Notable People in the Alamo Battle
José Antonio Navarro (1795-1871)
During the Texas Revolutionary period many Tejanos distinguished themselves in battle. There were others who proved just as courageous and influential off the battlefield. José Antonio Navarro was at the helm of Texas public affairs throughout his lifetime. Reared in an age of revolutionary upheaval, Navarro committed himself from his earliest days to the future of Texas and to the welfare of the Tejano people.
Navarro was born on February 27, 1795, in the small frontier community of San Antonio de Béxar, part of Spain's colonial holdings in the New World. José Antonio's father, Angel Navarro, had immigrated to Texas from the Mediterranean island of Corsica. With his European heritage, keen entrepreneurial skills, and a marriage to the daughter of one of the oldest families in San Antonio, Angel rose to the top of San Antonio society. He served as alcalde (mayor) of San Antonio. He raised his family in the "European" section of town, and sent his sons to Mexico for schooling.
Early in José Antonio's education, his privileged status came to an end. His father's unexpected death forced the 13-year-old boy to return home to help support the family. Between 1811 and 1813, Navarro watched as anti-colonial revolutionaries took control of his town, only to be violently defeated by the Spanish army. His older brother, José Angel, fought with the Spanish, but was discharged when it was discovered that the rest of his family was helping the rebels. After the Battle of Alaz´n Creek, Spanish authorities confiscated the Navarro property and sought to punish all rebels. José Antonio, his uncle Francisco Ruiz, and the rest of his family fled to Louisiana, a territory the U.S. had recently purchased from France. There they would find protection.
After the Spanish Crown granted the rebels amnesty several years later, José Antonio returned to San Antonio. He found his home ruined and many of the family's holdings confiscated. Now a young man, José Antonio resorted to what many others did in order to survive. He took wild mustangs, one of the region's natural resources, and smuggled them across the border to Louisiana, where he could trade them for goods and supplies. Spain's mercantilist policy toward Mexico, however, strictly forbade private trade with the United States. While historians believe that illicit trading was widespread on the Texas frontier, it is impossible to know how extensive it was. José Antonio's capture by Deputy Juan Manuel Zambrano in 1819 sheds some light on the practice. Sent to jail for "going into the interior without a license," José Antonio maintained that he was trying to provide for his wife and two children in the only way possible.
The Friendship of a Lifetime
By the time Navarro returned to San Antonio two years later, Mexico had won her independence from Spain, and the American Stephen F. Austin had arrived in Texas. Mexico, now a young nation, worried about maintaining its frontier settlements and encouraged Austin to bring American settlers to colonize parts of the vast Texas landscape. José Antonio saw the colonists as Texas's future — and quickly made friends with Austin. The two men shared an entrepreneurial sensibility in wanting to see Texas grow and prosper.
The shifting government in Mexico City foiled Austin and Navarro's plan. Nervous about reports that American settlers were flouting Mexican laws and entering illegally, already outnumbering the Tejano population by 10 to 1, the Mexican government banned the importation of slaves to Texas. At Austin's urging, Navarro, a member of the state legislature of Coahuila y Tejas, slipped in a loophole that arranged for slaves to be termed "indentured servants" with lifelong contracts. The two men thereby ensured the transfer of the institution of slavery from the American South into Mexican Texas.
Delegate for Independence
After the first Battle of the Alamo in 1835, in which Anglos and Tejanos defeated Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cos's forces inside the Alamo compound, the push for Texas independence was imminent. On February 1, Tejano delegates held an election inside the Alamo to decide who among them would represent San Antonio de Béxar at the Independence Convention. They chose Navarro and his uncle, Francisco Ruiz, both men of considerable standing in the community. Just days later, the two men set out to Washington-on-the-Brazos in East Texas, where they would lend their names to the Texas Declaration of Independence. For them, the news of Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna's capture and the defeat of the Mexican army at San Jacinto held special weight. As the only two Tejanos at the convention, they had risked accusations of treason and punishment by death, had the Texas cause been lost.
In the first few years of the Texas Republic, Navarro helped to write the new nation's first Constitution, overseeing the treatment of the Tejano community in an increasingly hostile, anti-Mexican atmosphere. Seen as a loyal Tejano, Navarro was generally trusted by the Anglos of the community, and he was elected to serve as a senator to the First Congress. His family, however, did not enjoy the same kind of treatment. In 1838, his younger brother, Eugenio, died at the hands of an Anglo colonist who accused the Tejano of being a Mexican sympathizer.
A Hero's Welcome
In 1841, Navarro somewhat reluctantly served as commissioner for the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition. After being captured and imprisoned in Mexico City, he returned to San Antonio in 1845, lauded as a Texas hero and generally treated as the exception to the "abject Mexican race."
