From Irish Immigrant to Cattle Queen

She buried three husbands and then hit the cattle trail in 1873 with her children and a grandchild in tow. Margaret Heffernan was born in Ireland, and when she was five years old, two Irish empresarios went to New York to recruit newly arrived immigrants to settle on their

Margaret Heffernan Borland

land grant in South Texas. In 1829 her father, who had been a candle maker in Ireland became a rancher in the McMullen and McGloin Colony on the prairie outside San Patricio. Stories vary about how Margaret’s father died—either by an Indian attack or by Mexican soldiers in the lead up to the Texas Revolution. Another story claims that at the outbreak of the war, Margaret’s mother fled with her four children to the presidio at Goliad, and they were spared the massacre because they were so fluent in Spanish that they were thought to be Mexicans. I suppose that story must be true since I know of no record of women and children (Texan or Mexican) being massacred at Goliad.

Margaret married at nineteen, gave birth to a baby girl and was widowed at twenty when her husband lost a gunfight on the streets of Victoria. A few years later Margaret married again, had two more children, and lost that husband to yellow fever in 1855. About three years later, Margaret married Alexander Borland, who was said to be the richest rancher in the county. Margaret bore four more children. One of her sons-in-law, the Victoria Advocate newspaper editor and historian, Victor Rose, wrote this flowery comment about Margaret Borland: “a woman of resolute will, and self-reliance, yet was she not one of the kindest mothers. She had, unaided, acquired a good education, her manners were lady-like, and when fortune smiled upon her at last in a pecuniary sense, she was as perfectly at home in the drawing room of the cultured as if refinement had engulfed its polishing touches upon her mind in maidenhood.”

Margaret partnered with her husband in the ranching business; however, 1867 proved to be another year of tragedy. Alexander Borland died in the spring while on a trip to New Orleans. Later that year a dreadful yellow fever epidemic that swept inland from the Texas coast, killed thousands, including four of Margaret’s children and one infant grandson.

As widow and owner of the ranch, Margaret managed its operations and enlarged her holdings to more than 10,000 cattle. The Chisholm Trail had proved so profitable that in the spring of 1873 Margaret led a cattle drive of about 2,500 head from Victoria to Wichita, Kansas. She took a group of trails hands, two sons who were both under fifteen, a seven-year-old daughter, and an even younger granddaughter. After reaching Wichita, Margaret became ill with what was called both “trail fever” and “congestion of the brain.” She died on July 5, 1873, before she had time to sell her cattle

Margaret Borland,
Collection of Library of Congress on deposit at Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.

Although at least four women are known as “Cattle Queens” for having taken the cattle trail, it is thought that Margaret Heffernan Borland was the only woman to ride the trail without being accompanied by her husband.

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SANTA ANNA: A PARADOX

Daguerreotype of Santa Anna.
Wikipedia

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico. He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation. His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution in 1836 and finally to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle-class criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Veracruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Veracruz infantry regiment. For five years he helped police Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain. Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence.

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain. However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence. All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whoever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico. Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero. Without hesitation, he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833. Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy. He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas. The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.

When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours. Then he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded the surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves. The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates. On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched in several groups away from the Goliad fort and shot. Those who had been injured in the battle were killed inside the compound. When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain. His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring. He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.

Oil on Canvass, Santa Anna displayed in Mexico City Museum.
Wikipedia

Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad. In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannons that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner. The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh. When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn-around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates. Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his

“Surrender of Santa Anna” William Henry Huddle
Wikipedia

loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished. After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Veracruz. In December 1838 the French landed in Veracruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary. In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage. He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the motherland. He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years. During his reign, he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful protection. However, his autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the United States annexation of Texas, which resulted in the Mexican-American War. He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States. At the same time, he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders. Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president. Again, his military prowess failed, and when the United States won victory with the capture of Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica. Mexico’s loss gained the United States more than 500,000 square miles––westward from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Coast.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, would invite Santa Anna back. But, that is what happened in April 1853. This time his administration was no more successful than before. He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends. A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle––the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree––as an additive to natural rubber. He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City. To fulfill his scheme, he worked with Thomas Adams a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, who may have served as Santa Anna’s secretary.

Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to use it to make carriage tires. Adams had observed Santa Anna chewing the chicle and began to experiment with the substance, eventually creating what became “Chiclets” chewing gum––a windfall from which Santa Anna failed to benefit.

Meantime, in 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts. He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years of his life virtually ignored by the Mexican government. “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.

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.

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.

What Happened to the Twin Sisters?

In November 1835, three months before Texas declared its independence from Mexico, war clouds had grown into a full rebellion and the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, eager to lend support, began raising money to purchase two cannons for the looming battle. Since the United States remained neutral throughout the war, the two iron six-pounders were secretly shipped down the Mississippi River labeled “hollow ware.” Stories abound about how they actually reached Sam Houston’s volunteer army camped about seventy-five miles up the Brazos River from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

Most accounts say the cannons traveled from New Orleans aboard the schooner Pennsylvania to Galveston where Dr. Charles Rice’s nine-year-old twin daughters Elizabeth and Eleanor were invited to be part of the official handing over of the cannons to Texas. Since the ceremony consisted of twins presenting the two cannons, the six-pounders became known as the “Twin Sisters.” The Pennsylvania continued to the mouth of the Brazos River and traveled inland about eighteen miles to Brazoria. Houston’s camp lay an additional sixty miles upriver. According to an account taken from General Houston’s correspondence and orders, worry over the terrible condition of the roads and concern that Santa Anna’s army might intercept the Twin Sisters resulted in the decision to ship the cannons back to Galveston. Over the next eleven days, the cannons moved through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg (near present Houston). Then, horse-drawn ox-carts slogged through the rain, mud, and fiercely cold weather to General Houston’s campsite on the Brazos River.

