Memories of a Pioneer Woman

Thanks to the stories that Elizabeth Owens told her daughters, we know about life in South Texas during some of its most turbulent times

Elizabeth was two years old in 1829 when her stepfather, James Quinn, moved the family from New Jersey to Texas as part of McGloin-McMullen’s Irish Colony. While the group of fifty-three families camped on Copano Bay near present Rockport, Elizabeth’s baby sister became the colonists’ first death, perhaps from cholera that spread through the settlers and followed them as they traveled inland to the old Spanish Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio.

Elizabeth’s family remained near Refugio and began farming. She and her brother Thomas always carried lunch to James Quinn when he worked in his fields. One time, Elizabeth said a drunk Indian caught Thomas and terrified the children by saying the sweetest morsel ever known was a white man’s heart. Elizabeth ran for help, and her stepfather used an ax to strike the Indian more than once before he released the boy.

In 1835, the family acquired from the De León Colony a league of land (4,428 acres) outside Victoria. The following year, Elizabeth witnessed a Tancahua Indian Scalp Dance on Victoria’s Market Square in celebration of the tribe outwitting the Karankawas. Elizabeth explained that the warlike Karankawas had asked the peaceful Tancahuas for help attacking the aristocratic and refined Mexican family of Don Martín De León the empresario who had founded the colony. Instead of joining the attack, the Tancahuas cut the Karankawas’ bow strings, killed thirteen members of the tribe, and carried the scalps stuck atop their spears, to Mrs. De León as a gesture of their friendship. Mrs. De León expressed her gratitude with a huge feast for the Tancahua and that is when Elizabeth, a nine-year-old, witnessed the Scalp Dance.

When war clouds built up for Texas independence, James Quinn joined a company that made the twenty-five-mile trip to La Bahía, to defend the presidio from Mexican attack. Elizabeth and her mother went to a nearby home where the women molded bullets for their husbands. With the approach of the large Mexican Army, James Quinn and other men rushed home to move their families to safety. However, Quinn discovered that his oxen had roamed away, which meant the Quinns and two other families could not leave.

They listened to the sound of the cannons fifteen miles away during the battle between James Fannin’s troops and General Urrea’s Army. A man arrived on horseback carrying a message for Colonel Fannin, but when he heard the cannon fire, he stayed with the Quinns. Startled at nearby gunfire, the messenger rushed to his horse and galloped away only to be discovered and shot.

General Urrea’s army accepted Fannin’s surrender and reached Victoria with great fanfare, parading through the streets to the sound of their bugles and drums. A Mexican officer took possession of Quinns’ front room. Although their home was constructed of adobe and had only three rooms with dirt floors, it was one of the more comfortable houses in town. Elizabeth said that ironically, the officer’s presence saved the family. A group of Mexican soldiers banged on the door with their muskets, but when the wife of the Mexican officer opened the door, the startled Mexicans quickly withdrew.

Elizabeth says that Señora Alvarez, the woman known as “The Angle of Goliad,” because she saved several of the Texans before the massacre, was the wife of a Mexican colonel. Despite stories of his abandoning her when he heard that she had rescued some of the young Texans at Goliad, she came to Victoria with her husband. Seven men who escaped the massacre rushed into Victoria, unaware that it was occupied by Mexican troops. They attempted to enter the Quinn home, and when Elizabeth’s mother exclaimed that they would all be killed if the Texans were found there, the men ran back into the yard where Mexican soldiers killed three of them. The other four were imprisoned in one of the homes. Elizabeth’s mother bribed a guard to let her son Thomas take food each day to the prisoners. A new guard discovered the boy delivering food and choked him severely.

When the Mexicans moved the four Texan prisoners to Market Square for execution, Señora Alvarez threw herself in front of the Texans, spreading her huge skirts out before them and protesting that she too would be shot. That halted the execution, and the four men were released after Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Despite Santa Anna’s surrender, a rumor spread that the Mexican Army had reorganized and was heading to Victoria. The family loaded a small cart and began their journey northward with a Mr. Blanco and his son. They crossed a creek and the Lavaca River before they reached a ferry on the mile-wide, swift-running Navidad. When their turn came to board the ferry, it tipped and threw them into the water. Elizabeth grabbed a partially submerged tree and clung to it. Mr. Blanco’s son disappeared under the water, but Mr. Blanco spotted Elizabeth’s white cap and pulled her to safety. Mr. Blanco’s son became the only casualty.

Many times, impending Indian attacks or fears of a Mexican army sent the women and children to the protection of a blockhouse; other times they crossed the Navidad River, even spending the entire winter of 1836-37 away from Victoria.

When they returned home, the Quinns found their house reduced to ashes. It happened when Texan soldiers mistook a herd of deer on a hillside for the Mexican Army and ordered all the houses burned except those that surrounded the town square. They saved the houses on the square for the soldiers’ use. That winter the family lived in the church with other families. They hung partitions for privacy.

