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.

Iconic Phrases and the Texas Revolution

Today’s post was written by our volunteer Pat Hazlett

“Come and Take It!” “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” What Texan is not familiar with these phrases?  Phrases to stir the soul, inspire courage, and incite rebellion. Each phrase is associated with a pivotal point on Texas’ road from revolution to independence.

 “Come and Take it Cannon”
On display in Texas!

On October 2, 1835 the Mexican commander at San Antonio ordered the people of Gonzales to surrender their small brass cannon. Local officials refused and sent runners into the surrounding areas to gather armed men. The Mexican colonel ordered about 100 soldiers to take the cannon by force.  Buried until reinforcements arrived, the cannon was then mounted on a wagon and decorated with a white flag proclaiming, “Come and Take It.” The Mexican soldiers arrived to confront 160 armed Texans and a brief battle ensued. One Mexican soldier was killed, but no Texans. The Mexicans withdrew to San Antonio.  News of the “battle” spread and ignited fervor among Texans.

By early 1836 the Texans in San Antonio occupied the abandoned mission, San Antonio de Valero. The old mission had once housed a Spanish company from Alamo de Parras in Mexico. So, most people referred to it as the Alamo. Colonel James Bowie and his men joined Colonel James C. Neill, commander, in January 1836. In February, William B. Travis and his men joined them. Bowie was chosen commander of the volunteers, Travis of the regular army.  However, Bowie became ill and passed the entire command to Travis. Although the Alamo was a fairly good defensive position, Travis knew they had too few men (less than 200). There were also gaps in the Alamo walls, closed only with sticks and dirt. Regardless, Travis was determined to hold the Alamo, which had come to symbolize much for its defenders. This would also tie up Santa Anna’s army and give Sam Houston more time to raise a Texas army. Despite written appeals for help, help did not arrive in time. As Mexican troops encircled the Alamo, Travis explained that remaining would mean certain death. According to legend, he drew a line in the sand with his saber, asking those who wished to stay to cross over the line.  All but one stepped across.  At about 5:00 a.m. on March 6, 1836, the battle began. Mexican buglers played the notes of “El Deguello,” an ancient chant indicating that no mercy would be shown. The Texans put up a stubborn fight, but the third assault by the Mexican troops successfully breached the walls. By 8:00 a.m. the battle for the Alamo was over. Bowie, Travis, and volunteer Davy Crockett were all killed. “Remember the Alamo!” became a battle cry for Sam Houston’s army.

May24#63
Creative Commons License photo credit: travelswiss

Also by 1836, the Spanish presidio, La Bahia, near the town of Goliad was under Texas control, commanded by Colonel James W. Fannin. General Sam Houston had ordered Fannin to retreat to Victoria, but Fannin delayed and found himself surrounded by Mexican forces at the Battle of Coleto. He and his men surrendered and were imprisoned inside the presidio at Goliad. Many Texans believed they were prisoners of war and would be treated fairly by their Mexican captors. Though the surrender document, in Mexican archives, shows no such promise, eyewitnesses testified that Mexican general Urrea assured Fannin that he and his men would be treated fairly. General Urrea even wrote to Santa Anna, requesting that the lives of the prisoners be spared. Santa Anna replied with immediate execution orders. On March 27, 1836, Palm Sunday, Fannin, his men and other Texan captives were divided into columns and marched out onto the prairie. They believed they were going on work detail; some even assumed they were going home. Upon a signal, Mexican soldiers opened fire on them, killing them all. Colonel Fannin was the last to be shot, forced to watch the execution of his own men. “Remember Goliad” joined “Remember the Alamo” as the battle cry of Sam Houston’s army, soon to be victorious at San Jacinto. 

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

Bibliography:      

Anderson, Adrian N., et al. Texas and Texans. Columbus, Ohio: Glencoe/McGraw Hill. 2003.

Barkley, Roy R. and Mark F. Odintz. The Portable Handbook of Texas.  Austin: Texas State Historical Association. 2000.

Flickr Photo of the Month: Fiddle! [June 2011]

Texas! The Exhibition by photine on Flickr

There are some amazing photographers that wander the halls of HMNS – as well as the areas surrounding the Museum in Hermann Park. When we’re lucky, they share what they capture in our HMNS Flickr pool. Each month, we highlight one of these photos here on the blog.

This month, we’re featuring a photo from Laurie Ballesteros, known as photine on Flickr, who is a regular attendee of the Museum’s Flickr meetups. This photo is from the meetup we held in our current Texas! The Exhibition which features hundreds of fascinating artifacts from Texas’ long and rich history – from the first people who set foot in the state through the Spindletop era.

I loved this photo because it features an artifact that highlights an aspect of a very famous Texan’s character that we tend to forget. But I’ll let Laurie tell it:

My favorite part of Texas history is the Texas Revolution. The characters, stories and battles are bigger than life and I have traveled to several of the battle sites around the states to walk in their footsteps.

I was especially interested in this part of the Texas! exhibit and took my time looking at all the artifacts. As a musician I could not pass up Davy Crockett’s fiddle. It is obviously well used and I love to imagine the tunes floating up from this instrument in the hands of a Texas legend.

You can see more of Laurie’s lovely photos of the Texas exhibition on her blog. Many thanks to Laurie for allowing us to share her image here!

Inspired? Most of the Museum’s permanent galleries are open for photography, and we’d love for you to share your shots with us on Flickr, Facebook or Twitter. Check out the HMNS photo policy for guidelines.

Texas! The Exhibition is a temporary exhibit, and photography is restricted outside of special Flickr meetup opportunities. Follow our posts in the HMNS Flickr pool for announcements about upcoming events.

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.