As soon as the Twin Sisters arrived, nine men drew assignment to each cannon and the drilling and firing practice began as the Texan Army moved east along the same route the Twin Sisters had just covered.

Sam Houston’s army of about 900 men set up camp on April 20 in a thick growth of timber where Buffalo Bayou flowed into the San Jacinto River. The Twin Sisters spent the afternoon in their first combat dueling with Santa Anna’s Mexican cannons.

The following afternoon the Twin Sisters led the charge across the rise in the prairie toward Mexicans who, convinced the Texans would not dare attack, were enjoying their usual siesta. At 200 yards the two little cannons opened fire with the Texans’ only ammunition––musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes. The battle cry of the Texans’ split the air with “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad.” In eighteen minutes the startled forces of Mexico’s superior army had been defeated. The carnage did not stop, however, as the Texans continued to use rifle butts and bayonets to kill the enemy in a furious retaliation for the brutal deaths of up to 275 Texans at the Alamo on March 6 and the massacre of nearly 350 at Goliad on March 27.

Although the Twin Sisters secured their place in history, their travels did not end at San Jacinto. After being moved to Austin, probably to help protect the frontier capital from Indian attack, the two cannons appeared again on April 21, 1841, when they were fired to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Later that year, as Sam Houston kissed the Bible at the conclusion of his inauguration for his second term as president of the Republic of Texas, the cannons roared to life in a salute to the new president and hero of the Battle of San Jacinto.

The Twin Sisters made no further public appearances and became part of the military property moved in 1845 to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Texas joined the Union. However, when secession talk reached full tilt with the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin McCulloch who as a young man had served on the crew manning the Twin Sisters and was destined to become a general in the Confederate Army, sent a letter to then Governor Sam Houston asking him to bring the Twin Sisters back to their home in Texas.

In the years after the cannons reached Louisiana, the Twin Sisters had been sold as scrap iron to a foundry. An investigation found that one cannon remained at the foundry in poor condition and the other had been sold to a private individual. The Louisiana legislature purchased and repaired both cannons at a cost of $700 and returned them to Texas on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first skirmish with the Mexicans at San Jacinto.

The Twin Sisters performed again on January 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston in which Confederate forces beat the Union Navy to regain control of Galveston Island. During that fight, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, whose father had been one of the heroes at the Battle of San Jacinto, was killed while commanding one of the Twin Sisters.

Stories abound about what happened to the Twin Sisters after the Battle of Galveston. One account says they were sent to Colonel John “Rip” Ford in San Antonio as he began the march south to recapture the Rio Grande from federal troops, but no record exists of the cannons reaching San Antonio. Some veterans claim to have seen the Twin Sisters at various locations around the Harrisburg area of Houston. Another account credits several Confederate veterans, concerned the Twin Sisters would fall into the hands of the federal troops during Reconstruction, with burying the cannons in an area hugging Buffalo Bayou. For years, history buffs and the curious have searched without success for the burial site.

In 1985, two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology supervised the construction of replicas of the Twin Sisters. They stand today on the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site waiting for a discovery that will return the original Twin Sisters to the location where they made Texas and world history.

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.

Santa Anna: Hero or Traitor?

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico.  He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation.  His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution and finally to the United States after the Mexican American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle class criollos (persons of European descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Vera Cruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz infantry regiment.  For five years his regiment policed Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain.  Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through the use of a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence,

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain.  However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence.  All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whomever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico.  Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero.  Without hesitation he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833.  Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy.  He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas.  The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.  When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours.  Then, he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves.  The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates.  On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched away from the Goliad fort and shot.  Those who had been injured in the battle were shot inside the compound.  When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain.  His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring.  He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.  Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad.  In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannon that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the two camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner.  The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh.  When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates.  Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished.  After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Vera Cruz.  In December 1838 the French landed in Vera Cruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary.  In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage.  He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the fatherland.  He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years.  During his reign he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful support.  His autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846.  He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States.  At the same time he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders.  Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president.  Again, his military prowess failed and when the United States captured Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica.  The United States gained all or part of ten western states that stretched its borders all the way to the Pacific Coast.

General Santa Anna on a lithograph from 1852.

General Santa Anna on a lithograph from 1852.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, invited Santa Anna back in April 1853.  This time his administration was no more successful than before.  He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends.  A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle, which is the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree, to the Americans as an additive to expensive natural rubber.  He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City.  Apparently Thomas Adams, who was a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, was assigned to oversee Santa Anna.  Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to make rubber for carriage tires.  However, he remembered seeing Santa Anna chewing on the substance, decided to add sugar, and began what became known as “Chiclets” chewing gum. That was one windfall that Santa Anna failed to get in on.

In 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts.  He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years virtually ignored by the Mexican government.  “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.