Tenoxtitlan, Dream Capital of Texas
Originally published in
The Southwestern Historical Quarterly
July 1966, Vol. LXX, No. 1

Tenoxtitlan was the Indian name for Mexico city, but there also was another Tenoxtitlan, a Mexican town established in present Burleson County in 1830, which was twice proposed as the capital of Texas.

In the 1820's, when Mexico finally won independence from Spain, it found itself the owner of a vast, sparsely settled northern frontier. To settle that area, the State of Coahuila and Texas in 1825 passed a liberal colonization law, the first article of which said:

"All foreigners who . . . wish to emigrate to any of the settlements of the State of Coahuila and Texas, are permitted to do so; and the said State invites and calls them."1
Settlers from the United States poured into Texas in such great numbers that they soon began to outnumber the Mexicans. By 1830, the Mexican government had become so worried over the trend that it passed a law to stop the flood of emigration from the United States.2 Enforcement of that law was placed in the hands of General Manuel de Mier y Teran, who launched a grandiose project to "Mexicanize" Texas by erecting a line of forts garrisoned by Mexican troops, surrounded by Mexican settlers, and bearing names which had been popular among the Indians even before the Spaniards arrived--names like Anahuac, Lipantitlan, and Tenoxtitlan.

General Mier y Teran issued an order on April 24, 1830, providing for the establishment of a fort at the point where the road from Bexar (or San Antonio) crossed the Brazos River on the way to Nacogdoches [SEE MAP]. It was to be garrisoned by the Alamo Cavalry Company under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Ruiz, a native of Bexar.3

The Ruiz expedition set out from Bexar on June 25, 1830,4 and reached the banks of the Brazos on July 13. It consisted of 100 men, 12 pack loads of supplies, 3 yokes of oxen, and a new oxcart. In the cart were a blacksmith's forge, a cannon, and the accompanying ammunition. Colonel Ruiz established temporary headquarters on the east bank of the Brazos about half a mile below the Bexar-Nacogdoches Road.5

On July 16, 1830, General Mier y Teran named the new post "Tenoxtitlan." 6 There was no written accent on the a, so, according to the modern Spanish rules of pronunciation, the word would be stressed on the next-to-last syllable: Te-nox--tlan. That was the original Indian word used to describe Mexico City when it was founded about the year 1300, for the Indians had been told to wander until they found an eagle perched on a prickly pear devouring a serpent. When they did, they called the site Tenochtitlan, or "Prickly Pear Place." In the documents describing the conquest of Mexico from 1519 to 1521, the word frequently appears spelled Tenochtitlan, with an accent on the a, and therefore would have been pronounced Te-noch-ti-tlán, with the main stress on the last syllable, and a secondary stress on noch. Colonel Ruiz liked the name so well that he had it repeated to his troops on three successive days.7

The Mexicans at the post probably pronounced it Ten-ock-ti-tlan, but, when the Anglo-American settlers arrived from the United States, they had a tendency to move the stressed syllable back toward the beginning of words. Thus they called it Ten-ockti-tlan, and the place where the road crossed the river became known as "the old Tenock Crossing."8

The first duty assigned to the new garrison was the escorting of military funds en route from Bexar to Nacogdoches. The escort was to receive the money from the Bexar troops when they arrived at Tenoxtitlan and carry it east under guard to the Trinity River, where it would be turned over to the soldiers who had come out from Nacogdoches.9

The extreme importance which Mier y Teran attached to Tenoxtitlan is revealed in a letter he wrote to the Mexican secretary of state on July 31, 1830, saying:

I have had the name of Tenoxtitlan given to the central point on the Brazos River, which divides the distance between Nacogdoches and Bexar on what they call the Upper Road. It is extremely important that it be settled in order to keep Texas in subjection, and it is very well suited for Mexican colonists because the land is adequate for farming and ranching.... In my opinion this point, if it is developed, will in time become the capital of all Texas. The transfer of the five hundred families proposed by Don Victor Blanco ... would completely change the situation of that Department, for the troops would have that point as a stronghold which could be made impregnable to attack by the North Americans.10
The general was using the term "North Americans" in its broadest sense, for he was concerned with the westward migration of the United States Indians as well as the white settlers. He wanted to make Tenoxtitlan a cavalry post of at least four hundred men who, aided by friendly Texas Indians, would maintain a constant patrol of the northeastern frontier. 11

