Former TWU professor digs deep into history of battle for freedom
If you’re as smart as a Texas fourth-grader, you know about Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Barret Travis. They died at the Alamo fighting for Texas’ freedom from Mexico.
But on this 179th anniversary of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico, you might have to be a little smarter to know about the eight native Texans who also died during that battle.
Ramiro Valdez likely knows more about the battle at the Alamo than a lot of Texans do. The retired Texas Woman’s University professor says he has read just about everything he can get his hands on, both in English and Spanish.
His interest in the Alamo began as a boy. He remembers going with his family to Alamo Plaza, outside what remains of the mission church and historic fort in San Antonio. He went with his family to a rally there for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson when he was 6 or 7 years old. He stood in front of the crowd, and along with many other children, raised his hand when Stevenson asked who would like to be president one day.
As many historians also do, Valdez considers the 13-day siege at the Alamo one of the most significant battles in U.S. history.
“It was very meaningful — so many things in one battle,” Valdez said.
A Texian delegation declared independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos and created a new government. But historians generally agree that those at the Alamo could not have known about the nascent republic as the Mexican army, led by Santa Anna, descended upon them. What’s more, historians agree that the early Texans may have had a false sense of security about their position with Mexico, having won earlier skirmishes and battles easily.
They underestimated Santa Anna and his determination to keep control over the territory. As Santa Anna and the Mexican army marched north from what is now Mexico and deeper into Texas, he conscripted farmers to fight, Valdez learned.
For many Texans at that time, the battle for the state’s independence would be the first of two civil wars over state’s rights and slavery, a fact sometimes glossed over in the elementary school books, Valdez said. For some families, it was brother against brother, cousin against cousin.
“Some were considered traitors, having turned their back on Mexico,” Valdez said. “It’s still emotionally charged for some. They can’t talk about it without choosing sides.”
According to the roster of the dead kept by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the eight native Texans who perished in the battle at the Alamo all had Spanish surnames.
At the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum in Denton, visitors can learn about the other Texans who fought for the state’s independence, including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and Jose Antonio Navarro. Museum staff have been installing new exhibits in the hallway, including a timeline that helps visitors follow the six flags of Texas and the progression to statehood.
Gretel L’Heureux, the museum’s education director, said hundreds of area second- and third-graders visit each year, priming them for their first big foray — which L’Heureux describes as going about a mile wide, but an inch deep — into Texas history in the fourth grade.
Over the years, Valdez has been driven to know more about the South Texas farmers who were conscripted by Santa Anna to fight in the Mexican army. He suspects his great-grandfather was conscripted to fight, because their family farm was in the area.
It was a cold winter. According to historical accounts, few men in the Mexican army had jackets, fewer still had shoes. Not all of the soldiers were given weapons. Those who did have guns likely had little ammunition and no training.
Although the Texas revolutionary soldiers didn’t have much more, Valdez said he believes that’s why the siege at the Alamo lasted as long as it did. That, and the fact that a creek ran through the fort and mission, making it easy for people to slip in and out of the area unnoticed.
However, he doubts he will ever find substantial evidence of his family connection to the revolution. And, of course, his great-grandfather would have been considered to have fought for the “wrong side,” Valdez said.
Those who died at the Alamo and who continued the fight for independence should be honored — particularly the state’s eight native Texans who were among those massacred, he said.
“They loved Texas even more than family,” Valdez said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
LESSER KNOWN HEROES
The Daughters of the Republic of Texas maintain the list of those who died at the Alamo, estimated to be about 189 men. Nearly all of them were born elsewhere and volunteered to defend Texas. But eight were born in Texas. Here is a little more information about the native Texans who fought and died at the Alamo:
Juan Abamillo was born in Texas and volunteered to fight in the Texas revolution with Juan N. Seguín, who was commissioned as captain in the Texas Army by Stephen F. Austin. Abamillo, a garrison member, arrived at the Alamo on Feb. 23, 1836, and died on March 6.
Juan Antonio Badillo, like Abamillo, was born in Texas and also volunteered to come to the Alamo with Seguín. When Seguín was sent out for reinforcements, Badillo, a garrison member, stayed behind and died at the end of the 13-day siege.
A bit more is known about Carlos Espalier, who was born in 1819. Some historians identify him as a protege of Jim Bowie, who, like Davy Crockett, William Barret Travis and Bowie, died defending the Alamo. A garrison member, he was just 17 years old.
More is known about Gregorio Esparza, born Jose Maria Esparza in San Antonio in 1802 to Juan Antonio and Maria Petra Olivas Esparza. He had several children with his wife, Anna Salazar. Esparza enlisted in 1835 and took refuge with his family at the Alamo when Gen. Santa Anna and the Mexican army arrived in San Antonio even though they could have left the area. Esparza, a garrison member, tended one of the canons during the battle, and died on March 6. His brother, Francisco Esparza, was able to recover his body for a Christian burial.
Antonio Fuentes was born in San Antonio in 1813. He was recruited by Seguín and fought in the siege at Béxar, which is considered the first major campaign of the state’s fight for independence. Although he fell out with Seguín and Travis, when the Mexican army arrived in San Antonio, he stayed as a garrison member to fight at the Alamo and died during the battle.
Damacio Jiménez was born in Texas and had served with Travis at Anahuac. He volunteered to serve with Seguín and arrived at the Alamo in late 1835. He was among the other garrison members who died in the final day of the battle.
José Toribio Losoya was born April 11, 1808, in an Alamo barrio to Ventura Losoya and Concepción de Los Angeles Charlé. He joined Seguín after deserting the Mexican army. A private and rifleman, he arrived in late 1835 and died at the end of the battle. His wife and three children survived, having taken refuge in the mission chapel.
Andrés Nava was born in Texas in 1810. He volunteered for six months service with Seguín. A sergeant, he survived the siege at Béxar only to die later at the Alamo.
SOURCE: John P. Schmal, The Texas Revolution: The Tejano Patriots and www.thealamo.org