The Angel of Goliad by Harbert Davenport

camp

History tells no finer story than that of the “Angel of Goliad”, the Mexican lady whose merciful heart, unyielding courage, and almost unbelievable exertions induced Urrea’s officers to evade, and partially disobey, Santa Ana’s orders to shoot all prisoners, and to mitigate the rigors of the prisoners’ lot. In the words of Dr. Joseph H. Barnard, one of the beneficiaries of her mercies: [Linn: Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas, 171-175]

“I must not here omit the mention of Senora Alvarez, whose name ought to be perpetuated to the latest times for her virtues, and whose action contrasted so strangely with that of her countrymen, and deserves to be recorded in the annals of this country and treasured in the heart of every Texan. When she arrived at Copano with her husband, who was one of Urrea’s officers, Miller and his men had just been taken prisoners. They were tightly bound with cords, so as to completely stop the circulation of blood in their arms, and in this state had been left several hours when she saw them. Her heart was touched at the sight, and she immediately caused the cords to be removed and refreshments furnished them. She treated them with great kindness, and when, on the morning of the massacre she learned that the prisoners were to be shot, she so effectually pleaded with Colonel Garay (whose humane feelings so revolted at the order) that with great personal responsibility to himself, and at great hazards at thus going counter to the orders of the then all-powerful Santa Ana, resolved to save all that he could; and a few of us, in consequence, were left to tell of that bloody day.
“Besides those that Colonel Garay saved, she saved others by her connivance with some of the officers, who had gone into the fort at night and taken out some whom she had kept concealed until after the massacre. When she saw Dr. Shackelford, a few days after, she burst into tears and exclaimed, ‘Why did I not know that you had a son here? I would have saved him at all hazards!’ * * ‘ It must be remembered that when she came to Texas she could have considered its people only as rebels and heretics, the two classes, of all others, most odious to the mind of a pious Mexican. And yet, after everything that had occurred to present the Texans to her view as the worst and most abandoned of men, she became incessantly engaged in contributing to their wants and in saving their lives. Her name deserves to be recorded in letters of gold among the angels who have from time to time been commissioned by an overruling and beneficient power to relieve the sorrow and cheer the hearts Of men; and who have, for that purpose, been given the form of helpless women.”

And John Henry Brown, who, in his youth, had known many of the recipients of her bounty, wrote, fifty years later, [Brown: History of Texas I – 54 ], “of this angelic lady, whose memory should be sacred in every Texan heart, and whose name should be perpetuated in a Texan county before it is too late.”

Though four generations of Texans have delighted to praise her, they have been singularly incurious as to her name, personality, and subsequent fate. She came into Texas with Urrea’s army and was swept out again with the Mexican retreat from San Jacinto. From March through May of the year of Texan independence her virtues shone resplendently against the grim cruelty of Santa Anna; and then, insofar as Texas and Texans were concerned, she stepped gently out of their hearts and lives. Not even the beneficiaries of her mercies took the trouble to learn, or, at least they failed to record, her name.

To Reuben R. Brown, whose life she saved at San Patricio, and who was again to share her mercies as a “Prisoner of Matamoros,” she was “a Mexican lady named Alvarez.”
To Dr. Jack Shackelford, whom she befriended in his darkest hour, and who first proclaimed her virtues to the world, she was “Pacheta Alevesco, wife of Captain A.”
To Dr. Joseph H. Barnard, to whom we are mainly indebted for the little we know concerning her, she was “Señora Alvarez * – * [who] arrived at the Copano with her husband [who was one of Urrea’s officers.]”
To Benjamin F. Hughes, lad of fifteen, whom she saved on that fatal Palm Sunday at Goliad, she was “a young lady, Madame Captain Alvarez, evidently of distinction.”

Other Texans who owed her their lives knew her only as “the wife of a Mexican officer.”  John Henry Brown urged, fifty years since, that a Texan county—be named for her, but that was not to be, since no one knew then, and none knows now, what name she bore.  She was known to the Texans whom she saved as the wife of Captain Telesforo Alavéz, Captain of the 6th Company of Urrea’s own cavalry regiment of Cuautla; who served as Paymaster of the forces in Urrea’s Texan campaign. But we know, too, that the wife of Captain Telesforo Alavéz was Maria Agustina de Pozo, native and resident of Toluca. But if the Angel’s name was Agustina, why did Dr. Shackelford call her “Pacheta Alevesco,” which could only have been his rendering of Panchita Alavéz?

