Don Martin De Leon, Empresario

Soon after winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico began issuing empresarial grants, contracts allowing men to bring settlers into Mexico’s northernmost state of Texas.  Ironically, of approximately thirty empresarial grants issued between 1821 and 1832, only one went to a Mexican.  Don Martín De León and his wife Doña Patricia De León were wealthy descendants of

Don Martin De Leon

Don Martin De Leon

aristocratic Spanish families who had immigrated to New Spain in 1750.  De León received his empresarial grant in April 1824 to settle forty-one Mexican families “of good moral character” on the lower Guadalupe River.  He had been in Texas since 1805, operating ranches along and south of the Nueces River and driving huge herds of cattle to market in New Orleans.

Map of Texas Colonies

Map of Texas Colonies

De León’s grant lay southwest of Stephen F. Austin’s, the first and most successful of the colonies.  De León named his settlement Guadalupe Victoria, after the first president of the Republic of Mexico.  The first twelve families arrived by October and the others, delayed by drought and floods in Northern Mexico, arrived the next spring.  Each family received a town lot, one league (4,228 acres) of land for grazing, and a labor (177 acres) for farming.  Upon completion of the colonization the empresario received five leagues.

One of De León’s sons-in-law platted the town and the empresario designated the main street “La Calle de los Diez Amigos” (The Street of Ten Friends) for the ten homes of citizens who were charged with the welfare of the town from 1824 to 1828.  Three of the ten friends were his sons-in-law and two were his sons.  From 1828 to 1835 alcaldes (mayors) governed the colony.  De León served as the first alcalde followed by two of his relatives.  Not all the colonists were Mexicans; sixteen families, primarily Irish immigrants, also settled in the colony.  A devout Catholic, De León brought in priests from La Bahía (present Goliad), Nacogdoches, and San Antonio until the founding in late 1824 of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  The colonists built a school and a fort, organized a militia, and started a courier service with the neighboring Austin colony.

Victoria quickly became a cultural center as the family maintained contact with friends who were kings, emperors, and both military and political leaders in the United States.  The children and grandchildren were sent to schools in the major cities of Europe and the business of the colony was considered among the most substantial.  Cattle, horses, and mules were the primary business and the family corralled wild Longhorns and mustangs by the thousands.10friends650x335

De León’s five-league ranch, which spread along Garcitas Creek in present southeastern Victoria County, probably included the land where the Frenchman La Salle built Fort St. Louis in 1685.  Many claim DeLeón’s cattle brand, which he had registered in 1807, was the first in Texas.  It consisted of a connected E and J meaning “Espiritu de Jesús, the brand used by Jesuits for hundreds of years and adopted by the De León family in Spain.

De Leon Cattle Brand

De Leon Cattle Brand

From the beginning of his colony, De León, a wealthy and cultured man, looked with disdain at the Americans in surrounding colonies.  His attitude and the preferential treatment he received as a Mexican citizen added to tensions among the neighboring settlements.  The boundaries of his colony were not clearly drawn and in disputes with other colonies, the Mexican courts usually sided with De León.  The ensuing squabbles led to hatred and mistrust between De León and Green DeWitt whose colony at Gonzales lay just to the north.  And De León tried unsuccessfully to have the government annul the grant for an Irish colony to the south.

De León died at age 68 in the 1833 cholera epidemic, leaving his wife and ten children an estate of about a half million dollars.  His sons completed the settlement, which made the De León and the Austin colonies the only two in Texas to fulfill their empresarial agreement.

The family members were strong Federalists and as troubles brewed with the Centralists government under the Mexican Dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna, the De Leóns sided with the Texans who supported independence.  The De León’s took part in all the plans for the revolution; they served in the army or helped in other ways to aid the Texas cause.  They contributed so substantially to the war that when Gen. José de Urrea occupied Victoria after the massacre at Goliad, the De Leóns were arrested as traitors.

Despite their contributions, after Texas won independence, Anglo-Americans began coming into Texas looking for land and charging the De Leóns as Mexican sympathizers.  After the murder of one son and the severe injury of another, the family, one of the wealthiest in Texas, left all behind and fled to safety in New Orleans. Three years later, the oldest son Don Fernando De León returned to Victoria and spent the remainder of his life in unsuccessful litigation for the return of the family’s property.

In 1972 a Texas historical marker was placed in Victoria’s Evergreen Cemetery honoring the De León family.  Attendees at the dedication included Patricia De León, great-granddaughter of the empresario, and Dr. Ricardo Victoria, great-grandson of President Guadalupe Victoria for whom the town is named.

Map Legend:  De Leon’s Colony — Blue

Austin’s Colony — Yellow

DeWitt’s Colony — Orange

Irish Colonies — Green

Mystery of 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-pound cannons were secretly shipped down the Mississippi River labeled as “hollow ware.”  Stories abound about how they actually reached General Sam Houston’s volunteer army camped about seventy-five miles up the Brazos River from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.

Most accounts say the guns 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.  It was still nearly sixty miles upriver to Houston’s camp and 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, the cannons were shipped back to Galveston.  Over the next eleven days the guns moved through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg (near present Houston) and then ox-carts, pulled by horses, 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 began as the Texan Army moved back east along the very route the Twin Sisters had just covered.

Sam Houston’s army of about nine hundred 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 cannon.

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 cannon opened fire with the Texans’ only ammunition–handfuls of 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 of over 1,200 men 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 almost 600 Texans at the Alamo on March 6 and the massacre 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 property—fortifications, barracks, ports, harbors, navy and navy yards, docks, magazines, and armaments–ceded to the United States in 1845 when Texas joined the union.  All Texas’ military stores were moved to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge.

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 the federal arsenal in 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 the 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 at the January 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston in which Confederate forces regained Galveston Island.  Ironically, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, son of Sidney Sherman 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 prepared 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 claims that several Confederate veterans, concerned the Twin Sisters would fall into the hands of the federal troops during Reconstruction, buried the cannons in an area hugging Buffalo Bayou.  For years history buffs and souvenir hunters have searched without success for the burial site.

In 1985 two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology supervised the making of replicas of the Twin Sisters.  They stand today on the San Jacinto Battlegrounds waiting for the mystery to be solved that will return the original Twin Sisters to the site where they made Texas and world history.

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

Replica of Twin Sisters at San Jacinto Battleground

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.