Mary, A Texas Maverick

She came to Texas as the young wife of a powerful man, and the diary she kept of her travels and her life in the growing republic has captured historians and lovers of Texas history. Mary Ann Adams Maverick (1818-1898) was born on a plantation in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. She attended a nearby boarding school and when she was eighteen, she met thirty-three-year-old Samuel Maverick––a Yale-educated lawyer who had just returned from the Texas war for independence. His plans to sell some of his property in Alabama and hurry back to land speculation in Texas got delayed when he met Mary. They married within three months.

Samuel A. Maverick

Mary and Samuel Maverick did not get to San Antonio until June 1838 and by then Mary had given birth to the first of their ten children. Samuel knew San Antonio well, for he had gone there in the fall of 1835 with plans to start building a land empire. Instead, he was thrust into the developing Texas Revolution. Mexican officials placed him under house arrest for a time and when he was released he went to the Texan force gathered south of the city and urged them to continue their siege of San Antonio de Bexar. He kept a detailed diary of the events as the Texans defeated the Mexican garrison and took over the town. He stayed in San Antonio and after Santa Anna’s army arrived on February 23, Maverick was elected as a delegate to the Texas Independence Convention in Washington-on-the Brazos. He made it through the Mexican Army lines on March 2 and reached the convention in time to be one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  By the time the convention ended, the Alamo had fallen and Texans were fleeing east ahead of Santa Anna’s advancing army. Suffering from chills and fever, Maverick made it to Nacogdoches where he remained until after Texas won independence at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Soon after the Mavericks reached San Antonio, Mary gave birth to their second son. That same year, she also used ink and watercolors on paper to produce the oldest known image of the church, which we know today as the Alamo and the Convento, which had served as

Alamo and Convento, ink and watercolor drawing of Mary Maverick.

the quarters used by the priests when the old structure was a mission. And Samuel set the pattern that he kept for the rest of his life. He made forty-one land purchases, moved the family into a house on the northeast corner of

Maverick home on the northeast corner of the Main Plaza.

the Main Plaza, and entered politics as mayor of San Antonio.

The following year, Mary wrote in her diary that March 19, 1840, was “a day of horrors.” Comanches had come to San Antonio seeking a treaty to draw boundaries that would halt western settlement into Comancheria. Texan authorities had demanded that the Indians bring in all their white prisoners. When they arrived with only Matilda Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old girl who had been a captive for over eighteen months, the Texans announced that the Indians would be held as prisoners until all the captives were returned.

Mary Maverick and a neighbor who lived nearby heard the gunfire and watched from behind a fence the battle that spilled into the plaza. When the terror ended, thirty-three Comanches lay dead and thirty-three were taken prisoner. Six Texans and one Mexican also perished.

Mary’s memoir, published in 1895, offers an account of the Council House Fight that historians reported for years. She claimed that the Texans were horrified to discover that Matilda Lockhart had been raped, had burns all over her body, and her nose had been burned away. However, later research revealed that Matilda Lockhart’s sister-in-law who was in San Antonio at the time wrote a letter to her mother and did not mention any injuries. In Col. Hugh McLeon’s report of March 20, 1840, he commented about Matilda’s intelligence but said nothing about a missing nose. Since the memoir was not published until many years later, it may have been an effort to justify the Texans rage.

Within two days of the Council House Fight, Samuel Maverick left for South Carolina and Alabama where he sold some of his property and purchased two-year’s worth of provisions. He had the supplies shipped to Linville, the seaport on Lavaca Bay.

Meantime, the Comanches who had been taken prisoner in San Antonio escaped, returned to Comancheria to grieve their losses and plot revenge. The following August, a party of about 1,000 warriors and their families swept across Texas in what became known as the Great Raid of 1840. They attacked Victoria, stole several hundred horses, and sacked the seaport village of Linnville. While terrified residents sat in boats in the shallow bay, they watched the town burn and all the warehouses destroyed. Among the losses, were Samuel Maverick’s supplies waiting to be shipped on to San Antonio.

Mexico had never accepted Texas independence and had made several forays across the border. In 1842, while Samuel Maverick served as San Antonio treasurer, word arrived that Mexican forces were headed toward the city. The Mavericks joined families fleeing the advancing troops in what was known as the “Runaway of ’42.” They stayed for a time in an abandoned house near Gonzales and then Maverick moved the family to LaGrange to get them farther away from the Indian threat. He had returned to San Antonio to argue a case before the district court when the Mexicans captured the city and marched many prisoners, including Maverick, to Perot Prison in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz.

