As Mexican soldiers fought the mostly Anglo-American colonists and volunteers at the Alamo in 1836, San Antonio's Tejano population was caught in the crossfire, both literally and symbolically. Though their origins were in Mexico, the Tejanos had put down lasting roots in Texas and did not automatically identify with the Mexican cause. Indeed, as the accounts in this new collection demonstrate, their strongest allegiance was to their fellow San Antonians, with whom they shared a common history and a common plight as war raged in their hometown.
Timothy M. Matovina here gathers all known Tejano accounts of the Battle of the Alamo. These accounts consist of first reports of the battle, including Juan N. Seguín's funeral oration at the interment ceremony of the Alamo defenders, conversations with local Tejanos, unpublished petitions and depositions, and published accounts from newspapers and other sources. This communal response to the legendary battle deepens our understanding of the formation of Mexican American consciousness and identity.
1. Andrés Barcena and Anselmo Bergara, Examination by Texas Military Officials, 11 March 1836
2. Andrés Barcena and Anselmo Bergara, Letter of E. N. Gray, 11 March 1836
3. Juan N. Seguín, Letter to General Albert Sidney Johnston, 13 March 1837
4. Juan N. Seguín, Columbia (later Houston) Telegraph and Texas Register, 4 April 1837
Conversations With Local Tejanos
5. Anonymous Local Tejanos, Diary of William Bollaert, 19-20 September 1843
6. José Antonio Navarro, Diary of Josiah Gregg, 23 September 1846
7. Antonio Cruz Arocha, Papers of Theodore Gentilz, no date
Unpublished Petitions and Depositions
8. Gabriel Martínez, Petition, 1 January 1850
9. Damasio de los Reyes, Deposition, 4 September 1856
10. Juana Navarro Alsbury, Petition, 1 November 1857
11. Francisco Esparza, Deposition, 26 August 1859
12. Candelario Villanueva, Deposition, 26 August 1859
13. Brigidio Guerrero, Petition, 4 January 1861
14. Francisco Antonio Ruiz, Deposition, 16 April 1861
15. Juan N. Seguín, Personal Memoirs of John N. Seguín, 1858
16. Francisco Antonio Ruiz, The Texas Almanac for 1860
17. Juana Navarro Alsbury, John S. Ford Memoirs, c. 1880s
18. Juan N. Seguín, Clarksville Standard, 4 March 1887
19. Juan N. Seguín, Letter to William Winston Fontaine, 7 June 1890
20. Andrea Castañón Villanueva, San Antonio Express, 6 March 1892
21. Eulalia Yorba, San Antonio Express, 12 April 1896
22. Andrea Castañón Villanueva, San Antonio Light, 19 February 1899
23. Enrique Esparza, San Antonio Light, 10 November 1901
24. Enrique Esparza, San Antonio Express, 22 November 1902
25. Pablo Díaz, San Antonio Express, 1 July 1906
26. Enrique Esparza, San Antonio Express, 12, 19 May 1907
27. María de Jesús Delgado Buquor, San Antonio Express, 19 July 1907
28. Juan Díaz, San Antonio Light, 1 September 1907
29. Juan Antonio Chávez, San Antonio Express, 15,22 December 1907
30. Pablo Díaz, San Antonio Light, 31 October 1909
31. Juan Vargas, San Antonio Light, 3 April 1910
32. Enrique Esparza, Pablo Díaz, and Juan Antonio Chávez, San Antonio Express, 26 March 1911
33. Juan Díaz, Enrique Esparza, and Juan Antonio Chávez, San Antonio Express, 27 August 1911
34. Trinidad Coy, As Recalled by His Son Andrés Coy, San Antonio Light, 26 November 1911
35. José María Rodríguez, Rodríguez Memoirs of Early Texas, 1913
36. Juan Antonio Chávez, San Antonio Express, 19 April 1914
San Antonians of Mexican heritage frequently recounted their memories of the Alamo; more than seventy-five sources record Tejano testimony. Tejanos gave their testimonies in various contexts. They provided Texan leaders with the first reports of the Alamo's fall and later related details of the interment ceremony for the Alamo defenders. Visitors and newcomers to San Antonio in the decades following the Texas Revolution also reported conversations with local Tejanos about the Alamo. Some later Tejano recollections served the pragmatic purpose of providing testimony for land claims, pension applications, and other petitions for government relief. Other Tejanos published their recollections, two of them just before the Civil War. Around the turn of the century, more than twenty additional Tejano accounts were published, many of them prompted by journalists who desired to preserve eyewitness testimony of the famous battle. These diverse Tejano Alamo documents are important sources for studying the famous battle and its aftermath although, like other accounts, they require critical assessment.