From the middle of July, Colonel Ruiz had been hacking his way through the dense Brazos River bottom in search of a permanent site for his fort. Finally he found one which, to use his own words, was located "six leagues to the west of the Upper Crossing of the Brazos River.'' 12 That actually meant, however, that the new site was six leagues up the river, since a letter written a few days later noted that there was a river crossing directly in front of the new site. 13

Mary Austin Holley, in her book on Texas published in 1836, says that it was on the right, or west, bank of the Brazos, twelve miles above the Upper Road leading from Bexar to Nacogdoches, fifteen miles below the mouth of the San Andres, or Little, River, and one hundred miles above San Felipe de Austin. 14 One of the chief attractions of the site was an abundance of good drinking water. The detachment moved to the permanent site on October 17, l830, 15 and a Mexican garrison was maintained there until August 22, 1832, or a little less than two years.

Mier y Teran had given detailed instructions for the founding of his dream capital of Texas. Alférez Santiago Navayra was to be in charge of construction. The fort itself was supposed to have been built of stone and mortar, but Ruiz replied that it would have to be made of lumber, since stone and mortar were not available. The fort was to be built on the west bank of the river where it would dominate the crossing, and the troops were to start work immediately cutting approaches east and west through the wilderness s as to bring the Bexar-Nacogdoches Road across the Brazos at that point. 16

Those provisions for connecting the fort with the surrounding country were supplemented by the ayuntamiento of San Felipe, the capital of Austin's Colony down the river. In its meeting of December 31, 1830, the members appointed Abner Lee, John P. Coles, Nestor Clay, John Cole, and George Erving to lay out a road from the home of Joel Laky to the garrison on the Brazos. 17

Mier y Teran also had ordered that all brush be removed from the area surrounding Fort Tenoxtitlan, to a distance of 400 varas (about 1100 feet), and that no houses be built within that zone because they would interfere with the effective use of firearms. The fort itself was to be a veritable citadel. The general even drew a floor plan for it, made a model, and forwarded both from his headquarters in Matamoros to Colonel Ruiz in Tenoxtitlan. They were carefully packed in a little wooden box, but they went astray somewhere after they passed through Bexar and never reached their destination.18

Fort Tenoxtitlan had been in existence only one week when seven Tennesseans rode into town and asked to see Colonel Ruiz. Their leader, a stocky individual with sandy hair and silver spurs, introduced himself as Major Sterling C. Robertson, agent of the Texas Association. Displaying a colonization contract which the association had made with the State of Coahuila and Texas, Major Robertson announced that he had come to explore the country and select the site for a permanent settlement. 19

The primary purpose of Fort Tenoxtitlan, of course, was to stop the immigration of Anglo-Americans into Mexican territory, but Colonel Ruiz was a native Texan, and he had his own ideas about what Texas needed. As he expressed it, ". . . I cannot help seeing the advantages which, to my way of thinking, would result if we admitted honest, hard-working people, regardless of what country they come from, . . even hell itself."20

Besides, he liked the Tennesseans, especially after Dr. Thomas J. Wootton, a member of the party, had cured several of his sick soldiers without charging them anything. The Mexicans and the Tennesseans got along harmoniously together, despite the fact that no one in the entire garrison could speak English, and the foreigners knew no Spanish. Ruiz wanted to let them stay, but the law was not clear concerning already existing contracts which were in the process of completion, so he wrote his superior officer for instructions. 2l

While the colonel was waiting for a reply, the caravan of fifty immigrants which had been following Major Robertson finally arrived at the Brazos on November 12, 1830, and turned its covered wagons off the Bexar-Nacogdoches Road to camp down the river in the temporary structures which the Mexican garrison had recently abandoned. Early the next morning Major Robertson rode up to Tenoxtitlan, filed with Colonel Ruiz a formal report on the status of his colonization project, and asked for permission to settle the families in the colony. 22