But we had best allow Texans who knew her, and whose benefactress she was, to tell their own stories.  The first published reference to our Mexican Angel of Mercy was in Dr. Jack Shackelford’s account of his experience at Goliad, reprinted, in 1841, in Foote’s Texas and Texans, Vol. II, p. 245:

“I consider it not inappropriate here to mention one female, Pacheta Alevesco, the wife of Captain A. She was indeed an Angel of Mercy — a second Pocahontas. All that she could do to administer to our comfort — to “pour oil into our wounds’ – was done. She had likewise been to Maj. Miller and men, a ministering angel.”

Dr. Jack Shackelford

The italics for her name are Doctor Shackelford’s.

For a better understanding of the events of Urrea’s Texas campaign, and our Angel’s part in it, it should be borne in mind that Urrea left Matamoros February 18, 1836, with about half of the forces at his disposal, and hurried to San Patricio by forced marches; beating Johnson in detail at and near San Patricio, February 27, and Grant at Agua Dulce on March 2. The Portion of his forces left at Matamoros — with the army’s baggage and camp followers — joined him at San Patricio, on March 7. On the 12th, in disregard of Santa Anna’s repeated orders to shoot all prisoners taken in arms, he remitted to Matamoros twenty-one prisoners taken with Grant and Johnson.

Among the twenty-one thus spared was Reuben R. Brown, a Georgian, who became, in later years, a colonel in the Confederate Army, and a wealthy planter at Brazoria. In an account of his early Texas adventures, first published in the Texas Almanac for 1858 (See also Barker & Johnson, History of Texas, Vol. 1, p. 124) Brown explained why he was not shot at that time.

Urrea said that I would have to be executed according to Santa Anna’s orders and I was taken out to be shot, but was spared through the intervention of a priest, and a Mexican lady named Alvarez.  I was then marched with other prisoners to Matamoros.

Ruben R. Brown

On March 13, 1836, Urrea moved against King and Ward at Refugio, leaving behind his baggage and camp followers at San Patricio. He fought Ward and King on the 14th; occupied the old Mission on the morning of the 15th; executed King and other prisoners on the 16th; joined Morales before Goliad on the 17th; fought Fannin on the 19th, and received his surrender on the 20th; occupied Victoria on the 21st; and captured Ward and his men on the Garcitas on the 22nd. On the 23rd, Major William P. Miller and his men were taken by Colonel Vara at Copano. This was the only action of the Texas Campaign in which Captain Telesforo Alavéz had a part, and here the “Angel” again appeared.

On March 25th, Urrea, still at Victoria, sent Ward and his men to Goliad to join the other Fannin prisoners. A direct order from Santa Anna for their execution was received there by Portilla, on the 26th, and he executed it next day. Her heroic part in the Goliad tragedy has been told by Dr. Barnard.  In a note Doctor Barnard adds, “During the time of the massacre she stood in the street, her hair floating, speaking wildly, and abusing the Mexican officers, especially Portilla. She appeared almost frantic.”

Among those at Goliad who were saved by her intervention was Benjamin Franklin Hughes, Captain Horton’s young orderly, then a lad of fifteen years. [He was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, September 8, 1820] Hughes, in his old age, wrote an account of his experiences which is preserved among the Philip C. Tucker Papers in the Library of the University of Texas. With slight corrections as to spelling and punctuation, his Goliad reminiscences read:

