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Meet the ‘Angel of the Alamo’: Adina De Zavala’s grand stand in 1908 saved a landmark of Texas history

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The primary night time at nighttime, chilly barrack of the Alamo was the toughest.

Adina De Zavala had no mattress or perhaps a chair to sleep on. Rats skittered close by. The electrical energy and phone traces had been minimize.

However years of effort, of obsession, had led her to this determined stand. It was February 1908, and the oldest constructing within the Alamo advanced in San Antonio was at risk of being razed. She’d locked herself inside as a sheriff waited on the door with a courtroom order.

The barrack was a two-story constructing of a Catholic mission that, centuries earlier, had been residence to monks and nuns through the time of Spanish rule over Texas. By the point De Zavala occupied the previous convento, there was little hint of its previous. The historic constructing had been owned by a grocery firm and had housed crates of milk, sugar and different items. Now, the place was barren and musty. With out meals or drink obtainable, she was left to search out the coziest spot on the ground.

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Phrase unfold rapidly in San Antonio and past. The morning after De Zavala’s one-woman standoff started, journalists and supporters jockeyed to talk to her by means of the door. 

She didn’t emerge for 3 days.

The Alamo is likely one of the most iconic photos in Texas; the location had a mean of 1.7 million guests per yr earlier than the coronavirus pandemic. Greater than 70 years after Mexican troopers overran Texas rebels on the Alamo in 1836, the location grew to become the topic of one other battle: how one can commemorate its historical past. It was waged largely by De Zavala – the granddaughter of a Mexican man who was the primary vp of the Republic of Texas, a schoolteacher and writer, one of many first preservationists within the nation and, by many accounts, a sharp-tongued firebrand.

Extra lately, De Zavala has earned the moniker “the Angel of the Alamo.” It took nearly a century for that recognition to catch on partially due to her Mexican final title. But De Zavala’s sophisticated id as a Tejana, or Texan of Mexican descent, was her driver in saving the Alamo and its storied historical past.

“If it weren’t for her, we most likely wouldn’t even have an Alamo as we speak,” stated Sharon Skrobarcek, treasurer basic of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and of the group’s Alamo Mission Chapter in San Antonio.

Know Adina De Zavala: The girl who saved the Alamo

Annie Rice, USA TODAY

Strong will, strong heritage

De Zavala was born in Harris County, Texas, in 1861. She was the oldest of six youngsters of Augustine and Julia De Zavala. Her father was a Accomplice soldier and later labored as a ship caulker.

Adina De Zavala, pale-skinned and blue-eyed, was one-quarter Mexican. In a time of deep anti-Mexican racism, the household’s surname grew to become an “ethnic label,” in line with Suzanne Groves, who wrote a 2013 grasp’s thesis on De Zavala on the College of Texas at Arlington. The household tried to Anglicize their title by capitalizing the D. They earned no particular standing from their affiliation along with her grandfather, Lorenzo de Zavala, a outstanding determine of the Texas Republic.

Adina De Zavala was described by contemporaries as a firebrand whose legacy in Texas history was obscured because of her Mexican last name.
Adina De Zavala was described by contemporaries as a firebrand whose legacy in Texas historical past was obscured due to her Mexican final title.
Dolph Briscoe Heart for American Historical past,The College of Texas at Austin

Native People had lived in what’s now Texas for hundreds of years when Spanish conquistadors settled there within the 1500s. Regardless of that early occupation, the Spanish largely ignored the world till the French claimed Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast close to the top of the seventeenth century. That colony lasted solely two years, tormented by illness and assaults by Native People.

The Spanish took over the area by founding villages and Catholic missions, the latter of which have been meant to “civilize” the natives. In 1821, Mexico received independence from Spain – and Spanish Texas grew to become a part of the brand new nation.

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To develop the inhabitants, Mexico granted land to empresarios, or land brokers, who would recruit People to settle there. With the brand new settlers, the inhabitants with Mexican heritage shrank; Anglo affect swelled. The face of Texas was altering, and with that evolution got here unrest. The primary try and secede from Mexico got here in 1826, with the Fredonian Revolt that created a short-lived Anglo state close to Nacogdoches in east Texas.

In the meantime, Lorenzo de Zavala, who was born in Yucatan, Mexico, had climbed the ranks of Mexican politics; he helped write the brand new nation’s structure and have become an ally of politician and basic Antonio López de Santa Anna. When Santa Anna took dictatorial energy in Mexico in 1834, de Zavala resigned in protest and defected to Texas to hitch Stephen F. Austin, one of many principal empresarios, to assist begin Texas’ revolution. 

