February 26, 1836, two hundred Alamo defenders shivered behind the walls of the compound as the morning wind howled across the San Antonio River. Firewood and water supplies were in short supply on this third day of the siege. The water well inside the old mission was not sufficient for the sudden needs of the Texas Army and their horses. A small party of men ventured out to gather firewood and bring water from a nearby acequia.
Santa Anna’s troops fired on the Alamo defenders as they scurried about grabbing dead mesquite wood on the ground, others carrying wooden buckets of water. Cannon fire diverted the Mexican marksmen’s attention, but future such excursions outside the walls would be made under the cover of darkness.
Note to today’s reader: At the siege of Mission San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo looked much different than today; as only the chapel and the long barracks still exist. To appreciate the size of this complex which was large enough to have livestock, horses and grow winter vegetables. The picture above depicts what the 1836 Alamo looked like.
February 23, 1836, large numbers of Mexican troops were seen from the Bell Tower of San Fernando Cathedral, 1.5 miles southwest of town. Many local families evacuated San Antonio headed east. More would follow before the sun set. Scouts estimated Santa Anna would not arrive until mid-March. William Barrett Travis shook his head, “They must have marched day and night to get here.”
The Texas volunteers began to prepare an old abandoned mission, storing provisions within the walls of the compound. The Mexican Army continued to grow; scouts reported to Travis the enemy now numbered over a thousand. Riders were sent to Gonzales and Goliad for reinforcements. Non-combatants were sequestered in the Alamo Chapel for safety.
At 2:30 p.m., a blood red flag was sent up by the Mexican’s signaling no quarter would be given. Travis answered with a cannon ball. The die was set; there would be no surrender by the Alamo Defenders.
One hundred sixty-eight years ago today, the City of Austin stopped at Noon on February 19, 1846. The town of several hundred residents and honored guests gathered around the Capitol building of the Republic of Texas. The first Capitol in Austin was at Eighth and Hickory (now Colorado Street). The frame structure was hastily built in the spring of 1839. President-Elect Mirabeau Lamar’s administration would utilize it for the Congress convening in Austin in November.
Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas, had written a speech for the occasion, but chose to speak from the heart. Jones slowly lowered the Lone Star Flag and handed it to J. Pinckney Henderson, the first elected Governor of Texas, and spoke loudly for all to hear, “The Republic is no more.” Governor Henderson raised the American Flag, then the Lone Star Flag, again, and at that moment in the eyes and ears of Texan’s everywhere, Texas officially became the 28th state in the union.
History books tell us that Texas was annexed December 29, 1835, which is the day President James Polk signed the documents of annexation. The official act of Texas joining the union would not take place until February 19, 1846. Below is one of the last notes issued by the Republic of Texas the morning of the ceremony, proving that the Republic was still functioning weeks after the December 29, 1845 date.
Regardless of the official date, it is sad that the State of Texas does not celebrate its statehood.
Presbyterian minister Amos Roark took a census of the new Capitol City, prior to Austin being incorporated on December 27, 1839. It was more of a marketing plan for the Presbytery than an official census. Regardless of his motive it gives a good description of Austin and its earliest settlers, during the Republic of Texas.
Rev. Roark counted 75 families: 5 with no religious affiliation, 10 Baptist, 10 Catholic, 11 Episcopalians, 10 Lutherans, 17 Methodists and 12 Presbyterians. Only the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches were finished; other congregations worshipped in members homes, some held services at the wood planked capitol building on a hill at the northwest corner of Hickory (now Colorado) and East Eighth.
He tallied 856 full time residents; 550 adult men, 61 women of which 6 were young maidens, the rest children. The minister targeted 20 gamblers and 4 lawyers in need of salvation. He noted there were 6 inns, 6 gaming houses, 9 saloons and a billiard parlor.
There was little night life as few could afford candles at nine dollars a pound. Venison, turkey and buffalo meat were abundant at the Eberly Inn. Paying $75.00 a month room and board at the Eberly was Senator Anson Jones of Brazoria County and Lorenzo Van Cleve. Both bachelors served in the Texas Army during the revolution. Each bought city lots nearby to build their home and business; Jones an MD, Van Cleve a master craftsman, would make furniture for Dr. Jones’ new home on Pecan Street.
The doctor was engaged to Mary McCory; Van Cleve was courting 19 year old Margaret Smith. They would be the second and third couple to marry of the six recorded during 1840. Mary McCory-Jones gave birth to Sam Houston Jones on February 26, 1841. The boy was named Sam Houston Jones at birth, but after a fall out with President Sam Houston, the parents changed the boy’s name to Samuel Edward Jones. Margaret Smith-Van Cleve had Elnora Van Cleve on April 14, 1841. They were the first recorded births in Austin.
Captain Thomas Ward was a hero of the Texas Revolution before it began. The Irish-born member of the New Orlean’s Greys lost a leg at the “Siege of Bexar” in December of 1835, months before Texas had declared its independence from Mexico. Thomas Ward lost a leg to cannon fire in San Antonio. Colonel Ben Milam lost his life two days later from a well-placed rifle shot. It is legend that Ward’s leg was buried with Colonel Milam’s body.
Ward was fitted for a peg leg in New Orleans and returned toTexas to receive a Colonel’s commission from President David Burnet. He served under General Thomas Rusk during the remainder of the war; receiving 2,240 acres for his service to Texas. After the Texas Revolution, Ward settled in Houston where he was awarded a contract to build the Capitol. “Peg Leg,” as he was now called, served as a clerk in the second session of The Republic of Texas congress.
He followed the government’s move to Austin in 1839, becoming Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives during the fourth congress. Ward became Austin’s second mayor, then commissioner of the General Land Office.
During a San Jacinto Day celebration in Austin, Peg Leg lost his right arm in a cannon salute. He would face fire from the cannon again December 29, 1842 when Angelina Eberly fired it toward the General Land Office; stopping Ward’s removal of the state archives away from Austin. His friends now called him “Lucky.”