Navarro was the only Tejano to serve at the Convention of 1845, where the Republic of Texas accepted the United States' offer of annexation. There, he was instrumental in having the word "white" stricken from the requirements for voting in the constitution for the new State of Texas, but he was unable to secure the rights to ancestral lands that had been granted to Tejanos under Spanish colonial rule.
Telling His Story
After U.S. annexation, the aging Navarro served as state senator for two terms, from 1846 to 1848. Respected in the community. he made provisions for the safety of his family as well. Several of his daughters married into influential Anglo families and his son, Angel, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1850. When the first published accounts of Texas history blatantly ignored the Tejanos' struggles and contributions, Navarro published his Aputes Históricos (Historical Notes), a work that redeemed the Tejanos' history by tracing it back to their struggles against Spanish rule in 1813.
A Fond Farewell
Throughout the Civil War and afterward, Navarro lived at his San Geronimo Ranch, just outside of San Antonio, removed from the world's tumult. When he died there at age seventy-six, the Daily Herald noted: "We have seldom seen a larger funeral procession than that which turned out on Saturday evening in honor of the dead Patriot, Don José Antonio Navarro." According to the paper, his death " caused the deepest sorrow throughout the community, and his memory will be cherished with the fondest regard."
Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836)
Stephen F. Austin has been called the "Father of Texas" for his role in bringing Anglo Americans to the Mexican province of Texas beginning in the 1820s. While this title ignores the community-building of the Tejanos who settled the area prior to Austin's arrival, it is certain that Austin was the founder of Anglo Texas.
Born during George Washington's presidency, Stephen Austin was the eldest son of an ambitious father, Moses Austin — a self-made man who grew rich buying lead mines in Missouri. Stephen enjoyed the privileges of wealth, including a New England prep school education and a degree from Yale College.
A Father's Wish
The Panic of 1819 caused the Bank of St. Louis, which Moses had helped fund, to collapse. For Moses Austin, it meant the end of his empire. Stuck in debt, he conceived a way to make a profit by establishing an American colony in Spanish Texas. He succeeded in obtaining permission from the Spanish government, but before he could put his plan into effect, he caught pneumonia and died. According to the papers of his wife, Mary Brown Austin, his dying wish was for his son to carry out the "Texas venture."
Haven for Debtors
Shouldering his father's outstanding debts, Stephen set out to remake himself and his family in Texas in 1821. He convinced the newly established Mexican government to honor the colonization contract that had been approved under the Spanish regime. Under the new contract, the Mexican government authorized an empresario system in which pre-approved agents received 67,000 acres of land for every 200 families introduced as colonists. The heads of families received 4,605 acres in addition to receiving protection from the debts they had incurred in the United States. Austin soon found that many who had suffered in the Panic of 1819 were eager to start over in Texas. The Mexican government's stipulations that they become Mexican citizens and Catholics were little hindrance.
Tejanos and Anglos
Throughout the negotiations to establish his colony, Austin forged relationships with the influential Tejanos of San Antonio de Béxar. His intellect and political sympathies melded well with the erudite Erasmus Seguin and José Antonio Navarro. The two Tejanos, who had suffered under Spain's colonial rule, wished to see Texas grow and prosper. They viewed the arrival of Austin and his colonists as a step toward the future. Toward this end, Austin and Navarro frequently communicated on the state of affairs in Texas and encouraged trade and cooperation between the Tejanos and the Anglo newcomers.
Struggle for Autonomy
As tensions between Texas and Mexico City flared, Austin found it more difficult to act as a mediator. With Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's rise to power, and his subsequent limiting of state autonomy, Anglo colonists feared for their property. In 1833 Austin traveled to Mexico City to request that Texas become a separate Mexican state. On his way home, Austin was arrested. He had written a letter to the Tejano leaders of San Antonio advocating the the formation of an unauthorized separate state government for Texas. The letter was turned over to the Mexican authorities. Santa Anna held Austin as a prisoner until 1835, during which time war and peace factions emerged in Texas. By the time he returned in the summer of 1835, many in his colony were vying for independence. Austin, knowing that those in favor of war were being led by hotheaded recent arrivals to Texas like William B. Travis and Sam Houston, gravely considered the oath he had taken to the Mexican government. For him, independence was the very last resort in the fight for Texas.
Looking to the U.S.
Austin commanded volunteer troops during the Siege of Béxar in November of 1835. After the rebels ousted Mexican troops from the Alamo, a provisional government elected Austin to serve as commissioner to the United States in order to win support for Texas independence and to secure a commitment to U.S. annexation once it was achieved. Austin traveled East to persuade officials in Washington and financiers in New York and Philadelphia of a Texas victory. Having heard of Santa Anna's defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto, he returned to Texas without any promises in hand in June of 1836.
