We need to start somewhere. I thought about writing a quick history of Texas but I could never cram it all into a small post. So let’s start with Stephen F. Austin.
The “Father of Texas was born in Virginia in 1793. He was the son of Moses and Maria Austin. His father was involved in mining lead and brought the family west to Missouri. His father sent him east to school and he returned to help run the family business in 1810. He served in the Missouri militia and legislature for a period of time. After a faltering business he moved south through Arkansas and into Louisiana where he planned to study law. At this time in 1820 his father Moses was in San Antonio making arrangements to acquire land grants through the Spanish government. He planned to settle a few hundred families in what is now Texas. At the time Texas was not a deeply settled territory of Spanish America. The most northern towns were San Antonio and Santa Fe (New Mexico). A few outposts were scattered through out the territory. The strategy was to keep an eye on the French but for the most part Texas remained a rugged barrier between the to powers.
Hesitant about the plans his father was making in Texas Stephen agreed to help. As he waited to begin the move he learned of his father’s death. Keeping the promise to his father Austin arrived in San Antonio in August of 1821. Austin was given specific requirements of the location and amount of land that he would be allowed to offer the colonists that would come to Texas. The governor, Antonio Maria Martinez, made it clear to Austin that he was solely responsible for the conduct of the settlers in his grant.
Austin quickly returned to New Orleans to spread the word about the opportunity offered in the Texas colony. After the Panic of 1819 Americans were desperate to find opportunity and the colony was full of applications quickly. The colonists began to arrive in Texas by December of 1821. During this time period the Mexican Revolution left the colony with new lords which refused to honor the grant set up by Moses Austin. Stephen hurried down to Mexico City to negotiate on behalf of his colony to secure the agreement originally made with his father. He succeeded in the getting support with the Mexican junta and the Empresario System was established by law in January of 1823. By 1824 politics interfered and new agreements were made changing the offers to the empresarios. Through this program Austin successfully colonized 900 families in Texas. While he partnered with another empresario it was not the success that his personal colony was.
By 1828 his role as the civil and military authority moved to a system of elected officials though he maintained the role of Lt. Colonel of the militia. In this position he did facilitate and lead expeditions against the native tribes causing trouble in his colony.
After being relieved of civil and legal responsibilities he began to work diligently on improving the ‘land system’ within the borders of Texas. He began creating a surveying system and a process for recording land titles to those acquiring land in Texas.
Austin also pushed the Mexican government to establish coastal ports to promote trade with Texas and the Mexican mainland. With these ports Texas cotton could be sold through the ports and head south to merchants within in the Mexican interior. This helped establish the commission by the Mexican government of the port of Galveston south of modern day Houston.
Austin worked hard to keep the colonists out of Mexican politics. He persuaded them to keep to themselves an maintain good tidings with the government far to the south. He acted as mediator for the Fredonian Rebellion preventing this squabble from getting out of control and allowing the Mexican government from using an iron fist against the colonists.
The Law of 1830 was a turning point in the relationship of Mexico and its colonists in Texas. The idea behind the law was to begin to turn off the flow of Anglo immigrants from the United States. With internal strife in the government things began to unravel and Texas “exemption” from national politics was over. They had to choose a side. Ironically they favored Anotnio De Santa Anna which actually worked out in their favor. In 1833 however the Texas colonists began to push for their separation from Coahuila to become a sovereign state within Mexico. After lengthy negotiations Austin was on his way home to San Felipe feeling that things went well. He was, however, arrested in Saltillo and imprisoned in Mexico City without trial. He did not return to Texas until the spring of 1835.
By October 1835 war had begun with the stand at Gonzales where colonists resisted handing over their cannon with the flag “Come And Take It” waving. He led the Texas volunteers against San Antonio but was recalled to act as commissioner to the United States along with William Wharton and Branch T. Archer. At the end of hostilities and the independence of Texas from Mexico secured, Austin returned to run for president of the new republic. He was defeated by Sam Houston. He took the position of Secretary of State but died a short time later in December of 1836.
It is unfortunate that he died at the young age of 43. His passion and selflessness for the prosperity of Texas is incredible. Had he lived it is unforeseen if he could have changed the path of Texas and may have enabled it to live long past its years before being annexed into the United States. He is truly the father of this great state.
Bryan Dolch is the owner and editor of Iron Mike Magazine. He also owns Texas Landscape Magaine, It’s The Texan, and Red Oak Marketing. He is a book cover designer for Tactical16 and a contributor to several small publications. He lives with his family in Central Texas.