The Story of Enrique Esparza (1836, by Enrique Esparza)
THE STORY OF ENRIQUE ESPARZA (1836, by Enrique Esparza)
Upon winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico opened its sparsely populated northern region to empresarios, men who agreed to bring two hundred or more families to settle the land. In return for very cheap land, the new settlers were to become Mexican citizens and embrace the Catholic religion. By 1835, empresarios like Moses and Sam Houston had brought over 35,000 settlers to the Texas area. Pro-slavery and hostile to Mexico's laws, Texas settlers took up an armed rebellion against Mexican forces seeking to impose their authority in the region. Beginning on 23 February 1836, Mexican General Santa Anna and a force of three thousand besieged a group of two hundred American and Mexican rebels led by Davy Crockett and Sam Bowie for thirteen days at the Alamo in San Antonio. The Alamo's rebel fighters were all killed, but Texas gained its independence later that year. After a decade of political maneuvering, Congress annexed the Republic of Texas into the union in 1844.
When Gregorio Esparza, a soldier in the U.S. Army in Texas, was ordered to defend the Alamo from General Santa Anna, his wife and six children also sought refuge in the fort. His son, Enrique, eight years old at the time, remembered the siege in newspaper interviews conducted some sixty years later. The younger Esparza's account not only describes the confusion and violence of close combat, but also illuminates social relations in early Texas. Mexican and American rebels shared the same leaders and fought the same enemy. They intermarried and raised families. Nonetheless, race remained a factor, as when a Mexican woman implored her comrades not to reveal to Santa Anna's forces that she had married an American.
New York University
My father, Gregorio Esparza, belonged to [Placido] Benavides' company in the American army and I think it was in February 1836 that the company was ordered to Corpus Christi. They had gotten to Gollad when my father was ordered back alone to San Antonio, for what I don't know. When he got here there were rumors that Santa Anna was on the way here and many residents sent their families away. One of my father's friends told him that he could have a wagon and team and all necessary provisions for a trip if he wanted to take his family away. There were six of us besides my father: my mother, whose name was Anita, my elder sister, myself and three younger brothers, one a baby in arms. I was eight years old.
My father decided to take the offer and move the family to San Felipe. Everything was ready when one morning Mr. [John] W. Smith, who was godfather to my youngest brother, came to our house on North Flores Street just above where the Presbyterian Church now is and told my mother to tell my father when he came in that Santa Anna had come.
When my father came my mother asked him what he would do. You know the Americans had the Alamo, which had been fortified a few months before by General [Martin] Cos.
"Well, I'm going to the fort," my father said.
"Well, if you go, I'm going along, and the whole family too."
It took the whole day to move and an hour before sundown we were inside the fort. There was a bridge over the river about where Commerce Street crosses it and just as we got to it we could hear Santa Anna's drums beating on Milam Square; and just as we were crossing the ditch going into the fort Santa Anna fired his salute on Milam Square.
There were a few other families who had gone in. A Mrs. [Juana Navarro] Alsbury and her sister, a Mrs. Victoriana and a family of several girls, two of whom I knew afterwards, Mrs. [Susanna] Dickinson, Mrs. Juana Melton, a Mexican woman who had married an American, also a woman named Concepcion Losoya and her son, Juan, who was a little older than I.
The first thing I remember after getting inside the fort was seeing Mrs. Melton making circles on the ground with an umbrella. I had seen very few umbrellas.
While I was walking around about dark I went near a man named [Antonio] Fuentes who was talking at a distance with a soldier. When the latter got near me he said to Fuentes: "Did you know they had cut the water off?"
The fort was built around a square. The present Hugo-Schmeltzer building is part of it. I remember the main entrance was on the south side of the large enclosure. The quarters were not in the church, but on the south side of the fort on either side of the entrance, and were part of the convent. There was a ditch of running water back of the church and another along the west side of Alamo Plaza. We couldn't get to the latter ditch as it was under fire and it was the other one that Santa Anna cut off. The next morning after we had gotten in the fort I saw the men drawing water from a well that was in the convent yard. The well was located a little south of the center of the square. I don't know whether it is there now or not.
On the first night a company of which my father was one went out and captured some prisoners. One of them was a Mexican soldier and all through the siege he interpreted the bugle calls on the Mexican side and in this way the Americans kept posted on the movements of the enemy.
After the first day there was fighting every day. The Mexicans had a cannon somewhere near where Dwyer Avenue now is and every fifteen minutes they dropped a shot into the fort.
