Different Presidents, Same Notes

When Sam Houston became the first elected president of the Republic of Texas in 1836, the new country was recovering from a tough-fought war for independence from Mexico. In December of 1838, the young Republic of Texas would readily welcome its first peaceful transfer of power.

Even as Sam Houston gave his farewell address to his constituents, Mirabeau B. Lamar’s government was already on the job. In fact, Lamar was so anxious; he gave his acceptance speech to his secretary, while he left for work. One of his first actions Lamar had was to sign that day’s bank notes.

In Texas! The Exhibition, you are able to observe two particular bank notes printed and dated on Lamar’s day of acceptance. The Presidential Transition Notes in the exhibit displays notes from the morning signed by President Sam Houston and notes from the afternoon signed by President Mirabeau Lamar.

These common notes, however, do not reflect Houston and Lamar’s opposing governmental policies.

Sam Houston – 1858

Sam Houston was the Major General of the Texas army during the Texas Revolution. Once Texas won its independence, he was elected as the first President of the Republic by a landslide. His opponent was another Texas icon and well known man at the time, Stephen F. Austin.

President Houston immediately began work building the Republic of Texas. However, Houston was in favor of annexation to the Untied States for several reasons. Houston hoped that annexation would provide much-needed funds for Texas. Also with the United States’ protection, Texas could avoid another war with Mexico, as there were still questions about Texas’ southern border. Since most of its inhabitants were U.S. citizens, annexation would not be a radical change for the people. He was also in favor of reducing the Texas’ military spending.

President Houston would continue to hold Texas’ purse strings tight and push for annexation throughout his two year term. Houston, who had a past connection with the Cherokee Indians, was very compassionate in his dealings with the Native Americans. He understood their love of the land and desire to live as they wished. As president, Houston would negotiate several peace treaties with Native Americans throughout Texas.

President Houston’s vision for the Republic was altered just as it was being fulfilled.

The Texas constitution was written to avoid giving any one man too much power. Therefore, Presidents could not serve two consecutive terms. For Houston, this meant he must hand over the reins. This transfer of power, while the first peaceful one in Texas’ history, was made to a man with beliefs profoundly dissimilar to his predecessor’s.

Mirabeau Lamar

Mirabeau Lamar had been a private in the Texas Army and was later promoted to Colonel due to his bravery. He was placed in charge of the cavalry before the Battle of San Jacinto by then General Sam Houston. After the war, Mirabeau Lamar was elected Vice President of the Republic of Texas.

According to the Texas Handbook online, Lamar spent most of his vice presidency touring Georgia and speaking about the new Republic of Texas. With President Houston’s term coming to an end, Lamar decided to run for President. Mirabeau Lamar’s two opponents in the presidential campaign committed suicide shortly before the election, thus giving him a unanimous victory.

From the day of his inauguration, the policies of Republic of Texas did an about-face.

Lamar preached that it was Texas’ destiny to expand to the Pacific Ocean. He had no desire to see Texas become part of the United States. He also pushed for Texas to build up its Navy to help protect against Mexico.

President Lamar also worked to drive Indian tribes off Texas soil, which was a reversal of the policy under Sam Houston.  President Lamar even battled with Chief Bowl of the Texas Cherokees, who was a personal friend of Houston. Chief Bowl and the Texas Cherokees were settled near East Texas, but they were forcibly removed under President Lamar’s order in the Battle of Neches. During the battle, Chief Bowl was killed on his horse while holding a sword given to him by his friend Sam Houston. (You can view a letter from Sam Houston to Chief Bowl in Texas! The Exhibition.)

Some of President Lamar’s lasting accomplishments lay in the area of education.

Lamar created a public school and university system that still flourishes today because of land, which had little worth at the time, he had set aside to be used as an endowment. For this, he was nicknamed “Father of Texas Education.” Lamar once said to Congress, “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,” which was translated into Latin and became the motto of The University of Texas.  Another lasting impact of Lamar’s term in office was the movement of the capital of Texas from Houston to Austin. Austin has been the home of the capital since October 1839.

By the end of his term, Lamar’s ambitions left the Texas Republic in near bankruptcy. Sam Houston once again took office in 1841. With the Texas paper currency worth only pennies to the U.S. dollar, Sam Houston once again advocated annexation to the United States. Houston would restore economic control in Texas, and the Republic would finally become part of the United States one year after his second term ended.

Both Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar were extraordinary men that shaped the landscape of what Texas is today.

The two transitional notes on display in Texas! The Exhibition are a fascinating reminder of these two significant leaders of the Republic of Texas. On that day in December of 1838, these identical notes were printed, but the signature at the bottom represented two very different political administrations and ideals.

Don’t miss your chance to see Texas! The Exhibition, on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through September 7.

