Last time we met, Johnny was pondering the spirits of Goliad’s dark past, those unsettled souls lost in violence. But today the echo of goodness calls him to the gardens of La Bahia. He is remembering the Angel of Goliad.
In the landscape beyond the fortress walls, Johnny’s spirit embraces the bronze likeness of a woman. Francesca Alavez did not lose her life on those grounds. She saved lives there, and her image stands today to remind visitors of her goodness. Her left arm is outstretched to extend hope and peace to passers-by.
In those days, it was not uncommon for family members and friends to follow the troops. Known as “camp followers,” the noncombatants served in support of the combatants. Wives, children or neighbors dressed as politically-neutral commoners were better able to scour the countryside unnoticed and contribute to the basic needs of the camp. Civilians provided water, firewood and food while the soldiers – more easily noticed in their uniforms – cleaned their weapons, stood guard and attended to their soldiering. The civilians washed or mended the uniforms, scrubbed the cooking pots, and performed other chores. They benefitted from protection and a sense of connection with their military family member. The military men were comforted to know their women were nearby. Some women served as nurses, perhaps using government issued medications and bandages. There was mutual benefit in this arrangement. Along the road, others might join their civilian cohorts. As this symbiosis evolved, those in uniform and those in civilian dress took notice of each other. It was apparently in this arrangement that General Urrea led his Mexican army from Copano Bay toward Goliad in the winter of 1836.
In this mixed community, Mexican Captain Telesforo Alavez took notice of a woman named Francesca. They were never married, but she was perceived as being his wife. Somehow the two were associated at Copano Bay, and then she followed Alavez’s camp to Goliad.
As early as the Copano Bay camp, it is known that Francesca used her influence for good. General Urrea’s troops had captured Texians at Copano, and Francesca felt the captives were treated too harshly. She was able to influence the guards to loosen the cords tightly binding the hands. Then she arranged for the prisoners to be given water and food. The captives remained prisoners, but their misery was reduced by the woman’s intervention.
Weeks later in Goliad, as the camp followers witnessed the preparation for an impending massacre, Francesca hid several men, resulting in their survival to tell of her good deeds. She somehow managed to convince the Mexican officers to spare at least two of the Texians, reasoning that their knowledge and skill in medical practices would be useful to the army. She appealed on behalf of another young man, convincing the Mexican officers that he was needed to drive a wagon out of Goliad. History tells us that as many as twenty men were spared because of Francesca’s influence.
The broader story of this woman is hidden from us. What was her maiden name? Why did Captain Alavez favor her over other women? Why were her compassionate requests granted? There is evidence that after the Texas Revolution Francesca was taken to Mexico City and abandoned to the streets. Was Goliad the purpose of her life? Did she continue to bring comfort to others? Is it possible that Francesca even influenced General Urrea’s thinking?
The after-action reports in the Mexican military records indicate that the Mexican Commander, General Urrea sent a courier to Santa Anna asking permission for leniency, to take the Goliad prisoners back to Mexico alive, to be held in prison. Urrea did not want to conduct the massacre we remember today. And in fact, Urrea did not conduct that massacre. After receiving the request, Santa Anna didn’t trust Urrea to honor his policy of “no quarter.” He sent an order to the camp naming Lieutenant Colonel Jose Nicholas de la Portilla to oversee the program of annihilation.
The efforts of one good person cannot be underestimated. Hundreds of souls were lost in the massacre of Goliad, but the Angel of Goliad saved many from that fate.
“Depart from evil and do good, so you will abide forever.”