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Charming the Alamo

179 years after the battle, help finally arrives—with four legs, fur and friendliness

Illustration by Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Her full name is Miss Isabella Francisca Veramendi de Valero, but visitors to the Alamo just call her Bella. She’s the Texas shrine’s official meeter/greeter and is quite the local celebrity with her own Twitter and Instagram accounts, plus her own Fiesta San Antonio medal.

Want to meet her? Go to the Alamo and look for a large calico cat. That’s Bella.

The Alamo feline’s story begins in Goliad on the grounds of Presidio La Bahía, the Spanish fort about 90 miles southeast of San Antonio. Josephine McMahon, the young daughter of Presidio director Scott McMahon, found a kitten there in early 2015.

“Bella was found in the middle room of the museum,” recalls Josephine’s mom, Monica McMahon. “I posted on Facebook asking if anyone wanted to adopt her. Sherri Driscoll from the [Daughters of the Republic of Texas] library contacted me. She said they were interested because their previous cat had recently passed away.”

The previous Alamo cat was Clara Carmack—aka Miss C.C. She was named in honor of Alamo preservationist Clara Driscoll and Alamo committee Chair Mary Carmack, and Miss C.C. reigned (roamed?) from 1996 to 2014. Her predecessor, Ruby LeGato, was the first official Alamo cat in the 1980s. She was immortalized in a children’s book, The Alamo Cat, by San Antonio author Rita Kerr.

Ruby and Miss C.C. had captured the hearts of Alamo staff and visitors. Bella had big paw prints to fill. But the McMahons had brought her to the Alamo on an auspicious day.

“March 6, 2015—that day was the 179th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo,” says Ernesto Rodriguez, the Alamo’s senior curator and historian (and Bella’s caretaker). “It was one of those interesting coincidences because she was the only ‘aid’ to come to the Alamo—but many, many years later.”

The Texas General Land Office is the Alamo’s custodian. It gave permission for Bella to stay if Alamo staff would provide for her. She succeeded Miss C.C. as the Alamo cat and moved—with her food bowl, water dish and litter box—into Rodriguez’s office.

Bella quickly adapted to her new home. “She’s been around crowds since she was 6 weeks old,” Rodriguez says. “At first, she was part indoors and part outdoors. We’d bring her in for the night. Right now, she’s indoors because of ongoing construction here.”

Rodriguez laughingly calls Bella a “cat-dog” because she’s so good with young children and because she occasionally goes for walks on a harness. Yes—a harness. “When we first got her, we took her out on a harness so she could get accustomed to the property,” he says. “She’s used to wearing it because she has since she was a kitten.”

With construction temporarily curtailing her movements, what’s a typical day like for the Alamo cat? She eats. She checks on other Alamo staffers. She takes a nap. She plays with her toys then takes another nap. Rodriguez reports that she likes to sit in on meetings, too. “She likes to be involved with meetings and phone calls,” he says.

“When I’m in a meeting, she’ll sit and stare at me. Sometimes, she’ll climb up on the table and stay until she gets bored.”

Bella loves people, and they love her. Like Ruby and Miss C.C., she has become well-known in San Antonio, so her fan base worried when she had a health scare in 2021.

“She was overheated and either jumped or fell into a dumpster one day,” Rodriguez says. “Her vet suggested that we take her to the emergency vet. They kept her for several days. She was mostly dehydrated and had to take antibiotics.”

Her Alamo friends set up a GoFundMe campaign to pay her vet bills. Her adoring public came through and paid her bills in full, raising more than $3,500.

It’s no surprise that Bella merchandise is popular. And every April during the Alamo City’s 10-day Fiesta celebration, when collecting and trading medals is part of the fun, Bella’s medal sells out. The proceeds go toward her medical care and other expenses.

The Alamo kitty probably misses greeting visitors as much as they miss seeing her. But she’s around, caring for the caretakers of this state treasure when she’s not posting on social media.