The Women of Texas! The Exhibition

When studying history, even a female like me becomes comfortable surrounded by male heroes. In Texas history, we were taught from an early age that Stephen F. Austin is the “Father of Texas,” that Davy Crockett and William B. Travis fought and died heroically at the Alamo, and  that James Fannin and his men were surrounded and gave their lives in the Goliad Massacre.

We know this great state of Texas was once its own republic lead by strong men such as its first President – the hero of San Jacinto – Sam Houston. History is chock full of great, notable men. So what about the women? Surely remarkable females were around?

Certainly women suffered and persevered like the men we are all familiar with. In Texas! The Exhibition we highlight a few women who helped build and shape Texas as it grew from a Spanish owned territory to a thriving state in the Union.

Women were not expected to play pivotal rolls in early Texas history. They were seen as venerable, delicate creatures that should be protected. Those who made their mark, despite these prejudices, were undeniably extraordinary!

Jane Long
Jane Long, for example, garnered such an incredible reputation for survival and determination that she was dubbed the “Mother of Texas.”

Jane and her husband, James Long, moved to the Bolivar peninsula while Texas was under Spanish rule.  James left a very pregnant Jane and their young daughter at a fort on the peninsula to fight for the cause of freeing Texas from Spanish rule. Jane, her daughter, and a slave girl fended off Indian attacks by making the fort look as if it was inhabited by military protection.  On December 21, 1821 Jane gave birth to another daughter.

Jane would later discover that she was widowed and would move to one of Stephen F. Austin’s colonies. She opened a hotel that became a center for gatherings and celebrations. When Stephen F. Austin returned from his imprisonment in Mexico, the hotel hosted a ball in his honor.

Though Jane would live out the rest of her life as a widow she did not lack for suitors. It is said that she was pursued by Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and even William B. Travis. Jane died in 1880 and was buried in Richmond Texas. Her gravestone reads: “Mrs. Jane H. Long, The Mother of Texas.”

Jane Hughes
Another lady of Texas, while only briefly highlighted in the exhibition, is Jane Hughes.

We don’t know a lot about Ms. Hughes. We know she was a widow with a large family. We also know she received a land grant– in her name– from “Estevan F. Austin.” Looking at the grant, there are a couple amazing thoughts that come to mind. First of all, a woman was given a land grant. This was almost unheard of during this time in history. Also, the grant is written in Spanish. Does this mean Jane was bilingual or a native of Mexico who only spoke Spanish? This paper is solid proof that women were making their way in the rugged Texas land.

Land grant for Jane Hughes

Ann Chase
Mexico has … shed American blood on American Soil.”  -James K. Polk

With these words in 1846, Mexico and the United States went to war over a “slice” of disputed land in southern Texas. At the start of the war, Americans living in Mexico were required to leave the country. Ann Chase, a British subject, was allowed to stay even though her American husband was forced to leave their home in Tampico, Mexico.

So, why would a woman want to stay in Mexico during the war?

Hold on to your socks….she was a SPY! Being a woman, she had the perfect cover for covert operations. Ann reported back to the U.S. government on daily life in Mexico, but most important on the movement of Mexican forces and ships. When you visit  Texas! the exhibition, you’ll have the opportunity to check out her journal and a Presentation Pitcher given to her in 1848 for her service to the United States.

Allie Townsend’s Lady Smith .22 gun

Allie Townsend
A group of brave men protected Texas’ open range. This group was initially started by Stephen F. Austin, and they would later be known as the Texas Rangers.

Contrary to what you might think this was NOT an all boys club. Allie Townsend shoots down that theory in Texas! The Exhibition by allowing us to display her holster belt and Lady Smith .22 gun. Allie was an honorary member of the Texas Rangers and helped guard the west with her husband E.E. Townsend, father of Big Bend National Park. It is nice to see that some organizations were a step above the rest by allowing women to be among their ranks. I guess the Texas Rangers were progressive before progressive was cool.

So despite the preconceptions of the day, women were working as hard as some of the men to shape this great Texas land. Their roles may seem minor, but they had a long and lasting impact. Come and see some of their personal items in Texas! The Exhibition.

A Nod to the Ladies (Other items of interest in the Texas! exhibit.)
1950 Rodeo Suits
Turkey Feather Dress (1939)
Mardi Gras Gown (w/ San Jacinto appliqué)
Macquette for The “Spirit of the Centennial” Statue of 16 Year old Georgia Carroll Kyser

Interested in learning more about Texas? Check out our other blog posts and don’t miss your chance to see Texas! The Exhibition, on display until September 5.

Building a Texas-Sized Exhibition

“…a wise and prudent administration in the commencement of her national existence will be universally expected; improving upon the difficult and delicate task of settling in complete and successful operation a political body based upon principles so hazardously asserted and so gloriously maintained.”