Essentially the most well-known battle in Texas’ warfare for independence got here on March 6, 1836, on the Mission San Antonio de Valero. Now it’s higher generally known as the Alamo.

An illustration of the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio on March 6, 1836.
An illustration of the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio on March 6, 1836.
Kean Assortment, Getty Photographs

It was the ultimate assault on the Texas fortress; Mexican forces had begun a siege on the location in February. Santa Anna had about 1,800 troopers, outnumbering the rebels by about 10 to 1. Just about all the Texas defenders have been killed that day.

Texas was vindicated, nevertheless, on the Battle of San Jacinto a month later. The Texan military battered the Mexican forces in a shock assault that lasted 18 minutes, and received.

The Texas Revolution, and particularly the Alamo battle, grew to become shrouded in an Anglo-centric fantasy of heroic white settlers defending their independence towards barbaric Mexicans. Solely lately has the true historical past of the revolution change into mainstream – that Texas defenders fought partially to protect slavery and that Mexican People fought and died alongside the rebels.

Lorenzo de Zavala helped draft the structure of the Republic of Texas, and his fellow delegates elected him advert interim vp of the brand new nation. Because of sickness, he resigned in October 1836 and died that yr. Texas joined the US in 1845.

Adina De Zavala grew up in Galveston and later San Antonio. She was a trainer within the rural north Texas metropolis of Terrell for 2 years in her 20s. She then moved to San Antonio and took one other educating place to assist her household – her father was sick, and her mom didn’t work. Her father died in 1892.

De Zavala was strong-willed; she did issues her method. In 1900, eight years earlier than her Alamo protest, she learn aloud a letter to the San Antonio faculty board protesting her low job classification and wage. It’s not clear if she received a better wage, however her supply was so zealous that the trustees voted to bar academics from giving verbal complaints to the board, permitting them solely to submit them in writing.

Within the years after the Civil Conflict, historic activism was on the rise across the nation in response to an immigration increase and industrial progress, stated Groves. Communities cherry-picked historic figures and websites to construct a patriotic narrative throughout a interval of deep racial divide. Girls, largely higher class and white, have been notably energetic within the motion, desirous to wield political company.

De Zavala started studying about her grandfather on this interval. For a number of years, she and different family members tried fruitlessly to get better land and inventory that had belonged to him. They have been in quest of some respite from their monetary woes, or a minimum of some social standing.

In 1889, De Zavala organized a bunch of girls round a aim of preserving Texas’ historical past. An analogous group of wives, daughters and feminine descendants of males who’d served the Republic of Texas – largely white and upper-middle class – fashioned the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. De Zavala’s group joined the  DRT and have become the De Zavala Chapter, named for her grandfather.

Her grandfather’s historical past “gave her some movie star, and it additionally gave her ardour and goal,” Skrobarcek stated.

Although De Zavala’s grandfather was a supply of pleasure, her relationship to her Mexican heritage was tenuous.

Her final title, alongside along with her lack of standing, prevented her from becoming in with Anglo excessive society, notably amid the deep racial divide rising in San Antonio on the time. Throughout Texas, folks of Mexican descent had misplaced property, confronted segregation in faculties, have been relegated to labor jobs and encountered different types of discrimination. A whole bunch of Mexican People in Texas have been lynched, typically by regulation enforcement, over the course of virtually a century.

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Racism touched the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, as effectively, in line with Groves.

In 1911, an nameless author despatched De Zavala a letter with damning details about two members: One lady was a descendant of an Alamo fighter’s illegitimate youngster with a Mexican lady, and one other claimed French heritage however was really of Mexican descent.

In her writings, she didn’t confer with herself as half Mexican or Tejana; when she wrote about her grandfather, she described him solely as Spanish. He and his mother and father have been criollos — folks of pure Spanish descent who have been born in Spain’s colonies, versus mestizos, who have been of Spanish and indigenous Mexican descent.

And in considered one of her books concerning the Battle of the Alamo, she listed white troopers who had died, in addition to white ladies who’d been there. She didn’t embody Tejano troopers who died combating.

But many Texans join along with her final title and her fervor, even when she was not express about her heritage.


Katie Dillard, learning programs manager at the Alamo
It really doesn’t come down to what you’re called. It’s what you embody. And I think that Adina embodied her culture and wanted to propel that into the future.

