On December 7, 1835, Ben Milam was killed by a Mexican sniper during the Siege of Béxar in which Mexican forces were driven from the San Antonio area. After the battle, the Texas forces occupied the Alamo and surrounding areas, setting the stage for Gen. Santa Anna’s own siege to retake it several weeks later.
There is some speculation about the location of the actual tree that was used by the sniper, but it is traditionally thought to be in the center of the town as it then existed and close enough to provide a line of sight to the Veramendi Palace, located on the west side of the river.
Old maps of the area show the San Antonio River to take a course roughly north to south though the old town, making a bend like a reverse letter C, following the banks of the current Riverwalk before returning again to a north-south course out of town. The Veramendi Palace was a dwelling on the west side of the river just north where the current Riverwalk begins. There is now a channel called the “cutoff channel” that was completed in 1926 (built for flood control) that makes a straight path to the points at which the Riverwalk begins and ends, but back then, the river made the bend before continuing on to the south. The Alamo is located a few blocks to the east of all this.
The town had changed hands a number of times and immediately before the Siege of Béxar it had been under the control of Mexican Gen. Martin Prefecto de Cos, the brother in law of Santa Anna. The Texas forces came in from the north under Francis W. Johnson and Milam. After battling Cos’ forces since October, the Texas forces began their assault on December 5, 1835 and would be victorious a little less than a week later.
The battle involved house to house fighting and according to accounts, Milam had come to the Veramindi Palace to confer with Johnson. The Veramendi Palace was a one storey building with an entrance that faced Soledad street and a rear courtyard that faced the river. It was called a palace because it was the residence of Martin Veramendi who over the years had held various offices of the Mexican government. More recently, it had been the official governor’s palace when Martin Veramendi had served as governor of Texas and Coahuila. The residence was originally built by Martin’s father Fernando Veramendi, who had come from Spain to the area around 1770. The family was prominent in the arena it is thought that the wife of Jim Bowie was a descendant of the elder Veramendi.
Milam was killed by a single shot to the head by a Mexican gunman positioned in a bald cypress tree across the river to the east. Milam was buried in San Antonio. In 1897, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas placed a memorial in what is now Milam Park, near San Fernando Cathedral. The marker was relocated in 1976, but in 1993 a burial site thought to be Milam’s was found by archaeologists. A second monument bearing the Milam statue is thought to mark the remains of Milam near the original Daughters of the Republic of Texas memorial in Milam Park.
As for the identification of the actual tree used by the Mexican gunman, in all likelihood it is unknown. What you will be shown if you ask about it is an old tree that quite fits the description. There are a number of bald cypress trees along the river, but the one that is so identified is an aged double-trunked tree that now sits on the north and east bank about where the Riverwalk begins, on the west side of the back of the current Drury Inn and Suites. The location of the area is bounded by Houston Street to the north, Soledad Street to the west, Commerce Street to the south and North St. Mary’s Street to the east.
This tree measures about 25 feet in circumference, has two trunks with intertwining roots and reaches to near the top of the hotel. The base of the tree is now is below the street level which has been built up over the years, but can be clearly seen from the walkways of the Riverwalk.
(Google Streetview image:Link)
In 1909, the Veramendi Palace was demolished, despite its heritage and historical significance, for the widening of Soledad Street. In the interim years after the Siege of Béxar, it served many purposes including a residence, a curio shop, a hotel, and a saloon among others. None of the old structure was preserved, save for the large wooden double entrance doors, which now reside at the Alamo. A plaque was placed at 130 Soledad Street by the Texas Historical Commission.
(Dedicated to Officer Dennis Wesley, who loved the legends and history of San Antonio.)
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