When Mary heard of her husband’s capture, she gave money to one of her slaves to use for ransom and sent him with her Uncle John Bradley and another company to free her husband.  Mexicans surprised the little group, the slave was killed, and her uncle was taken to the prison with Maverick. They were not released until April 1843.

While he was in prison, Samuel Maverick was elected senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. He served in the last session and was a strong advocate for Texas annexation to the United States. During the time he served in the Texas Senate, Mary and the children lived in a log cabin near LaGrange on the Colorado River.  Believing the site caused some of their illnesses, in late 1844 Maverick moved his growing family to Decrows Point on Matagorda Peninsula. During that time, a farmer repaid his debt to Maverick with 400 head of cattle. Samuel had no interest in ranching and turned the management over to some of his slaves who did not bother to brand the calves. Finally, Maverick moved the cattle and the slaves to a ranch south of San Antonio. Still, the cattle roamed unbranded and neighbors began referring to the unmarked beeves as Maverick’s. Over time, that moniker stuck, and by the end of the Civil War when so many unbranded cattle roamed the Texas countryside, they were called “Mavericks.”

Mary Maverick and five of her children.

Violence was not the only hardship faced by those early Texas settlers. When they finally moved into a new home across from the Alamo, their seven-year-old daughter Agatha died from a fever. Over the next two years, cholera took

Maverick home on Alamo Plaza.

both Augusta then John Hays. Ironically, the child named for their friend the legendary Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays died the year that his father traveled with Coffee on an expedition to chart a route from San Antonio to El Paso. Maverick’s task was to document the trip. Finally, their youngest a girl of about eighteen months died in 1857.

After the Mavericks returned to San Antonio, Samuel expanded his West Texas landholdings from almost 140,000 acres in 1851 to over 300,000 acres at the time of his death in 1870. He served in the state legislatures from 1851-1863, where he worked for equal opportunity for his Mexican and German constituents. He fought for liberal land acquisition laws and for a fair and efficient judicial system.

He opposed secession, but when the conflict became inevitable, he supported the Confederacy. Four of their sons served in the Confederacy and Mary worked in the relief effort in San Antonio. A devout Episcopalian, she helped establish St. Mark’s Church and served for over twenty years as president of the Ladies’ Parish Aid Society.

With the help of her son George Madison Maverick, Mary shaped her diaries into her memoir and published a few copies in 1895.  She served as a member of the San Antonio Historical Society and of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. As president for many years of the Alamo Monument Association, she kept the public aware of the need to restore the decaying site, even writing a brief account of the fall of the Alamo. Mary Maverick and her many descendants have worked to preserve San Antonio and the memory of the pioneer men and women who shaped the future of Texas.

Picture File
Maverick Family
Mary Adams Maverick
CN96.153

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Messenger of the Alamo

Nothing tells the Texas story—the struggle for survival, the choices that bring personal tragedy, and the triumph of success—better than the life of Susanna Dickinson.  She was only fifteen in 1829 when she eloped in Hardeman County, Tennessee, with the dashing U.S. Army

Susanna Dickinson
Courtesy Austin Chronicle

artillerist, Almeron Dickinson, a man almost twice her age. Two years later, they joined fifty-four other settlers on a schooner out of New Orleans that was headed for Texas. They received a league of land (4,428 acres) in DeWitt’s Colony near present Lockhart. In the next three years, Almeron acquired ten more lots in and around Gonzales. Life appeared harmonious in those early years. Susanna may have taken in a boarder; Almeron plied his trade as a blacksmith and went into partnership in a hat factory; he joined a band of local settlers in hunting down marauding Indians; and their only child, Angelina Elizabeth, was born in December 1834.

A year later, as turmoil swept across Texas, Gonzales residents in the “Come and Take It” episode, refused the demands of Mexican soldiers to give up their cannon. Within days, Almeron offered his experience with cannons as volunteers marched to capture the Mexican seat of government in San Antonio de Bexar. In early December, Texans drove the Mexican forces from San Antonio, occupied the city, and set up a fortress in the Alamo, a crumbling former mission.

Susanna remained in Gonzales with year-old Angelina until a newly formed troop of Texans looted her house. She fled to San Antonio to join Almeron in late December.  When the Mexican Army under General António López de Santa Anna arrived on February 23, 1836, legend says that Almeron swept Susanna and Angelina onto the back of his horse and raced with them to the protection of the Alamo fortress.

