Historic Houston


In HISTORIC HOUSTON: HOW TO SEE IT, Lucinda Freeman brings Houston's history to life by coupling entertaining stories that highlight influential personalities and key historical events with day-trip itineraries, providing a comprehensive and useful guidebook for heritage tourists interested in the history of Houston and surrounding region.

Freeman is a native Houstonian, a fifth-generation Texan, and the daughter of two parents who also wrote books on Houston's history. She ...

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Historic Houston: How to See It: One Hundred Years and One Hundred Miles of Day Trips

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In HISTORIC HOUSTON: HOW TO SEE IT, Lucinda Freeman brings Houston's history to life by coupling entertaining stories that highlight influential personalities and key historical events with day-trip itineraries, providing a comprehensive and useful guidebook for heritage tourists interested in the history of Houston and surrounding region.

Freeman is a native Houstonian, a fifth-generation Texan, and the daughter of two parents who also wrote books on Houston's history. She relies on careful research and personal experience to offer unforgettable adventures into early Houston and Texas. She brings to light colorful historical characters like Sam Houston, Deaf Smith, and legendary cattle rustler and oilman Shanghai Pierce. Freeman also recounts stories of immigrants and highlights events from key time periods like the Texas Revolution, Antebellum Texas, and the Civil War, offering guided day-trip plans for seeing it all, including historical markers, museums, plantations, battle sites, and renovated historical buildings.

HISTORIC HOUSTON: HOW TO SEE IT com bines historical facts and easy to- follow itineraries with captivating anecdotes about the famous, the infamous, the heroic, and the eccentric in order to provide a fascinating, in-depth glimpse into a forward-thinking city and region with great personality and character.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781450275095
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/27/2011
  • Pages: 392
  • Sales rank: 1,439,514
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

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iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Lucinda Freeman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-7509-5

Chapter One

The Texas Revolution and the Early Days of the Republic

The Story from the Beginning: Early Exploration and Settlement from 1528 to 1821

Texas was discovered by sixteenth-century Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca. De Vaca's original objective was to found a Spanish colony in Florida. Abandoning that effort due to hostility from native peoples, he headed west. His ship battered and nearly sinking, he landed on the Texas coast in 1528 and stayed in Texas for seven years. De Vaca was the first European merchant in Texas, traveling as far as the Guadalupe River. He is recognized as the first geographer, historian, and ethnologist in Texas. He was the only Spaniard to live among the coastal Indians of Texas and live to write about his experience.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643–1687) was sent by King Louis XIV to travel south from Canada, down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. After that trip, he received permission from the French government to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, including a fortified port, which would protect against Spanish and British incursions. However, sailing from France on the follow-up trip, he missed the Mississippi and instead landed at Matagorda Bay in 1685. Eventually La Salle was killed by his soldiers in Nacogdoches. (There is a bronze of La Salle in downtown Nacogdoches, which is covered in chapter 4.) Although he failed in his colonization effort, his activities gave the French a claim to Texas and aroused Spain's competitive instincts.

Because of La Salle and his French sponsorship, some would claim that the United States gained ownership rights to Texas when President Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory from the French in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In fact, the western border of the Louisiana Territory had been in dispute in the years before 1803. The Spanish preferred to define the boundary as the Red River rather than the Rio Grande. Naturally, President Jefferson pressed the French for the more liberal definition in his negotiations with them, but they were evasive. Jefferson was reticent to press the French too hard, realizing he had achieved a rock-bottom price at fifteen million dollars. One year after the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark set out on their famous expedition to the West. An attitude of "manifest destiny" was taking hold in many quarters of the United States.

One group, passionate about claiming Texas for the Anglos, met in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1819. This group selected twenty-six-year-old James Long—a doctor, planter, and merchant—as their expeditionary leader. In June of that year, the expedition crossed the Sabine, and shortly thereafter, they declared Texas's independence. Long's force soon grew from 120 to 300 as he lured men with promises of ten leagues of land each. (A league is 4,428 acres.)

What the small group lacked in numbers, they made up in ambition. At one point, Long believed he had secured help from the charismatic Galveston-based pirate Jean Lafitte. That never materialized, and the group's independence efforts did not result in success either. Long was killed, leaving his wife, Jane, a widow in Galveston. Shortly thereafter, when she gave birth to a daughter, erroneously thought to be the first Anglo baby born in Texas, Jane Long was deemed the Mother of Texas.

Stephen F. Austin and Permanent Settlement in Texas: 1821–1835

Stephen F. Austin's first three hundred colonists were known as the "Old 300" Colonists. In the early 1820s, Austin negotiated with the Mexican government three additional contracts to settle colonists, and thereby settled nine hundred more families. He settled an additional eight hundred in partnership with Samuel May Williams, making Austin by far the most successful empresario under the Mexican system. Many of the first settlers were successful farmers from the American South, and their experience helped them develop a cotton empire in antebellum times. A good number of Southern farmers moved gradually westward as they depleted the farmland. Some posted signs reading simply, "GTT," for "Gone to Texas," on their abandoned homes. Other early immigrants from the South were professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and surveyors. Some were from genteel families who had fallen on hard times. Many of these early settlers from the Deep South were of Scots-Irish ancestry.