Offering himself to the Texas Republic as its first president, Austin was defeated by nearly 5,000 votes that went to San Jacinto battle hero Sam Houston. Austin reluctantly took the secondary position as the Republic's first Secretary of State. While in this office, he died of pneumonia at his home in Columbia, Texas, on December 27, 1836. In 1841, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Texas' second president, requested the letters that Austin had written José Antonio Navarro for a proposed history of Texas. Along with the letters, Navarro sent a note that serves as a fitting epitaph to Austin's life:
They contain little relative to the history that Your Excellency intends to write, but to me (and many others who knew well the generous soul, the noble and profound beliefs of that Texas patriarch) it seems to me that every word and stroke from his honest and truthful pen was an expression of pure and upright sentiments and an inextinguishable and personified desire for peace, liberty and prosperity, primarily for the people of his beloved Texas, his adopted country.
— Letter from José Antonio Navarro to Mirabeau Lamar, May 18, 1841
Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876)
Antonio López de Santa Anna is perhaps one of the most colorful figures of the nineteenth century. Having served as president of Mexico eleven times, the self-proclaimed "Napoleon of the West" became indelibly associated with much of that country's tumultuous and unstable history. He figures in American history, too, in the story of the Texas Revolution and most notably, his defeat of the rebel forces at the Alamo.
Early Lessons in Brutality
Santa Anna was born in 1794 to a middle-class family in Jalapa, in Vera Cruz. He joined the Spanish infantry as a cadet at sixteen years of age. Santa Anna followed General Joaquin de Arredondo to San Antonio de Béxar where many of the local citizens, including the Navarro and Ruiz families, were rebelling against Spain. With brutal force, Arredondo defeated the rebels at the Battle of Medina in 1813 and executed all who had been involved in the insurrection. The commander imprisoned the women of San Antonio in a place called La Quinta and forced them to serve his troops. According to San Antonio lore, Santa Anna, who was quartered in the Navarro home, committed an act of indiscretion toward one of the Navarro women. By the time Arredondo's army left San Antonio, the town had been devastated by battle and pillage. Historians believe that Santa Anna was significantly influenced by Arredondo's strategy of total warfare.
In March of 1821, deep in the throes of a battle against Mexican revolutionary forces, Santa Anna suddenly changed loyalties. Perhaps anticipating the Mexican victory, the young lieutenant thought it more advantageous to join the rebel cause. In any event, his defection from the Spanish army earned him the promotion of a full rank in the Mexican camp.
Despite his meteoric rise in the military, it was his defeat of an invading Spanish force at Tampico Bay that made Santa Anna a national hero. Espousing a federalist platform, he was able to secure the Mexican presidency in 1833. Once in power, without warning, he switched to a Centralist regime, placed the hombres de bien — the landed aristocracy — in power, and formed a new Congress that dissolved the state legislatures, limited state militias, and abrogated the federal Constitution of 1824.
News of the regime change quickly brought protest. Rebellions broke out in Zacatecas and in Texas. By May of 1835, Santa Anna had assembled his "Army of Operations" and marched them to Zacatecas, where he brutally defeated the rebels, ordered the execution of all Anglos who were involved in the revolt, and destroyed the city. He then marched the army to Béxar, the political center of Texas. Modeling his trek on Napoleon's march through Russia, Santa Anna rationalized that despite the grueling demands of a four-hundred-league march through inhospitable terrain, the inhabitants of the province would welcome them and offer support. The army was soon to fall victim to scarce supplies, Indian attack, sickness, and the harsh climate. The blizzard of 1836 alone was enough to cause the loss of many Mexican soldiers.
Nevertheless, the Army of Operations reached San Antonio in February of 1836. The nearly 1,800 Mexican troops far outnumbered the band of 188 men who had retreated into the Alamo compound. A twelve-day siege ended in a bloody battle on March 6 in which Santa Anna and his army captured the Alamo. All of the defenders were killed; the Mexican army sustained nearly 600 casualties.
After another violent defeat of rebel forces at Coleto, Santa Anna moved on to fight Sam Houston's Texas rebel forces at San Jacinto. Caught in an unexpected attack by Houston's men, including Juan Nepomuceno Seguin's company of Tejanos, the rebels beat the Mexican army on April 21, 1836. After being captured the next day, Santa Anna surrendered to Houston and recognized Texas independence.
