of Feasting, June 13, 1691, the first known group of Spanish explorers arrived on the land. The group named the river “San Antonio” after St. Anthony. Spanish settlement did not take place until years and years later, however. In 1709, Father Antonio de Olivares visited the San Antonio River in search of land worthy enough to build a mission upon. In 1716, official permission was granted to build a mission and presidio on the land, largely to avoid further illegal trading with the Payaya people and to avoid further French expansion. Martin de Alarcón, then the governor of Texas, was to establish the mission complex, though construction was delayed due to his disagreements with Olivares. Eventually, with the help of the Payaya people, Olivares built the Misión de San Antonio de Valero (which would eventually become the Alamo), the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, and the Acequia Madre de Valero were all built on the land. Families and individuals began to migrate to the land, which was referred to as the Villa de Béjar. In 1719, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo had a plan approved by the King of Spain to garner 400 families from international countries to help populate the state of Texas. Juan Leal Goraz led a group of people from Cuba and Vercruz to help populate the area. The group led by Goraz helped to form the first government of the city, using the Presidio of San Antonio de Béjar as headquarters.
When Mexico won its independence from Spain, more settlers began to move into Texas. When Antonio Lopex de Santa Anna was elected as President of Mexico in 1833, he revoked the power of the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which caused much controversy in many areas of Mexico. Many of the new Anglo American settlers joined forces with Hispanic Texans known as Tejanos in order to fight for the restoration rights of the Constitution of 1824. The battles with the Texians and the Tejanos overpowered the Mexican military and they were forced to leave Texas. The Battle of Bexar is one of the more well known battles during the time period.
The Battle of the Alamo began when Santa Anna led a Mexican army back into the state of Texas, specifically marching to San Antonio to avenge their previous losses and to end Texian rebellion. A few volunteers, including James Bowie and Davy Crockett, defended San Antonio by occupying the Alamo. The Alamo was defended by both Texians and Tejanos who all fought together for a democratic government. Santa Anna fought the Alamo in three separate attacks, the third of which overtook the Texian Army, though they fought until the last man was killed. The motto “Remember the Alamo” was used from that point on as a rally cry for the Texas Revolution. The state of Texas finally received its independence during the Battle of San Jacinto. The battle was led by Sam Houston, along with the Texian Army. Though they lost a few men, they eventually overturned Santa Anna and his Mexican Army, finally receiving their independence. Texas was annexed and included in the American Union in 1845.
San Antonio was also well-known throughout their early years as highly populated in cattle. The city was also known for its diversity, largely due in part to the population of Anglo Americans (Texians) and original Hispanic settlers (Tejanos), as well as the cowboy culture that had sprung up in the city. San Antonio was the largest city in Texas in 1900 until it was overtaken by Dallas and Houston in 1930. The city experienced steady population growth throughout time, contributing to its high population even today.