By Anna Kathryn Lanier
A couple of years ago, I attended the re-enactment of the Battle of San Jacinto. This is the battle where the Texas forces defeated Santa Anna to win the Texas Revolutionary War. While there, Professor Mary L. Scheer with Lamar University in Beaumont gave a talk on Women of the Texas Revolution. She also had her book, Women and the Texas Revolution for sale. Of course, I bought one. It is a selection of essays on women and events during the Revolution. One such essay written by Dora Elizondo Guerra is “Two Silver Pesos and a Blanket: The Texas Revolution and the Non-Combatant Women Who Survived the Battle of the Alamo.” Most people when asked about women and children who survived the Battle of the Alamo will tell you only one woman and child did, Susanna Dickinson and her daughter. However, it is a known fact that at least six other women, all Hispanic, and their six children, were also in the Alamo during the thirteen day siege and final battle.
Evidence of these six women comes to us via interviews done with the survivors themselves. The most inclusive interview comes from an 8-year-old eyewitness, Enrique Esparza. He, along with his three siblings and his mother, Ana Salazar Castro Esparaza took refuge inside the Alamo because his father, Gregorio Esparaza was an Alamo defender. In 1901, at the age of 73, Enrique gave an interview with the San Antonio Light. He recalled “within the Alamo courtyard were also the other refugees who were saved—Mrs. Alsbury and child and sister, Gertudes [sic] Navarro; Mrs. Concepción Losoya, her daughter and two sons; Victoriana de Salina and three little girls; Mrs. Susanna Dickinson and baby…and an old woman Petra.” (I know, if you add them up, there are ten children, not six. However, other sources site six.).
Mrs. Alsbury was Juana Navarro Pérez Alsbury, 24 years old. She and her unmarried sister, Gertudis, 20 were the daughters of politician, businessman and rancher José Angel Navarro. They were also the nieces of landed, political activists José Antonio Navarro and José Francisco Ruiz, both signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Their mother died when they were young and both girls went to live with their aunt Josefa Navarro Veramendi and her husband, Juan Martin de Veramandi, governor of Coahuila y Téjas. Josefa and Juan’s daughter Ursula, cousin to Juana and Gertudis, married James Bowie.
Juana married Alejo Pérez in 1832 and the couple had a son, Alejo. Her husband was a merchant and “was given a permit in August 1833 to transport goods to and from Monclova.” He died in 1834 or 1835 during a cholera epidemic. A few months later, Juana married Dr. Alexander Alsbury. (I have discovered various dates for 1) Alejo’s death and 2) the marriage of Juana and Alexander….which is said to have taken place in either 1835 or 1836).
At the time Santa Anna marched in San Antonio, Dr. Alsbury was out of the town on a military mission. Therefore, it is believed that James Bowie, a cousin-in-law, had Juana, her son and her younger sister take refuge inside the Alamo. It has been reported that it was most likely Juana who nursed Bowie when he took ill, as she was a relative.
On her experience of the siege and ultimate battle, Juana gave this report:
As the firing approached their room, her sister Gertudis called out to the soldiers not to fire. They instead broke into the room and searched for loot, stealing Juana’s personal belongings.
A rich Texan in the room tried to protect the women and was killed, as was a Tejano who ran into the room seeking cover.
Looting began in earnest. One officer removed them from the room and another officer moved them from being in the way of cannon fire. Then her ex-brother-in-law (brother to her first husband and a sergeant in the Mexican army) found them and moved them to safety. The firing went on until noon.
At the conclusion of the battle, the women and children were marched out of the Alamo. As they were taken to the main plaza, they were jabbed, demeaned and prodded by the soldiers who viewed them as traitors. They stayed the night at Don Ramón Musquiz’s house and were taken before General Santa Anna the day following the battle. After questioning the women and forcing them to pledge allegiance to Mexico, he personally awarded each woman “two silver pieces and a blanket.”
Because of her family connections, Juana fared better after the war than others. As the daughter and adopted daughter of two prominent Hispanic families, she inherited land, cattle, and homes. Unlike most of the female survivors, Juana did not lose her husband. Although the Texas Revolution did cause a loss in social status, her Spanish legacy of legal and property rights remained intact. Her signature appears on numerous Bexar County land documents and in the state archives on legal petitions to the Texas legislature.
Dr. Alsbury was very much involved in the revolutionary activities in Mexico, along the Rio Grande and in south Texas. In 1842, Dr. Alsbury was marched into Mexico along with the other captives of Adrian Woll’s San Antonio invasion. Juana followed the Texan prisoners as far as Candela, Coauila where she waited until Dr. Alsbury was released from Perote prison in 1844. The couple made their way back to their home in San Antonio. However, the call to fight returned and Dr. Alsbury fought in the Mexican War. He was killed, presumably in Mexico, sometime in 1847.
As gender roles were not affected by the Texas Revolutionary War and women still had to sustain themselves through family ties, Juana remarried after Dr. Alsbury’s death. Her third husband was her first husband’s cousin, Juan Pérez. In 1857, she petitioned the state for a pension for replacement of the items she lost in the looting of the Alamo, as well as her service there. The petition was granted.
Juana died in 1888, at her son’s ranch on Salado Creek in Bexar County. Alejo Pérez, only eleven months old (and thus the youngest survivor) at the time of the Battle of the Alamo, was a long-time San Antonio city official. He served in the Confederate Army 1861-1864 and was twice married. Between his two wives, Maria Antonia Rodriguez and Florencia Sappo Valdez, he fathered eleven children. When he died in 1918, he was the last known Alamo survivor.
WOMEN AND THE TEXAS REVELOUTION by Mary L. Scheer
Anna Kathryn Lanier