In her account of the final battle on March 6, Susanna said that Almeron, who commanded the artillery batteries, hid her and Angelina with the other women and children in the anteroom of the chapel. As resistance failed, Almeron rushed back to his wife saying “Great God, Sue! The Mexicans are inside our walls! All is lost! If they spare you, love our child.”

When Mexican soldiers discovered Susanna and the other women and children, Col. Juan Almonte led them and the slaves to safety at the nearby home of Ramón Músquiz. The following day, Susanna and the other women and children were taken before General Santa Anna who gave each of them a blanket and two dollars in silver.  He offered to take Angelina to Mexico City to be educated. When she refused to release the child, Santa Anna gave Susanna a letter that she was to deliver to General Sam Houston demanding his immediate surrender. To ensure her safe passage, Santa Anna sent a servant of one of his officers to accompany her. Joe, William Travis’ slave who had also been released, joined them as they made their way to Gonzales.

Susanna and Joe shared the news of the fall of the Alamo and tried to answer the pleading questions of the families whose men had taken part in the battle. In anticipation of the approaching Mexican Army, General Houston ordered the families to evacuate immediately and head toward safety in Louisiana. Susanna and Angelina joined the long struggle marching eastward in the rain, mud, and extreme cold in what became known as the “Runaway Scrape.”

Susanna was illiterate and did not leave written records, but she continued throughout her life to share her experiences. She claimed to have seen the bodies of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. From the house to which she was taken after the fall of the Alamo, she could see the pyres of the dead being burned. For a period after the battle, all she could recall was that she wept for days.

With no means of support and no family, Susanna petitioned the congress of the new republic for financial assistance. The authorities denied her claim, along with those of the other survivors. Before the end of 1837, she married John Williams. In less than a year his physical abuse prompted her to petition for and receive a divorce—the first granted in what became Harris County.

Near the time of her divorce, the Republic of Texas awarded a land bounty of 640 acres to survivors of the battle for Texas Independence, which allowed Susanna to support herself as a laundress and boarding house keeper. In later years, she and Angelina were awarded another 1,920 acres as descendants of a member of the Texas Republican Army.

In December 1838, she married Francis P. Herring, whom relatives claim died in 1843 from too much drink. Some accounts claim that Pamela Mann who ran Houston’s gaudy Mansion House, which was known as a wild and rowdy place, invited Susanna to live in her hotel, perhaps even working as a prostitute. Others insist that Susanna had proven housekeeping and cooking skills and would not have needed to resort to prostitution for her survival.

She may have even operated her own boarding house before marrying husband number four, Peter Bellows, in 1847. When Bellows divorced Susanna, he charged her with abandonment and prostitution, apparently referring to her residency in the Mansion House before their marriage. Susanna did not appear in court to challenge the claim because she had already moved to Lockhart where she opened a very successful boarding house.

Before leaving Houston, she had been baptized in Buffalo Bayou by a Baptist minister, Rufus C. Burleson, who praised her for nursing victims of a Houston cholera epidemic. Years later Rev. Burleson wrote in his memoirs, “she was nominally a member of the Episcopal Church…I found her a great bundle of untamed passions, devoted in her love and bitter in her hate…she was joyfully converted. In less than two months her change was so complete as to be observed by all her neighbors…she was a zealous co-laborer of mine in every good work…whenever she did wrong especially in giving way to passion, she would confess and weep over it.”

After moving to Lockhart, she met her fifth and final husband, Joseph W. Hannig, a German immigrant, blacksmith, and skilled furniture maker. Susanna sold her land in the old DeWitt Colony and used the proceeds to establish Hannig in various businesses in Austin. He operated a fine furniture-making business, an undertaking parlor, and a mill before expanding into a second business in San Antonio.

Susanna Dickinson Museum on January 8, 2017
Courtesy Texas A&M University

Hannig built a home in 1869 for Susanna on Pine Street (present 5th Street) that is open as a museum today. After several years, Hannig expanded his business interests into real estate and served as a city alderman. The family moved into a mansion in Hyde Park an area on the outskirts of Austin, and Susanna was able to employ several German servant girls with whom she became friends. Hannig’s businesses allowed Susanna to be accepted into Austin’s social circles where she was constantly called upon to recount her Alamo experience. Angelina died in 1869, and Susanna raised her four grandchildren, seeing that they were educated in Catholic schools and convents.