On 11 March 1836, Andrés Barcena and Anselmo Bergara arrived in Gonzales (about fifty miles east of San Antonio) and reported that Mexican troops led by General Antonio López de Santa Anna had stormed and taken the Alamo. Although not eyewitnesses, their statements were based on the testimony of Antonio Pérez, who was in San Antonio on 6 March, the day of the final assault. According to Barcena and Bergara, all of the Alamo defenders perished, including seven who surrendered but were executed by order of Santa Anna. The two Tejanos also stated that more than five hundred Mexican soldiers died in the assault and a similar number were wounded. They further claimed that James Bowie was killed while lying sick in bed and that William Barret Travis committed suicide.
A year later, Colonel Juan Nepomuceno Seguín provided an official report of the interment ceremony for the Alamo defenders, whose bodies had been burned at Santa Anna's orders and left in ash heaps near the Alamo. Seguín stated that there were three ash heaps; he had the remains from two of them placed in a coffin. Accompanied by other members of the military, civic authorities, clergy, musicians, and the general populace, he processed with the coffin to San Fernando Church at the center of town and then back to the site of the ash heaps. Soldiers fired three volleys of musketry over the spots of the funeral pyres and the coffin was interred on top of the ashes at the third and largest pyre. Colonel Seguín gave a speech to the crowd in Spanish; Major Thomas Western addressed them in English. In his oration, Seguín stated: "The venerable remains of our worthy companions as witnesses, I invite you to declare to the entire world, 'Texas shall be free and independent, or we shall perish in glorious combat.'"
Conversations with Local Tejanos
San Antonio residents frequently discussed the Alamo with newcomers to the town in the years following the battle. Mary A. Maverick, who moved to San Antonio in 1838, later wrote a brief account of the Alamo which included information from a conversation with Juana Navarro Alsbury. Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar obtained a list of five Tejano Alamo defenders from Agustin Barrera, a San Antonian who was within the walls of the fortress shortly after its fall. Theodore Gentilz interviewed several local residents before painting two pictures titled Death of Dickinson and Battle of the Alamo. Reuben M. Potter and John S. Ford did the same before publishing accounts of the battle.
Some visitors to San Antonio recounted conversations with local Tejanos in their journals. An elderly resident of Mexican descent related details of the battle to British traveler William Bollaert and his companions when they toured the Alamo in 1843, for example, and pointed out to them "where Crockett, Travis, Bowie, and others fell." A Tejana resident also described the horrific battle to Bollaert, as well as the feast day celebrations formerly held at the Alamo mission, the long-past beauty of the mission church, and the merry pealing of its bells which in previous days called local residents to worship. Bemoaning the demise of the mission and its festive celebrations, she stated, "I never look into the ruins of the church without shedding a tear." As if to impress upon him the original purpose of the Alamo, she then presented Bollaert a crucifix made from the stone of the mission. When Josiah Gregg met José Antonio Navarro in 1846, Navarro, who was away at the Convention for Texas Independence when the Alamo fell, "condemned the wonted temerity of the Texans" and asserted that Santa Anna had left the east side of the Alamo unprotected, hoping that the Texans would leave in peace and save the Mexican army a costly victory.
Unpublished Petitions and Depositions
Most Tejano reminiscences of the Alamo from the decades following Texas independence are petitions and depositions filed in land claim cases for heirs of the Alamo defenders. The majority of these documents are sworn testimony that a particular Tejano died in the Alamo fighting on the Texan side. Thus they are an early Tejano rebuttal to depictions of the Alamo defenders as a homogeneous Anglo-American group. In an 1856 deposition, for example, Damasio de los Reyes numbered the Tejano Alamo defenders at seven. Candelario Villanueva testified in 1859 that he entered the Alamo after its fall and saw the bodies of "Gregorio Esparza... Antonio Fuentes, Toribio Losoya, Guadalupe Rodriguez, and other Mexicans who had fallen in the defense of the Alamo." Extant land claim files indicate that Tejano citizens sought compensation for the service of seven Tejano Alamo defenders.
