The Women of the Alamo: Steadfast Mothers and Sages

On August 25, I'll be heading to San Antonio to attend and run workshops at two Hearts of Valor retreats! I'm already getting excited about the work I'll do there with retreat attendees. And in honor of that work being done in the great state of Texas, I want to dedicate a few posts to the amazing accomplishments of women who were born in the Lone Star State!

I'm eager to spend some time exploring the Alamo while visiting San Antonio, so today let's meet some of the incredible women who survived the famous siege.

“Life in Texas was an adventure for men and dogs, but hell on women and horses.”
~ Old saying

The Texas Revolution

In 1835, Texas was still a part of Mexico ... but it was also home to an increasingly large number of American settlers. The Mexican government had been clashing with these English-speakers for decades, and in October of 1835 the Texas Revolution erupted. A violent rebellion and battle for freedom, the rebellion raged for six full months, claiming many lives.

The most famous event from this rowdy episode in Texas history is, of course, the battle of the Alamo. A couple of months before this massacre, the Texan army had actually succeeded in driving Mexican troops out of the state! Around 200 troops were garrisoned at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio de Béxar, which would become modern-day San Antonio, waiting to see if the fight was truly over.

It wasn't.

On the morning of February 23, 1836, nearly1,500 Mexican troops commanded by President General Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio de Béxar and launched a brutal siege that would last 13 days. Santa Anna would kill nearly everyone in the garrison before the battle was through.

Women among men

“You will remember this battle! Each minute! Each second! Until the day that you die! But that is for tomorrow, gentlemen. For today, remember the Alamo!”
~ Sam Houston

As you might imagine, most of the people who fought and died at the Alamo were men; soldiers, medics, commanders, and other military personnel. Among them were Colonels William B. Travis and James Bowie, and legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett. Some casualties were women, too.

Nearly all of the handful of survivors were also women.

The most well-known of these is Susanna Dickinson, wife of Alamo defender Almaron Dickinson, who spent almost all of the battle hiding in a small dark room with her infant daughter, Angelina. Legend says she ended up there because she was talking with her husband when he saw Santa Anna arrive, and he scooped up her and the baby and ran them to the mission just before the Mexican army opened fire. After the final assault on the Alamo when nearly everyone—including Susanna's husband—was dead, General Santa Anna interviewed each of the survivors himself. He was so taken with Mrs. Dickinson that he offered to adopt little Angelina and take her back to Mexico City where she'd receive a top-notch education. Stressed and stricken, Susanna refused the offer, unable to bear the thought of parting with her baby. A few days later, Santa Anna released them both, enlisting Susanna to be a messenger to General Sam Houston. Angelina would come to be known as “the babe of the Alamo.”

Nearly as legendary as Susanna is survivor Andrea Castañon Villanueva, also known as Madam Candelaria. She was an innkeeper's wife who ended up living to an impressive 113 years old, and spent much of her post-Alamo life spinning yarns for reporters and tourists about how she nursed Texian defenders, including commander Bowie. Many historians disagree about Madam Candelaria's true role in the Alamo, but most believe she was present for the majority of the battle. However unlike the troops and Susanna Dickinson, she came and went at will, rather than being confined to the compound. Her mystery continues to this day!

The third brave woman who tops most survivor lists is Juana Navarro Alsbury, a cousin by marriage to James Bowie. In fact, Bowie himself brought her to the Alamo Mission so he could keep an eye on her during the battle. Unfortunately Bowie became gravely ill on the second day of the siege. Although Madam Candelaria's claims to have been at his bedside are sketchy, it's almost certain that Alsbury nursed him throughout the remainder of the siege.

Echoes of the battle

“No. You'll settle for blood. I want Texas.”
~ Sam Houston

Several other women survived the 13-day battle, including Juana Navarro Alsbury's sister, Gertrudis Navarro, and Juana Francisca Losoya Melton who was married to Alamo quartermaster Eliel Melton. Ana Salazar Esparza was also among the handful of people who escaped with their lives. She was the mother of Enrique Esparza, who would earn the nickname “the Boy in the Alamo” and tell wild tales of the terrifying combat he witnessed as a child. All told, around seven women walked away from the mission with their lives.

As you can tell from their stories, many of these women were both Mothers to their own children and served as loving caretakers to the American soldiers who fought bravely at the Alamo. They also offered solace and serenity to the injured and dying, stepping into the role of Sage whenever they could. They never took up arms, but their presence during that pivotal battle offered hope during the firefights, and insight once the dust had cleared. May we never forget their presence, their support, and the comfort they brought during this dark hour in Texan history!