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-nine years ago, 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, 1845, 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.
“The Toughest Town on Earth” Eastern Newspapers called Helena. The first county seat of Karnes County, Texas founded in 1852. The town named for the wife of a founder, Lewis Owen. Helena flourished until the railroad bypassed it in 1894. After the county seat moved to Karnes City, Helena became a Ghost Town. The population is about 30 now; if you don’t count the ghosts.
Other than the ghosts of the past, Helena is known for the “Helena Duel.” It was invented by some mean hombres. Men who had a score to settle were tied at the left wrist and each wielded a razor sharp knife. The blade short so no vital organs could be punctured. Shirtless, the fighters lashed at one another until the loser begged to stop or bled to death. The local cowboys bet on the Helena Duel, like it was a cock fight.
My Great Grandfather, Dan Brown, operated one of the Helena Saloons until 1894 when the town died. That had to be a tough job! John Ruckman built a home in Helena in 1878 that is on the National Registry of Historic Places. I met Paul Ruckman, the Great Grandson of John, in Dallas in 1989. It was years later that we realized our Great Grandfathers settled the town of Helena.
The “Indian Summer Heritage Festival” is held in Helena on the last Saturday in October. Lulubelle and I will be signing books and telling stories this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Helena Courthouse Museum located at Highway 80 and FM 81 NE of Karnes City, 5 miles E of Panna Maria, Texas.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago this week; President Mirabeau Lamar arrived in the Capitol City. The townspeople waited anxiously for their President at the “Hall of Congress.” The modest wooden structure sat on a hill; at the NW corner of what is now 8th and Colorado. The covered porch of the Capitol looked down on a large clearing of land; two blocks wide and fourteen blocks long. Tree stumps cluttered the muddy ground; that would become Congress Ave.
Lamar’s architect for his new center of government; Edwin Waller and a hand full of mounted dignitaries, met his Excellency’s entourage west of town. They were led to the unpainted capitol. As the citizens cheered; a twenty-one gun salute was fired from the town’s only cannon.
After a short public ceremony, the officials proceeded to Bullocks Hotel for the official dinner. President Lamar made a toast “there has sprung up, like the work of magic, a beautiful city, whose glory is destined to overshadow the ancient magnificence of Mexico.”