Badass Bitches In History: Bartender/Guerrilla Fighter Juana Galán

Happy Women’s History Month! All this month we will be profiling lesser known lady badasses throughout history!

Once upon a time in Spain, there was a badass lady named Juana “La Galana” Galan– and she is about to be your new superheroine.

You see, back during the Peninsular Wars, Napoleon went ahead and signed a treaty with Spain saying that Napoleon and Spain were totally cool just as long as Spain let him and his men traipse across their country in order to get to Portugal so they could take that country over. Unsurprisingly, Napoleon had exactly zero plans to just let Spain sit there all un-taken over, and as soon as he and his troops got into the country it became pretty clear that they were not planning on leaving anytime soon.

Now, a good portion of Napoleon’s troops were–for all intents and purposes–young, dumb, and douchey as fuck. They invaded Cordova commenced raping and pillaging the whole place to such a horrifying degree that their commanding officers basically just hid in their tents going “Welp! Not much we can do! They’re not listening to us! Boys will be boys!” the whole time to avoid all the screaming and horror.

Given that this was 1808, information was not exactly easily spread throughout the land. However, the rumors of the raid of Cordova got out pretty quickly, and all the men in all the villages started getting it together to go fight the French. Soon, the French realized they were gonna need some reinforcements and decided to cut through the village of Valdepeñas while waiting for them.

Like all the other villages, all the men in Valdepeñas were off doing war stuff. The French probably figured that they’d be totally fine crossing through there, and that perhaps they’d even find time for some more raping and pillaging!

That, however, quite go as swimmingly as they’d planned.

You see, a 20 year-old bartender (Or server? She’s usually described as a “barmaid”–which is pretty sexist sounding, but I’m not sure really what that’s supposed to refer to. Regardless, she worked in a bar.) named Juana Galán found out about their intention to cross through the village way beforehand. Because bars were basically the 1800’s version of Twitter.

Hearing of this, Galán got all the women and children in town, and everyone else who was away fighting the war, and assembled them into a badass, Napoleon-thwarting guerrilla warfare squadron, throwing boiling oil and boiling vinegar at the depleted troops. Galán herself, though usually depicted with a bat of some kind, supposedly fought them off while wielding a cast-iron skillet.

Now, because the French troops were so low on supplies and soldiers, they really had to cross through Valdepeñas in order to get their shit back together. But, due to Galán and her incredible maneuvering and organization of the townspeople, they weren’t able to do that and had to abandon the plan to take over the region of La Mancha and retreat deeper into Spain, where they were eventually fought off for good.

The peasant uprisings in places like Valdepeñas during the Peninsular War were basically where the whole concept of guerrilla warfare as a thing first originated, and those tactics were largely the reason why Napoleon never got to take over Spain like he wanted.

The lesson to be learned here, of course, is to never underestimate the power of a woman wielding a cast-iron skillet, and to probably not blab to your bartender about any crimes you plan on committing.

[St. Andrew’s History Society]