In 1840 Comanches, who felt betrayed by whites in an incident at San Antonio’s Council House, swept down across Texas in what became known as the Great Comanche Raid. When they reached Victoria, they killed several and terrorized the town before moving on down to the port of Linnville, which they completely destroyed.

At seventeen, Elizabeth married Richard Owens, a New York native who had arrived in time to serve in the Army of the Republic of Texas. He became a very successful building contractor, freighter, merchant, and mayor of Victoria. Elizabeth worked as a community leader and raised their twelve children.

During the Civil War, Elizabeth and her daughters sewed the regimental flag for Col. Robert Garland’s Sixth Texas Infantry. Using material from Richard Owens’ mercantile store, they selected red Merino wool for the background and white silk fringe for the border. A large blue

From Home Page of Co “K”, 6th TX Infantry reenactment group

shield with twelve white stars circling a larger star represented the Lone Star State. The regiments’ name showed in white silk letters.

Before Elizabeth McAnulty Owens died in 1905, she shared the stories of her life adventures with her daughters, and in 1936 they published Elizabeth-McAnulty-Owens, The Story of her Life.

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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.

Elizabeth McAnulty Owens, Pioneer Reminiscences

Thanks to the stories that Elizabeth Owens told her daughters, we know about life in Victoria, headquarters for the De León Colony, $T2eC16ZHJHYE9nzpecDNBQVfNGLq1w~~60_12during some of its most turbulent times.

Elizabeth McAnulty was two years old when her mother and stepfather, Margaret and James Quinn, moved the family from New Jersey to Texas in 1829 as part of McMullen-McGloin Irish Colony. While the group of fifty-three families camped on Copano Bay near present Rockport, Elizabeth’s baby sister became the colonists’ first death, perhaps from cholera that spread through the settlers and followed them as they moved inland to the old Spanish Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio.

Drawing of Nuestra Señora Del Refugio Mission by Howell, 2005

Drawing of Nuestra Señora Del Refugio Mission by Howell, 2005

After a year, most of the families moved to the colony land at San Patricio on the Nueces River, but Elizabeth’s family remained and began farming near Refugio.  It was the custom for Elizabeth and her brother Thomas to take lunch to her stepfather who was working in the field.  Elizabeth recounted the story of a drunk Indian who caught Thomas and must have terrified the children by saying the sweetest morsel ever known was a white man’s heart.  Elizabeth ran for help, and her stepfather used an ax to strike the Indian more than once before he released the boy.

When Elizabeth was eight, James Quinn acquired a league of land (4,428 acres) in the De León Colony just outside Victoria. The following year, in February 1836 Elizabeth witnessed a Tancahua Indian Scalp Dance on Market Square in Victoria.  The peaceful Tancahuas had been approached by the warlike Carancahuas (generally called Karankawas) asking for help with an attack on the aristocratic and refined Mexican family of Don Martín De León the empresario who had founded the colony.  For some reason the Carancahuas especially hated the empresario’s wife.  The Tancahuas met the Carancahuas and instead of joining the attack, they cut the Carancahua’s bow strings, killed thirteen members of the tribe, and took the scalps stuck atop their spears, to Mrs. De León as a gesture of their friendship. Mrs. De León expressed her gratitude with a huge feast for the Tancahua and that is when Elizabeth, a nine year old, witnessed the Scalp Dance.

As war clouds for Texas independence built up, James Quinn joined a company that made the twenty-five-mile trip to La Bahía, to help defend the presidio from Mexican attack. Elizabeth went with her mother to a nearby home where the women molded bullets for their husbands.  As the large Mexican Army approached Goliad, the settlement around Presidio La Bahía, James Quinn and other men returned to Victoria to move their families to safety. James Quinn discovered his oxen had roamed away in his absence, leaving only the Quinns and two other families who supported independence.

Elizabeth said that during the battle between James Fannin’s troops down on Coleto Creek (fifteen miles away) and General Urrea’s Army, they could hear the sound of the cannons.  A man arrived on horseback with a message for Colonel Fannin.  When he heard the cannon fire, he stayed with the Quinns.  While he told the family his story, Elizabeth sat on the hearth holding a candle in the chimney so the light could not be seen.  When a shot rang out, the messenger apparently thought they were under attack because he rushed out to his horse and rode quickly away in the darkness.  He did not get far before he was discovered and shot.

General Urrea’s army, having just accepted Fannin’s surrender, reached Victoria with great fanfare, parading through the streets to the sound of their bugles and drums. A Mexican officer took possession of the Quinn’s front room. Although their home was constructed of adobe and had only three rooms with dirt floors, it was one of the more comfortable houses for that time. The officer’s presence afforded protection for the family when a group of Mexican soldiers banged on the door with their muskets because when the Mexican officer’s wife opened the door, the startled Mexicans quickly withdrew.