The late Texas historian L. Robert Ables recounted that when De Zavala was reprimanded in 1904 for not reporting to her teaching job for a month, she informed the superintendent that she “had been studying Mexican history in Mexico.” 

“I think she had a lot of pride in being of Mexican descent, as did her grandfather, Lorenzo de Zavala,” said Katie Dillard, learning programs manager at the Alamo. “When he decided to support Stephen F. Austin, the Texas Revolution, he’s not forsaking his identity, but he’s actually (advocating for) his personal beliefs about his country, his place. And I think Adina really captures that in her life, as well. 

“It really doesn’t come down to what you’re called. It’s what you embody. And I think that Adina embodied her culture and wanted to propel that into the future.”

Modern news media and historical sources have referred to De Zavala as Mexican American or Tejana; in 2016, the Texas General Land Office published an article about her in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. 

“I think it’s not a bad thing that she was drafted to be this Tejana heroine,” Groves said, “because the work that she did, regardless of her ethnicity or her appearance, was important.”

Saving the Alamo

De Zavala was a devoted Catholic, and she soon set her sights on saving San Antonio’s five Spanish missions, which dated to the 1700s: San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan Capistrano, Espada and San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo.  Amid Texas’ rocketing commercial and industrial growth near the start of the 20th century, the historical sites were falling into neglect. San Jose’s dome and stone roof had collapsed; the walls were decaying; the cedar-paneled doors were damaged; and, without fences to protect them, graves had been trod upon, according to a history journal of the National Park Service. De Zavala helped solicit money and materials from business owners to restore San Jose.

The Alamo was unrecognizable. In the 1880s, the state of Texas bought the Alamo chapel from the Roman Catholic Church; a man named Honore Grenet owned the rest of the property. After his death, a wholesale grocery called Hugo & Schmeltzer Co. bought Grenet’s property and converted the two-story monastery – also known as the convento or the long barrack – to a store and warehouse. A wooden facade obscured the historical building. 

A view of the Alamo in historic San Antonio, Texas includes the long barrack where priests and nuns lived and where historians confirm most of the fighting in the 1836 battle took place.
A view of the Alamo in historic San Antonio, Texas includes the long barrack where priests and nuns lived and where historians confirm most of the fighting in the 1836 battle took place.
Dolph Briscoe Center for American History,The University of Texas at Austin

It had undergone so many alterations that many did not know the long barrack existed. But, based on her research, De Zavala was convinced it still stood within the wooden framework of the warehouse. 

Because of her Catholic faith, it incensed her to think of any harm being done to the Alamo’s convento. Then there was the building’s role in the Texas Revolution: She maintained that the long barrack was where most of the Alamo defenders had died in battle, making it the most historically significant part of the complex.

She approached Gustav Schmeltzer, one of the grocery company owners, in 1892 to promise that her chapter would have the first opportunity to buy the property. 

But about a decade later, a hotel syndicate acquired a lot behind the warehouse and intended to build a hotel there and tear down the warehouse to make way for a park.

When it came to historical preservation, De Zavala was tenacious – researching, planning, writing manuscripts and articles on history, lobbying lawmakers and other bigwigs. She had the “vision and passion,” said University of Texas at San Antonio professor Félix Almaraz, but she didn’t have the money. 

Enter Clara Driscoll, an heiress from Corpus Christi who had just returned to Texas after taking the Grand Tour of Europe, a hallmark of young elites. De Zavala and Driscoll met through a mutual friend and joined forces to save the building.

Clara Driscoll, an heiress from Corpus Christi, Texas.
Adina De Zavala
TOP: Clara Driscoll, an heiress from Corpus Christi, Texas, has long received full credit for saving the Alamo despite wanting to tear down a critical piece of the structure. BOTTOM: Adina De Zavala and socialite Clara Driscoll’s friendship became strained over De Zavala’s desire to save the Alamo’s long barracks, where she insisted the final battle took place.
TOP: Clara Driscoll, an heiress from Corpus Christi, Texas, has long received full credit for saving the Alamo despite wanting to tear down a critical piece of the structure. BOTTOM: Adina De Zavala and socialite Clara Driscoll’s friendship became strained over De Zavala’s desire to save the Alamo’s long barracks, where she insisted the final battle took place.
LEFT: Clara Driscoll, an heiress from Corpus Christi, Texas, has long received full credit for saving the Alamo despite wanting to tear down a critical piece of the structure. RIGHT: Adina De Zavala and socialite Clara Driscoll’s friendship became strained over De Zavala’s desire to save the Alamo’s long barracks, where she insisted the final battle took place.
DOLPH BRISCOE CENTER FOR AMERICAN HISTORY, THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

Driscoll was 20 years younger than De Zavala; she was about 22 when she became involved with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Her father was a multimillionaire thanks to his ranches, banks and commercial developments. Driscoll would go on to marry a state politician and serve as the Democratic Party’s national committeewoman from Texas for 16 years. 