By the time of her death in 1883, Susanna Dickinson Hannig had become a wealthy and respected member of the Austin community.

THE ANGEL OF GOLIAD

Many stories survive from the 1836 Texas War for Independence from Mexico, but several almost forgotten tales surround the deeds of a beautiful young Mexican woman whose name is shrouded in the mists of history and legend. To a person they called her the “Angel of

Angel of Goliad, Courtesy The Austin Chronicle

Goliad.”

She steps onto the scene as the woman accompanying Capt. Telesforo Alavez when his ship from Matamoros, Mexico, landed at Copano Bay on the middle Texas coast about the same day as the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Variously called Francita, or Panchita, or Francisca, those who met her assumed she traveled as Capt. Alavez’ wife; however camp women regularly followed the Mexican army, and later research disclosed that Capt. Alavez had abandoned his wife and children in Mexico the previous year.

When Francita arrived at Copano Bay, she discovered that General José de Urrea’s army held prisoners who were bound so tightly that the cords cut off the circulation in their arms. Several of those men remember her as the beautiful Mexican lady who convinced the guards to loosen the bonds and give them food.

As he headed to San Antonio and the Battle of the Alamo, General Santa Anna split his forces, directing Urrea’s army to move toward Presidio La Bahía, an ancient fort housing 500 militia, the largest collection of men in the Texas army.

It is unclear which route Capt. Alavez took with his cavalry regiment as he moved from the Texas coast to join Gen. Urrea’s forces. Some accounts claim a priest and “a Mexican lady named ‘Alvarez’” convinced Gen. Urrea at San Patricio to save the lives of twenty-one captives and ship them back to prison in Matamoros, thereby ignoring Santa Anna’s repeated orders to shoot all prisoners taken in arms.

Presidio LaBahia Chapel, 1836, Wikipedia

While Urrea continued his march toward Presidio La Bahía, the commander at the at the old fort, Colonel James W. Fannin, ignored orders from General Sam Houston to abandon La Bahía and join forces with Houston’s ragtag volunteers as they moved ahead of Santa Anna’s advancing army.

Fannin delayed for five days before he began a slow march out of the presidio, only to be overtaken in mid-afternoon by Urrea’s rapidly advancing force. The Texans and the Mexicans fought valiantly until darkness fell. Without sufficient water for cooling their cannons or to ease the suffering of the injured, and without the hoped-for reinforcement by the next morning, the Texans chose surrender.

Despite the decree that Santa Anna pushed through the Mexican Congress the previous December, which directed that all foreigners taken in arms against the government should be treated as pirates and shot, General Urrea appealed to Santa Anna for clemency for Fannin and his men.

Urrea’s force moved on to capture nearby Victoria while about 240 uninjured or slightly wounded were marched back to Presidio La Bahía under the direction of Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla. Colonel Fannin who had sustained an injury and about fifty more severely wounded were moved back to La Bahía over the next two days. Again, Francita appears as a comforter of the suffering, intervening to improve care for the prisoners crowded into the presidio’s 85- x 25-foot Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Loreto. Soon, more prisoners from other battles arrived to increase the population to over 500.

A letter from Santa Anna arrived on March 26 demanding that Col. Portilla carry out the orders to execute the prisoners. Two hours later, Portilla received a letter from Urrea imploring him to treat the prisoners with respect, especially Col. Fannin.

Despite being torn between conflicting orders, Portilla continued with plans to execute the prisoners at dawn the next morning––Palm Sunday, March 27. The prisoners were marched out in three groups––some believed they were going to gather wood, others expected to drive cattle, another group thought they were headed to Copano Bay for shipment to freedom in New Orleans.

Apparently Francita heard of the plans to murder the troops, for she worked during the night with several officers to hide about twenty men. Dr. Joseph H. Barnard, who was spared from the massacre and sent, with another doctor, to the Alamo to aid the injured Mexicans, wrote that “during the time of the massacre she (Francita) stood in the street, her hair floating, speaking wildly, and abusing the Mexican officers, especially Portilla. She appeared almost frantic.”

Another account, written years later by Benjamin Franklin Hughes, who at age fifteen had served as an orderly, claimed that his group believed they marched toward embarkation and return home. He saw Urrea’s wife and a young lady he called “Madame Captain Alvarez” watching the groups move out. As Hughes marched past, the ladies directed that he be taken from the ranks and placed between them. Within minutes, by a prearranged signal, the massacre began, and Hughes realized the women had saved his life.

