VILLANUEVA, MARÍA ANDREA CASTANON

Robert H. Thonhoff, Rueben M. Perez, and Maria O. Gomez
María Andrea Castañon Villanueva (1803–1899).
María Andrea Castañon Villanueva, known as Madam Candelaria, was a well-known resident of San Antonio and claimed to have been in the Alamo during the battle. W.H. Jones tintype of Señora Candelaria, dated 1899. Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

VILLANUEVA, MARÍA ANDREA CASTAÑON (1803–1899). María Andrea Castañon Villanueva, renowned for her claims to have been in the Alamo during its siege and battle and for being a nurse to James Bowie, was born on December 1, 1803, at the Presidio del Río Grande in the province of Coahuila in the viceroyalty of New Spain. She was the daughter of José Antonio Castañon and María Francisca Martínez. Some sources have claimed that she was born in 1785 and lived to be 113 years of age, but baptismal records support 1803 to be the year of her birth. When she was about three years old, the family moved to Laredo and then later to Nacogdoches in Texas. In an interview with the San Antonio Daily Express on March 6, 1892, Andrea Castañón reported that she moved to San Antonio in 1820 as a young girl. Señora Candelaria then worked in the “La Brigaviella” household of Gertrudis Pérez Cordero, wife of a former Spanish governor Texas and Coahuila.  

In one of her interviews, Señora Candelaria reported, “I have been twice married; my first husband was Silberio Flores y Abrigo; my second was Candelario Villanueva, but I am called familiarly Señora Candelaria.” In spite of her request to be called “Señora Candelaria,” she was often referred to by English-speaking citizens as “Madam Candelaria.” She became well-known in San Antonio. Marriage records show that María Andrea Castañon married Silberio Flores Abrego on May 5, 1827. By her first marriage to Silberio Flores y Abrego, they had one child, Francisca Flores, who married Wencesalo Pacheco. Following the death of Silbero Flores, Señora Candelaria married Candelario Villanueva at San Fernando Cathedral. From this marriage, according to the 1850 census, they had had three children—Amado Villanueva, Candelario Villanueva, and Santiago Villanueva.   

In a sworn statement on August 26, 1837, by Candelario Villanueva to Bexar County Clerk Sam S. Smith, he stated that he was a member of Capt. Juan N. Seguin’s company in 1835 and 1836 and participated in the siege of Bexar in December 1835. He further stated that he was caught between the Alamo and Santa Anna’s soldiers and unable to get to the Alamo in time. After San Jacinto, he rejoined Seguin’s troops and became a soldier under Capt. José Antonio Menchaca’s company.  

Some historians have cast doubt on Candelaria’s claim that she was in the Alamo during its siege and battle and have pointed out inconsistencies in some of the details of her recollections. Despite contradictory statements, however, there is also evidence that Candelaria was inside the Alamo and that she offered medical assistance to James Bowie. Several prominent nineteenth-century citizens such as Mary Maverick and John Salmon (Rip) Ford supported Señora Candelaria as being an Alamo survivor who nursed James Bowie when she applied for a pension. 

Author Crystal Sasse Ragsdale stated in her book Women & Children of the Alamo (1984) that there is no clear evidence to dispute that Villanueva was in the Alamo and prove her story wrong. In Juana Alsbury’s eyewitness interview as well as Enrique Esparza’s account in the May 12, 1907, edition of the San Antonio Daily Express, both declined to refute the claim that Señora Candelaria was there. William Corner interviewed Señora Candelaria on March 17, 1888, and when he asked her if she was “inside the fortifications of the Alamo during the fight,” she unhesitatingly answered with an affirmative “Yes!” When asked if she was in the Alamo church building during the last stand, she replied without reflection that in those moments, “she was nursing Colonel James Bowie who was in bed very ill of typhoid fever.”  

Some scholars have pointed our Candelaria’s inconsistency in her various accounts regarding Bowie’s illness and death. In one account she said that she raised his head to give him water when the Mexican soldiers came in, bayoneted him, and gave her a wound in the face. In an account published in the San Antonio Daily Express on March 6, 1892, she recalled that Bowie had died in her arms minutes before Santa Anna’s soldiers entered and bayoneted him. Also, the nature of Bowie’s illness has been described as pneumonia, typhoid fever, and consumption. 

One of Señora Candelaria’s biggest supporters was John S. Ford. In his memoirs, Ford relayed information regarding the Alamo battle “derived first hand from informants,” and he wrote, “Eight or ten Mexican ladies were in the Alamo when it fell. Mrs. Alsbury, an adopted daughter of Governor Veramendi and her little sister, Señoras Candelaria, Losoya and others were present at the end of the siege.” When Ford was Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue, he wrote a letter to Texas Governor Sul Ross on March 25, 1889, requesting assistance for Señora Candelaria. Attached to the letter were more than twenty-five names of well-known San Antonians, including John Tobin, Sam Maverick, and Mary Maverick, who supported the request for a pension. On February 12, 1891, the Alamo Monument Association of San Antonio, in an official document, wrote, “We are satisfied and have so placed on our Records the identity of Madam Candelaria as having been present within the walls of the Alamo during the Siege, and at the final scene, is accepted as true by us . . ..”