“The 27th of March, Sunday morning, came and with it an order from the president, General Santa Anna, to shoot us all. We were called out and told to hurry up and get in line to march to a place of embarcation, and we got into line rather hopping and skipping with joy at the thought of soon being home. We were just about starting, when I saw quite a number of ladies standing where we had to march by, and two, who afterward proved to be Lady General Urrea and a young lady, Madame Captain Alvarez were evidently ladies of distinction. These, with a little girl ten or eleven years old were standing in a group with Colonel Holsinger, who seemed to be officiating in the execution of the order for execution, and as we stepped off the young lady spoke to her aunt, the general’s wife, and then the elder spoke to the Colonel, and a Sergeant or corporal came and took me out of the ranks and stood me between the two ladies with the little girl, and the rest marched off. In the space of maybe five minutes they were halted and the Mexicans were so arranged as to place our men in a cross fire, and the instant of the halt the order was given to fire, and then I saw for the first time why I was taken from the ranks, and I nudged up to the ladies, and immediately after some of the Mexicans came running back and menacing me with their muskets with bayonets, as if they had bayoneted all who were not killed out right -which they did, and even those who were killed were stuck through with the bayonet rather by way of sport and such was the fate of 332 poor fellows that a few hours before were building high air castles, all to fall suddenly in a few hours with all their plans. Col. Holsinger seemed to be in command, as General Urrea was, it seems, under suspension from duty for not executing the order of General Santa Anna, but the Colonel seemed pleased at the ladies taking me in charge.and was very kind to me, and said he would, and I think he did, do all in his power for me; and the madame wanted me to be one of the family and treated me as a mother, but two or three days passed, and a few companies started on a line of march for Matamoros, and somehow the Colonel had orders to send me to Matamoros, and I was to be taken from the ladies. I was told the understanding was that Madame Urrea was to have me when I got to Matamoros and Colonel Holsinger made the arrangements for my being well treated, and the ladies and the little girl made me some nice little presents * and when the morning came for me to start, I could see tears in their eyes as they kissed me good-by.”

On March 31, 1836, Urrea — his army, marching in two divisions — having preceded him — marched from Victoria with his escort, leaving in garrison there a detachment of forth men under the command of Captain Telesforo Alavéz (Urrea, Diario de la Campaña de Tejas p. 24; Filisola, Memorias para la Guerra de Tejas, II, pp. 445-46) That the “Angel” was with this garrison, we know positively from Doctor Barnard, who says:

“She afterward showed much attention and kindness to the surviving prisoners, frequently sending messages and supplies of provisions to them from Victoria.”

When Urrea occupied Victoria, three families of Irish Texans, the Quinns, Shearns, and Haleys, remained in that town. R. L. Owens, grandson of the Quinn family, has preserved their recollections of those trying days. Though he does not mention her by name, the “Angel of Goliad” is easily recognizable in the incidents which he relates:

“As Santa Anna’s army came marching into Victoria from the river west of town, my grandmother looked up to find seven Americans standing in the doorway * * * She exclaimed * * ‘I won’t send you away, but if you are found here we will all be * * ‘ shot.’ Without a word, they wheeled and started for the old road * * to Texana … but the Mexicans pursued and fired upon them, killing three or four and taking the others prisoners, who were … taken to the market square (where the City Hall now stands) to be shot, but the wives of several Mexican officers threw themselves between the prisoners and the firing squad, and told the officers in charge they would have to shoot them before they could shoot these men, who had harmed no one … The execution did not proceed.
“As some may be curious to know the treatment accorded the Americans, while the Mexican army held Victoria, my impression is that the Shearns were English subjects, and hoisted the British flag. With my grandparents, a Mexican officer and his family occupied part of their home, and they were very kindly treated.”

Isaac D. Hamilton of Captain Shackelford’s Company escaped, severely wounded, from the massacre, and with the help of Cooper, Brooks, and Simpson, who had also escaped, made his way to within two miles of Texana, where his companions left him for dead. On the nineteenth day after the massacre, however, he revived and managed to find his way to Dimitt’s Point, where he was again made prisoner. In an affidavit executed at Houston, January 8, 1852, he says of his subsequent adventures. (The italics are the present writer’s.)

“From this place I was hauled on a cart some fifteen miles, when I was put upon a poor horse . . . until we arrived at Victoria. At this place I was courtmartialed and order to be shot, which fate I escaped by the intercession of two Mexican Ladies.”

In a subsequent affidavit, at Galveston, January 28, 1858, covering the same facts, he says:

“I was sentenced to be shot at Victoria; two officers wives pleaded for me.”