Elizabeth tells another story about Señora Alvarez, the woman known as “The Angle of Goliad,” who had saved several of the Texans before the massacre.  It seems she was the wife of a Mexican colonel, and despite stories of his abandoning her when he heard that she had rescued some of the young Texans at Goliad, she arrived with her husband in Victoria. Seven men who had escaped the massacre rushed into Victoria, apparently unaware that it was occupied by Mexican troops.  They attempted to enter the Quinn home, and when Elizabeth’s mother exclaimed that they would all be killed if the Texans were found there, the men ran back into the yard where Mexican soldiers killed three of them.  The other four were imprisoned in one of the homes. Elizabeth’s mother bribed the guards to let her son Thomas take food each day to the prisoners.  On a day when the boy encountered the new guard he was choked severely for delivering the food.

Elizabeth said that when the four Texan prisoners were brought to the Market Square to the executed, Señora Alvarez threw herself in front of the Texans, spreading her huge skirts out before them and protesting that she would also be shot if they were killed.  After Santa Anna surrendered, the four men were released.

Despite Santa Anna’s surrender, a rumor spread that the Mexican Army had reorganized and was heading to Victoria.  All residents were ordered to flee. The family loaded a small cart and began their journey northward with a Mr. Blanco and his son.  They crossed a creek and the Lavaca River before they reached a ferry on the mile-wide, swift-running Navidad.  When their turn came to board the ferry, it was too heavily loaded and tipped the family and all their possessions into the water. Elizabeth grabbed a partially submerge tree and clung for her life. Mr. Blanco’s son disappeared under the water, but Mr. Blanco spotted the white sunbonnet that Elizabeth was wearing and managed to pull her to safety.  All the party was saved except for Mr. Blanco’s son.

There were several more scares of Indian attacks or Mexican invasion as Mexico refused to accept that Texas has won its independence. Many times the women and children were moved to a block house that offered better protection; other times they crossed the Navidad River, even spending the entire winter of 1836-37 away from Victoria. Upon returning in 1837 to Victoria, the Quinns found their home reduced to ashes. Texan soldiers had spotted a herd of deer on a hillside, and thinking they were the Mexican Army, the Texans ordered all the houses burned except those that surrounded the town square. The houses on the square were saved for the soldiers’ use. The Quinns spent the winter in the church with other families who hung partitions for privacy.

In 1840 Comanches who felt betrayed by whites in an incident at San Antonio’s Council House that resulted in the death of most of the Comanche leaders, swept down across Texas is what became known as the Great Comanche Raid.  When they reached Victoria they killed several and terrorized the town before moving on down to the port of Linnville, which they completely destroyed.

When Elizabeth was seventeen, she married Richard Owens, a New York native who arrived in time to serve in the Army of the Republic of Texas.  Among other lucrative endeavors, he became a very successful building contractor, freighter, merchant, and mayor of Victoria. Elizabeth worked as a community leader while raising their twelve children.  During the Civil War, Elizabeth and her daughters sewed the regimental flag for Col. Robert Garland’s Sixth Texas Infantry.  Using material from Richard Owens’ mercantile store, their flag had a background of red Merino wool bordered in a white silk fringe, featuring a large blue shield with twelve white stars circling a larger star representing the Lone Star State.  The regiments name showed in white silk letters.

From Home Page of Co "K", 6th TX Infantry reenactment group

From Home Page of Co “K”, 6th TX Infantry reenactment group

Elizabeth McAnulty Owens died in 1905, but she had shared the stories of her life adventures with her daughters, and they used their notes to write Elizabeth-McAnulty-Owens, The Story of her Life, which was published in 1936.

ANGEL OF GOLIAD

Many stories survive from the 1836  War for Texas 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.  To a person they called her the “Angel of 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, 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 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 bound so tightly that the cords cut off the blood 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 Antonio López de Santa Anna split his forces, directing Urrea’s army to move toward Presidio La Bahía (present Goliad), 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.

While Urrea continued his march toward Presidio La Bahía, the commander at the old fort, Colonel James W. Fannin, ignored orders from General Sam Houston to move out of 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 cannon 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 agreed to appeal 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 under the direction of Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla, marched back to Presidio La Bahía.  Colonel Fannin who 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 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 marched willingly 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: “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.”

Years later Benjamin Franklin Hughes, who at age fifteen served as an orderly, claimed his group believed they marched toward embarkation and freedom. 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 asked to have him taken from the ranks and placed between them.  Within minutes the massacre began and Hughes realized the women 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 28 escaped the firing squads—diving into the nearby San Antonio River or escaping through the woods along the riverbank.  A group of blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and other artisans that served 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 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 first to Matamoros where Texans told of “Señora Alavez” ministering to the prisoners.  After she followed Captain Alavez 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.