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.

Texas! Exhibition: Spotlight on Stephen F. Austin

Last week Melodie wrote a blog asking how much you knew about Texas. As we prepare for the opening of our new exhibition Texas! Making History Since 1519, we are dedicated to helping you learn more about the great Lone Star State. So today, Amanda Norris and Pat Dietrich, youth educators at the museum, write to you about Stephen F. Austin.

Stephen F. Austin – general store employee, lead mine manager, circuit judge, diplomat, empresario, and Father of Texas!

The Father of Texas…Is Born

Stephen F. Austin was born in 1793 in Virginia. His parents sent him at an early age to be educated in Connecticut and then later in Kentucky. After he graduated he moved to be with his family in Missouri to work in his father’s general store and manage his lead mine. He later became a circuit judge in Arkansas. After his father unexpectedly passed away, Stephen decided to carry out his father’s vision by moving to Mexican Texas and establishing a settlement.

Stephen F. Austin: Explorer

In 1821, he traveled to San Antonio where the governor authorized his efforts to explore the Texas land between the San Antonio and Brazos Rivers.  Stephen then visited New Orleans and invited colonists to settle on land between the Colorado and Brazos Rivers in Mexican Texas. By December of 1821, many settlers had arrived. However, the new Mexican government, created after Mexico’s independence from Spain on August 24, 1821, denied Austin’s land grant (which was in his father’s name).

The Old Three Hundred

As a result of this new development, Stephen Austin traveled to San Antonio to get approval for his own settlement. He was appointed as an empresario and approved to establish 300 families. He fulfilled his initial contract for 300 families within a few years of his first grant approval. He would later receive contracts for 300 more families in 1825, 1827, and 1828. While they were under Mexican government authority, it was his job to maintain a settlement with people who would be good Mexican citizens. After the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas in November of 1827, Stephen F. Austin turned over authority of his settlement to the Mexican government.

Austin attempted to provide protection for his colonists, many of whom had moved from the United States to escape debts incurred there during difficult economic times. He helped pass a state law that prevented the U.S. from collecting these debts for a period of 12 years. He organized trade ports between the colonists and Mexico. Even though he helped protect his colonists, he never let them forget the benefits of being loyal Mexican citizens.

More Settlers Arrive…In Droves

By 1832, more empresarios established settlements around Stephen F. Austin’s original settlement near the Colorado and Brazos, the families there being dubbed “The Old 300.” With so many U.S. settlers in Mexican Texas, it became difficult for Stephen to continue his overly cautious form of leadership.

The United States wanted to buy Texas, which made the Mexican government nervous about so many U.S. settlers in their country. In response to the perceived threat, the Mexican government passed the Law of April 6, 1830 which disallowed immigrants to move from the United States to Mexican Texas.  The Mexican army was sent to the established settlements throughout Texas to enforce the new law. Stephen F. Austin sided with Santa Anna against the current Governor of Mexico in hopes of gaining his support and maintaining the peace in Texas.

Agitated Colonists

The agitated colonists met at a convention in 1832 to inform the Mexican government about their needs. They requested the repeal of the Law of 1830, no more tariffs, separation from Coahuila, and to be able to set up a state government in Texas. Stephen F. Austin hoped the Mexican government would recognize the need for change, but they did not.

A second convention was organized in 1833; this group asked for what had been requested in 1832, but they also wanted a constitution to be written for the state of Texas. Stephen F. Austin set out for San Antonio to obtain a repeal of the Law of April 1830. Santa Anna disagreed with his actions and had Austin arrested and imprisoned. He was released in December of 1834.

Austin sanctioned the call for a consultation, where delegates would be elected on November 3. Meanwhile, war had broken out in Gonzales on October 1, when Santa Anna sent his army to retrieve a cannon given to the city for defense against neighboring Indians.

Battle Against Santa Anna

Stephen F. Austin, elected to command the volunteer army, led his volunteers in a battle against Santa Anna in San Antonio. In November, the provisional government elected him and others to serve as commissioners to the United States. He returned to Texas in June of 1836, two months after the Battle of San Jacinto. He ran against acting President David Burnet and the Commander of the Texas Army, Sam Houston, but was defeated by the Commander. Austin was appointed Secretary of State by President Sam Houston, a post he would only serve for two months before his death.