Some documents in these files recount personal experiences of individual Tejanos. In his 1859 deposition, Candelario Villanueva stated that his arrival at the Alamo was delayed because Colonel Juan Seguín sent him to lock Seguín's house in the town. While Villanueva performed this task, Mexican troops arrived, cutting off his entry to the Alamo and thus sparing him the fate of its defenders. Francisco Esparza recalled that he sought permission from Mexican general Martin Cos to bury the body of his brother Gregorio. General Cos granted his request, probably because Francisco had fought in the Mexican army during the Texan siege of San Antonio three months earlier and was on reserve with the Mexican forces during their Texas campaign. Because of Francisco's timely action, Gregorio Esparza was the only Alamo defender whose body was not incinerated after the battle. Several Tejano depositions recount that Santa Anna prevailed upon local citizens to burn the bodies of the Alamo defenders after the Mexican victory. Brigidio Guerrero testified that he fought with the Texan army inside the Alamo, but when "he saw that there was no hope left he had the good fortune of saving his life by concealing himself."
A few Tejano reminiscences of the Alamo are recorded in requests other than land claims. In 1850, Gabriel Martínez submitted a claim seeking compensation for a home near the Alamo, along with some corn and clothing, all of which Texas troops had burned during the siege "in order the better to defend said post." Juana Navarro Alsbury's 1857 petition for compensatory relief stated that she rendered "all the service she could towards nursing and attending upon the sick and wounded" inside the Alamo during the siege and that her private property was "seized and taken by the enemy" after the battle.
The first published Tejano account dealing with the Alamo battle was Juan Seguín's 1858 memoir. Seguín was among the Alamo defenders but left the fort to seek reinforcements. His account details his futile efforts to enlist the support of Colonel James Walker Fannin and his troops, as well as Seguín's return to San Antonio on 6 March with provisions for the Alamo defenders, only to find that the garrison had already fallen.
Two years later, Francisco Antonio Ruiz recorded the first published Tejano account of the battle itself in an entry of The Texas Almanac for 1860. Ruiz was the mayor of San Antonio when the Alamo fell, and Santa Anna ordered him to remove the dead after the battle. His account, titled "Fall of the Alamo, and Massacre of Travis and His Brave Associates," describes the battle, the gallantry of the Texan soldiers, the incineration of their bodies at Santa Anna's orders, and the disposal of corpses in the San Antonio River because the numbers of deceased Mexican soldiers made it impossible to bury them all.
Extant sources indicate that no further Tejano accounts were published for nearly thirty years. As the remaining eyewitnesses dwindled to a precious few, however, newspaper reporters and others began to record Tejano reminiscences of the Alamo with some regularity. These reminiscences provide more vivid detail than earlier reports, petitions, depositions, and conversations recorded in travelogues. They also reflect the diversity of vantage points from which Tejanos observed the siege of the Alamo, the battle, and its aftermath. Some Tejanos witnessed these events from within the Alamo, some left the garrison as couriers or scouts, some watched from the distance in the town, and others left San Antonio during the hostilities, returning after the battle was over.
Particularly vivid accounts of the battle itself are attributed to three observers from within the Alamo: Juana Navarro Alsbury, Enrique Esparza, and Andrea Castañón Villanueva, more popularly known as Madam Candelaria. They describe details such as the surging columns of Mexican troops and the heroic deeds of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. Esparza, who was a boy at the time, also relates that his father, Gregorio, fought valiantly as an Alamo defender and died near the cannon that he tended.
A prominent contribution of the Navarro Alsbury and Esparza accounts is that they recall those who survived the final assault. While the lists of survivors in these accounts are inconsistent, cumulatively they include Juana's son Alejo Pérez and her sister Gertrudis Navarro; Enrique's mother, Anna Salazar Esparza, his sister, and three brothers; Mrs. Concepción Losoya, her daughter, and two sons; Mrs. Victoriana and three little girls; Mrs. Susanna Dickinson and her baby; an old woman named Petra; Mrs. Juana Melton; Trinidad Saucedo; and others who are not identified by name. Esparza also attests that Brigidio Guerrero was spared because he convinced Mexican soldiers that the Texan forces were holding him prisoner.