She and De Zavala developed a “symbiotic relationship” to reach the same goal, Groves said. Driscoll needed De Zavala’s historical knowledge; De Zavala needed Driscoll’s deep pockets.

Driscoll put up the money to purchase the building on behalf of the De Zavala Chapter, which struggled to fundraise over the course of a year. Driscoll lobbied the Texas Legislature to reimburse her, and she then transferred possession of the property to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.

De Zavala believed the facade of the grocery warehouse should be removed to restore the building to its original condition. She hoped to turn the first floor into a museum and library and house a hall of fame honoring Texas heroes on the second floor.

That was where the schism between her and Driscoll emerged. 

Driscoll, inspired by the great monuments of Europe, believed the long barrack hiding the original Alamo should be torn away to make a park. She went public with her disdain for keeping the long barrack intact.

“There does not stand in the world today a building or monument which can recall such a deed of heroism and bravery, such sacrifice and courage, as that of the brave men who fought and fell inside those historic walls,” she wrote in a letter to the San Antonio Daily Express. “Today, the Alamo should stand out, free and clear. All the unsightly obstructions should be torn away.”

De Zavala, however, “had the historical reference of, ‘We got to preserve the right thing. No, this is not going to be a place where people come and eat a picnic. This is hallowed ground where hundreds of human beings died,’” Groves said.

Legal battles and infighting ensued. 

When the Daughters of the Republic of Texas gained possession of the Alamo in 1905, De Zavala initially refused to turn over the keys. The  group filed a civil suit against her, and she surrendered the keys to Driscoll, who had been appointed the custodian of the property. 

The following year, Driscoll’s supporters broke off to form a new chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, according to Ables. De Zavala sought custody of the Alamo complex for her chapter but the effort failed.

Tensions between the factions built over the next year, with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas calling for De Zavala and her supporters to be pushed out of the group’s executive committee. The “Driscollites,” as Ables described them, later sought an injunction from a Harris County court to bar De Zavala’s group from interfering with the Alamo property. 

The grocer’s lease at the warehouse expired on Feb. 10, 1908. Driscoll’s faction planned to lease the building to “reliable business men of San Antonio,” the group’s president wrote in a letter.

When Feb. 10 arrived and the grocer vacated the barrack, De Zavala seized her chance.

She entered the building, had its locks changed and barricaded herself inside.

A Harris County sheriff held an injunction, but she refused to be served a copy – she even covered her ears when the sheriff tried to read it aloud, the San Antonio Light reported. The sheriff stationed a deputy at the building and told him not to let anyone enter or bring De Zavala food. He also made sure the electricity and telephone lines were cut.

But De Zavala was savvy. Journalists rushed to the spot, and she spoke to them through a 5-inch porthole. Her stunt made national headlines.


Suzanne Groves, researcher
For her to barricade herself with the keys inside that area of the Alamo was almost her ultimate sacrifice. “‘Whatever is going to happen to me, I know that I have fought to the end’ — almost like she was channeling the men who had fought before her.

“Here I will remain until justice is done our cause,” she said, according to the San Antonio Light. “I’ll stay here forever if needs be.”

A Dallas Morning News journalist reported that De Zavala appeared weak and that her lips were cracked from thirst. Friends and allies brought her sandwiches and chocolates, blankets and clothing, which she pulled up with a cord. One friend brought her coffee by pouring it through a tube into the porthole.

“For her to barricade herself with the keys inside that area of the Alamo was almost her ultimate sacrifice,” Groves said. “‘Whatever is going to happen to me, I know that I have fought to the end’ – almost like she was channeling the men who had fought before her. 

“What she did by doing that was having a lot of other eyes look at what the DRT wanted to do with the Alamo. It gave her cause a lot more agency than it had.”

As her story won public attention and support, the sheriff allowed the electricity to be restored to the building before nightfall – which kept the rats at bay.

De Zavala surrendered the building when a state official said Texas Gov. Thomas M. Campbell would take over the property while litigation played out.