The colonization law enacted by the Mexican government required the settlers to be Catholic, to provide written evidence of their good character from their home communities, to obey the law, and to protect Mexico from its enemies. A married man could receive as much as 4,428 acres—one league—if he chose to farm and raise livestock. Land was as cheap as four cents an acre, less than one-twentieth the going price in the United States. Settlers could get financing for up to six years. In addition to the favorable terms, settlers were particularly attracted to the area around Austin's new capital of San Felipe, with its rich, tree-covered bottomlands along the Brazos River. Especially popular were those tracts that reached as far as the adjacent prairie. San Felipe had the added advantages of a new ferry nearby that crossed the Brazos and several sources of freshwater that were independent of the Brazos.

From 1824 to 1836, San Felipe was the social, economic, and political center of the American colonies in Texas. The Mexican governor suggested the name San Felipe for the capital because San Felipe was his own patron saint. The town was designed as a traditional Mexican town, with rectangular grids and streets surrounding five public plazas. Soon, however, houses were constructed at random sites in an early example of urban sprawl. Regular mail service was established in 1826 under postmaster Samuel May Williams. The first enduring newspaper in Texas was published in San Felipe by Godwin Cotton, who also published the first book in Texas

In 1823 Stephen F. Austin began organizing a militia, which became the Texas Rangers. Several years later an Evangelical Baptist layman, appropriately named Thomas Pilgrim, established the first English school in Texas. His efforts to start a Sunday school class were dismantled because Protestant worship was considered illegal per the Mexican contract. Unlike schools, there were no churches in the town until after the revolution. No Catholic priests lived in San Felipe until Father Michael Muldoon arrived in 1831.

By 1836, San Felipe was a significant commercial center in Texas, ranking second only to San Antonio. There were three major overland trade routes in addition to the waterway provided by the Brazos. The Atascosito Road ran from Goliad through San Felipe to Liberty; the Gotier Trace ran from San Felipe to Bastrop; and the San Felipe Road ran from San Felipe to Harrisburg, on the east side of modern-day Houston. By the late 1820s San Felipe housed a water-powered grist and lumber mill, likely the first mill of its kind in Texas; shortly thereafter, the first cotton gins were built.

Political developments leading to the Texas Revolution

From the early 1820s until 1830, Stephen F. Austin and most colonists were relatively happy with Mexico's hands-off treatment of Texas. However, seeds of future conflict were sown as early as 1824, when the states of Coahuila and Texas were combined and the capital was declared to be Saltillo, southwest of modern Monterrey and quite a distance from San Felipe. More significant were events in the year 1830. Certain tariff exemptions granted to the colonists seven years prior expired. Furthermore, in April 1830 a law was passed forbidding additional Anglo immigration. By 1832, there was enough concern among Texians for them to hold a convention in San Felipe to discuss the situation. (Texian is the name often given to non-natively born Texans who arrived before 1836.) Nothing formal was decided at that time, but the following spring at another San Felipe convention, several petitions were drafted. Stephen F. Austin took these petitions to Mexico City in July 1833.

In a sense, the Texians were victorious on two of three counts. The immigration restriction was removed, and the tariff exemption was extended, but no action was taken in favor of Texas statehood, which would have gone one step further than simply separating from Coahuila. The Texians were not happy with this, and even the heretofore cautious Austin became more radical when he was arrested on his return trip to Texas.

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's election to the Mexican presidency in 1833 portended significant problems for the Texians, despite his winning the election as a liberal candidate. Up to this time, most of Santa Anna's career—which began at age sixteen, in fact—had been spent in the Mexican army. Once he became president, he overturned the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and established a dictatorship. By 1835, he had taken formal measures to stop Texas immigration, prohibit weapons there, and impose high tariffs on the region.

In November of 1835 a consultation was called in San Felipe to address Texians' heightened concerns. Interestingly, that body voted to remain loyal Mexican citizens; however, it declared Texas to be a Mexican state, with San Felipe as its capital. Sam Houston was named commander-inchief and ordered to raise an army to defend the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which included resisting Santa Anna militarily if necessary. Clearly, conflict was on the Texians' minds, and on October 9, 1835, the Battle of Gonzales began the Texas Revolution. This battle is the one at which the Texians famously told the Mexicans to "come and take it," referring to a single cannon that the Mexicans said was their rightful property.

Unfortunately there's not much to see in Anahuac today, but if you happen to be there for the annual Gatorfest festivities in September, check out the historical markers at Fort Anahuac Park and the cute Chambersia revolution-era house downtown. There's also a sign at the park describing how the Texas legislature has declared Anahuac the official Alligator Capital of Texas, in part because gators there outnumber people three to one.

