On this date 175 years ago, the Republic of Texas convened its fourth session of Congress in the new capitol city on the Colorado River. It was the first Congress held in the yet to be named town.
Some say it was a village called Waterloo prior to Austin. When President Mirabeau Lamar found the site for his proposed Center of Government in the fall of 1838, there was no mention of Waterloo.
Only Jacob Harrell and his family lived within the 640 acres selected for the Center of Government, now downtown Austin. The Harrell families nearest neighbor was Uncle “Billy” Barton, a recluse living 3 miles across the river on Barton Creek. The Hornsby family lived 8 miles southeast. Does one family make a village, hamlet, or town? I think not.
There are letters referring to the site as Waterloo. They were written from the spring of 1839 until Austin’s incorporation December 29, 1839. As President Lamar’s middle name was “Bonaparte” his detractors, of which he had many, may have called it “Waterloo” in jest.
Regardless, I think the one thing President Lamar did right was pick this site on the Colorado River. My hometown of Austin, 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.”
My next book, Two Trails to Taos, about the story of Fayette Smith’s capture in Austin, Texas in 1841. Why did the Comanche’s take a 9 year old boy to Taos? It was simple, it was the only place with an active slave trade. The going rate for a healthy white boy at that time was $60. I found a well-written article from Adam James Jones that I would like to share with anyone interested in this bit of southwest history.
Last week, Lulubelle and I visited the D.H. Ranch near the top of Lobo Mountain at 8,600 feet. The afternoon excursion, 20 miles northwest of Taos, was part of the 16th Annual Taos Summer Writers Conference. D.H. Lawrence authored such works as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
He and wife Frieda were invited to the ranch in the fall of 1922 by New York socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan, who lived in Taos. He wrote of his first trip “I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had. It certainly changed me forever…”
The Kiowa Ranch was given to D.H. Lawrence and Frieda not for a song, but one of his original manuscripts. In 1924, the Lawrence’s and artist Lady Brett, the Earl of Esher’s daughter, moved there. If the story sounds like something out of PBS Downton Abbey, it might very well be.
From the ranch, on a small table under a giant Ponderosa Pine, he wrote St. Mawr, and parts of David, The Plumed Serpent, and The Woman Who Ran Away.
Years later, artist Georgia O’Keefe lay on her back looking up from a long pine bench, to paint the branches of The Lawrence Tree, which is now owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut.
The 160 acre ranch was willed to the University of New Mexico by Frieda in 1955.
David and Lulubelle near the Lawrence Tree
Two votes in the Continental Congress prevented Franklin from becoming the fourteenth state in the Union. The State of Franklin existed from 1784-1789 in a parallel government with North Carolina. Those that favored breaking from North Carolina were called Franklinites, those that didn’t were Anti’s. The issue divided westerners who had fought side-by-side during the revolution for independence.
The North Carolina Assembly voted in 1780 to cede western lands over the mountain to the federal government to settle the state’s war debt. The western settlers were left to fight hostile Indians on their own. They quickly formed the State of Franklin for protection, after being abandoned by North Carolina and the federal government. Only in desperation did they approach Spain for help. Many scholars have suggested Franklinites were treasonous by doing so. The Republic of Texas used a similar ploy many years later to become the twenty-eighth state in the Union. Amazing how history repeats itself.
During a heavy snowfall, open rebellion broke out between the Franklinites, led by John Sevier and the Anti’s by John Tipton. Two killed and several men were injured. The fighting was for naught as the North Carolina Assembly elected John Sevier as a delegate to reconsider ratification of the Federal Constitution. Western North Carolina became the Southwest Territory and in 1796, Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the sixteenth state.
The Franklin Constitution signed at Jonesborough, Tennessee on 17 December 1784; Section 31, stated “No clergymen or preacher of the gospel could hold public office.” The next Section 32, went into great detail that “No person that did not believe in God could hold public office.” I found those sections interesting.
Read more about the Franklinites in Book 2, Adam’s Daughters and Book 3, Children of the Revolution.
John Sevier, President of Franklin