Sam Houston’s signature

The above quote could easily be attributed to any number of government entities that have arisen since 1776.  In fact, I wager that it’s applicable to many political upheavals we’re following in 2011.  At least, that what struck me as I recently read this historical document.  The phrase that was deliberately omitted from the quote is this, “For Texas.”  It comes from a letter President Sam Houston wrote to Edward Hall on November 3, 1836 from the town of Columbia.  You can see this letter yourself in our recently opened Texas! exhibit.

If there is any thread to my occasional posts as a HMNS registrar, it is that the connection between an object and a viewer influences the viewer in some way.  As someone whose professional life consists largely of dealing with objects, I am not unfamiliar with the concept.  My collections and exhibits colleagues and I are always keenly aware of the care and respect employed when handling museum objects.  So sometimes we can temporarily lose sight of an object’s scientific/ historical/ aesthetic/ educational value when we’re trying to ensure that its mount is supportive, the lighting levels aren’t harmful, the proper temp and humidity of a gallery/case environment is steadily maintained; in short that nothing goes wrong.  However, being Texas born and bred, I found it difficult not to get caught up in the emotional wow! factor of the items in this exhibit.

Audrey Jones Beck’s Mardi Gras Dress

I’ll readily admit that I inwardly groaned when I saw all the documents that needed condition reports at the start of the exhibit installation. Paper documents are delicate and fragile so we mostly viewed them through mylar sleeves, but even that method still needs an abundance of caution. It wasn’t a job we could zip through. And once again I marveled at the miracles a conservator can perform to mitigate the damages of time.

But over and over I found myself drawn into the words on the page, especially when they were handwritten and signed. In the letter quoted above, Sam Houston goes on to delineate his cabinet members. As I read the names my decidedly low-brow reaction was: well, geez, that’s half the streets downtown. Somehow I never knew that Rusk was the Secretary of War. While perusing the pages of the minutes of the Convention of Texas Independence, I started making connections with my travels throughout the state. The list of attendees is basically a roll call of the counties in this state. Sometimes the words would just sing and I had to take a moment.

Here’s a brief quote from page 24 of the minutes that I particularly like:

“…that unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty or the capacity for self-government.”

Also in the minutes, directly following the declaration of independence, is the appointment of a committee charged with immediately getting the declaration to a printer for wide distribution. Communication is important no matter what era a revolution takes place but the distance between the printer’s broadsides of 1836 and the revolutionary tweets of 2011 is amazing, isn’t it? Not to mention the difference between putting quill to paper and tapping thumbs to glass screens. Which reminds me of something else I noticed through this long (fifty-four plus pages) document, the handwriting was remarkably clear and beautiful to start, towards the end the poor secretary’s hand was beginning to sag. It was a long convention.

Other documents provoked equally strong but completely opposite reactions. As one colleague pointed out, “We’re all creeped out by the slavery stuff.” Documents are made on paper but it’s the actual words that matter. So, yes, it’s pieces of paper from the Harris County tax office but those dry and orderly tax receipts for humans beings considered personal property right here in our now very diverse cosmopolitan city will always retain a repulsive taint. That’s why it’s important to include them in this exhibit.

Davy Crockett’s Violin

But enough already about documents! Let’s go on to random ‘wish we’d snapped a photo’ installation moments.

The faces when folks first saw the turkey dress, a combo of wow! and how the heck are we going to display that thing? Beth and Mike struggling with the San Jacinto Mardi Gras dress, dress waist too tiny, mannequin hips and shoulders too wide, Mike taking a hammer to the nude mannequin in an attempt to narrow said mannequin, suggestions made that our skinniest staff member just stand in the exhibit wearing the dress, sanity returns, new mannequin ordered. (Audrey Jones Beck truly was ‘a mere slip of a girl’ when she wore that thing.)

Rodney ‘age-ing’ the canvas of the Santa Anna tent prop in his backyard. Looking inside the proper right sound hole on Davy Crockett’s violin and seeing penciled “FRANKLIN CO./Feb.14, 1819,” then realizing that the date the violin was being examined was February 14, 2011.

Small things can humanize historical figures. Santa Anna was definitely a cruel harsh man but his fawn paperweight is unexpectedly goofy and charming. The small wood heart whittled by Sam Houston is a tender link to the monumental figure across the street from the museum’s doors.

Beth happened across a list of clothing in Anna Chase’s journal who may have been a spy but according to that wardrobe inventory was also something of a clothes horse. Trying not to hum “Old Man River” (Lift that bale!). The cotton bale is the traditional five hundred pounds, no mount needed. Most disappointing moment for yours truly during the exhibit installation was learning that due to curatorial decision the way cool children’s cap guns from the 1940s and 50s were cut from the exhibit. Man, they had Texas Rangers emblems on ‘em and really worked and everything! Dang.

