On March 10, 1842, President Sam Houston again attempted to drive the stake of death into the heart of Austin. This was not Houston’s first attempt to do so; not wanting the Capitol of the Republic of Texas moved from Houston in the first place. Houston ordered Secretary of War, George Washington Hockley, to move the Archives stored at the General Land Office, to the city that bore his name. The Archives War was on between the citizens of Austin and Sam Houston’s Administration.
Austin’s population dwindled from 859 in 1840 to less than 150 in 1842. Of the original 75 families that settled the Capitol City, only 12 remained. Many died from Indian raids; 13 in one raid. Others went into the woods to hunt or fetch wood and never came back. Travis County Judge, James W. Smith, was mortally wounded and scalped by Comanche Indians near Shoal Creek; his 9 year old son taken captive January 21, 1841. The following August, Judge Smith’s father, Travis County Treasurer, Thomas W. Smith, was found scalped just outside of Austin.
Sam Houston used these Indian depravations and threat of another invasion from Mexico to declare a state of emergency. His alarm set off Texas’ Second Runaway Scrape. The brave souls that remained in Austin would protect the archives, ensuring Austin would remain the Capitol City of the Republic of Texas. This and other stories of Austin’s earliest days will be told in Book 4 of the Westward Sagas.
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.
One of the first resolutions of the General Convention of the Republic of Texas in 1836 was proposed by George C. Childress a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. He proposed a single star of five points be recognized as the emblem of Texas. That resolution stipulated that every member of the convention and all friends of Texas wear it on their hats and bosoms.
The Lone Star Flag of the Republic of Texas was adopted on January 25, 1839 and six years later became the State Flag of Texas. Today the simple red, white, and blue banner with one large star is recognized around the World.
God Bless Texas…and the men and women who still wear the star.
Bob Bullock Museum, Austin, Texas