A study of Fannin’s command indicates 342 executed, including Fannin and the wounded that were shot in the fort’s quadrangle. Only twenty-eight escaped the firing squads by diving into the nearby San Antonio River or escaping through the woods along the riverbank. A group of blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and other artisans that were needed to serve the Mexican army also escaped the massacre. About eight avoided execution because Portilla claimed they were not captured “while bearing arms.”

Although Francita accompanied Captain Alavez on to Victoria, she continued to send messages and supplies to the surviving prisoners at La Bahía. The grandson of one of the Victoria families preserved stories of the wives of Mexican officers throwing themselves in front of a firing squad, successfully halting the execution of three or four prisoners.

After Texas won independence from Mexico and captured Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Mexicans began a slow retreat. Captain Alavez evacuated his Victoria post and returned to Matamoros where Texans told of “Señora Alavez” ministering to the prisoners. After she followed Captain Alavez on to Mexico City, he abandoned her. Returning to Matamoros penniless, she found friends among the Texans who remembered her kind treatment. However, none of the people who told the story of her humanitarian deeds ever bothered to accurately record her name.

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.

Ladies Fought the Second Battle of the Alamo

The second battle of the Alamo began in the early 20th century as a disagreement between two powerful women over the proper way to preserve the Alamo. The old complex had been allowed, after the famous battle in 1836 and the slaughter of the men who fought there, to fall

Adina De Zavala

Adina De Zavala

into an embarrassing state of neglect and disrepair. Adina Emilia De Zavala, granddaughter of Lorenzo de Zavala the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas, was a schoolteacher, a prolific writer of Texas history, and an early advocate of restoration of the missions in San Antonio and other historic structures. About 1889, she organized the “De Zavala Daughters,” dedicated to preserving Texas history, which soon became a chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT).

Although the state of Texas had purchased the main entrance known as the Alamo chapel from the Catholic Church in 1883, the state did nothing to preserve the structure. At some point, a wholesale grocer bought the building north of the chapel, added a second floor, and altered the façade. De Zavala and her friends believed that old building had served as the convent when the complex was a Spanish mission. They were also convinced that it had been used as the long barracks where most of the fighting occurred during the Battle of the Alamo. The De Zavala group secured an agreement from the grocer to give them first option to purchase the long barracks, which they dreamed of restoring to its former appearance and opening as a museum.

1920s photo. Long barracks in foreground. Alamo chapel in right background.

1920s photo. Long barracks in foreground.

Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll

In 1903, when the De Zavala group heard that the long barracks might be sold to a hotel syndicate, Adina De Zavala sought the help of Clara Driscoll a nineteen-year-old heiress who had returned to San Antonio after several years studying in Europe. Driscoll was so appalled at the condition of the Alamo that she wrote an article for the Daily Express calling the Alamo complex an “old ruin…. hemmed in on one side by a hideous barracks-like looking building, and on the other by two saloons.” Clara Driscoll joined the De Zavala chapter of the DRT and went with Adina De Zavala to see the grocer who was asking $75,000 for the structure. Clara Driscoll personally gave the owner $500 for a thirty-day option and the ladies set about raising the purchase price. Despite a nationwide campaign and a legislative appropriation, which Governor S.W.T. Lanham vetoed as “not a justifiable expenditure of the taxpayers’ money,” Clara Driscoll eventually paid $65,000 to complete the purchase. Over the governor’s objection, the state reimbursed Clara Driscoll and gave custody of the property to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Then, cracks began to show in the bulwark of the organization as members divided over what should be done with the grocer’s building. Adina De Zavala and her cohorts believed “a large part” of the original convent/long barracks played a significant role in the Battle of the Alamo and remained hidden under the grocer’s building. Clara Driscoll and her camp believed the walls of the convent/long barracks overshadowed the Alamo chapel and should be replaced with a dignified park.

Members of the statewide DRT and citizens in San Antonio and Texas divided into De Zavalans and Driscollites, each faction determined to have its way. The two groups within the DRT separated from each other and when Clara Driscoll was given custody of the vacant grocery in 1908, Adina De Zavala locked herself in the building for three days as newspaper reporters from around the country gathered to watch the spectacle.