Santa Anna's later years were also filled with military exploits. He participated in the defense of Mexico against the French in the "Pastry War" of 1838. After tricking the Americans into sending him back to Mexico, he led the Mexican army against Americans during the Mexican-American War. In the north of Mexico, he nearly defeated U.S. forces at Buena Vista before he was bested by General Zachary Taylor's army. He then turned south and led the fight against General Winfield Scott's army between Vera Cruz and Mexico City, losing the critical battle of Cerro Gordo along the way. He returned to the presidency again in 1853 only to squander away lands in southern Arizona and New Mexico, known as the "Gadsden Purchase," to the United States. Banished in 1855, he returned to Mexico in 1874 only after relinquishing politics. He wrote his memoirs and died quietly in 1876.
Samuel Houston (1793-1863)
Samuel Houston, like many of the other celebrated figures of the Alamo battle, was a relative newcomer to Texas.
Background in Politics
Under the mentorship of Andrew Jackson, Houston had risen to political heights in his native Tennessee. He served in the militia, as congressman, and even as governor prior to 1832. Houston resigned this last position after a failed marriage to nineteen-year-old Eliza Allen, and embarked on a self-imposed exile among the Cherokee Indians in 1829. For several years he remained with them, participating in their affairs and even marrying Diana Rogers Gentry, a Cherokee woman of mixed blood. He would leave her, however, when he chose to enter the Mexican territory of Texas in 1832.
Land of Plenty
After Stephen F. Austin granted him land in his San Felipe colony, Houston settled in Nacogdoches, where he set up a law practice and became a Mexican citizen. With a large, imposing figure and notoriously heavy drinking habits, Houston quickly made his presence known. Like many Anglo colonists, Houston perceived Texas as a land of plenty where the future held great promise. There, Houston believed, he would find the opportunity to distinguish himself. His chance for glory came in the Texas Revolution, just a few years after his arrival.
Houston quickly joined a radical faction of Anglo colonists including William B. Travis and William H. Wharton. As tensions flared between Texas and Mexico City, members of the so-called "war party" argued for independence. Yet Houston broke with them and voted, with Stephen Austin, not to declare independence at an 1835 political assembly known as the Consultation. Both men thought it was too early to risk alienating Mexican liberals. Houston's moderate position notwithstanding, delegates to the Consultation unanimously elected Houston to command the army of Texas.
Hero at San Jacinto
In March 1836, as Santa Anna's army marched through Texas, Houston's army retreated to the east. The two forces met at San Jacinto, where the rebel army crept up on Santa Anna's forces on the afternoon of April 21. The element of surprise proved decisive: the Texans won the battle and captured Santa Anna the following day. The Texas Revolution ended with this rebel victory, and Houston, as commander of the victorious forces, was a hero.
Political Service to Texas
After the Texas Revolution, the citizens of the new Republic of Texas elected Houston as their first president. His popularity was so widespread that he beat Stephen F. Austin for the position by nearly 5,000 votes. While most of his presidential term was successful, he failed to secure annexation by the United States due to sectional disputes in Washington, D.C. He left the executive office in 1838 only to return three years later. Drawing on his past relationships with Indian tribes, he was instrumental in negotiating peace treaties between them and the people of Texas. Houston was again elected governor of Texas in 1859 after serving in the U.S. Senate, but was removed from the governor's office in 1861 after he refused to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.
When Texas finally become a state, Houston served as one of its first U.S. senators, from 1846 to 1859. A staunch supporter of the Union, he naturally opposed secession during the Civil War, and voted for compromises between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces in a shifting political landscape. Despite Houston's efforts to prevent it, Texas seceded from the Union and set up a Confederate government. He died of pneumonia on July 26, 1863, in Huntsville, Texas, not surviving to see the end of the Civil War.
Juana Navarro Alsbury (1812-1888)
Juana Gertrudis Navarro Alsbury is remembered as one of the few survivors of the Battle of the Alamo. Contemporary accounts of the battle's survivors often feature stories about Susanna Dickinson, the Anglo woman who purportedly nursed the ailing Jim Bowie, and William B. Travis' slave, Joe, as being the survivors. While a number of Tejana women and their children also survived the battle, most left no written record of the event. Juana Navarro, however, was interviewed later in life, and her son, also an eyewitness of the Alamo battle, preserved the memory of her experiences.
Juana was the daughter of Concepción Cervantes and José Angel Navarro, the older brother of José Antonio Navarro. Her father Angel became prominent in San Antonio affairs and during the Texas Revolution, served as jéfe político (political chief) of the Department of Béxar. At an early age, Juana was sent to live with her wealthy and influential godparents, Josefa Navarro Veramendi and her husband Juan Martín de Veramendi. There she met some of the most influential men in Texas -- including the charismatic James Bowie, who would eventually marry her cousin, Ursula Veramendi. Juana's first husband, Alejo Perez Ramigio, died in 1834. Later she married an Anglo newcomer, Dr. Horace Alexander Alsbury, who was instrumental in aiding the Texian cause during the Siege of Béxar and the Texas Revolution.
