TEJANOS AND THE SIEGE AND BATTLE OF THE ALAMO

Jesús F. de la Teja
Dawn of the Alamo
Painting, Dawn at the Alamo, by Henry Arthur McArdle, hanging in the Senate Chamber of the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

TEJANOS AND THE SIEGE AND BATTLE OF THE ALAMO. The siege and battle of the Alamo involved a considerable number of Mexican Texans, or Tejanos, as defenders, couriers, and noncombatants. In fact, the vast majority of survivors of the final assault in the early morning hours of March 6, 1836, were Tejanos. Some Tejanos also participated in the events of the siege and final assault as loyalists—either as government officials or members of the Mexican military. In addition, a number of Tejanos appear in the records as civilian observers of the battle.

As is the case with regard to the Texians at the Alamo, it is impossible to give an exact number of Tejano defenders. In the absence of extant battle muster rolls and casualty lists, historians have had to rely on a wide variety of sources to arrive at some idea of a total number of defenders. The problem is a particularly difficult one in the case of Tejanos, whose presence was even dismissed in some sources, as for instance William Barret Travis’s letter of March 3 to the president of the Convention of 1836, in which Travis stated that the citizens of San Antonio were all enemies, except for the ones who entered the Alamo with the Texians, and that there were only three “Mexicans” in the fort with him. 

Portrait of Juan Seguín
Portrait of Juan Seguín. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Employing the available reliable information, Alamo scholars have compiled a much longer list of Tejano participants in events beginning with the arrival of the Mexican army on February 23, 1836, through the final assault on March 6, 1836. Juan N. Seguín, the senior Tejano military officer, entered the Alamo with the other defenders on February 23. With him was a portion of his company, approximately fifteen men, most of whom left sometime after Seguín himself was sent out as a courier on February 25. Also entering the Alamo on the first day were Carlos Espalier, Gregorio (José María) Esparza, and Brígido Guerrero, the latter a Mexican army deserter who, like Espalier, appears to have been among James Bowie’s men rather than part of Seguín’s command. Along with Espalier and Esparza, the other Tejano defenders recognized as having died in the final assault include Juan Abamillo, Juan Antonio Badillo, Antonio Fuentes, José Toribio Losoya, Andrés Nava, and Damacio Jiménez (Ximenes), whose death in the final assault was only discovered in 1986. Additionally, San Antonio resident Pablo Díaz, who would have been twenty years old at the time of the battle, claimed in a 1906 newspaper interview that he saw the body of one other Tejano defender, a man he identified simply as Cervantes. Though Seguín’s 1858 list of his company in the fall 1835 siege of Béxar campaign did include the name Agapito Cervantes, the Díaz claim has not been substantiated. At least one scholar also includes Guadalupe Rodríguez among the Alamo fallen on the basis of his apparent entry into the fort with Seguín’s group, but Rodríguez’s name did not appear on any muster rolls or other documentation following the battle. 

Enrique Esparza
Photograph, Enrique Esparza. Image courtesy of Texas A&M University. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

The Tejano survivors of the final assault were, with only one known exception, noncombatant women and children. Ana Salazar de Esparza, wife of Gregorio, had with her their three sons, including Enrique, who grew up to provide substantial interviews on the battle in his old age, and their stepdaughter María de Jesús Castro Salazar. Although her relationship to the Esparzas is not entirely clear, Petra Gonzales was also part of the Esparza party. Concepción Losoya, defender José Toribio Losoya’s mother, was accompanied into the Alamo by her daughter Juana Losoya Melton, who had married defender Eliel Melton, and son Juan. Also present were sisters Juana Navarro Alsbury and Gertrudis Navarro, daughters of the Department of Béxar’s political chief, José Angel Navarro. Juana’s eleven-month-old son Alejo (Alijo) Pérez, the youngest person in the fort at the time of the battle, was also probably the last survivor of the battle. According to Enrique Esparza, Victoriana Salinas and her three daughters were also present. So, too, was Brígido Guerrero, the Mexican army deserter who had joined Bowie’s party. According to him, he survived the battle by hiding and waiting to be discovered, at which time he claimed to have been a prisoner of the Texians. According to Juan Almonte, one of Antonio López de Santa Anna’s officers, there indeed was a Mexican soldier prisoner who survived the final assault. Enrique Esparza mentioned Guerrero by name as having hidden behind Ana Esparza (Enrique’s mother) before making his case and being spared. Perhaps the most controversial survivor was Andrea Castañon Villanueva, commonly referred to as Madame Candalaria. Historians are divided over whether she was present at the final assault, as she later claimed, or left at the time that other Tejanos left the Alamo during a possible three-day cease-fire in the days following Seguín’s departure. In early interviews, Enrique Esparza claimed that she was not there but subsequently stated that, although he did not see her, he could not disprove her claim.

Juan Seguín was not the only Tejano courier from the Alamo. Matías Curvier left with Seguín. They were met outside the walls by Antonio Cruz y Arocha, who was not among the defenders but assisted the Tejano couriers through the Mexican lines. Another Arocha, José María, departed later, during a supposed three-day amnesty. According to Seguín, Alexandro de la Garza was also sent from the Alamo, although the date is unknown. Two other Alamo Tejanos were involved in outside assignments that prevented their participation in the defense. Trinidad Coy was captured on February 23 by the Mexican advance and only escaped at the end of the battle. Luciano (José Sebastián) Pacheco had been sent by Seguín to retrieve a trunk of personal belongings at the time the Mexican advance was arriving and was unable to make his way into the fort. Likewise, Candelario Villanueva testified in 1859 that he was one of Seguín’s men and was about to enter the Alamo with the company when Seguín sent him to lock up his house. He was unable to reach the fort and remained in town through the final assault.

