Emilia Altamirano, half Otomí Indian, half pure Spanish, is born in 1814, the year after the Battle of the Medina River, where her father fought as an officer in the Mexican Royalist Army. She grows up in Bexar de San Antonio unacknowledged by her father, raised by her Otomí Indian mother, and “adopted” as an unofficial ward by José Antonio Navarro, hero of the Texas fight for independence from Mexico. She learns to read, write, and acts as a page for the Ayuntamiento (City Council). She learns nursing during a cholera epidemic and later tends the wounded on both sides during and after the Battle of the Alamo. She survives, but as a Tejana, Spanish-speaking, and a loyal citizen of Mexico, she faces an uncertain future.
From Before the Alamo: A Tejana’s Story
By Florence Byham Weinberg
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This episode followed Emilia’s encounter with the Comanche boy and her report to her mother. She is six-going-on-seven and shows her character in the midst of calamity. The flood of 1819 was a historical event, just as catastrophic as I depict it here. I got the details from the governor’s report as I worked in the Alamo Archive. Oddly, the Internet does not record that event as one of San Antonio’s catastrophic floods. Flood reports begin with the one in 1921. To find the earlier one, google “San Antonio flood of 1819.” Why did I delete the episode? Because, although it shows Emilia’s character, I had just done that with the episode of the Comanche boy. This episode did not further the plot, so out it went. Below is the first half of the deleted scene.
Before the Alamo
Episode cut from Chapter Two
Summer came. June weather was increasingly hot, and no rain had fallen since the end of the second week. July threatened to be even more unbearable. Flies swarmed through the kitchen windows, attracted by moist food smells; all sorts of creeping insects appeared, also in the jacal and even in the stone house, looking for cool shade. The river level fell, but typical for Béxar, humidity remained high.
María and Emilia went to bed on July 5, perspiring in the foggy air rising from the river. Far to the north, they could hear the growl of thunder.
“Maybe it will rain tonight, Mamá.”
“Maybe. But it has thundered before, and not a drop of rain here.”
They drifted off to sleep, but Emilia awoke when a blinding flash of light illuminated the jacal, followed almost immediately by an earth-shaking boom. She rose, trying not to disturb her mother, who had slept through the noise. She padded to the door and pulled the cowhide curtain aside. All was silent, and then a few huge raindrops began to plop into the dust beyond the threshold. Dawn light showed gray in the east. She was on her way to lie down again, when she felt the earth tremble beneath her feet. The hair on the nape of her neck and on her arms stiffened. Now she could hear a roar.
“Mamá! Mamá! Wake up! Something terrible is happening!”
María sat up, eyes wide, staring around her. “What’s that roaring?”
Then, abruptly, something struck the side of the jacal with great force and just as quickly rushed through the door. Water! Rushing, powerful water.
“Come, m’hija, we must warn our people in the house!”
They found they could not run the short distance to the back entrance; the force of the water was nearly irresistible. It reached their knees before they got inside the door.
“Señora Carmen! Juan Andrés! Get up! Flood! Water everywhere!” They ran through the rapidly filling house.
Andrés appeared in his nightshirt, sloshing toward his wife’s bedroom. “Come, Carmen, get up! We must save ourselves!”
The water now was knee high inside.
Carmen came to the door, a simple shift pulled over her head. “What shall we take?”
María shouted over the noise of the rushing water, “Yourselves. Nothing more!”
Andrés stopped long enough to pull on a pair of trousers, grabbed up Emilia, and ordered his wife and María to follow him. They heard a cracking sound from behind the house, over the continued roaring. María had made her way to the back door. “The jacal and the kitchen! The water swept them away.”
Juan Andrés shouted. “Out the front door! Now!”
He managed to keep his feet, carry Emilia, and somehow support his wife, the least able to withstand the current and debris hurled against them. He looked wildly for something solid to climb on.
“There’s no… way to reach… the old mission.” He gasped. “Look! That live oak… at the end of the street.”
They struggled in that direction, Juan Andrés and María keeping Carmen upright in rushing water halfway up their thighs and rapidly rising. Emilia wrapped her arms around Juan Andrés’s neck as he fought the current and batted away floating objects that became projectiles. They headed for the huge oak tree on Real Street. Its horizontal limbs drooped five feet above the water, so it should be easy to climb. Unless…
By some miracle, they reached it and Andrés perched Emilia in the crotch of a limb, then lifted Carmen beside her. Next, he turned to María, who had expected no help from her ‘master.’ A second low-bending branch offered a refuge, and she leaped, using the current to boost her, grasped the branch, and with the strength of desperation, pulled herself up until she lay with her body along the branch. Andrés joined her and their combined weight bent the branch within a few inches of the flood.
Andrés gasped. “We must… climb higher.”
Emilia gave a little scream and pointed. A dead body, a man, floated under them, dressed in a nightshirt. His face torn and disfigured by a collision with something—perhaps the wall of a stone house—he floated on too quickly for them to identify him. Emilia, in shock, did not cry.
By now, the sun had risen, illuminating the bizarre scene through heavy clouds, and they could see their town amidst the waters that had filled the valley of Béxar like a huge cup. Hardly anything other than the church still stood, and it, too, seemed heavily damaged. Jacales had been swept away, and the adobe buildings were melting ruins, collapsing before their eyes. Some stone houses were damaged worse than the church, walls partially tumbled or tumbling down, the mortar between the stones melting. Worst of all, they could see many bodies of the drowned, both human and animal. Any horse, cow, sheep, pig or goat that had been enclosed in a barn or tethered, had drowned. The water still rushed swiftly as it drained southeastward toward the Gulf, and the bodies of man and beast alike bobbed along downstream toward a salty grave. Here and there they could see another tree, loaded like this one with survivors.