Mary, A Texas Maverick

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

Samuel A. Maverick

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

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

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

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

Maverick home on the northeast corner of the Main Plaza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Maverick and five of her children.

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

Maverick home on Alamo Plaza.

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

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

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

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

Picture File
Maverick Family
Mary Adams Maverick
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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.

Messenger of the Alamo

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

Susanna Dickinson
Courtesy Austin Chronicle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did She Survive the Alamo?

Madam Candelaria Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

Madam Candelaria
Raba Collection, San Antonio Conservation Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ladies Fought the Second Battle of the Alamo

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

Adina De Zavala

Adina De Zavala

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

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

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

1920s photo. Long barracks in foreground.

Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll

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

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

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

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

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

Historical footprint of the Alamo complex.

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

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

Canary Islanders, Texas’ First Settlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s Wikipedia

San Fernando Church on the Plaza in the 1800s
Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

San Fernando Cathedral Wikipedia

San Fernando Cathedral
Wikipedia

Alamo Survivor?

Andrea Castanon Villanueva (Madam Candelaria)

Andrea Castanon Villanueva (Madam Candelaria)

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

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

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

Over the years after the fall of the Alamo, Madam Candelaria shared her account with all who came to hear, saying that although they all knew that they were doomed, they continued to hold the bare hope that General Sam Houston would send reinforcement. She described sand bags piled against the great front door and the constant thunder of the cannons during the thirteen-day siege. She said the morning of March 6 they heard the degüello (the bugle call signifying no quarter) and they knew what was in store for them. William Travis was the first to die where he stood along the southeast wall near the present location of the Menger Hotel.

Crockett had come frequently to the bed of the ailing Bowie to keep him informed, and finally he loaded Bowie’s rifle and laid a pair of pistols by his side. Madam Candelaria heard Crockett say, “Boys, aim well,” just before the earth shook with the fierce yelling and the storm of bullets raining down. Crockett fell while trying to reload. Bowie emptied his pistols into the group of Mexicans who stormed into his room, and despite Madam Candelaria’s pleas for his life, she said Bowie “was butchered” before her eyes.

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

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