Today, the Texas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the rail travelers’ visit to the La Purissima Concepcion de Acuna mission founded on March 5, 1731.
From the booklet To Texas and Back, A Souvenir of the General Passenger & Ticket Agents’ Excursion from St. Louis to Galveston, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Other Points in the Lone Star State. March, 1877 by William H. Weed:
In compiling the pages herewith presented, the historian, to whom was delegated the duty of chronicling the salient features of that most memorable trip, feels that whatever merit they may find in the reader’s eye will be chiefly due to the co-operation and contributions furnished him by those who were his companions on the journey. If the work which he now commits to your hands shall serve in future days to either recall a smile or evoke a hearty laugh over the memories of those fleeting hours of companionship,— alas, they were all too brief! — his labor will have been more than repaid. W.H.W.
To Texas and Back.
It was a jolly party of half a hundred or so that might have been seen assembled at the Missouri Paciﬁc Railroad Depot in St. Louis on the afternoon of the 13th of March, in this year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven.
Evidently it was no chance meeting that had brought this goodly assemblage together. That they were not emigrants bound for the plains or the Black Hills was equally evident, from the fact that they carried with them, each and every one of the party did, a solid Muldoon air, savoring of the quail-on-toast, Pullman car, nothing-but-first-class-accommodation-for-me-sir, style, which characterizes the high-toned traveler everywhere.
It was no funeral, that was clear: no obsequies could be accompanied by such jollity and mirth, and remain obsequies long. It wasn’t a wedding-party either; for no bridegroom, not even were it Jay Gould or Senator Sharon himself, could take a bridal party like that off travelling, and survive bankruptcy. What was it, then?
By and by you shall know, reader. Meanwhile curb your impatience for a few moments, and take a glance at this rather superior crowd of handsome men and beautiful women, on wanderings far intent. They evidently come from no particular section of our broad land. Here is your trim Yankee, your suave New Yorker, your dashing Chicago man, your rollicking Westerner, your hospitable, warm-hearted Southerner. Here are old men and young men, matron and maid, quiet people, noisy people, thoughtful people, fidgety people, all kinds of people, in fact, in this model fifty.
Yes, they are indeed bound for Texas, and they propose to “enter it at Denison via the charming Indian Territory.” For be it known to you, reader, that the Spring Meeting of the General Ticket and Passenger Agents’ Association had just completed its session at St. Louis, and that the gentlemen composing this party had, upon invitation of the managers of the several south-western lines, determined to see what a magical transformation railroad enterprise had wrought in the great trans-Mississippi region during the past few years of wonderful activity and vigor.
Accompanied, then, by their wives, daughters, and sisters, or, in default of any sister of their own, some other body’s sisters, behold these gentlemen on this spring afternoon, assembled at the depot, and all ready for the start upon their long journey of three thousand miles.
But even amid these delights there came to these untiring pleasure-seekers a still small voice which told them that there was still more to be seen farther on, by way of the great Sunset Route to San Antonio,— San Antonio, the city of antiquities and centipedes, Spanish missions and squalor, rum and ruins; a strange commingling of ancient somnolence and modern vigor.
So, late in the afternoon of Friday, with hearts full of regret at so soon bidding adieu to the hospitalities of Galveston, the excursionists took to the cars again, via the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Road; and, crossing the long bridge which spans the bay, set out upon their journey of two hundred and fifty-eight miles to the historic “City of the Alamo.”
At Harrisburg, the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Road, otherwise known as the “Sunset Route,” recently completed and opened to travel, was reached; and next morning the party awoke to enjoy a daylight view of the fifty miles of beautiful Texas farming-country which preceded their arrival at San Antonio.
Here, to their surprise, they found, on either side, commodious farmhouses and barns, well-fenced farms, carefully tilled fields, and every surrounding bespeaking that peace and plenty which characterize agricultural thrift and prosperity.
At ten o’clock on Saturday morning, amid a motley population of Mexicans, Indians, and native Americans, the travelers alighted at San Antonio, and found awaiting them the same cordial welcome which had invariably marked their reception everywhere since their advent to the Lone Star State.
Pres. Peirce, of the Galveston, Houston, and San Antonio Railroad, had thoughtfully provided carriages —none of your country hacks either, but such as would grace the avenues of Chicago or New York; and in these the visitors were first driven to obtain a view of the Mecca of all sight-seers in San Antonio, the old Spanish missions, which, four in number, and partially gone to ruins, are yet grand even in their decay, and attest in their silent majesty the architectural skill and enterprise of a bygone age.
The first mission, “La Purissima Concepcion de Acuna,” was founded March 5, 1731; the second, San José, which to-day is considered the finest of the four, was completed in 1771. The cathedral of San Fernando was founded in 1722,and was rebuilt in 1868. The stone carvings over the doorway of the San José mission are especially noticeable for their fineness and artistic beauty, and remain to-day almost as perfect as when first executed.
The church of the Alamo, too, was visited. This edifice, founded May 8, 1744, was in 1836 converted into a fortress, and became the scene of one of the bloodiest and most desperate struggles that ever marked a war for independence in any country. On March 6 of that year, it was assaulted by six thousand Mexicans under Santa Anna. Upon the third attempt, the walls were scaled, and the garrison, numbering a hundred and eighty-eight men all told, including Col. Travis, Col. Bowie, and Col. Davy Crockett, were massacred. Of the Mexicans, five hundred and twenty were killed, and about an equal number wounded.
From this point the visitors were conveyed for dinner to the Menger Hotel, where, in honor of the spot they had just inspected, most of them at once called for beef Alamo-de. They feasted, too (think of it, in March), on green peas and asparagus fresh from the neighboring gardens.
A stroll after dinner through the town itself, so thoroughly un-American in all its characteristics, with its narrow streets, broad plazas. and motley population, also furnished material for much interesting study and observation. The great double bare-back act of Messrs. Page and Leavitt on a Mexican donkey will long be remembered, too, by those who witnessed it.
To San Antonio the recent coming of the railroad has been as an awakening from a long Rip Van Winkle sleep. Hitherto, though accessible only by stage-coach to travelers, it has nevertheless attained a population of twenty thousand, and developed an energy and enterprise which under the new influence of communication by steam cannot but make it one of the leading commercial centers of the Southwest.
Before leaving town, the party, by invitation of the owner, visited the wonderful springs situated near the city, which form the source of the picturesque San Antonio River. They were thence driven to the depot.
The Texas Centennial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows with an image of the La Purissima Concepcion de Acuna, circa 2014.