know the names of many of the men who died at the Alamo,
but until recently we didn't know the name of the only woman known
to have died there. Alamo commander William Barrett Travis' slave,
Joe, who the Mexican soldiers spared from execution, reported seeing
a Black woman "laying dead between two guns" in the battle's aftermath.
She was the only woman to die at the Alamo. Until recently, her identity
was a mystery.
Stephen L. Hardin, a professor of history at McMurry University in
Abilene and one of
the country's foremost authorities on the Alamo and the Texas Revolution,
told a San Antonio webinar audience in 2015 that research by Louisiana
researchers Ron Jackson and Thomas Ricks has cleared up the mystery.
Hardin said the woman was probably named Sarah and probably died alongside
Alamo defender Patrick Henry Herndon, a native of Virginia who came
to Texas and settled near Navasota
after his wife died in 1825. In the fall of 1835, Herndon was in New
Orleans, probably to recruit volunteers for the Texas cause.
"In New Orleans he met and fell in love with, apparently, a slave
girl named Sarah," Hardin said. "Sarah was the property of Ezekiel
Hays, a local resident of New Orleans, and when Herndon lit out for
Texas, well, Sarah went with him. Hays was not happy about that and
filed suit against the absent Herndon for the return of his property."
By December 15, Herndon and Sarah were back in Texas. He joined John
Chenoweth's company on Jan. 14, 1836 and found his way to the Alamo,
where he died with the other defenders on March 6. According to the
Mexican reports, soldiers found the body of a Black woman next to
the southwest corner gun platform.
That the woman died where some of the fiercest fighting took place
suggests that she did not seek sanctuary or cover but preferred to
die a free woman, fighting to the death with the rest of the martyred
"This was likely Herndon's Sarah, since she was not with the other
women and children who took refuge in the church sacristy," Hardin
said. "It's entirely possible that Sarah helped Herndon man the 18-pounder
and fell alongside her lover."
Hardin uses Sarah's story as an example of how the story of the Alamo
remains relevant because it continues to evolve.
"I'm not a novelist but if I were, this story is just waiting to be
turned into a tear-jerker, bodice ripperit's got all the ingredients."