That request set off a chain reaction of official correspondence which produced repercussions in cities as far distant as Matamoros and Leona Vicario (as Saltillo was then called). Three months later the answer came booming back:

Give orders to the effect that neither Sterling Robertson nor any other North American family shall be allowed to settle in Tenoxtitlan. ... 23

... Turn them over to the Military Commandant of the Town of Nacogdoches so that he may transport them without fail to the other side of the Sabine. . .24

To those peremptory commands Ruiz blandly replied that the families had never actually reached his post, that he had no idea where they were, and that the horses at his garrison were in such a "fatal" condition that it would be useless to try to find the immigrants. 25

Apparently, the fifty immigrants were never rounded up and escorted beyond the Sabine. They lived for a time in the former Mexican quarters on the Brazos and then moved to permanent homes in other parts of Texas. The heads of families included:

Isaiah Curd, Quintin Dines, James Farmer, Everton Kennerly, George A. Kerr, Henry J. Pair, Jeremiah Tinnin, John Wilson, and Dr. Thomas J. Wootton.26

Mier y Teran had instructed Colonel Ruiz to be extremely careful to see that his troops got along with the Anglo-Americans. He was also to see that the Mexican soldiers did not provoke the Indians. In fact, any friendly Indians who came to the fort were to be entertained at government expense. The general had done what he could to forestall the three-way friction which was bound to develop between the Mexicans, the Anglo-Americans, and the Indians, but keeping the peace was a two-sided proposition, as Colonel Ruiz was soon to discover.

Hardly had the soldiers moved into their permanent barracks when an Anglo-American named Cooper drew a fine bead on a friendly Kicha brave and shot off his thumb. Ruiz, adhering strictly to his instructions, did not intervene in that incident or in others of a similar nature which soon followed. 27

Eventually, however, the friction increased to such an extent that the settlers took matters into their own hands and meted out a swift frontier justice according to their own concepts of right and wrong, with no respect for "border nor breed nor birth."

In one instance a young man named H. Reed was on his way from Tenoxtitlan to his father's home on Little River when he was murdered by a band of eight Waco Indians. His body was found the next day by a friendly hunting party consisting of two Mexicans, two Delaware Indians, two Anadarkos, and to Caddos. Chief Canoma, one of the Caddos, immediately led the party in pursuit of the murderers. They killed five of the fugitives and brought in the scalps of two, apologizing that the other three had sunk in Little River, where, unfortunately, their scalps were irretrievable. They also recovered Reed's horse and saddle and turned them over to his father. Thus the Mexicans and Indians joined forces to avenge the death of an Anglo-American. 28

Another case involved one John Williams, locally known as "the famous drinker," which was no small distinction in those days. He came careening into Tenoxtitlan on horseback with a pistol in his belt, and, after rearing and plunging in all directions, attempted to shoot a peaceful Choctaw, who took out through the brush for parts unknown. A group of indignant Anglo-Americans set out in pursuit of Williams, tied him hand and foot, and sent him down to San Felipe for trial. Thus a group of whites sided against another white to protect a helpless Indian. 29 Justice--not race, color, or creed--was the important thing in those days.

The official ban against Anglo-Americans was not rigidly enforced in Tenoxtitlan, for Francis Smith was operating a general merchandise store there as early as July, 1831.30 His goods came from Cincinnati and New Orleans to the firm of A. G. and R. Mills in Brazoria, and from there were transported overland up the Brazos to Tenoxtitlan. At first they were carried over the last lap by pack horses or oxcarts, but by March, 1832, Smith had saved enough money to order "a first rate large ox waggon for the road with an English bed well turned up before" and tires at least two inches wide, to support heavy loads through the Brazos River bottoms.

Smith was making so much money that he literally did not know what to do with it. He estimated that $40,000 worth of Indian produce could be taken in during the following year, provided he could lay in a sufficient supply of Indian goods to trade for it. His problem was how to get his money down to Brazoria to pay for new goods. He could not afford to close his store and make the trip himself, since he was the only merchant in town who had anything to sell of consequence, and transportation was so uncertain that he did not dare send his money by anyone else.

