Throwback Thursday: Fiesta traditions, roots and origin of ‘King Selamat'

'King Selamat' was original Fiesta king

SAN ANTONIO – While we're all familiar with Fiesta staples like chicken on a stick and flower crowns, do you know how this huge citywide celebration started?

Fiesta’s roots can be traced back to more than 100 years ago, with the first ever Battle of the Flowers. 

In 1891, a group of locals decided to honor the defenders of the Alamo and those killed during the Battle of San Jacinto with a flower parade.

That first parade involved horse-drawn carriages, floats and bicycles decorated with flowers. Participants pelted each other with blossoms.

“That was the first official event of Fiesta and it grew from that,” said Jack Hebdon, former president of the Fiesta Association.

The parade was an immediate success. In the years that followed, more and more events were added. 

“They had a king in those days, which was King Selamat, which was tamales backwards,” said Hebdon. “He had a court. The court was the court of the Olama, or Alamo backwards.”

In 1909, one of the oldest Fiesta organizations, The Order of the Alamo was formed.

The Texas Cavaliers formed in 1926, with the first King Antonio named in 1927.

Fiesta has become a tradition for San Antonio families like Hebdon's.

“I’m the former King Antonio,” Hebdon said. “I’m the seventh King Antonio in my family. We've been doing this Fiesta business for a long time.”

Some more notable dates include the first River Parade, which was held in 1941.

The first Rey Feo was crowned in 1947, and 1948 was the start of both Fiesta Flambeau and Night In Old San Antonio, also called NIOSA.

“The quaint little Fiesta we grew up with, today, is one of the largest events in the country,” said Hebdon.

Fiesta has taken place almost every year since the first Battle of Flowers in 1891 -- except for 1918, during World War I, and 1942-1945, during World War II.

“A lot of the organizations had to reorganize and come back together, but yes, it just picked up and went from there and events have been added ever since,” said Hebdon.

Today, Fiesta is one of the country's biggest events, with an economic impact of more than $340 million a year for the city. The organizations involved also give back to charity.

“We always say Fiesta is Mardi Gras on a higher moral plain,” said Hebdon. “Fiesta generates a lot of money for San Antonio, but it also – all these organizations raise money to give back to San Antonio.”

At the end of the day, it's not just a party. It's a celebration of culture and history.

“I think it makes for a greater city,” said Hebdon. “I think one of the reasons we get along so well in San Antonio is because we all tend to work together so hard on Fiesta and everyone is included."

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