A Divided Family
As was the case with many Tejano families, the Navarros were split down the middle by the events leading up to the Alamo battle. While her father continued to uphold Mexican law, her uncle, José Antonio, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and her husband fought alongside the rebels. When the Mexican leader, Santa Anna, and his army of 5000 men entered Béxar on February 23, 1836, many Tejanos fled from what they knew would be a bloody battle.
Others dedicated themselves to the rebel cause and fortified the Alamo. Jim Bowie, husband of Juana's cousin Ursula, brought Juana, her son and younger sister into the Alamo compound for shelter. While inside, Juana cared for Bowie, who was dying of pneumonia. On March 6, the day of the Mexican assault, Juana saw the fighting first-hand and was narrowly saved from harm by two Alamo defenders. She later recounted how Mexican soldiers took the few valuables she had brought with her. After the battle, learning of her father's loyalty to Mexico, the victorious Santa Anna pardoned her and her family, equipping her with some blankets and a few pesos. She did not hear from her husband until months after the battle. Dr. Alsbury brought with him news of the Texas victory at San Jacinto.
During Juana's 11-year marriage, her husband's military activities continued. When the Mexican army briefly re-captured San Antonio in 1842, Alsbury was taken captive. Juana followed him to Mexico, where she waited two years for his release. Again involved in military action during the Mexican-American War, Alsbury died in Mexico in 1847.
A Widow's Compensation
Juana was widowed again at age thirty-five. She would remarry years later. In 1857, she petitioned the newly-formed U.S. state of Texas for payment for the losses she experienced during the Revolution. The legislature granted her a pension as compensation. She died on July 23, 1888.
Enrique Esparza (1828-1917)
Enrique Esparza, one of the many young children to witness the Alamo battle, is notable for being the only one to discuss his experiences in detail. As an eyewitness account, Esparza's story is unique. Although he was only eight years old at the time of the battle, he later recalled specifics about the experience that have aided historical understanding of what went on inside the walls of the Alamo.
A Divided Family
The Esparza family's experience during the Texas Revolution is emblematic of the crisis faced by many Tejanos in that period. Torn apart by political loyalties, the two Esparza brothers, Gregorio and Francisco, supported opposite sides in the Texas Revolution. While Enrique's father, Gregorio, chose to side with the revolutionaries, Francisco remained a soldier in the Mexican army. In 1835, Gregorio joined forces with Juan N. Seguín's company during the Siege of B éxar and Francisco defended the Alamo from the rebels under the leadership of General Mart ín Perfecto de Cos.
Screams and the Gunfire
Gregorio brought his wife, Ana Salazar, daughter, and three sons (including Enrique) to the Alamo for shelter, and he manned one of the cannons in the compound. Young Enrique saw a number of women and children in the fort in addition to seeing Anglo leaders Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie. His most gripping accounts are of the final attack. He recounted how his mother had the chance to leave the compound when Mexican leader Antonio López de Santa Anna called a brief armistice, but she refused. On the morning of March 6, Enrique watched as the Mexicans attacked and his father joined the fighting. He described how the families huddled in corners, all the while hearing the screams and gunfire of the men. Ultimately, the fighting spread into the room where the women and children were hiding. Mexican soldiers shot into the dark and narrowly missed them.
At daybreak, soldiers ordered the non-combatants to leave the fort. It was only during his mother's interview with Santa Anna that Enrique learned that his father had been killed. Learning of his brother's death, Enrique's uncle, Francisco, pleaded that he be allowed to give Gregorio a proper Christian burial. Santa Anna acquiesced and Gregorio was interred in the Campo Santo, a cemetery near San Pedro Creek. Mexican soldiers burned the bodies of the remainder of Alamo defenders in funeral pyres in the Alamo plaza.
The Last Survivor
Enrique did not share his experiences until he was in his seventies. In the early 1900s, San Antonians and others learned that the last Alamo survivor was living in their midst. Enrique told his story to an interviewer for the San Antonio Daily Express. Until then, his stories had only circulated among family members. He felt a certain responsibility for telling the world of his experience inside the Alamo, believing that he was the last one to tell it. As he put it, he had no difficulty remembering the event: "It is burned into my brain and indelibly seared there. Neither age nor infirmity could make me forget, for the scene was one of such horror that it could never be forgotten." He served his last days as a farmer and cart driver in Atascosa County, and died in 1917.
