History of Fiesta
Written by Randy Watson
The Battles of Alamo and San Jacinto, fought in 1836, were crucial battles in the Texas Revolution; both played a key role in shaping the history of Texas. More than half a century later, another memorable event was birthed. On the 55th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, in 1891, the first Battle of Flowers was held to honor the heroes that battled for the freedom of Texas. The Battle of Flowers wasn\'t a battle in the literal sense, but a parade, with lots of - you guessed it - flowers.
San Antonio women planned and directed the parade from start to finish. The first parade was adorned with flowers. Horse-drawn carriages were decorated with flowers. Flowers garnished the bicycles. Even the children carried by the floats were dressed as flowers. The people in the parade hurled flowers at each other, as if they were in a battle; hence, the name, Battle of Flowers.
The Battle of Flowers was the start of the 10-day event known today as Fiesta San Antonio. Each year after the first celebration, the parade was held around April 21. It wasn’t long before there were other events occurring around the same time. Mock coronations, carnivals, and balls joined the Battle of Flowers, creating a tradition. There were only a few years since the first Battle of Flowers in 1891 that the Fiesta did not occur – in 1918 when the United States was at war and between the years 1942 and 1945.
The Fiesta features mock coronations, but who exactly is being crowned? The queen and her court, of course. Fiesta organizations come together to plan each of the celebrations. One of the first organizations created was the Order of the Alamo, founded in 1909 by John Carrington. Each year, the members of the Order meet to select the next queen and her court, which includes a princess and 24 duchesses - 12 from San Antonio and 12 from out of town.
In 1926, John Carrington formed another Fiesta organization, the Texas Cavaliers, to select King Antonio. The following year, the Cavaliers crowned their first king, Sterling Burke, who was crowned King Antonio IX.
Although the crowning of King Antonio became part of the Fiesta tradition, there was no set ritual for how the king officially arrived at the celebration. In the first years, the mode of transportation varied from automobiles to trains and even a plane.
In the 1941 celebration, after improvements to the San Antonio River were completed, the king arrived in a river parade. This was the first parade to take place in the river after the Works Progress Administration finished the river’s improvements. The River Parade became the official arrival of King Antonio. Even today, it’s one of the most popular parts of the celebration.
The Fiesta has not one, but two reigning kings. Having two kings was significant for the Fiesta and the city of San Antonio because it bridged a cultural gap. The second king, the “Ugly King”, or, El Rey Feo, became part of the Fiesta celebration in 1980.
For well over 100 years, the Fiesta has been a festive occasions for San Antonio residents and visitors alike. The unique history and culture embedded in the event truly make it one of a kind.