By "Indian produce" Smith meant furs. The Cherokees, Shawnees, Delawares, and Kickapoos had had an extremely successful season at trapping beaver that winter. The extent of the territory served by Smith's store and the drawing power of his merchandise are indicated by the fact that a French Indian trader brought in eighty buffalo robes and offered them to him at 5.25 apiece. He had been offered $5.50 elsewhere, but he liked Smith's goods best.

Besides beaver pelts and buffalo robes, Smith traded for beef hides, deer skins, and some leopard pelts. In return, Smith supplied the Indians, Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and Negroes of the community with such hunting equipment as beaver traps, tomahawks, rifles, fire steels, large fishhooks, pocket knives, and spurs. Among his tools he carried gimlets, axes, 4-inch and 5 l/2 inch augers, and straight awls. For the dining room he had small, deep plates, tin cups and pans, and "fine bowls & pitchers with red flower on the side." There were also brass kettles for the kitchen.

In his grocery department he carried sugar, coffee, rice, raisins, almonds, aniseed, flour, molasses, soap, sperm candles, and whiskey. The most popular drygoods were 3/4 and 4/4 white domestic, black silk handkerchiefs, French or Mackinaw blankets, small-check calico of yellow and other colors, open-ended thimbles, flax thread, men's cotton socks both white and colored, "strong negro shoes," and ladies' shoes with round toes and high heels.

Nor was Storekeeper Smith content to cater merely to the immediate physical needs of his customers: he had something nobler in view, as was indicated by an order for "iron and brass jew's harps." The fine arts were finding their way into the wilderness.

Smith had his troubles, though, even if he did consider himself on the edge of a virgin territory where there were "thousands of fortunes" yet unmade. For instance, he had opened up with a good stock of sour wine for the Indian trade, but, no matter how many times he sold it, the red men always brought it back, demanding sweet wine instead. The traditional taste for firewater was becoming more discriminating.

On the other hand, when he tried to dispose of a barrel of fine tobacco, the Indians would have none of it, not even as a gift. They wanted cheap tobacco in boxes. He also tried to sell them some common strouding, but they would have nothing but good quality broadcloth.

The worst tragedy, though, occurred in the shoe department. The gentlemen in Brazoria had supplied him with eighteen pairs of prunella shoes, but nobody would buy them because they had square toes and no heels. He returned all but six pairs with the pessimistic comment that even this small quantity "may last me 17 years if I take good care of them.'' 3l

Meanwhile what had become of General Mier y Teran's gigantic project for the Mexicanization of Texas? The only response to his plan for transporting Mexicans from the interior of his country at government expense and settling them in the wilderness of Texas was one casual inquiry from a schoolmaster in Tula.

The general became so despondent over the failure of his project that on the morning of July 3, 1832, he donned his full dress uniform with all his medals, went off to a secluded spot, and hurled himself upon the point of his sword. His dying thought was: "What will become of Texas?" 32

The news of the general's suicide was extremely demoralizing for Colonel Ruiz. As a matter of fact, the colonel had become more and more disillusioned ever since he established Tenoxtitlan. Only a few weeks after he founded the fort, he wrote to a friend saying:

I am already tired of my post after such a short time. I do not think that I shall last very long here. I realize that it would be better for me to get out of the army because I am not the type to command in such calamitous times.... We are already running short of soldiers, and soon the supplies will begin to play out. I cannot find words to describe the present condition of my garrison. Suffice it to say that my lot is a very sad one, and I do not know what will become of this establishment. Only time will tell. 33
The garrison did run out of supplies shortly thereafter, and Colonel Ruiz was forced to send his men out to forage for themselves. When trouble between Anglo-American settlers and Mexican soldiers broke out at Anahuac in the summer of 1832, the commander there called upon Ruiz for reinforcements, but the colonel replied that he could not send any help because eighteen of his men were out trying to find something to eat. 34