So that’s a few behind the scenes moments from the Texas exhibit.  Many people worked tirelessly on this exhibit and the gracious lenders were very generous with their treasures.  It wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

But one last thing… On that letter from Sam Houston to Edward Hall which started off this post, in the viewer’s upper left corner an unknown hand exuberantly wrote “Save this!”  Whoever scribbled that was absolutely right and I like to think it was an early forebear of a museum collections worker.

Letter from Sam Houston to Edward Hall with the phrase “Save This.”

Don’t miss these famous objects and more that make up our Texas! exhibition, now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Texas Exhibition! Spotlight on Sam Houston

You can’t miss him if you’re traveling Interstate 45 near Huntsville. He towers over the surrounding land, continuing to watch his beloved Texas, from a height of 67 feet. Who was the man for whom this giant statue was built?

Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793, in Rockbridge County, Tennessee. He only attended a local school for six months. Houston moved with his mother and brothers to Eastern Tennessee at the age of 13 when his father died.

Rebelling against his older brothers’ attempts to get him to work the family farm and in the family store, Houston ran away to live with the Cherokee Indians. Adopted by Chief Oolooteka, he lived with the Cherokee Indians for three years and was known as “the Raven.” This close relationship would forever affect Houston’s feelings towards Indians.

Houston joined the United States Army when war broke out with the British. During this service he received three wounds that were nearly fatal. General Andrew Jackson recognized Houston’s bravery and Houston became a staunch Jackson supporter. While healing from his wounds, he was appointed a sub-Indian agent and helped Chief Oolooteka’s tribe settle west of the Mississippi.

Houston later opened a law practice in Lebanon, Tennessee. With Jackson’s support, he became a colonel in the state militia. In late 1818, Sam Houston was elected attorney general of Nashville, but later returned to his private law practice in the early 1820s.

Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1823, Houston worked unsuccessfully to get Andrew Jackson elected President of the United States. Sam was re-elected to Congress for a second and third term, followed by a successful bid for the Governorship of Tennessee.

In grief over the breakup of his 11-week marriage, Houston crossed the Mississippi River and headed to Indian Territory. For another 3 years, Houston again lived with Chief Oolooteka’s Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma. He married a Cherokee woman and became active in Indian affairs, attempting to maintain peace among Indian tribes. After he thrashed Ohio Representative William Stanberry with his cane over an Indian tribe conflict, Houston was tried, reprimanded and fined for the assault. He left his Cherokee family and entered Mexican Texas.

He immediately got involved in Anglo-Texan affairs, serving as a delegate to the Convention of 1833. As unrest grew in Mexican Texas, he considered whether there should be another consultation to attempt to resolve the issues. By October he believed that war between Texas and Mexico was inevitable. In early November, Houston was appointed as the major general of the Texas army. On March 2, 1836, the assembly at Washington-on-the-Brazos adopted the Texas Declaration of Independence.

On March 6, 1836, the Alamo fell to the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna. In the meantime, Sam Houston returned from Washington-on-the-Brazos to his army in Gonzales and they retreated towards the east. The citizens of Gonzales soon followed on foot, burning their town and whatever belongings they couldn’t carry. They wanted nothing left in Gonzales to help Santa Anna’s army.  Many were worried about Houston’s retreat, fearing that he was afraid of Santa Anna’s strength and feeling that their men had died at the Alamo in vain.

However, Sam Houston needed time to train his newly-formed, poorly-trained volunteer army.  The Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, proved General Sam Houston’s ability to lead his army to victory. Santa Anna’s army was defeated in an 18-minute battle, and he was captured the following day.

Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto 
Painting by Harry Arthur McArdle (1836-1908)

Sam Houston became the first elected president of the Republic of Texas, defeating Stephen F. Austin. He served as the Republic’s president for two terms. In late 1836, Sam Houston sent prisoner-of-war Santa Anna to Washington to seek Texas’s annexation to the United States.

According to its constitution, Sam Houston was unable to succeed himself as President of the Republic of Texas, so he ran for and served in the House of Representatives from 1839-1841. He defeated then-President Mirabeau B. Lamar, and again became President of the Republic of Texas in 1841, serving until 1844.  When Texas joined the Union in 1845, Sam Houston served as one of its two U.S. Senators.

Houston was defeated the first time he ran for the office of Governor of Texas, but won the election in 1859. A slave owner himself, Houston opposed secession from the U.S. and was removed from office when he refused to take the oath of loyalty to the new Confederate States of America. He moved with family to Huntsville, Texas, and died there on July 23, 1863.