On April 13, 1891, the legislature of the state of Texas approved by a vote in the House 72 yeas and 5 nays, and in the Senate the vote was 21 yeas to 9 nays, approving a yearly pension in the amount of $150.00. The legislature acknowledged that Candelaria nursed the sick during the siege of the Alamo and provided assistance to many Americans troops during Texas independence.

Señora Candelaria throughout her remaining lifetime recounted her narrative of what happened during the siege of the Alamo and was interviewed numerous times by historians, newspaper reporters, tourists, and many who took photographs of her. Author Vinton Lee James in Frontier and Pioneer: Recollections of Early Days in San Antonio and West Texas (1938) pronounced Señora Candelaria “the most outstanding female character of San Antonio history.”

María Andrea Castañón Villanueva, on December 30, 1830, filed at the Bexar County Courthouse for a cattle brand that had the two capital letters—AC—the initials of her name. She also ran an inn and a party house on Market Street frequented by well-known individuals and was recognized as one of the best cooks of Mexican dishes; she served some Alamo defenders such as James Bowie and David Crockett. Being charitable, she distributed money among the poor and nursed the sick during smallpox epidemics by going to the patients and remaining with them day and night. As the Forty-niners passed through San Antonio to the California gold mines, Candelaria gave those who were stranded money to continue their ventures. She also sent money to Cuba, where her father was forced to live after leaving Spain.Throughout her lifetime, Señora Candelaria raised and cared for twenty-two orphan children. Often summoned by the Bexar County Commissioners Court to care for children, the court paid her a small amount of money for her services. On one occasion, she declined payment and requested adoption papers for a child. 

Doña Candelaria, as she was also called, was described in 1910 by Charles Merritt Barnes, in his book Combats and Conquests of Immortal Heroes, as “the presiding genius” of the fandangos in San Antonio. He wrote that the fandangos were held in an old adobe building (the Spanish Governor’s Palace) where they had music, dancing, and food. French artist Théodore Gentilz and his brother-in-law August Frételliére attended one of Señora Candelaria’s fandangos, and Gentilz was so impressed that he painted a picture simply entitled Fandango, which has been lauded as one of his best works and still hangs in the galleries of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

Photographs and artists’ renditions of Señora Candelaria continued into her advanced age. Perhaps the most famous depiction of María Andrea Castañón Villanueva was painted by renowned artist Verner Moore White, who portrayed her image in front of the Alamo in his 1901 painting of the Alamo, which was presented to President William McKinley after his visit to San Antonio and hung in the White House until his death. Even though she was blind and feeble, she continued to tell the stories of the Alamo through a translator as photographers continued to try to capture the mysteries and stories of the Alamo.

María Andrea Castañón Villanueva died in San Antonio on February 10, 1899. Her remains were held in the home of her daughter, Mrs. Francisco Flores Pacheo, at 419 South Concho Street (where she died) for viewing and were taken to San Fernando Cathedral for a high Mass and were later interred at San Fernando Cemetery No. 1. Popularly known as Señora Candelaria and Madam Candelaria, she has continued to be a heroine of Texas history and a heroine of San Antonio during a very turbulent and difficult time of San Antonio history. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Alamo Monument Association, Document, Chartered by the State of Texas, San Antonio, February 12, 1891. William Corner, comp. and ed., San Antonio de Bexar: A Guide and History (San Antonio: Bainbridge, Christmas, 1890). John S. Ford to Governor L. S. Ross, March 25, 1889, Letter, Texas State Library and Archives, Austin. Todd Hansen, ed., The Alamo Reader: A Study in History (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2003). Vinton Lee James, Frontier and Pioneer: Recollections of Early Days in San Antonio and West Texas (San Antonio: Artes Graficas, 1938). Timothy M. Matovina, The Alamo Remembered: Tejano Accounts and Perspectives (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995). Crystal Sasse Ragsdale, Women & Children of the Alamo (Abilene: State House Press, 1984). San Antonio Daily Express, July 26, 1888; March 6, 1892; April 8 1893; February 11, 1899. San Antonio Express-News, July 9, 2011. San Fernando Marriage Records, San Antonio Public Library, San Antonio. Special Laws of the State of Texas passed at the Regular Session of the Twenty-Second Legislature (Austin: Henry Hutchings, State Printer, 1891). Robert H. Thonhoff, The Texas Connection with the American Revolution (Austin: Eakin, 2000). 

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Handbook of Texas Online, Robert H. Thonhoff, Rueben M. Perez, and Maria O. Gomez, "VILLANUEVA, MARÍA ANDREA CASTANON," accessed March 22, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fvi20.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 11, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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