The Austin Lyceum was granted a charter on February 5, 1841, the first ever issued for a learned society in the Republic of Texas. E. Lawrence Stickney, President presided over the first meeting of the Austin Lyceum. Stickney was also Secretary to the Republic of Texas Treasury. George William Bonnell was a charter member and President Sam Houston an honorary member. The learned men of the new capitol city of the Republic of Texas started meeting in October of 1839, months before Austin was officially incorporated.
By April 1840, membership had grown to 42, mostly professional men. The meetings consisted of lectures and debates on current affairs. Membership fees and dues were assessed for the purpose of establishing a library.
On April 15, 1841, the organization abruptly surrendered its charter to the Secretary of State and dissolved the entity. All monies acquired would go to the family of Travis County Judge, James W. Smith, who had been killed by Indians on January 21, 1841. The popular Judge’s son Fayette was captured during the attack, which was his ninth birthday. Lyceum members hoped that the widow Angelina Smith might be able to ransom her son with the money. Word had been received that a boy matching Fayette’s description was seen headed toward Santa Fe with the Comanche’s.
Thanks to the Lyceum, William Smith, the brother of Judge Smith, hired Tonkawa Indians to guide him. They made it to Santa Fe before the Comanche’s; Fayette’s uncle missed him by just days. William alerted people about his captured nephew before heading back to Austin by way of the Santa Fe Trail. A Taos merchant named John Rowland paid $60.00 silver in ransom for Fayette and returned him to his family.
In downtown Austin, Texas near Congress Avenue and Sixth Street, stands a bronze statue of Angelina Eberly holding a torch, igniting a canon. From where the monument stands, the Tennessee native fired the opening shot in the short-lived “Archives War” and earned the innkeeper the title of “Savior of Austin.”
Sam Houston ordered the Capitol of the Republic of Texas moved to Houston on March 10, 1842. The estimated two hundred remaining residents of Austin knew if the national archives were removed, Austin would never again be the Capitol. They formed a vigilance committee and loaded the cannon with grape shot in anticipation of a raid of the national records.
On the morning of December 30, 1842, twenty-six men in three wagons, on orders of President Sam Houston, arrived to take the national archives. Land Commissioner, Thomas William Ward or “Peg Leg” as the locals called him, directed the loading of eleven boxes. By noon the wagons were ready to roll, angry vigilantes’ shook their fists at Ward and the soldiers, as Angelina fired her famous shot. Shrapnel hit the Land Office, but no one was injured. The wagons took off north toward Kenny Fort on Brushy Creek. The vigilantes caught up with them, a short gun battle ensued. Houston’s men surrendered and the records were returned to Austin.
Horseracing’s coveted “Triple Crown” trophy (TCT), has been returned to its case at the Kentucky Derby Museum. The three-sided silver and gold trophy was designed by Cartier and commissioned by the Thoroughbred Racing Association. Only California Chrome was eligible to win the elusive Triple Crown, after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. The chestnut colt, with a white blaze across its long nose, failed to win the Preakness the last leg of the Triple Crown. The California-bred horse did win the hearts of racing fans the world over. Chromie, as the four year old colt is called by its owners; Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, is a crowd pleaser and loves the attention. Only 12 horses have won the Triple Crown; the last was Secretariat in 1978.
Chromie didn’t win the TCT; but won the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes and placed fourth in the Preakness. He ran against the nation’s best four year olds, during a grueling five week racing schedule. The trainer is 77 year old Art Sherman and the jockey is Victor Espinoza. What makes this story neat is that an ordinary horse, owned and trained by everyday working people, could out run all but three of the best bred horses in the world on a bad hoof.
A future blog will be about a Texas horse that did win the Triple Crown.
Family storytelling is what gave me the inspiration to write the books Spring House, Adam’s Daughters, and Children of the Revolution. They were the first books in the Westward Sagas series, about my Grandmother Lillie Bowles’ family. I heard the stories told by my father and his siblings at family gathering. Sometimes the old stories were told a little different depending on who was telling it; which is to be expected of a story passed down from generation to generation?
One such story was of my three great Grandfather Thomas W. Smith being killed by Indians near Austin, Texas on August 6, 1841. Some said he was shot with a gun, others said he was killed by an arrow. Every one speculated he was scalped by the Indians. If I was to write a historically accurate novel, I needed the facts.
In my research, I discovered my ancestor Thomas W. Smith (1886-1841) was the first Travis County Treasurer of the new county carved out of Bastrop and Milam Counties in 1840. His son, James W. Smith (1806-1841) was the first Travis County Judge. They both were killed by Indians while in office, in separate incidents near Austin. I never heard that family story, but these and other facts I discovered will make a great book.
I still don’t know if Thomas W. Smith was shot with a gun or a bow and arrow. Records only confirm he was killed by savages eight miles from Austin on August 6, 1841.
As a young boy, during the drought of the 50’s, I remember walking across the dry Pedernales River bed from the Bowles Ranch to the Turner Ranch on the northwest side. The Pedernales and Colorado River downstream were completely dry except for a few pools of stagnant water. This was where the Pedernales ferry operated from 1944-1947. The ferry was the only way to Marble Falls before the bridge on Highway 71 was completed. The Ferry Road still exists and runs to the Pedernales River from the intersection of Briarcliff Road and Pace Bend Park Road. The ferry stopped operating in 1947.
My next memory is going back to the Ferry Crossing in the summer of 1957, as a teenager with my father Malcolm Bowles. Both crossings were under water, as well as a fishing camp at the end of Ferry Road.
It was 57 years ago this month the rains started across Texas and didn’t stop until June 1957. Texas streams and rivers were swollen from the Red River to the Rio Grande. Austin’s South First Street was closed beyond St. Elmo Road due to high water. Lazy little rivers like the Lampasas, flooded the town of Lampasas (see picture below). The long drought of the 50’s was officially over. I hope the rains of the last few days are the start of the end of this drought, but without the floods.