Though Barnard, Hughes and Brown call their Angel of Mercy “Señora,” or “Madam” Alvarez, while Shackelford calls Alevesco; all the narratives agree that she was the wife of one of Urrea’s officers; Shackleford and Hughes say, of one of Urrea’s Captains. The only possible inference from the known facts is that she was the wife of Captain Telesforo Alavéz. As paymaster of the army, Captain Alavez was one of the few officers in position to be encumbered by a family. “Alevesco” was Shackelford’s rendering of her husband’s name; as “Alvarez” was that of Brown, Barnard, and Hughes. These Texans were not accustomed to the Spanish idiom; and not-withstanding the difference in accent, Alvarez and Alavéz sound much alike to an American trained ear. Alvarez is a common Spanish name; Alave’z an uncommon one. It is in point, too, that since Barnard, Shackelford, and Hughes all speak of conversing with her, their “Angel”, beyond all doubt, spoke English. Equally without doubt, they all knew her as the wife of Captain Telesforo Alavéz.

The complete service record of this officer is preserved in the Mexican Secretaria de Guerra y Marina. He was a resident of Toluca, who enlisted as a private in the Mexican National Army May 2,1821, and was promoted, in due course, through the several non-commissioned and commissioned grades until July 19, 1835, when he was commissioned as Captain in General Jose Urrea’s own Regiment, the Cavalry of Cuautla. He was stationed in the City of Mexico from May 31, 1833, until the Zacatecas Campaign in 1834, but rejoined his regiment and fought against Zacatecas under General Urrea, by whom he was cited for conspicuous services in the decisive battle before Zacatecas, May 11, 1834.

In the Texan Campaign, “He assisted in the action of Puerto de Copano, in March, 1836, and performed the duties of Paymaster of the forces.” As of December 31, 1837, he was rated as thirty-four years of age, married, and a resident of Toluca. Other documents in the Secretaria de Guerra y Marina indicate that Maria Agustina de Pozo, also of Toluca, was his wife.

From Urrea’s Diaria and Filisola’s Memorias, we know positively that Captain Alave’z commanded the garrison at Victoria from March 31, 1836, until that place was evacuated on May 14th. He then accompanied General Urrea to Matamoros, arriving there May 28, 1836. (Urrea’s Diario de la Campaña de Tejas, p. 36). By indirect evidence we can account for the presence of the “Angel of Goliad” on Urrea’s return March.

About August 1, 1836, Joseph H. Spohn, spared as an interpreter at the Fannin massacre, said in explaining his own escape: [Lamar Papers, No. 422, Vol. 1, p. 430]:

“A part of the retreating army … fatigued and worn, fell on Goliad … Spohn, who thought a better chance to escape would be found … (at Matamoros) proceeded as far as San Patricio with Captain Alavéz … General Urrea, seeing him, asked him if he would drive one of his coaches to Matamoros. . . . He went to Matamoros with the General, and had for his fellow driver a young man who had been saved from Col. Johnson’s detachment.”

And P. J. Mahan, in accounting many years later, for the men taken with him at the rancho of Julian de la Garza, below San Patricio, on the occasion of Johnson’s defeat, said:

“We were surrounded by a large body of the enemy’s cavalry. . . . Wm. Williams and Dr. Bunsen were immediately killed and Spease [John Spiess, from Aargau, Switzerland] Hufty, and your petitioner wounded … Spease was afterward released, and went to the City of Mexico with Captain Alavez, a Mexican officer.”  (Memorial No. 247, File Box 68, Archives of Texas, Department of State)

Concerning the Angel herself, we have only the evidence of Doctor Barnard: [Wooten: Scarff’s, A Comprehensive History of Texas, I, p. 628]

“After her return to Matamoros, she was unwearied in her attention to the unfortunate Americans confined there. She went on to the City of Mexico with her husband, who there abandoned her, and she returned to Matamoros without any funds for her support; but she found many warm friends among those who had heard of and witnessed her extraordinary exertions in relieving the Texas prisoners.”

