Military Plaza in San Antonio dates back to the eighteenth century as a military and commercial center in San Antonio. Long before the Texas Revolution, Spanish troops marched in the plaza. After statehood, the site became a popular gathering place for medicine shows, entertainment, flea markets, and other town events.
In 1876 — about the time that the photograph below was taken — barbed-wire salesman John W. Gates rented the Plaza and on it constructed a barbed-wire corral. To demonstrate the effectiveness of his new product, he filled the corral with Texas longhorn cattle. His highly successful demonstration resulted in more orders for barbed wire than his company could manufacturer. The event also marked a major milestone in the eventual fencing of the vast open ranges of the Lone Star state.
San Antonio in the nineteenth century is well known for the “Chili Queens” that sold chili con carne from their chili stands at the plaza. An authoritative early account is provided in an article published in the July 1927 issue of Frontier Times Magazine. In the article, San Antonio Commissioner Frank H. Bushick reminisces about the Chili Queens and their origin at Military Plaza before they were moved to Market Square in 1887.
According to Bushick, “The chili stand and chili queens are peculiarities, or unique institutions, of the Alamo City. They started away back there when the Spanish army camped on the plaza. They were started to feed the soldiers. Every class of people in every station of life patronized them in the old days. Some were attracted by the novelty of it, some by the cheapness. A big plate of chili and beans, with a tortilla on the side, cost a dime. A Mexican bootblack and a silk-hatted tourist would line up and eat side by side, [each] unconscious or oblivious of the other.”
The Chili Queens and their stands became famous well beyond the city limits of San Antonio and were known even outside of Texas. According to Bushick, a sign in front of a booth at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 invited hungry visitors to “The San Antonio Chili Stand.”