I spent most of Thursday last week at the Daughters of the Republic of Texas library in downtown San Antonio. The city was in the pre-fiesta phase anticipating Cinco de Mayo with colorful papel picado flags flying, wreaths on every door wrapped in brightly colored ribbons, adorned with flowers, small maracas, tiny clay jarros, corn husk dancers in full length primary colored dresses. From el mercado down near Mi Tierra, my favorite Mexican restaurant, to the Alamo, brightly dressed people hustle to and fro, preparing for one gathering or another.
One of the reasons I am spending time at the DRT library is for research on Madam Candelaria, a woman who spent time inside the walls of the Alamo in San Antonio during a thirteen day deadly siege wrought by General Santa Anna of Mexico. Mexico was hell bent on owning Texas. Problem was, so were the Spanish (having sent the Canary Islanders earlier), the French, and the local Tejanos. (To say nothing of the Indians who were very confused about this idea of fencing off mother earth. Who were these strangers who would shoot the breechclouts right off any Indian found wandering near them?) When the Anglos started pouring in to settle lands with the promise of over 4,000 acres per family, Santa Anna knew he had to do something. Well, as history points out, all of the defenders at the Alamo died fighting. They were given the chance to surrender, but they chose to die fighting for Texas like valiant soldiers: victory or death.
Madam Candelaria was called in to assist with a feverishly ill Jim Bowie. Luckily, she was one of a handful of women and children released after the bloody battle. Problem was, being a short Hispanic woman at the time, no one apparently noticed her or could vouch with any certainty that she had been inside the Alamo. Unlike the Anglo women released who received their lands, notoriety, and pensions due on account of losing their husbands, Madam Candelaria was left to wander the streets of San Antonio telling her story and accepting donations from strangers in order to live. Finally, some notable politicians got involved and managed to secure a small pension for her three years before she died.
It’s a sad tale and yet one that clearly points to sentiments of alienation of people by certain colonizers. Madam Candelaria’s family cleared and settled at least three large areas of land in Coahuila, Mexico; Laredo, Texas; and Nacogdoches, Texas before moving to San Antonio. Where did it go? It came up for grabs during times of transition from Spanish rule to Mexican rule to laws of the Republic of Texas. Upon finding abandoned land, any newcomer could begin improving it in some way, apply for rights to the property, and voila! It now belonged to the new owner. The previous owners may have been pulled off to fight Indians or soldiers from a warring faction representing a new and different government. Wild and uncertain times….
So I totally understand the need to celebrate at every turn Texas’ independence from these various land mongers as I see the local San Antonio folks doing today.
My friend Ginger is a colorful character herself. Born and raised a Texan, she exudes the very essence of a willful, strong, settler woman. Unlike many Anglos, she isn’t afraid to wear the traditional brights of the Mexican women of San Antonio either! She took me and our friend Kathy around like a fast paced tour guide where we settled to catch our breaths at the historic Menger Hotel for their lunch buffet. As founder of the Texas Time Travelers, she makes it her business to know what is going on around the city, not just for visitors, but in terms of politics too. I always enjoy my time visiting her in San Antonio! This last visit I came home with a Cinco de Mayo wreath and a long Mexican dress with colorful embroidery all around the sleeves and bodice. The wreath I made with leftovers from Ginger’s very ornate wreath–hers held twice the paper flowers and finery that mine did. But it sure set off her red door very nicely. I can’t wait to return in a week or so to see what will happen next in this proud city rich in history that I love so much.