The roof of the Alamo had been taken off and the south side filled up with dirt almost to the roof on that side so that there was a slanting embankment up which the Americans could run and take positions. During the fight I saw numbers who were shot in the head as soon as they exposed themselves from the roof. There were holes made in the walls of the fort and the Americans continually shot from these also. We also had two cannon, one at the main entrance and one at the northwest corner of the fort near the post office. The cannon were seldom fired.
I remember Crockett. He was a tall, slim man with black whiskers. He was always at the head. The Mexicans called him Don Benito. The Americans said he was Crockett. He would often come to the fire and warm his hands and say a few words to us in the Mexican language. I also remember hearing the names of Travis and Bowie mentioned, but I never saw either of them that I know of.
After the first few days I remember that a messenger came from somewhere with word that help was coming. The Americans celebrated it by beating the drums and playing on the flute. But after about seven days fighting there was an armistice of three days and during this time Don Benito had conferences every day with Santa Anna. Badio [Juan A. Badillo], the interpreter, was a close friend of my father and I heard him tell my father in the quarters that Santa Anna had offered to let the Americans go with their lives if they would surrender, but the Mexicans would be treated as rebels.
During the armistice my father told my mother she had better take the children and go, while she could do so safely. But my mother said: "No! If you're going to stay, so am I. If they kill one they can kill us all."
Only one person went out during the armistice, a woman called Trinidad Saucedo.
Don Benito, or Crockett, as the Americans called him, assembled the men on the last day and told them Santa Anna's terms, but none of them believed that anyone who surrendered would get out alive, so they all said as they would have to die anyhow they would fight it out.
The fighting began again and continued every day and every night. One night there was music in the Mexican camp and the Mexican prisoner said it meant the reinforcements had arrived.
We then had another messenger who got through the lines, saying that communication had been cut off and the promised reinforcements could not be sent.
The Last Night
On the last night my father was not out, but he and my mother were sleeping together in headquarters. About two o'clock in the morning there was a great shooting and firing at the northwest corner of the fort and I heard my mother say: "Gregorio, the soldiers have jumped the wall. The fight's begun."
He got up and picked up his arms and went into the fight. I never saw him again. My uncle told me afterwards that Santa Anna gave him permission to get my father's body and that he found it where the thick of the fight had been.
We could hear the Mexican officers shouting to the men to jump over and the men were fighting so close that we could hear them strike each other. It was so dark that we couldn't see anything and the families that were in the quarters just huddled up in the corners. My mother's children were near her. Finally they began shooting through the dark into the room where we were. A boy who was wrapped in a blanket in one corner was hit and killed. The Mexicans fired into the room for at least fifteen minutes. It was a miracle, but none of us children were touched.
By daybreak the firing had almost stopped and through the window we could see shadows of men moving around inside the fort. The Mexicans went from room to room looking for an American to kill. While it was still dark a man stepped into the room and pointed his bayonet at my mother's breast, demanding: "Where's the money the Americans had?"
"If they had any," said my mother, "you may look for it."
Then an officer stepped in and said: "What are you doing? The women and children are not to be hurt."
The officer then told my mother to pick out her own family and get her belongings, and the other women were given the same instructions. When it was broad day the Mexicans began to remove the dead. There were so many killed that it took several days to carry them away.
The families with their baggage were then sent under guard to the house of Don Ramon Musquiz, which was located where Frank Brothers Store now is, on Main Plaza. Here we were given coffee and some food and were told that we would go before the president at two o'clock. On our way to the Musquiz house we passed up Commerce Street and it was crowded as far as Presa Street with soldiers who did not fire a shot during the battle. Santa Anna had many times more troops than he could use.
At three o'clock we went before Santa Anna. His quarters were in a house which stood where Saul Wolfson's store now is. He had a great stack of silver money on a table before him and a pile of blankets. One by one the women were sent into a side room to make their declaration and on coming out were given two dollars and a blanket. While my mother was waiting her turn Mrs. Melton, who had never recognized my mother as an acquaintance and who was considered an aristocrat, sent her brother, Juan Losoya, across the room to my mother to ask the favor that nothing be said to the president about her marriage with an American. My mother told Juan to tell her not to be afraid.
Mrs. Dickinson was there, also several other women. After the president had given my mother her two dollars and blanket, he told her she was free to go where she liked. We gathered what belongings we could together and went to our cousin's place on North Flores Street, where we remained several months.
SOURCE: Esparza, Enrique, "The Story of Enrique Esparza," San Antonio Express (22 November 1902).