Henry Arthur McArdle interpretation of the Battle of San Jacinto.

On December 27, 1843, Stephen F. Austin died at the age of 43. His determination, strong management, and leadership helped shape the Texas wilderness into the state we know today. For these efforts, he is known as the Father of Texas.

Learn even more about Texas in our new exhibition, opening to the public on March 6, 2011. Get a sneak peak at the exhibition during our Texas VIP Nite, March 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. And stay tuned to the blog as we highlight other important people and events throughout the run of the show.

Jean Laffite: Texas Pirate

Although he had a long and illustrious career as a pirate before coming to Texas, Jean Laffite holds a fascinating place in Texas history.  His is a tale that involves raiding, slave trading, espionage, and even rumors of a war with Native Americans in the Galveston area.

LafitteKing
Pirate Jean Laffite

Before coming to Texas, Jean Laffite was known as the “Pirate of the Gulf.”  He had run into trouble from previous misadventures and needed a new base of operations to safely continue his illicit trading and raiding.  The answer came in the form of Galveston, as it was claimed by both Mexico and Spain and was not far from the Port of New Orleans.  This proved an ideal pirate hunting ground as it was close to major trade lanes and had a natural harbor that no single nation had clear claim to or could effectively police.

Initially, Jean came to Galveston with a letter of marque from Venezuela, which allowed him to legally attack trade ships of nations that were hostile to Venezuela.  He also came to Texas as a double agent of the Spanish to spy on Mexico.  However, it must be noted that whatever his professed loyalties, Laffite was a pirate, and indiscriminate raiding and illegal trading were his life’s work.

With Galveston as a base, Jean could effectively act as a broker for pirates in the Gulf of Mexico.  Essentially, there were three ways that he could make his money from Galveston.  The first was to simply sail a captured vessel into New Orleans and sell everything that was aboard at prices no one else could match.  For obvious reasons, this method was quite risky and required certain authorities to look the other way or be oblivious to what was happening on the docks.  The second way was to use a mule train to transport goods to the black market in New Orleans.  The third method involved human cargo or slaves.  In 1818, there was a poorly worded law that prohibited the import of slaves into U.S. ports.  The problem was that it gave Jean Laffite’s pirates all the incentive they would ever need to capture slave ships.  These pirates would raid ships and take all of the slaves to Galveston.  From there, the slaves would be sold to a variety of smugglers, one of which was Jim Bowie.  These smugglers would then sneak the slaves into Louisiana and turn them over to customs agents, where they were entitled to half the profits from the sale of the slaves.  The smugglers would then get a front man to purchase the slaves back for them.  The end result was a legally owned slave that was captured through piracy and then effectively bought with a 50% discount.

Stephen F. Austin
Portrait of Stephen F. Austin

Though illegal trading and raiding were his bread and butter, they were by no means Captain Laffite’s only activities of dubious morality.  A war between a local Native American tribe called the Karankawa has also been attributed to Captain Laffite’s time on the island.  The story goes that his men captured a Karankawa maid and in retaliation, a force of around 300 angry Karankawas attacked his colony.  The battle quickly turned into a siege and raged for three days.  Eventually, the tribesmen retired with a very negative view of settlers that would later play out when Stephen F. Austin brought his settlers to Texas.

The pirate’s life caught up with Captain Laffite as his activities eventually attracted the attention of United States authorities.  A ship was dispatched by the name of Enterprise and Captain Laffite burned his pirate haven and fled.  Beyond this, Captain Jean Laffite disappears into the midst of history and legend.  However, his impact on the history of the region lives on far beyond his years.

If you have an interest in stories like this one, check out my previous post, or come visit us at the Houston Maritime Museum and see a wide variety of ships, including those used by pirates, on display.

Also be sure to check out the Real Pirates exhibition at HMNS – now open!

Sources: 
McComb, David G.  Galveston: A History.  Austin:  University of Texas Press, 1986.

Warren, Harris G. “Jean Laffite.”  1997-2002.  (Accessed October 6, 2010)

Williamson, William R.  “James Bowie.”  1997-2002.  (Accessed October 6, 2010)