By 1909, De Zavala’s group was defeated in court and appeals failed. The courts ruled that because Driscoll’s group had written the De Zavala Chapter out of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, any action by the chapter afterward was moot. But in 1910, Gov. Oscar Colquitt sided with De Zavala and ordered the long barrack to be restored.

In this Jan. 9, 2014 photo, Soheil Hamideh, left, and Bob Warden, right, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Heritage Conservation at Texas A&M, use a camera to record images of the Alamo's long barrack, which was originally constructed in 1724.
In this Jan. 9, 2014 photo, Soheil Hamideh, left, and Bob Warden, right, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Heritage Conservation at Texas A&M, use a camera to record images of the Alamo’s long barrack, which was originally constructed in 1724.
Eric Gay, AP

And De Zavala was right: Beneath the warehouse walls was the original masonry of the barrack, the site of the rebels’ last stand. Historians have since confirmed that the long barrack indeed is the oldest building in the complex and a site of major bloodshed during the 1836 battle.

The state Supreme Court returned the property to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1912. In 1913, while Colquitt was out of the country, Lt. Gov. William Harding Mayes ordered the walls of the second story to be destroyed.

The first floor survived. But De Zavala’s work didn’t end there. 

In 1912, she founded the Texas Historical and Landmarks Association, which placed 38 markers at historical sites around the state. For about a decade, she was arguably the most vocal advocate of preserving the Spanish Governor’s Palace in San Antonio; the city eventually bought it in 1928.

“Her legacy goes well beyond the Alamo,” Dillard said.

An angel finally honored

De Zavala never married or had children. She died alone in 1955. Nine people attended her funeral service and signed her guestbook. Though Driscoll’s body was laid in state at the Alamo after her death in 1945, De Zavala’s funeral procession only drove by the site. 

Decades passed with little recognition of De Zavala’s work. 

Driscoll was long celebrated as the “Savior of the Alamo” because she had the money to take back the property. De Zavala, on the other hand, burned bridges with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and with others in San Antonio.

“She did not play well in the sandbox with others, and particularly other women,” Groves said. “That was very divisive, particularly within the DRT but among women in polite society who just didn’t behave that way – my God, particularly women that have a Mexican last name.”

In 1961, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas published a pamphlet called “Clara Driscoll Rescued the Alamo,” which wrongly claimed Driscoll was “one of the few people” who knew the convent, not the chapel, was the site of the 1836 battle.

The year of De Zavala’s death, the Texas Legislature adopted a resolution saluting her work and calling for a plaque in her honor to be placed in the Alamo. The  DRT did not fulfill that request until about 40 years later; the plaque at the front of the Alamo complex, near the sidewalk, is dated 1994.

A Texas historical plaque is seen with Adina De Zavala's name outside of the Alamo.
Adina de Zavala's grave at St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, less than a mile from The Alamo.
TOP: A Texas Historical Commission plaque inscribed with Adina De Zavala’s biography sits in front of the Alamo. BOTTOM: Adina de Zavala’s grave at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, is less than a mile from The Alamo.
TOP: A Texas Historical Commission plaque inscribed with Adina De Zavala’s biography sits in front of the Alamo. BOTTOM: Adina de Zavala’s grave at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, is less than a mile from The Alamo.
LEFT: A Texas Historical Commission plaque inscribed with Adina De Zavala’s biography sits in front of the Alamo. RIGHT: Adina de Zavala’s grave at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, is less than a mile from The Alamo.
ANNIE RICE, CORPUS CHRISTI CALLER-TIMES

A local archivist challenged the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1996, writing in a letter to the editor of the San Antonio Express-News that the group was “racist” and “un-American.” The following year, the organization agreed to place a marker near the long barrack.

Another plaque lauding both De Zavala’s and Driscoll’s work was added to the Alamo in 2008. In 2012, the Alamo Mission Chapter of the DRT commissioned a portrait of De Zavala, which was unveiled in a ceremony at the Alamo Hall — a move by the organization to “try to give Adina her rightful due,” Skrobarcek said.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas organization was the caretaker of the Alamo until 2015, when the Texas General Land Office took over. The Alamo Mission Chapter retained the portrait, and it sits in a storage facility while the chapter is without an office. The portrait will be hung in the chapter’s new home, Skrobarcek said.

Groves said recognition of De Zavala’s work, and her labeling as a Hispanic hero, began to grow in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when mainstream media began to shine “more light on the continued racial divide in this country.”

In her own research, Groves said, “I found in her a woman that was so deeply misunderstood but used everything available to her to have a life that made a difference.”

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