From John Warne Gates peddling barbed wire in San Antonio to a group of cowboys and ranchers holding the first rodeo in Pecos

101 | John Warne Gates peddles barbed wire

Military Plaza, San Antonio | 1876

John Warne Gates died a rich industrialist, but in 1876 he was a 21-year-old barbed-wire salesman when he arrived in San Antonio. That’s where he publicly demonstrated the potential of his product in a spectacular exhibit: a barbed-wire pen of Longhorns in San Antonio’s Military Plaza. Gates’ salesmanship—“Light as air, stronger than whiskey, and cheap as dirt” was his slogan—resulted in such gangbuster sales for Washburn & Moen that the company couldn’t keep up with orders. The West was never the same, as the prairies were soon carved into sharply drawn plots—and the open range disappeared forever. — KV

102 | Canary Islanders arrive

Plaza de las Islas, across from the San Fernando Cathedral; San Antonio | March 7, 1731

Recruiting a civilian outpost for King Philip V of Spain must have been rough. Imagine the marketing campaign: “Wanted—self-sustaining population of four hundred families for king’s new scheme. Be the first to establish a civil government in the barbaric wastelands of the north!” When the 55 lucky recruits from the poor, overpopulated Canary Islands arrived at the presidio of San Antonio de Béxar, they set up a little community (alongside a small military installation, which had been there for more than a decade), organized a government, and flourished, proving such feats were possible to the immigrant waves that followed. The village they occupied, now marked by a plaza they would barely recognize, became the most significant in Spanish Texas. — KV

103 | Ernie Cortes cries, “Balderdash!”

100 West Houston, San Antonio | February 5, 1975

Anyone who remembers the San Antonio that was captured by NBC News one evening in 1970—when mayor Walter McAllister told an interviewer that Mexican Americans were nice people who loved flowers while scenes of dire poverty on the West Side were flashing across the screen—will also remember the day change came to the city. It arrived in the form of Ernesto “Ernie” Cortes, who inspired members of his newly formed group Communities Organized for Public Service ( COPS) to rise up against the oligarchy. On February 4 the group went to the old Joske’s store downtown, at Alamo and Commerce streets, and tried on everything from dresses to fur coats—and bought nothing. The next day they moved on to the real seat of San Antonio power, the Frost Bank, and asked to change dollars into quarters and back again. Hundreds of people, over and over. When Cortes met with Tom Frost, the chairman of the bank, and was told that his concerns couldn’t be addressed overnight, Cortes replied, “Balderdash!” throwing back one of Frost’s favorite sayings. The sheer numbers of Mexican Americans streaming into downtown helped get their message across, and finally public works projects such as paved roads became a reality on the West Side. That November, 27-year-old Henry Cisneros was elected to the city council. — MS

104 | Lydia Mendoza records “Mal Hombre”

231 East Martin, San Antonio | 1934

Lydia Mendoza was still a teenager when she walked into a makeshift studio at the Texas Hotel, which stood on the corner of Martin and Navarro streets, and played four songs for the Bluebird Record label, for which she was paid $60. The recordings from this solo session in 1934 propelled her into the spotlight. One of the songs was “Mal Hombre,” the lyrics of which she had learned from a chewing gum wrapper in Monterrey, Mexico. It became her first hit and remained her most well-known single throughout a long career as the

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