By 1910 the Driscollites seemed to have won the war, but one more battle remained: Governor Oscar Colquitt, became convinced that walls under the modern grocery building pre-dated the Battle at the Alamo. He ordered restoration of the convent/barracks. In January 1912, the governor personally watched as removal of the modern additions revealed arches and Spanish stone work—confirming the De Zavalans’ claim. However, the following year, while the governor was out of state, the lieutenant governor permitted the roof and walls of the upper story to be removed. Fifty-five years later, just in time for the 1968 opening of HemisFair, San Antonio’s world’s fair, the old building finally received a roof and opened as a museum.

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

Adina De Zavala continued for the rest of her life organizing groups that restored, marked and preserved historic sites. When she died in 1955 at the age of ninety-three, her casket draped with the Texas flag was driven past the Alamo one last time. She willed her estate to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word for a girl’s vocational school and a boys town.

Clara Driscoll spent the remainder of her life devoted to historic preservation, state and national politics, civic and philanthropic endeavors. When she died in 1945 at the age of sixty-four, her body laid in state at the Alamo chapel. She bequeathed the bulk of her estate to the Driscoll Foundation Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi.

Canary Islanders, Texas’ First Settlers

After years of little success in Christianizing the Texas Indians and turning them into good Spanish citizens, the colonial authorities realized that securing control of the vast area required more than missions and a military presence—civilians were needed to populate the province of Texas. By 1718 Mission San Antonio de Valero (present Alamo) and its presidio still lacked a civilian presence.

Originally the Spanish crown planned to move 400 families from the economically distressed Canary Islands, which lay off the northwest coast of Africa, to establish a civilian community near the Mission San Antonio de Valero and its presidio. The King of Spain intended to completely fund the move through Havana and on to Vera Cruz, including all the necessities for the journey. However, after six years of planning, the original numbers were deemed too large and the transportation too expensive. By the time the Islanders actually sailed for America in 1730, there were only twenty-five families, fifteen of whom stopped in Cuba and only ten traveled all the way to Vera Cruz on the Mexican Gulf coast. As they followed the route laid out for them by the Spanish government up through the center of Mexico, they stopped at places like San Luis Potosi and Saltillo where they received food and clothing. At Presidio San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande they left their worn-out horses and continued their trek on foot to the banks of the San Antonio River. The journey of almost a year brought heartache, including deaths that left two widows as heads of large households and the three Cabrera children–Ana, José, and Marcos—whose parents died on the trip. Marriages along the way increased the entourage to fifteen families—fifty-six people—reaching their new home on March 9, 1731.

Each family received generous land grants, including the three Cabrera orphans. They named their town “Villa de San Fernando” in honor of the prince, Don Fernando, who became King Ferdinand in 1746. By August the Islanders, “Isleños,” had finished plowing and planting and had elected civilian officials to legally establish the first chartered civil government in Texas. Because of their position as the first civilian settlers, the Isleños had permission from the crown to carry the title of “hidalgo,” or son of noble lineage. For years they represented the political and socioeconomic elite of the community.

Tensions arose between the three communities—the Isleños, the military in the presidio, and the Franciscans in the nearby missions—over access to water, which had to be delivered by acequias or irrigation canals, the use of the land, and the management of livestock.

Indian attacks—Comanche, Apache, and other roving tribes—caused the lines of differences between the groups to begin blurring and a cohesive community emerged as they were forced to band together against the outside threat that made it difficult for farmers to work in their fields and sometimes even cut off communication with authorities in New Spain.

The Isleños laid the cornerstone in 1738 for the Church of San Fernando–the first parish church in Texas–and completed its construction in 1750. Over the years the church was enlarged and in 1874 Pope Pius IX named San Antonio a diocese with San Fernando as its cathedral.

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s Wikipedia

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s
Wikipedia

The first formal census, dated December 31, 1788, refers to the “Villa of San Fernando” and the mission and its presidio as “San Antonio de Béxar.” After Mexico won independence from Spain, San Antonio de Béxar served as the capital of the province and when Texas finally won independence from Mexico in 1836, the city became known as San Antonio.