In addition, Esparza recounts the traumatic experience of the survivors after the battle. He states that Mexican soldiers fired several volleys into the room where he and others were concealed, killing a young boy. Then the soldiers entered the room and demanded the Texans' money. When they realized that no booty was forthcoming, they took the women and children to the home of Ramón Músquiz, a prominent San Antonio political figure. Músquiz ensured that the prisoners were fed. Several hours later the soldiers led them before Santa Anna, who exacted an oath of allegiance from them before giving each woman a blanket and two silver dollars. After this interview, the Alamo survivors were free to go.
Accounts from defenders who left the Alamo as couriers or scouts include those of Juan Seguín and Trinidad Coy. As was previously mentioned, Seguín stated in his 1858 memoirs that he left the Alamo to seek reinforcements for the beleaguered fortress. In two later accounts, he described in greater detail the danger entailed in his departure from the Alamo. Trinidad Coy's amazing story was reported by his son Andrés in a 1911 interview. The younger Coy recollected that his father was one of several scouts sent from the Alamo to ascertain Santa Anna's position and intentions. After many days of searching, a farmer advised him that the Mexican troops were only a few miles away and were headed for San Antonio. Immediately Coy set out for the Alamo, but his horse refused to move. Upon inquiry, Coy discovered that a young boy had unwittingly grazed the horse in a corral filled with "loco weed." The boy offered a "wiry little pony" to replace Coy's sick horse, but this mount proved inadequate. Mexican soldiers soon spotted Coy and the pony fell over dead when Coy tried to outrun them. Taken as a prisoner to San Antonio, Coy witnessed the movements of the Mexican troops from afar. Finally he was able to escape and work his way to the Alamo, only to discover the funeral pyre which contained the burning remains of his fallen comrades.
Eulalia Yorba, Maria de Jesús Delgado Buquor, Juan Díaz, and Juan Vargas remained in the town during the siege and fall of the Alamo and thus observed the battle from a distance. Yorba attended the sick within the Alamo immediately after it fell; her account includes her poignant memories of the battle's aftermath. Delgado Buquor and Díaz were children at the time and apparently did not venture out of the town, but they did see the rising smoke from the funeral pyres. Mexican troops impressed Vargas to serve in their camp, which was close enough to the Alamo for him to hear the sounds of the battle.
A significant element of these accounts is that they reveal how the Mexican troops treated San Antonio residents. Yorba recalled that Mexican soldiers confiscated all the food in her home but promised her that she and her children would not be harmed if they remained in the house. She went to the rectory of the local priest seeking food and comfort and from there saw the final assault. Delgado Buquor stated that Mexican soldiers forced her family from their home and treated them harshly. She also related that Santa Anna seized a young girl from her neighborhood and held her captive while the Mexican troops were in San Antonio. Díaz, whose father was the custodian of San Fernando parish, recounted that many Mexican officers stayed at the church. Since his mother fed them, Santa Anna ordered his soldiers to guard their home. Perhaps because of this protection, Díaz recollected "but few cases of damage" resulting from the depredations of Santa Anna's soldiers. Vargas remembered that Santa Anna's troops confiscated local supplies and even threatened him with execution when he refused to participate in the storming of the Alamo. Instead, they compelled him to carry equipage, perform kitchen duties, assist the wounded, and bury their dead.
Other San Antonians abandoned the town during the hostilities but later recorded their memories of the events before and after the battle. Pablo Díaz recalled the fortifications which the Texan soldiers made at the Alamo in preparation for Santa Anna's arrival. He also described the funeral pyres of the Alamo defenders after the battle, along with the gruesome spectacle of Mexican corpses floating in the river. Juan Antonio Chávez, who was a boy at the time, fled with his family but returned in time to see the incinerated bodies of the Alamo defenders. Another childhood witness, José Maria Rodriguez, stated that his father advised Colonel Travis to retreat from San Antonio before Santa Anna's forces overwhelmed him, but Travis did not believe that Santa Anna could mount so large an army only three months after the Texas volunteers conquered San Antonio. Afterward Rodríguez's father left San Antonio to join General Sam Houston's army, and his mother took the family to a nearby ranch. From the rooftop of a house, the young Rodriguez saw the flash of guns and heard the boom of cannons during the Alamo battle. Yet another Tejano who left San Antonio before the Mexican army occupied the town was Antonio Menchaca. Menchaca's memoirs relate details such as the arrival of Davy Crockett and his Tennessee volunteers at San Antonio, the first courier's report of Santa Anna's advancing army, Menchaca's flight from the town with his family, and his conscription into the Texan army by General Edward Burleson at Gonzales.
