Austin’s First Teacher

My recent submission was published in the March 2017 quarterly journal of the Texas State Genealogical Society. The prologue and first part of the article titled A Tribute to Rebeckah Mitchell-Smith, Austin’s First Teacher can be found on page 34 of Stirpes. Membership in the TSGS is open to anyone interested in genealogy or Texas History. In addition to other benefits, annual membership of $25.00 includes the quarterly journal, Stirpes.

Austin Man Patents Side-Saddle

Austin saddle maker, Fenwick Smith, perfects the western side-saddle. Women and sissy men can now enjoy riding their favorite steed without need to straddle an uncomfortable saddle. The rider will enjoy the absence of the obtrusive horn. The U.S. Patent #105734 was issued July 26, 1870.

Mr. Smith states in his patent application, “a new and useful improvement in side-saddles. It consists in forming the saddle-tress hollow with air-chambers within.” He also developed a special saddle for roping wild mustangs on the open prairie. Its oversized saddle-horn could better manage an unruly mustang.

Fenwick Smith was born June 5, 1821. When he was eighteen he left Coosa, Alabama in a wagon train that included twelve members of his family spanning four generations. Eleven members of the family arrived in the Spring of 1839; at the site for the first permanent Capitol. In December, the Capitol City was named Austin.

Off his horse on January 21, 1841 in the woods near Shoal Creek, Fenwick witnessed his brother, Judge James W. Smith, murdered by Comanche Indians. Unarmed, out manned and on foot, Fenwick watched the Indians whisk away his nephew Fayette Smith; it was Fayette’s ninth birthday.

Seven months’ later on August 7, 1841, Fenwick’s father and Travis County Treasurer, Thomas W. Smith, was killed by Indians. Half of the male members of his family were victims of Indian depredations.

Records show he served as Justice of Peace for Travis County 1860-1866. No record of marriage, children, or death has been found.

Austin’s First Congress

On this date 177 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 what would become the town of Austin. 

Drawing of Austin's First Capitol at 8th and Colorado.

Drawing of Austin’s First Capitol at 8th and Colorado.

 

 

 

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

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