Francisco Ruiz (1783-1840)
José Antonio Navarro's uncle, José Francisco Ruiz, was one of the most accomplished men in Texas during the revolutionary period. He and his nephew were the only Tejanos elected to travel to Washington-on-the-Brazos in 1836, where they signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Representing his native city of Béxar, Ruiz served as senator in the first congress of the Texas Republic. Like Navarro, Ruiz felt a deep devotion to Texas. This feeling would inform his actions as Texas passed through the hands of multiple governments.
Ruiz was born to Juan Manuel Ruiz and María Manuela de la Peña in 1783. At a time when San Antonio was still a poor and isolated town, the Ruiz family had the resources to send Francisco to school in Spain. It is most likely there that he was exposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment that were swirling about Europe. Enlightenment beliefs in local rule and democracy had inspired the leading figures in both the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789. For Ruiz, whose home and family was ruled by Spain's distant monarchy, the idea of a locally-based, democratic system of government had special resonance.
When Ruiz returned to San Antonio he was quickly appointed schoolmaster in 1803. He also tutored his young nephew, José Antonio, who had been forced to cut his schooling short when his father died unexpectedly. It is likely that Ruiz passed on to his nephew the Enlightenment ideals that he had come to cherish.
When revolution against Spanish rule swept through San Antonio, Ruiz fought alongside the rebels. Outnumbered and badly beaten, the revolutionaries were defeated by Spain's powerful army. Ruiz had a price on his head. He fled with José Antonio to Louisiana, where they would live in exile.
In 1821, eight years after Ruiz had left Texas, Mexico won her independence from Spain. The new Mexican President, Augustín de Iturbide asked Ruiz to negotiate a peace treaty with the Comanches and the Lipans in northern Mexico. Ruiz accepted the position. He spoke the tribal languages, and was able to win the Native Americans' confidence. They would agree to a treaty within a year.
Friend to Settlers
The Mexican government rewarded his work with a promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel. During this time, Ruiz also became a good friend of Stephen F. Austin, who had arrived on the heels of Mexican independence to organize an American colony in Texas. Like his nephew, Ruiz was in favor of American settlement, because he believed it would bring economic growth and progress. When Antonio López de Santa Anna assumed the Mexican presidency, however, such hopes for Texas were significantly threatened. Santa Anna's dictatorial regime held no tolerance for local rule and economic independence. For this reason, Ruiz and many other Tejanos joined the fight against Mexico for Texas independence. Of the fifty-nine men who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, Ruiz and Navarro were the only two had been born there.
Lived to See Texas Free
After the Texas Revolution, Ruiz remained a staunch advocate of his homeland. After a long military career and lifetime fighting for the Republic of Texas, he died in 1840 in San Antonio.
Juan Nepomuceno Seguín (1806-1890)
Juan Nepomuceno Seguín's life is symbolic of the Tejano experience during the Texas revolutionary period. He was born in San Antonio de Béxar, a frontier town in Spanish Mexico, in 1806. His parents, José Erasmo Seguín and María Josefa Becerra, were prominent townspeople. Erasmo Seguín, now recognized as one of the most significant Tejano statesmen of his day, was exceptionally well-educated and proved to be an influential political leader. Erasmo monitored the schooling of his young son and encouraged him to embark on a political and military career.
Loyal Young Texan
In 1834 Juan Seguín became the jéfe político (political chief) of Béxar. Significantly influenced by his father's close friendship with Stephen F. Austin, Seguín was particularly sympathetic to the continuation of Anglo colonization in Texas. Inheriting his father's staunch federalist views and possessing a deep loyalty to his native state, the young politician led troops against centralist forces in Monclova in 1835. As the events of the Texas Revolution escalated, Austin made him a captain for the Army of the People. Drawing from the ready pool of other federalist Tejanos like himself, Seguín gathered a company of thirty-seven who assisted in the Siege of Béxar in which Texas revolutionary forces defeated Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cos' army at the Alamo.
At the Alamo
As Antonio López de Santa Anna marched his Mexican Army of Operations toward San Antonio to seek retribution, Seguín's company served as scouts for the Texas forces inside the Alamo. By mid-February of 1836, they reported that Santa Anna had crossed the Río Grande. Seguín and his men joined Colonel William B. Travis in the Alamo when Santa Anna arrived on February 23. They were soon surrounded. Travis sent Seguín across enemy lines to ask for reinforcements, hoping his knowledge of Spanish would help get him through the lines.