Like other Alamo accounts, Tejano accounts require critical assessment. Historians must bear in mind that petitions for land claims, pensions, and other government compensation are legal documents that reflect their authors' purposes of procuring their claims. Statements like those of Andrés Barcena, Anselmo Bergara, and José Antonio Navarro were based on second-hand information and could reflect inaccurate renderings of eyewitness testimony. Furthermore, third parties recorded their statements, removing extant documents one step further from the original sources. Some Tejano testimony may also suffer from mistakes in translation. Anglo Americans interviewed many witnesses in Spanish, at times with the help of an interpreter. Significant observations and details could easily have been lost or misunderstood in the process.
Published Tejano accounts merit the most critical attention, since the majority of them were based on interviews conducted at least fifty years after the recorded events and many of the witnesses were children at the time of the battle. The published accounts also tend to provide far more detail than other Tejano testimony. Such detailed accounts are more prone to inaccuracies than the general observations contained in earlier statements. The position from which eyewitnesses viewed the siege and battle is yet another consideration in assessing the veracity of their accounts, since the precision of their descriptions is contingent on how clearly they saw these events.
Interviewer bias also undoubtedly influenced how reporters recorded Tejano testimony. In a 1902 article, for example, a San Antonio Express reporter asserted that Enrique Esparza "tells a straight story. Although he is a Mexican, his gentleness and unassuming frankness are like the typical old Texan." The presumption that Mexicans tend not to tell "straight stories" reveals the racial bias of this reporter, a bias that easily could have influenced an interview of Esparza or other Tejanos.
While a comprehensive analysis of the historical accuracy in Tejano Alamo accounts is beyond the scope of this work, the possibilities of errant observation, alterations in original testimony by second or third parties, faulty translation, memory lapse, and interviewer bias indicate the need for critical assessment in studies that utilize Tejano (and other) sources. Despite this need, extant Tejano accounts remain a significant and often untapped resource for historical studies of the Alamo.
By Timothy M. Matovina
Timothy M. Matovina is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His previous publications include Tejano Religion and Ethnicity: San Antonio, 1821-1860 (UT Press).
"The first full-scale collection offers a rich insight into the formation of Mexican American identity in San Antonio. . . . [The book] speaks eloquently to a general audience trying to gain a more balanced perspective of the storied conflict [at the Alamo]." —Review of Texas Books
"Matovina's message is that historians who concentrate on the question of which side [Tejanos] joined or did not join miss the larger point: for the Tejanos themselves, the choice of sides during the revolt was not the overriding issue of their lives, nor was it the touchstone of their identity. What the Tejano accounts of the Alamo show, Matovina argues, is that the divisions engendered by the revolution failed to destroy what remained 'an amazingly cohesive community' in which families, friends, and neighbors split apart by the war reunited in harmony in its aftermath." —Southwestern Historical Quarterly
"Matovina's collection of Tejano memories of the Alamo not only proves essential in shedding light on the battle and its aftermath but, more importantly, contributes to an understanding of an understudied culture and that culture's effect on the most romanticized story of Texas history." —Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas
"A valuable addition to the already abundant [Alamo] literature. . . . Ordinarily, the battle of the Alamo is considered in a traditional adversarial manner—Santa Anna and his troops against the band of defenders. But there were many other people in the area, primarily Tejano citizens of San Antonio. These accounts both directly and indirectly deal with what was inevitably an ambivalent and uncertain dilemma of these people who were caught in circumstances beyond their control. It is an aspect of the battle of the Alamo too long ignored." —Journal of the West
"A fascinating and much needed anthology of Tejano accounts of America's most storied battle.... There are no books like it in the field, despite considerable publishing on the Alamo and the Texas revolt." —Paul Hutton, Executive Director, Western History Association