When Mier y Teran committed suicide, the entire plan for keeping Anglo-Americans out of Texas collapsed. A few weeks later, on August 22, 1832, the Mexican garrison--in fact, the entire Mexican population--abandoned Tenoxtitlan and returned to Bexar. The melancholy cavalcade moved slowly, for Colonel Ruiz was a sick man. After two years on the northern frontier, he finally knew what would become of his establishment at Tenoxtitlan. Time had told. 35

Tenoxtitlan did not fare too well after the Mexican troops abandoned it in the summer of 1832. Francis White Johnson, principal surveyor of Austin's Colony, went to Tenoxtitlan in the late fall of that year, 36 but by December only a handful of white settlers remained in the community. Those were Radford Berry, John R. Craddock, Joseph L. Hood, Francis Smith, William H. Smith, and John Teal. 37

The outlook became more cheerful, though, when Spencer H. Jack opened his land office there in the spring of 1834. He was acting as agent for Austin and Williams in the colonization contract which they had obtained on February 2, l83l. 38 Since tile Austin and Williams contract embraced Austin's previous colony below the San Antonio Road, plus some additional territory above the road, including what previously had been known variously as the Texas Association, Leftwich's Grant, or the Nashville Colony, the area above the road was referred to under the new arrangement as the Upper Colony.

For three years the land matters pertaining to the Upper Colony, including Tenoxtitlan, were handled in the home of Samuel M. Williams in San Felipe, 39 but in 1834 Austin and Williams sent Spencer H. Jack to open a land office in Tenoxtitlan. Since the chief business to be transacted in a colony was the reception of colonists and issuance of land titles, the capital was considered to be that town which contained the land office. Thus, with the arrival of Spencer H. Jack, Tenoxtitlan became the capital of the Upper Colony.

Twenty-six heads of families, representing a total of ninety-five persons, filled out the printed applications for admission to the Austin and Williams Colony in Tenoxtitlan between April 21 and June 15, 1834. The names of those applicants and their families, with their ages and date of application, were:

ANGLIN, Elisha, 37; wife, Catherine, 21; 6 children. May 22, 1834.
BARNHILL, William, 75, from Tennessee; wife, Cintha, 63; 8 children (4 males, 4 females). Certificate of admission, same date.
BARNETT, George W., 40; wife, Eliza, 32; 3 children. May 23, 1834.
BOREN, Joseph, 24, single. May 26, 1834.
BOREN, Micul, 27; wife, Elizabeth; 3 children. May 27, 1834.
BYROM, John S. D. by W. Barret Travis, (agent); married. April 29, 1834.
CHAFFIN, John, single. April 29, 1834.
FULLERTON Henry. May 22, 1834.
FULLINWIDER, Peter H., 37; wife, Balinda, 21. April 21, 1834.
GRAHAM, John, 56, unmarried. May 27, 1834.
McCLANE, William, 30, single. May 23, 1834.
PARKER, J. W., 37; wife, Patsy, 37; 5 children. May 22, 1834.
PARKER, Silas M., 32, wife, Lucinda, 23; 4 children. May 22, 1834.
PLUMMER, Luther T. M., 22; wife, Rachel, 16. May 22, 1834.
PURDOM, Henry, 49, widower. April 29, 1834.
PURDY, Letsom, 31; wife, Mary, 28. June 8, 1834.
RAINS, C. B., 28, single. April 22, 1834.
ROBINSON, George W., 25; wife, Eliza, 16; 1 child. June 15, 1834.
RUSSELL, Alexander, 35, single. April 22, 184.
SESSOM, Michael (by F. W. Johnson). May 22, 1834.
SKERRETT, George W., 34; wife, Maria, 22; 2 children. April 29, 1834.
STEWART, William, 3; wife, Sarah Ann, 33; 6 children. May 22, 1834.
SWAIN, William L., 29, single. May a3. 1834.
SWISHER, James G., 39; wife, Elizabeth, 36; 6 children. May 27, 1834.
TEAL, John, 28; wife, Polly, 27; 4 children. May 24, 1834.
WILLIAMS, John (by S. H. Jack), 46, widower; 7 children. June 6, 1834.40

