On this day in 1852, the Texas legislature confirmed the work of the Bourland Commission, a group of three officials appointed to investigate land claims after the Mexican War. The war's outcome had brought into question the validity of numerous Spanish and Mexican land grants north of the Rio Grande. Against a complex backdrop that included agitation for making trans-Nueces Texas a separate country, Governor Peter Bell recommended that the legislature appoint a commission to investigate claims. The commission began its business in Laredo in mid-1850 and in February 1852 confirmed 234 grants in five South Texas counties to the original Spanish and Mexican grantees.
On this day in 1899, Andrea Castañón Villanueva (Madam Candelaria), who claimed to be a survivor of the battle of the Alamo, died at age 113 in San Antonio. She said she had been born in Laredo in 1785, though other sources say she was born at Presidio del Río Grande. She came to San Antonio when she was about twenty-five and married Candelario Villanueva, who she said was her second husband; thereafter she became known as Madam or Señora Candelaria. She was the mother of four children and raised twenty-two orphans. She nursed the sick and aided the poor. She claimed to have been in the Alamo during the 1836 battle and to have nursed the ailing Jim Bowie. Since evidence of survivors is sparse, her claims may never be confirmed, but in 1891 the Texas legislature granted her a pension of twelve dollars a month for being an Alamo survivor and for her work with smallpox victims in San Antonio. Madam Candelaria is buried in San Fernando Cemetery.
On this day in 1721, the castaway François Simars de Bellisle reached the French post at Natchitoches after a year and a half of wandering across Texas. Bellisle was an officer on the Maréchal d'Estrée, which ran aground near Galveston Bay in the autumn of 1719. He and four other men were put ashore to ascertain their position and seek help, but were left behind when the ship floated free and sailed away. That winter the Frenchmen were unable to kill enough game to sustain themselves. One by one, Bellisle's companions died of starvation or exposure. When he at last encountered a band of Atakapa Indians on an island in the bay, they stripped him of his clothing, robbed him of his possessions, and made him a slave. But they fed him, and he remained with them throughout the summer of 1720, traversing "the most beautiful country in the world." When a group of Bidai Indians came to the Atakapa camp, Bellisle managed to write a letter and give it to the visitors with instructions to deliver it to "the first white man" they saw. The letter, passed from tribe to tribe, at last reached Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis at Fort Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Natchitoches). Saint-Denis sent the Hasinais to rescue the French castaway. Bellisle returned to the Texas coast with Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe in the summer of 1721 and served as an interpreter among the natives, "who were quite surprised at seeing their slave again." Bellisle remained in the Louisiana colony until 1762 and died in Paris the following year.