Tejanos for Texas
When the Alamo fell on March 6, Seguín organized a company of nineteen to fight as the rear guard of Sam Houston's retreating army. As Sam Houston and Santa Anna faced each other's forces at San Jacinto, Houston ordered the Tejano company to stay behind and guard the army's baggage. He was worried that anti-Mexican sentiment would cause those in his own army to be indiscriminate in finding worthy targets, Seguín was angrily adamant that his men be allowed to fight for the freedom of their homeland. Houston welcomed his enthusiasm and requested that the Tejano company place pieces of cardboard in their hats in order to identify them as allies for the cause of Texas. Thus outfitted, Seguín's company fought in the San Jacinto battle and assisted in the victory that established Texas independence.
Advocate for Spanish
After the war, as a lieutenant colonel in the Texan Cavalry and commandant at San Antonio, Seguín presided over the burial services for the Alamo's dead. In 1837, he was elected to the Senate of the Texas Republic, where he served as Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Despite the increasing tension between Anglos and Tejanos, he managed to secure the printing of all new laws in Spanish.
After he was elected mayor of San Antonio in 1840, Seguín found himself increasingly under suspicion of disloyalty to Texas when he persisted in ousting illegal Anglo settlers and maintaining correspondence with Mexico. In 1842 Seguín had warned both the San Antonio City Council and the Republic of Texas government that a Mexican attack was on the way that spring. But the Mexican invasion of the town provided sufficient proof to many that Seguín, still mayor, had aided in the attack. Though he was innocent of the accusations of treason leveled at him, animosity was so strong that Seguín resigned from his position and fled to Mexico.
Across the Border
Considered a Tejano traitor in Mexico, Seguín was captured and given the option of imprisonment or service in the Mexican army. Choosing the latter, the Tejano found himself accompanying the Mexicans as they invaded San Antonio for a second time in 1842. Continuing his service in the Mexican army, he fought the United States during the Mexican War. Afterward, he quietly returned to Texas and managed to re-enter Béxar politics for a short time. He died in 1890 among his family in Nuevo Laredo.
James Bowie (1796-1836)
When he came to Texas in 1830, James Bowie was already a celebrity of sorts for his adventurousness and expert fighting ability. In 1827, a feud in which Bowie brandished a large butcher knife to defend himself established him as one of the best fighters in the South -- and the "Bowie" knife became forever associated with his prowess.
A Pirate's Friend
Bowie was born in Kentucky in 1796. His father, Reason Bowie, maintained a cotton and sugar plantation and was an important slaveowner in the region. After serving in the militia during the War of 1812, James Bowie established a profitable slave trading business. As a cohort of the notorious pirate, Jean Lafitte, Bowie sold the slaves that Lafitte had captured from slave ships in the Atlantic. Later in the 1820s, Bowie settled on a sugar plantation in Louisiana.
Expanding Into Texas
Extending his land speculation activities into Texas, Bowie quickly made the acquaintance of Stephen F. Austin at the San Felipe Colony in 1830. In anticipation of claiming one of the generous parcels of land being doled out to American settlers by the Mexican government, Bowie became a Mexican citizen. He established friendships with the leading Tejanos of Béxar including Juan N. Seguín and Juan Martín Veramendi. At the latter's palace in San Antonio, Bowie met his soon-to-be wife. Ursula de Veramendi was the oldest daughter of the wealthy and influential Tejano family. While the marriage was not wholly political, it was a powerful symbol of the ways in which the Tejanos' and Anglos' futures were tied together. Ursula and her child died in the cholera epidemic that swept Béxar in 1833. The elder Veramendi and his wife Josefa also died. Struck with grief, Bowie took to drinking heavily and sequestered himself for some time.
Inside the Alamo
As a volunteer officer in the fight for independence, Bowie was pivotal in the skirmishes with Mexican forces in 1835. William B. Travis, a commissioned officer, took charge of the enlisted men while Bowie commanded the volunteers. Under this arrangement, the Alamo defenders held out over a 12-day siege in late February and early March of 1836. By the second day, however, Bowie had taken severely ill and commanded as best he could from his sick bed. According to a young boy who survived the Alamo massacre, Enrique Esparza, the ailing Bowie occasionally had his bed brought out into the main plaza in order to encourage his men. By the time of the final assault on March 6th, however, Bowie was in a delirious state. As Mexican soldiers stormed the compound, they killed Bowie in his bed. In later accounts, he was fondly remembered by his Tejano family. According to Juana Navarro, he was "affectionate, kind, and so acted as to secure the love and confidence of all."
William B. Travis (1809-1836)
Settler and Agitator
William Barret Travis arrived in San Felipe de Austin in 1831 after abandoning a wife and two children in Alabama. He set up a law practice in Anahuac and quickly became acquainted with other Anglo settlers who were agitating against Mexican rule. In 1835 Travis took matters in his own hands when he attacked the Mexican garrison at Anahuac with a group of twenty-five men. The act fueled the wrath of Mexican president Antonio de Lopez Santa Anna against the Anglo colonies of Texas. And it made matters especially difficult for the Tejano leaders of the state.