After each settler had filed his application, Jack gave him a printed form certifying that a land title would be issued to him as soon as a commissioner had been appointed by the government. Unfortunately, however, none of the settlers received land titles from Austin and Williams at that time because they did not succeed in getting a land commissioner appointed before the colony was transferred to Major Sterling C. Robertson. That change was effected on May 22, 1834, just a month after Jack had opened his land office. 41

Robert Barr and a man named Mumford were also living in Tenoxtitlan in April, 1834, but their applications for admission have not been found. 42 Also George Bernard Erath, John W. Porter, and Porter's family moved to Tenoxtitlan in August, 1834. In his memoirs Erath says:

When I arrived there about half a dozen Mexican families occupied the place. Some of them considered themselves settled and claimed land in the neighborhood. About half a dozen American families were there also. They sheltered themselves in the Mexican barracks while waiting for something to turn up. 43
The Catholic religion probably predominated in Tenoxtitlan between 1830 and 1832, since most of the inhabitants at that time were Mexicans and also because the Mexican government required that only Catholics be brought to Texas. But it is likely that protestant beliefs were practiced more openly after the Mexican officials departed. Among the applicants for admission was the Reverend Peter Hunter Fullinwider, a native of Pennsylvania who had spent two and a half years in the Princeton Theological Seminary training for the Presbyterian ministry. After receiving his license to preach, he moved to Mississippi and married Balinda McNair on March 18, 1834. They were still on their honeymoon when they made their appearance at Tenoxtitlan, fired with missionary zeal to distribute Bibles and preach the gospel. Reverend Fullinwider had the distinction of being the first Presbyterian minister to reside in Texas. 44

Another important name among the settlers at Tenoxtitlan was James Gibson Swisher, for whom Swisher County was named. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he arrived in Tenoxtitlan with his family in January, 1834, and rented the residence formerly occupied by Colonel Ruiz. 45

At that time Tenoxtitlan was on the extreme northwestern frontier of Texas, with no facilities for educating the numerous children of the settlers. Swisher, motivated partly by a desire to help his neighbors' children and partly by a desire to keep his own boy busy, decided to establish his fourteen-year-old son, John Milton Swisher, as the teacher of a private school. When the school opened, there were several pupils ranging from six to twenty years of age, not one of whom knew a letter of the alphabet. In fact, most of them did not even know that an alphabet existed. In later years, Milton's wife, Mrs. Bella French Swisher, recalled that:

The opening morning was a proud one to Milton. He felt ten years older and a foot taller, while in importance he was swelled to a prodigious size. He put on his hat with all the grace of a newly-pledged lover and, taking his ruler and some books, he started forth to his duties fully convinced that his fame as a pedagogue would be world-wide in a very short time. His pupils came straggling in, one by one, either saluting him with some of the slang terms of the day, or winking knowingly at him, as if to say, "You think you're mighty smart, don't you?" But, though his heart seemed to be in his throat, the young teacher preserved his dignity and made an attempt to call his class to order, which, as none of them knew the meaning of the word, was no easy task. He finally made them understand that they were to be seated and keep silence. The boys with a whoop sprang astride some of the logs which had been brought in to serve in the place of seats while the girls appropriated other logs and arranged themselves around in various uncouth positions, all eyes fixed upon the teacher as if to demand what was to be done next.

"Now," said the teacher who did not know the full extent of his pupils' ignorance, "I will form an a-b-c class. All who don't know their a b c's stand up."

The next instant the entire school was standing.... After arranging them in line, big and little together, much to the disgust of the former, he  proceeded to give them their first lesson.

"That letter," he explained, "is A."

"What's it used for?" asked one of the young men.

"It is one of the letters of the alphabet. There are twenty-six of them for you to learn. When you know them all you will easily learn to read."

"Read what?" was the next question.

"Why, anything you can get to read."

"What is it to read?" asked another.

"Look at this letter," was the reply. "It is b, here is o and here is v. B-o-y boy. Whenever you see these three letters you will know it is boy."