Again the evidence is almost, but not quite, conclusive. Captain Alavéz, as paymaster, was probably, though not certainly, the only one of Urrea’s officers who was permitted to go on to the City of Mexico. And since Urrea and his forces remained at Matamoros, he was almost certainly the only one of Urrea’s officers who could have abandoned his wife at that time. Documents discovered in Secretaria de Guerra y Marina in 1835, as a result of a search instigated by Miss Marjorie Rogers, of Marlin, Texas, raise an unpleasant question as to whether the “Angel” could, in fact, have been, as she seemed, the lawful wife of Captain Alavéz. Miss Rogers says:

I had the records in Mexico City searched by a … young man who speaks and reads Spanish well, and who says: . . .’The legitimate wife of Captain Alavéz was Maria Agustina de.Pozo, a resident of Toluca. There are several letters on file from this woman and one from her brother. It seems that Telesforo abandoned Maria Agustina about 1834 and three years later she started writing the Minister of War for money. She had two small children at the time.”‘

Dr. C. E. Castañeda found that the church records at Toluca (which is the capital of the state of Mexico) for the years prior to 1870, have been destroyed by fire; but he also found a hint that the seat of the Alavéz family was not in the City of Toluca, but in a nearby town called Amanalaco de Becerra, where some of his descendants now reside. The evidence at hand does not exclude the possibility that the “Angel” was a pseudo-wife, and that “Panchita” is the only name by which she may ever be known.

The above article is from Bits of Texas History by J.T. Canales published in 1950.  In 1949, Davenport wrote an earlier version of the article with the same title for inclusion in Hobart Huson’s edited edition of Dr. J.H. Barnard’s Journal.  Canales’ included the following footnote containing the expanded section of Barnard’s journal referring to the Angel of Goliad:

“I must not here omit to mention Sehora Alvarez, whose name ought to be perpetuated to the latest times for her virtues, and whose action contrasted so strangely with those of her countrymen, deserved (deserves) to be recorded in the annals of this country (county) and treasured in the heart of every texan. When she arrived at Copano with her husband, who was one of Urrea’s officers, Miller and his men had just been taken prisoners; they were tightly bound with cord so as to completely check the circulation of blood in their arms, and in this state (way) had been left several hours when she saw them. Her heart was touched at the sight, and she immediately caused the cords to be removed, and refreshments to be given them. She treated them with great kindness, and when on the morning of the massacre, she learned that the prisoners were to be shot, she so effectually pleaded with Col. Garey (sic) (whose humane feelings revolted at the barbarous order) that, with great personal responsibility to himself and at great hazard at (in) thus going counter to the orders of the then all-powerful Santa Anna, he resolved to save all that he could; and a few of us in consequence, were left to tell of that bloody day.

Besides those that Col. Garey (sic) saved, she saved by convivance some of the officers-gone into the fort at night and taken out some, whom she kept concealed until after the massacre. When she saw Dr. Shackelford a few days (later) after, and heard that his son was among those (that were) sacrificed, she burst into tears and exclaimed:

“Why did I not know that you had a son here? I would have saved him at all hazards.”

She afterwards showed much attention and kindness to the surviving prisoners, frequently sending messages and presents of provision’s to them from Victoria. After her return to Matamoros, she was unwearied in her attention to the unfortunate Americans confined there. She went on to the City of Mexico with her husband (who there abandoned her.) She returned to Matamoros without any funds for her support; but she found many warm friends among those who had heard of and witnessed her extraordinary exertion in relieving the Texas (Texan) prisoners. It must be remembered that when she came to Texas she could have considered its VeoVle only as rebels and heretics, the two classes of all others the most odious to the mind of a Vious Mexican; that Goliad, the first town she came to, had been destroyed by them recently, and its Mexican population dispersed to seek (for) refuge where they might, and yet, after everything that occurred to present the Texans to her view as the worst and most abandoned of men, she became incessantly engaged in contributing to relieve their wants and save their lives. Her name deserves to be recorded in letters of gold among those angels who have from time to time been commissioned here by an overruling and beneficent Power to relieve the sorrows and cheer the hearts of men, and who have for that purpose assumed the form of helpless women, that the benefits with the boon might be enhanced by the strong and touching contrast of aggravated evils worked by fiends in human shape, and balm poured on the wounds they make by a feeling of pitying women.”

 

 

 

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