Travis' aggressive tactics established him as one of the ringleaders among a growing "war faction" in the Anglo colonies. The other men in his group, including William and John Wharton, were young, single, and native Southerners like himself. Despite his hotheaded personality, Travis became a lieutenant colonel of cavalry in the Army of the People under Sam Houston in late 1835. By the following January, Travis had orders to recruit men to assist in the fortification of the Alamo, which was then under the command of Colonel James C. Neill. Soon, however, Neill departed the fort to attend to his sick family. Though he was only twenty-six years-old — and quite inexperienced — Travis became the default commander of the regular army troops. James Bowie, popular among the men but not a commissioned officer, took over the command of the volunteer soldiers.
Travis was quick to call for reinforcements, knowing full well that the oncoming Mexican army would far outnumber the Alamo forces, which numbered fewer than 200 men. Despite sending many impassioned pleas to Texas delegates to the Independence Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Travis received little help. On March 1, the seventh day of the siege, thirty-two volunteer soldiers from Gonzales managed to get through the Mexican cordon to join the rebel army. Ammunition, food, and other supplies were dangerously low.
A Legend in Death
Popular legend has it that on March 5, Travis drew a line in the sand with his saber and asked those men who were committed to defending the Alamo to the death to cross. Mexican soldier José Enrique de la Peña's diary tells a different story: that Travis was considering an honorable surrender. In either case, it is evident that Travis and his men did not surrender the fort, and indeed fought to the end. Travis was among the first men to die when, on the morning of March 6, he was shot from his post atop the Alamo wall. He was survived by his slave, Joe, who later recounted his experience inside the Alamo and the circumstances of Travis' death.
David "Davy" Crockett (1786-1836)
Like many of the men who fought at the Alamo in 1836, David "Davy" Crockett was a recent arrival in Texas. Received as a celebrity, he had represented Tennessee in the U.S. Congress. He was renowned as an adventurer, Indian fighter, and bear hunter. In private and political circles, he championed the cause of the "common man" — and occasionally dressed the part. As the subject of so many legends, "The Lion of the West" was something of an enigma. Nevertheless, accounts from Alamo eyewitnesses shed some light on Crockett's character and his role in the famous San Antonio battle.
Born in Tennessee in 1786, Crockett exhibited his adventurous spirit early when he ran away from home to escape school. He married Mary (Polly) Finley in 1806 and had two sons, John Wesley and William, and a daughter, Margaret. Crockett volunteered as a scout in the local militia and later served in the Creek Indian War under future president Andrew Jackson.
In 1821, Crockett ran for a seat in the Tennessee legislature and won. Six years later, he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout his political career Crockett had created an image of himself as a homespun, "common" man. He advertised the fact that he had never read a law book and possessed only a rudimentary education. Crockett served two terms, but when he argued against Andrew Jackson's Indian removal bill, his supporters deserted him and he lost a close bid for a third term.
The Raccoon Cap
By the early 1830s, Crockett was nationally known. His hunting and fighting exploits, recounted in a book and in a play, "The Lion of the West," contributed to his mystique. Not a few outrageous stories circulated about "Davy's" frontier adventures. Crockett returned to Congress in 1833 and published his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, partly to correct the growing popular legend of his life. After losing his campaign for a fourth term, Crockett gave up on politics and uttered the now famous statement, "You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." Sporting a hunting shirt and a raccoon cap — for the first time, historians say -- Crockett left Tennessee with several men in November of 1835, and headed for Texas.
During the siege of the Alamo, Crockett was reportedly vital to the defenders' morale. According to Alamo survivor Susanna Dickenson, Crockett often played his fiddle to rouse the troops. Another Alamo survivor, Enrique Esparza, recalled that Crockett was the "leading spirit" in the camp and provided support and advice to military commanders William Travis and Jim Bowie. "Don Benito," as the Mexicans called him, went "to every exposed point and personally directed the fighting."
Death in the Alamo
Crockett was one of the last men standing after the fall of the Alamo. He and six of his men continued to fight until they were surrounded. As Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna entered the compound, he ordered the men executed. According to the diary of Mexican soldier José Enrique de la Peña, several Mexican officers hacked the prisoners to death with their swords.
Davy Crockett's name and reputation — along with the tall tales of his life — have not faded much over time. Over a hundred years after his death, Davy Crockett tales thrilled Americans tuning in to a new storytelling medium — television — when Walt Disney premiered "Davy Crockett Indian Fighter" in December 1954. The show's theme song sold ten million copies, and Crockett quickly became a Fifties icon.