Excavations at the Western Wall by Jake Ivey
This article originally appeared as a series in the 1979-1980
Alamo Lore And Myth Organization newsletter. Reprinted here with the author's permission.


The decision of the City of San Antonio to build a walkway and mall connecting the San Antonio River with Alamo Plaza has given us a unique chance to uncover a number of important details about the history and structure of the Alamo.

The most significant of these details is the actual location, size and construction of the West wall of the Alamo Compound. Excavations are still being done, so the final word is far from in, but some preliminary conclusions can now safely be made.

The wall is made of adobe bricks about 21" x 9" x 4" in size, and is almost exactly 33" thick. The section on which we are working stands about 290' from the front of the church, and is aligned about a degree west of magnetic north.

From the east face of the outer wall a narrow wall extends eastward. This is about 23" thick, and was a divider between two rooms which stood inside the main walls of the compound. At its east end we have begun to uncover another section of adobe wall, also (apparently) 33" thick and parallel to the outside wall.

From the west or outside face of the West wall to the east face of the inner wall is about 16'9". The east-west divider separates the area between the two walls into two rooms. In the south room we have several hearth areas, consisting of scattered stones, ash charcoal, bones (some still articulated) and broken bottles and ceramics. In the north room, none of this material was found. Instead a slightly curving line of post holes was located, extending northwestwardly from the east face of the outside wall of the compound. They may have formed a cattle pen, scaffolding supports, ramp braces, or the side of a gun platform -- or any number of other things. Further work will probably let us narrow the possibilities down considerably.

As work has progressed, we have been forced to accept earlier and earlier dates for the adobe wall. We began by assuming that it was built in 1835 as part of the defenses constructed by Pérfecto de Cos, patching a stone wall. We now feel that it is probably the original wall of the compound, built (in this area) about 1750. It stood until about 1850 at which time it either fell or was knocked down.

The hearths and occupation debris associated with them are adobe deposit, and dates probably from 1836 to 1850. It may be debris left by the defenders of the Alamo, but it could as easily be the cooking hearths of the troops of Cos stationed at the Alamo before the Texans captured it, or of the Mexican troops which were garrisoned there from March 1836 to May 1836. If it is later in time than these military occupations, it is the trash left by local citizens who lived in the ruins later. Again, further excavation will probably decide this.

There is a definite stratum of Mission Indian occupation below these late hearths within and just east of the rooms of the West wall. Analysis of the artifacts and associations of this material will be of tremendous interest to those of us interested in the early history of the Alamo.

Probably the most important new determination that has come from the excavation so far is the discovery that the U.S. Army Quartermaster's Corps. maps of the Alamo dated May 28, 1849 is apparently extremely accurate as to the measurements of individual structures, although not as to relationships between buildings, which can be determined by other methods. This means that even though all traces of the other structures along the West wall have been destroyed, we still have a reasonably accurate record of them as they stood in 1849. From this we will be able to do a reconstructed plan of the complete structure of the West wall with fair confidence.

Today, December 11th [1979], marks the end of the fifth month of excavations at the Radio Shack. We have completed most of our objectives--all that remains to do is a few days of detailed excavation of occupation floors within the rooms along the west wall of the Alamo. This work must wait until the Radio Shack building has been torn down, since much of these old mission surfaces are under the concrete sidewalks and the walls of the present building.

A fairly clear idea of the history of the area under the Radio Shack can now be constructed This history is yet somewhat tentative, and may be changed slightly in places for the final report to be published late next year (1980).

Mission Valero was established on its present site in 1724, and the earliest mission buildings built of adobe or jacal (a sticks-and-mud method of construction). In about 1727, the first stone structures were begun. These were the southernmost three rooms of the ground floor of the Convento, the priest's quarters (the present day Long Barracks).

In conjunction with these buildings was constructed a pueblo or village for the mission Indians. This was also built of adobe and jacal, and was probably a collection of small shacks in the area of the northern half of the present Alamo Plaza. Service buildings for the mission complex itself were also built adjoining the Convento.

The Convento and adjoining structures were upgraded over the years, and were all eventually rebuilt in stone. The Indian pueblo went through the same sequence. By about 1750, the Mission pueblo consisted of a row of stone houses and a row of jacals facing each other over the acequia which flowed through Alamo Plaza, with the stone structures on the west side

At this point, the Comanches arrived in Texas, and military necessity dictated that the mission be enclosed in a defensive wall. It is unlikely that the walled enclosure of the mission predates about 1750-1760.

Apparently the western row of stone houses was connected by a stone or adobe wall. The eastern row was torn down and rebuilt south of the row of stone houses as part of an adobe wall and house complex. This probably resulted in a long row of five blocks or groups of houses along the west wall, each group consisting of three continuous houses, separated from the next group by a stretch of single wall.

This arrangement, with very little modification, was still present in a badly deteriorated condition, when the mission was secularized in 1793, and the houses continued to be used and roughly maintained by the various military units stationed in the abandoned mission up to 1825 or so. Between 1825 and 1829 the military units were removed from the Alamo and various portions of the pueblo buildings were sold to private citizens. There is some confusion in the records as to whether Aleandro Trevino or the heirs of Pedro Charli actually owned the portions of wall and room being excavated in the Radio Shack. Charli was granted the room at the southwestern corner of the Alamo (where later the 18-pound cannon was mounted) in 1787, the earliest known grant of mission compound property to a private citizen. Alexandro Trevino was granted the property on the north in 1829.

Eventually, after the battle of the Alamo, the heirs of Trevino and the heirs of Losoya worked out an agreement whereby the Losoya family owned the southern room and the Trevinos owned the next two rooms north from the southwest corner.

The rooms themselves continued in use as houses until about 1870 in the case of the Radio Shack, and 1904 in the case of the southwestern corner. The Radio Shack portion was torn down in 1870, and a wooden store built in its place. This was modified in 1875, and continued in use, with further modifications, until today. Most of the 1875 store building was still standing as part of the Radio Shack when the excavations began.

The fact that the southwestern corner stood as part of a house until as recently as l904 is of the more startling results of our research. It is distressing to me that we came that close in time to having this portion of the Alamo--but considering how much has been lost, the pieces that survive under the Radio Shack and the Alamo Theater are satisfying enough.

Jake Ivey, Research Associate
UTSA Archaeology Department

See Also: Southwest & Northwest Wall Gun Emplacements