First Treasurer of Travis County

Four generations of the Thomas W. Smith family came to Austin during the spring of 1839. Family members were his mother Ann Rodgers, his wife Rebeckah. His oldest son James W. Smith and his wife Angelina brought their three children, a son Fayette, daughters Caroline and Lorena. Four of Thomas and Rebeckah’s grown children; William, Harvey, Fenwick and Margaret, all unwed, completed the family of twelve.

Thomas was appointed the first county treasurer; his son James was the county judge when Travis County was organized on January 25, 1840. Judge James Smith was killed one year later by Comanche Indians just west of his Pecan Street (now W. 6th Street) home, his son Fayette was captured. Fenwick, the judge’s younger brother, witnessed and escaped to report the attack. Family and neighbors searched in vain for nine year old Fayette. As his grandfather Thomas searched, he too was killed just outside of Austin by Indians on August 6, 1841. Rebeckah lost her husband, a son and a grandson to the Indians in eight months.

A document dated May 9, 1840, signed by Thomas Smith, gives some indication of Indian problems in the new county. He wrote a requisition for six kegs of gun powder and five bars of lead, to be delivered to Captain John Holliday at the falls of the Brazos.

Rebeckah returned to Alabama and died there in 1856. Thomas and Rebeckah Smith’s children and grandchildren stayed to take part in Austin’s future.

Something New

I will be writing short vignettes of the earliest known pioneers of Austin and Travis County during the Republic of Texas. A census taken in December of 1839 accounted for 856 people in the new town of Austin. Men numbered 550, woman 61, children 100, and slaves 145.

I have identified about 75 families who resided in the capitol city from October 1839 until February 19, 1846 when the Republic of Texas ceased to exist. I intend to share with you their stories, based on newspaper accounts, letters and Republic of Texas history. These first footers stories will be published periodically in no particular order. If you know of a good story of an early Austin/Travis County Pioneer, please share it with the Westward Sagas website.  The next blog will be about the first Travis County Treasurer, Thomas W. Smith.

City of Austin 1840

City of Austin 1840

Texas Grape Man

Texan, Thomas Volney Munson (1843-1913) of Denison saved the vineyards of France from phylloxera in 1868. The disease destroyed most of the grapevines in France, decimating their wine industry. Munson known as T.V., was a renowned horticulturist with expertise in viticulture. The French government requested his help. He developed a phylloxera-resistant rootstock from native Texas vinifera. He shipped cuttings to France, which were grafted onto French vines. The hardy rootstock of Texas grapevines thrived in the French soil, therefore saving the vineyards of France.

The French government sent a delegation to Denison to present T.V. the “French Legion of Honor” in 1888. Cognac, France and Denison, Texas became sister cities. In France, monuments were erected in his honor. One hundred years later, the T.V. Munson Viticulture and Enology Center was established on the campus of Grayson College at Sherman, Texas.

For more information on T.V. Munson I recommend Grape Man of Texas, Authors Roy E. Renfro, Jr. and Sherrie S. McLeRoy.

munson_tv

Cowboy Dad

Malcolm Bowles was born June 24, 1912, on the family ranch located on the east side of the Pedernales River at the confluence of the Colorado River. The nearest community was Mudd, which Lake Travis covered after completion of the Marshall Ford Dam. The area is now known as Spicewood and Briarcliff.

Dad always had cows to tend. He raised cattle like his father, grandfather and three brothers, all Travis County pioneers. Yet, I never heard him referred to as a cowboy by anyone, until his funeral. I remember the neighbors seeking his guidance with calving, parasite control and fencing. He enjoyed working his herd well into his eighties.

Today, he would have been 104 years old, the 13th year since his death. He passed away one minute after midnight, June 24, 2003. His service ended with Willie Nelson’s song “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” He is buried beside his wife of 46 years, Ida, at the Live Oak Cemetery in Manchaca, Texas.

Missed, but not forgotten.

Happy Birthday Great Grandmother!

One hundred seventy-five years ago today, Austin’s first recorded birth of a female child took place in a small cabin on Pecan Street. Elnora Van Cleve was born on the 14th day of April 1841. Parents Margaret Smith and Lorenzo Van Cleve married in July; one of six marriages in the first year of Austin’s existence.

Lorenzo made a canopy bed for his bride; adding a small trundle bassinette which pulled out from underneath. The bed is on display in Anson Jones’ restored home at Barrington Farms, Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park.

Her maternal grandfather, Thomas W. Smith, would be killed by Indians before she was four months old. Her mother died when Elnora was nine. She helped her father raise five brothers. In the census of 1860, three of her siblings still lived with her and Dan Brown, who she married September 13, 1859. Elnora and Dan Brown had 14 children, the last my grandmother Lilly Brown-Bowles born December 19, 1880.

Elnora was truly a Daughter of The Republic of Texas; born just blocks from the first permanent capitol, five years after the Battle of San Jacinto.

Great grandmother, Elnora Van Cleve-Brown, died January 2, 1900 at home on the family ranch at Spicewood, Texas. She is buried on private property near Pace Bend Park Road (FM 2322), Spicewood.

Great Grandmother

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