The balance of Seguín’s men who entered the fort with him on February 23 constitute a controversial part of the Alamo story. According to Enrique Esparza, Santa Anna declared a three-day armistice after the first week of the siege. This assertion contradicts Santa Anna’s own communications with Gen. José de Urrea, in which he made clear that Americans in arms against Mexico should be treated as pirates, as should Mexicans who joined with them. Thus, in the absence of Mexican military records indicating any grace period and Santa Anna’s expressed opinion, the armistice’s occurrence has divided scholars.

A lull in the fighting fits in with the known movement of people out of the fort, however. According to at least one student of the battle, during such a period, Seguín’s men Simón Arreola, Cesario Carmona, Lucio Enriques, Manuel Flores, Salvador Flores, Ignacio Gurrea [sic], Pedro Herrera, Eduardo Ramírez, Ambrosio Rodríguez, Vicente Zepeda, and a man known only by the last name of Silvero all left. Antonio Menchaca may also have taken advantage of the cease-fire, but he declared in his memoirs forty years later that at the start of the siege Bowie and Seguín encouraged him to take his family and leave, as he was a marked man. Many of these men subsequently joined Seguín’s reconstituted company at Gonzales, and some participated under his command at the battle of San Jacinto.

Tejanos participated in the siege and final assault on the Mexican side as well. Multiple sources mention a Lt. Manuel Menchaca as having been sent with a detachment to retrieve corn and livestock from area ranches. Gen. Vicente Filisola identified Menchaca as an officer in the presidio guard. Lieutenant Menchaca may well have been one of two locals who, according to Almonte, entered the Mexican camp on February 22, the day before the army’s arrival in San Antonio. In addition, there are references to Tejano spies in the Mexican service, although no names are mentioned and the exact number cannot be determined. Also, according to Ambrosio Rodríguez, a relative of his, Capt. Mariano Rodríguez, was the paymaster in Santa Anna’s army. Francisco Esparza, Gregorio’s brother, testified in 1859 that he had been part of San Antonio’s presidio company in the fall of 1835 but had been allowed to remain in San Antonio after Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos’s surrender. When Santa Anna arrived, Francisco had been ordered along with other members of the presidio company to hold himself in reserve. Thus, although technically in the Mexican service, Francisco, who got permission to bury his brother’s body, did not participate in battle. In sum, unless conscripted at San Antonio into one of the units that participated in the final assault, no Tejano actively participated on the Mexican side in the attack of March 6.

Tejanos, of course, made up San Antonio’s leadership and were present during the siege and fall. Francisco Antonio Ruiz, San Antonio’s alcalde in 1836, declared that he, Ramón Músquiz, parish priest Refugio de la Garza, and other members of the town council were ordered by Santa Anna to dispose of the Mexican dead and help burn the bodies of the fallen defenders.  Among the list of those present, he referred to the political chief, and because he mentioned Músquiz immediately after, some writers have assumed that Músquiz (who had served in the office previously) was the political chief. Others have referred to José Angel Navarro, who served in 1835 and was José Antonio’s older brother and father to Juana Navarro Alsbury and Gertrudis Navarro, as the political chief. However, Nicolás Flores, had assumed the office in January 1836 and had replaced Navarro, whose one-year interim appointment had expired.

Historians will never know how many other Tejanos remained in San Antonio during the siege and battle nor will scholars be able to ascertain with certitude how many of those who later gave accounts of the Alamo’s fall actually witnessed the events. Most accounts date from the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century and were provided by individuals of a very advanced age. The accounts contain numerous inaccuracies and discrepancies and should be used with reserve. For instance, if José María Rodríguez and his family were staying at a ranch close enough for him to have seen the flashes and heard the reports of guns, he certainly could not have observed General Urrea marching by on his way to attack James Walker Fannin’s command at Goliad. Juan Díaz, who claimed to have seen the entire action as a young boy, declared in 1907 that Santa Anna’s artillery had a clean shot from the San Fernando church to the Alamo because there were no buildings in between. María de Jesús Delgado Buquor remembered in 1907 that it was she, at age ten or eleven, who gave Travis the first actual warning of the Mexicans’ arrival. Nevertheless, the town’s population did suffer want and privation during the Mexican army’s stay, and their material losses in buildings and gardens destroyed and damaged left many Tejanos who stayed as much victims of the war as those Texians who fled the fighting during the Runaway Scrape.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jesús F. de la Teja, ed., A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguín (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2002). Bill Groneman, Alamo Defenders A Genealogy: The People and Their Words (Austin: Eakin Press, 1990). Todd Hansen, ed., The Alamo Reader: A Study in History (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2003). Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, 1835–1836 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). Jack Jackson, ed., and John Wheat, trans., Almonte's Texas: Juan N. Almonte's 1834 Inspection, Secret Report, and Role in the 1836 Campaign (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2005). Paul D. Lack, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835–1836 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1992). Thomas Ricks Lindley, Alamo Traces: New Evidence and New Conclusions (Lanham, Maryland: Republic of Texas Press, 2003). Timothy M. Matovina, The Alamo Remembered: Tejano Accounts and Perspectives (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995). Timothy Matovina and Jesús F. de la Teja, eds., Recollections of a Tejano Life: Antonio Menchaca in Texas History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jesús F. de la Teja, "TEJANOS AND THE SIEGE AND BATTLE OF THE ALAMO," accessed December 15, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qst01.

Uploaded on February 20, 2016. Modified on July 11, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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