Sarcophagus or marble coffin holding ashes of Travis, Bowie and Crockett. Wikipedia

Sarcophagus or marble coffin holding ashes of Travis, Bowie and Crockett.
Wikipedia

The dome of the original San Fernando Church served as the geographic center of the city and the point from which all mileage was measured to San Antonio. When Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) was secularized in 1793, its congregation became members of San Fernando. Finally in 1824, after missions Concepcíon, San José, and Espada were all secularized, their members joined the San Fernando parish. Jim Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi, daughter of the Governor of the State of Coahuila y Tejas at San Fernando in 1831. The Battle of the Alamo began when General Santa Anna raised the flag of “no quarter” from the tower of the San Fernando church. It is claimed that a sarcophagus or marble coffin at the back of the sanctuary holds the ashes of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, and Jim Bowie who died at the Alamo. Today, the cathedral plays a major role in San Antonio as it continues to function as a religious institution while hosting symphonies, concerts, television specials, and the constant arrival of tour buses carrying visitors eager to see one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States that began as a parish church for Canary Islanders.

San Fernando Cathedral Wikipedia

San Fernando Cathedral
Wikipedia

The Question of Santa Anna’s Leg

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

I usually try to tell the tale and let readers make up their own minds about the merits of the case. This time, I am admitting up front that I am siding with the state of Illinois against my own birthplace of Texas. Here’s the conundrum: The Illinois State Military Museum owns and proudly displays Santa Anna’s artificial leg and the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum wants it.

The story goes like this: In 1836, after General Santa Anna won the Battle of the Alamo and had the survivors slaughtered and then ordered the massacre of about 300 Texans at Goliad, he marched in glory toward San Jacinto where he expected to defeat those “land thieves,” once and for all. His hubris, his view of himself as the Napoleon of the West, caused him to leave the bulk of his army behind and rush to San Jacinto. He lost the battle at San Jacinto in eighteen minutes, which gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Actually, he didn’t lose; he ran off and was not discovered until the next day cowering among some marsh, dressed as a common soldier.

When the Mexican government heard of the fiasco, the officials promptly kicked him out of office as president of Mexico and commander of the Mexican Army. Consequently, Mexico claimed that Santa Anna did not have the authority to sign the peace treaty that declared Texas independence.

Santa Anna was not done. After a time of exile in the United States, he made his way back to his hacienda in Veracruz. In December 1838, the Mexican government had refused to compensate French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico, and the French Army landed in Veracruz demanding payment. Mexican officials called on none other than the disgraced Santa Anna to defeat the French, using any means necessary. The assault failed, and as the Mexican Army was retreating, cannon fire hit Santa Anna in the leg, shattering his ankle. His leg had to be amputated, and that was the vehicle Santa Anna rode on his return to Mexican politics. Despite Mexico having to meet the French demands, Santa Anna turned defeat in victory by having his amputated leg buried with full military honors. He never again allowed his countrymen to forget his great sacrifice.

Santa Anna turned to the only man in the United States that made artificial legs. Charles Bartlett, a former cabinetmaker from New York City, crafted for $1,300, a prosthetic leg of cork covered in leather.

Santa Anna's $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

Santa Anna’s $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

While serving as acting president of Mexico in 1841, he helped overthrow the government. After four years under his dictatorship, during which he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, his autocratic rule caused so much resistance that he was forced into exile in Cuba. Santa Anna was not done. At the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Santa Anna made a deal with President James Polk to enter Mexico through the U.S. naval blockade in exchange for negotiating a reasonable price for the sale to the U.S of the disputed land. While dealing with President Polk, Santa Anna arranged with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders (that is the United States). Both presidents agreed to Santa Anna’s deals, and as soon as he reached Mexico he declared himself president and began leading the Mexican Army in its unsuccessful fight against the United States.

On April 18, 1847, in the midst of the Mexican-American War, Santa Anna was sitting in his carriage enjoying a chicken lunch a safe distance from the fighting, when Company G, 4th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers surprised him. The General got away, but he left behind his cork leg and $18,000 in gold. The story is that the men finished off the chicken, turned the gold over to their commander, and took the leg with them back to Illinois at the end of the war. For years they charged the curious, ten cents a viewing of the leg. In 1922, it was donated to the state.

Today, Santa Anna’s leg is the central attraction in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The challenge came in April 2014 when the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum launched a petition on the White House website seeking 100,000 signatures to get the leg moved to Texas. There were not enough takers to qualify for the White House to look into the cause, however, it is hard to imagine that a president from Illinois would step into a move to take a prize from his state and send it to Texas.

If I had been asked to vote, and I was not, I would say Santa Anna’s artificial leg belongs to Illinois. While Santa Anna was a bitter enemy of Texas and continues to be held in low esteem, he had both his good legs while he was in Texas. Those Illinois volunteers found that leg eleven years after Santa Anna foolishly led his men to defeat at San Jacinto.