In January 1836, Santa Anna—the self-described Napoleon of the West—crossed the Rio Grande. Little did he know that his Waterloo awaited only some three months down the road. With Santa Anna's military arrival in Texas, the die was cast. A Texian convention held at Washington-on-the-Brazos from March 1 through March 17, 1836, declared Texas to be independent of Mexico, and the delegates drafted a constitution. Be sure to see itinerary 3 in this chapter, The Birthplace of Texas, for more information on the Washington convention.

Unknown to the delegates when they declared independence on March 2, the Alamo had just fallen. The news would reach them later during the convention. When Sam Houston left San Felipe on March 6, he was headed for Gonzales to organize the troops—nominally for the Alamo's defense, but more significantly for securing Texas's independence.

Importantly, Sam Houston had considered the Alamo an indefensible trap. Before Santa Anna arrived, Houston had asked Jim Bowie and his soldiers to abandon San Antonio and even to blow up the Alamo on their way out of town. While Houston and all Texians considered the loss of the Alamo a terrible tragedy, that loss—along with another loss under Colonel James Fannin's clumsy leadership at Goliad—ultimately played a key role in rallying the troops at San Jacinto. In a rousing speech just before the Battle of San Jacinto, Houston yelled, "Remember the Alamo!" As the soldiers charged into battle that included savage hand-to-hand combat at San Jacinto, they cried not only, "Remember the Alamo!" but also, "Remember Goliad!" This is only one of many examples where Houston made an asset out of a liability. See itinerary 1 in this chapter, San Jacinto Battleground and Monument, for more on the dynamics of that battle.

Who was Sam Houston—the Raven or the Big Drunk? And why should anyone care? The answer to the first question depends on whom you ask and what period of his life you're talking about. As a runaway teenager, and again after a short-term marriage, Sam Houston went to live with the Cherokees. On the first occasion, the tribe deemed him the Raven, a great symbol of good luck. On the second occasion, wrought with despair at the collapse of his personal life, he spent three years drunk. The Cherokees were no strangers to alcohol, but even to them this behavior seemed a bit excessive. To rub salt in the wound, they selected for him the name Big Drunk in a rival tribe's language—not even their own. Emblematic of Sam Houston's forceful personality and strong will, however, he regained a good measure of Cherokee respect over time. But in the Anglo world, Houston was always a polarizing, controversial figure; and even today, he remains an enigmatic one, which makes his life fascinating.

As a politician, Houston served as governor of two states (Texas and Tennessee), the only American to have done so. He also served in Congress for those two states, and he was elected president of the Republic of Texas twice.

Most significant of all, however, is Houston's military achievement. He led a small, amateur army of less than one thousand men to one of the most important military victories ever—a victory that not only made Texas an independent country and later the twenty-eighth state of the Union, but also one that paved the way for a dramatic expansion of the United States, after which the country stretched "from sea to shining sea." How ironic that on the way to that victory Houston was constantly criticized as weak and indecisive. Yet how fortunate were the Texians that he was wise, self-assured, and a consummate contrarian.

Houston's significant military and political careers have caused some to wonder: what if he had run for US president in 1861, as a Southern Unionist and therefore a compromise candidate? Could he have averted civil war? Some suggest that his divorce, liaison with an Indian woman, and later marriage to someone less than half his age would have been unacceptable to the public—not to mention his periodic depression and heavy drinking until middle age. Had this personal history happened today, all of it would have been manageable. A good spin doctor could point out that half of all marriages today end in divorce, that the Indian liaison was a good example of friendliness to native peoples (in fact, it was an imbedded relationship, pun intended), and that a self-described alcoholic going off the bottle for good—even if late in life—is admirable. Wouldn't disclosing his depression elicit empathy for the man? And the religious right would have loved the story of his dramatic baptism in a river at middle age.

If he would have lost the election, surely Houston could have made a fortune in Hollywood, especially when bringing out the Cherokee regalia he occasionally wore in Washington in front of a stunned presidential and congressional audience, or the George Washington outfit he wore as he handed over the Texas presidential reins to Mirabeau Lamar—who was not amused.

Following are a few more episodes in Houston's life that exemplify his personality and character.

He was practical and creative. Despite having less than two years' formal education, Houston was an avid reader, discovering Homer and the Iliad at a young age. Always practical, after his first teenage experience with the Cherokees and finding himself in need of income, he opened a school—of all things—near his mother's home in Tennessee. Not only that, but he charged a premium tuition since he could impart Cherokee wisdom to his students—a decided advantage, in his estimation, over the traditional "three Rs."


Excerpted from HISTORIC HOUSTON HOW TO SEE IT by LUCINDA FREEMAN Copyright © 2010 by Lucinda Freeman. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Texas Revolution and the Early Days of the Republic....................3
Chapter 2: Antebellum Texas....................65
Chapter 3: The Civil War Era....................93
Chapter 4: Reconstruction and Railroads....................120
Chapter 5: German and Czech Immigrants....................185
Chapter 6: Oil and Water....................224
Chapter 7: Central Houston in a Nutshell....................293
Chapter 8: Galveston in a Nutshell....................306
Chapter 9: Wharton: Southeast Texas in a Nutshell....................332
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