What Died With the "Angel of the Alamo"?
Remember The Alamo?
In 1836 the famous rallying cry during the Texas Revolution was “Remember the Alamo!”. Seems, seventy-two years later, the city of San Antonio forgot. They wanted to turn the Alamo into a parking lot. Luck would have it that a gutsy, determined angel appeared who also just happened to be the granddaughter of Texas' first Vice President.
Violent Mexican Politics in the 1820's and 30's
Mexico was in political turmoil in the 1820's and 1830's. Several factions were fighting to gain control. The most prominent Mexican politician promoting the American concept of democracy was native-born Lorenzo de Zavala. In addition to helping formulate the new Mexican Constitution of 1824 he had served as governor of the state of Mexico and Finance Minister. Through these years Santa Anna had been President of Mexico on and off several times but in 1833 he solidified his Presidency. Zavala and Santa Anna had been political friends and colleagues during these unpredictable times in Mexico. Lorenzo was expected to be next in line for the presidency of Mexico.
While serving his country as the chief diplomat to France, Lorenzo learned that Santa Anna was increasingly ignoring the democratic tenets of the Mexican Constitution of 1824 which Zavala had helped write. When Santa Anna had appointed himself the new dictator of Mexico Lorenzo publicly denounced him. Lorenzo de Zavala and Santa Anna had once been friends but now Lorenzo was the dictator's chief rival and enemy. Fleeing France and sailing to the United States Lorenzo recognized that his life had been put in danger and would never be the same again.
Lorenzo de Zavala Becomes Texas' First Vice President
After denouncing Santa Anna, Lorenzo de Zavala could not return to Mexico under fear of being assassinated. He was now the chief political enemy of Santa Anna.
Lorenzo left France and traveled to New York City where he met, courted and married the beautiful Emily West. He and Emily moved to Texas where Lorenzo was a landowner. His property was located where Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River meet near present day Houston. Lorenzo and his new wife were settling into life in Mexico's northern most state of Texas.
Little did de Zavala know that shortly he would become a central character thrown into the fight for Texas independence against his own country of Mexico!
Early Texas Heroes: Lorenzo de Zavala, Vice President of the Republic of Texas
- Early Texas Heroes: Lorenzo de Zavala, Vice President of the Republic of Texas
Lorenzo De Zavala, the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas, is a little known Texas hero who played a key role in the fight for Texas Independence.
Who was the “The Angel of the Alamo”?
The de Zavala homestead was a stone’s throw away from the San Jacinto Battlefield at Buffalo Bayou and the San Jacinto River. Sam Houston and his ragtag Texan army had surprisingly defeated Santa Anna and successfully gained Texas' independence. Unfortunately Vice President Lorenzo de Zavala only 46 years old died shortly after after the fight (He had been in failing health before the battle). This famous quote is attributed to him, “If I knew my death would assure the liberation of Texas, I would not live another hour.” If he had lived, today’s Texas might have been decidedly different. His wife Emily West de Zavala lived another forty-six years. Augustine de Zavala, eldest son of Lorenzo, had a daughter. Her name was Adina de Zavala.
Seventy two years after the death of her grandfather, Adina would make headlines of her own and become a national folkloric heroine.
Adina de Zavala is “The Angel of the Alamo.”
Denise McVea’s “Making Myth of Emily” Creates a Texas-Sized Stir
Author Denise McVea has written a captivating study entitled “Making Myth of Emily” dealing with the legendary Yellow Rose of Texas. Her conjectural theme in the book is that the Vice President’s wife, Emily West de Zavala, was actually the mythic Yellow Rose. For those of you who do not know, the legend possibly explains how Sam Houston was able to defeat Santa Anna with such an untrained, ragtag group of fighters. McVea’s intriguing theory is that the beautiful and possibly mulatto Emily West distracted Santa Anna in his tent the morning of Sam Houston’s attack. A Mexican soldier wrote in a letter to his family that Santa Anna was seen scurrying out of his tent pulling up his pants.
There’s more…Denise McVea contends there was a racial aspect concerning Emily West and the possibility that Adina de Zavala, being the Zavala family’s keeper of documents, altered and/or destroyed some important papers hinting at Emily’s racial makeup. Denise McVea convincingly pieces together the well-thought-out theory. True or not, the book has caused a Texas-sized sensation.
Adina de Zavala the Preservationist Extraordinaire
Emily West de Zavala told her granddaughter intimate stories of the important part their family played in Texas history. Because of this personal familial connection Adina grew up very possessive about these memories. It is feasible that she might have betrayed the truth to protect her family’s reputation. Adina described herself as "...a jealous lover of Texas history."
Racial prejudice is ugly but it’s necessary we view this issue, justly or not, in the way it was perceived in those days.
Adina will always be remembered for her efforts in preserving Texas missions, placing of plaques, and persuading the powers that be to name schools after historical Texas heroes. The Texas Legislature posthumously honored Adina with a resolution to her life devoted "...to Texas history, folklore,and general civic and patriotic work...immortalizing Texas history for the ages."
Adina de Zavala died on May 1st, 1955.
Her casket was carried in front of the Alamo as a fitting tribute to her work in preserving the landmark.
The Second Alamo Siege (Adina Barricades Herself In the Alamo!)
On February 10th through the 13th, 1908 Adina made national headlines in all the newspapers. She became a folkloric American hero by barricading herself in the Alamo. The future of the Alamo was in peril because an important area (the long barracks) of the complex was on the verge of being torn down to make way for a proposed part of a plaza (quite possibly a parking lot). Adina was convinced the long barracks was the area of the Alamo where the main fighting occurred. The distractors at the time believed she was wrong. They thought the long barracks was built after the famous battle. Adina de Zavala was later proven right.
The standoff lasted three days and, for a period of time, she had no food, water or electricity. Forty-six year old Adina was quoted as saying she would die for the cause. (It’s interesting that her grandfather died at 46 years old having said the words “If I knew my death..." (read above)). On February 13th, 1908 the headlines in the New York Times said, “Alamo Siege Ended”. Soon after, Adina acquired the name “The Angel of The Alamo”. She was so admired for saving the long barracks that a music company published a song called “Remember the Alamo” with her picture right there on the front.
Fact or Fiction?
Whether or not Adina de Zavala deliberately altered her famous ancestor's documents is a genuine Texas mystery. Her legacy of preserving The Alamo and other Texas Landmarks is intact no matter the allegations.
Perhaps we may never know what really died with "the Angel of The Alamo".
© 2013 Kerry Allen