Did She Survive the Alamo?

Madam Candelaria Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

Madam Candelaria
Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

She lived well past 100—some say 105, others say 113. She claimed to have entered the Alamo to nurse the ailing James Bowie whose family accounts say he was suffering the fevers of typhoid. She even wore a scar on her chin that she said came from a Mexican bayonet as she threw herself across Bowie, pleading that a sick man not be killed. Despite the lack of records to prove her account, most historians believe that Andrea Castañón Villanueva (Madam Candelaria) was actually there during the battle.

She grew up in Laredo and arrived in San Antonio about 1810 where she married Candelario Villanueva. Over the years she was known to have raised four of her own children and more than twenty orphans. She nursed the sick, which added merit to her story of nursing Bowie, and she gave to the poor.

In an account titled “Alamo Massacre” in the San Antonio Light, February 19, 1899, Madam Candelaria said that she and her husband were innkeepers in San Antonio. She said that when David Crockett reached town, residents welcomed him with a big street celebration and then came to her inn for supper, singing, story-telling, and drinking. Madam Candelaria’s descendants claim there is evidence that fandangos, known for good music and dancing, were held at the inn and that Madam Candelaria cooked for the occasions.

Over the years, Madam Candelaria shared her account with all who came to hear, saying that although the men all knew that they were doomed, they clung to hope that General Sam Houston would send reinforcement. She described sand bags piled against the great front door and the constant thunder of cannons during the thirteen-day siege. She said that on the morning of March 6 they heard the degüello (the bugle call signifying no quarter) and they knew what lay in store for them. William Travis was the first to die where he stood along the southeast side of the wall near the present location of the Menger Hotel. Crockett, who had come frequently to the bed of the ailing Bowie to keep him informed, loaded Bowie’s rifle and laid a pair of pistols by his side. Madam Candelaria heard Crockett say, “Boys, aim well,” just before the earth shook with the fierce yelling and the storm of bullets raining down. Crockett fell while trying to reload. Bowie emptied his pistols into the group of Mexicans who stormed into his room, and despite Madam Candelaria’s pleas for his life, he “was butchered” before her eyes.

When the massacre ended and she stepped on the floor of the Alamo, blood ran into her shoes.

In 1891, fifty-five years after the fall of the Alamo and eight years before Madam Candelaria died, the Texas legislature granted her a pension of twelve dollars a month for being a survivor of the Alamo and for her work with smallpox victims in San Antonio.

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7 thoughts on “Did She Survive the Alamo?

  1. Did she become known as Madame Candelaria because of her marriage? That is — is “Candelaria” a form of her husband’s name, and was that a usual custom?

    It rang a bell. I found that Candelaria is a feast celebrated from the Canary Islands to Mexico to Peru. Very interesting.

    There are records of smallpox in Galveston from 1844 onward. It must have been a terrible scourge across the state.

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    • Her husband was Candelaria Villaneuva. He may have been a descendant of the Canary Islanders who the King of Spain sent to San Antonio in March 1731 to provide the first civilian settlers. They were the nucleus of Villa of San Fernando de Bexar.
      The Villaneuva’s inn may have been an entertainment establishment that lent itself to the use of first names.
      The diseases those early settlers endured helps explain their short life span. When people talk about the “good old days,” I often think they haven’t paid much attention to history.

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