"I know an easier way to tell a boy than that," said the first speaker.

The school was discontinued for disciplinary reasons. 46

Five of the fifty-nine men who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence were either residents or former residents of Tenoxtitlan: George W. Barnett, John S. D. Byron, Sterling C. Robertson, Francisco Ruiz, and James G. Swisher. 47 Tenoxtitlan had its martyr in the Alamo, too, in Eliel Melton, a bachelor who had come to Texas in 1829 and to Tenoxtitlan community by 1832.48 Seven residents or former residents also took part in the Battle of San Jacinto: Robert Barr, John R. Craddock, John Graham, George W. Robinson, William H. Smith, William L. Swain, and John M. Swisher. 49

After the fall of the Alamo, a rumor spread up the Brazos that the Mexican army was headed for Viesca at the falls of the Brazos above Tenoxtitlan to capture Major Sterling C. Robertson, empresario of Robertson's Colony, and that, simultaneously, great hordes of hostile Indians, incited by the Mexican government, were going to swoop down from the northwest and annihilate all the white settlers on the frontier around Tenoxtitlan. The panic-stricken settlers began a wholesale migration east toward the Sabine. Some of the families struck out across country from Viesca to Fort Parker on the Navasota, while the young men assembled at Tenoxtitlan, where they enlisted in the Texas army and immediately set out to join General Houston. Among them were George W. Chapman, Heman Chapman, Robert Childers, Stephen Frazier, William Frazier, John Needham, Jefferson Reed, William Reed, Josiah Taylor, and Orville T. Tyler. When they arrived within one day's travel of the San Jacinto battleground, however, they met soldiers who had participated in General Sam Houston's decisive victory over the Mexicans and were returning home in search of their fleeing families. Since the struggle was over, the Tenoxtitlan volunteers returned with them. 50

Tenoxtitlan was proposed as capital of Texas a second time after the area had become a republic and a committee had been appointed to select a permanent site for the seat of government. At that time Robert Barr, a former resident of Tenoxtitlan, laid before the commissioners a memorial in which he extolled the advantages of that place: abundant springs, one situated so that water from it could be piped directly to the capitol site; plenty of timber, and an unlimited supply of firm building rock eight miles above town, "with a surrounding country which cannot be surpassed for fertility of product." If the commissioners would choose Tenoxtitlan, Barr said that he would give the republic "one full half of the League of Land on which said town is sit uated . . . and . . . two Leagues of Land lying on the west side of the Brazos River at the mouth of Cow Bayou." As an added inducement, he pointed out that there were six leagues of land adjoining the survey on the north, and three on the south, all of which already belonged to the Republic of Texas. 51

Unfortunately for Tenoxtitlan, though, the commissioners finally chose a site near Waterloo (which developed into Austin), a still more exposed and isolated village on the Colorado, and once again the citizens of Tenoxtitlan saw their dream fade and die.

That blow, together with repeated raids by savage Indians, soon relegated to oblivion the little frontier village of Tenoxtitlan. Troubles with Indians had been steadily increasing ever since the departure of the Mexican garrison in the summer of 1832. At that time the settlers were so disheartened that they talked of abandoning the entire country above the Yegua, but they finally reconsidered, resolved to stick to their hard-earned homes on the Texas frontier, and organized an informal civil militia for protection. 52

Things moved along peacefully until one dark, foggy morning about daylight in the latter part of April, 1834. Suddenly the residents of Tenoxtitlan were awakened by the cry of "Indians! Indians! Indians!" Rushing out in their night clothes, they found an excited crowd gathered around James G. Swisher's horse lot near the center of town. There a sickening sight awaited them: all the horses were gone except two, and one of these stood trembling in a corner with an arrow sticking in his side. The other, Mrs. Swisher's favorite, lay weltering in his blood, and large pieces of flesh had been cut from his carcass.

Swisher and one of the Boren brothers immediately set out in pursuit. They followed the Indians at a brisk pace on foot for two days, although the Indians were mounted and Swisher was a big man weighing over two hundred pounds. Swisher and Boren finally overtook the Indians on the second day about fifty miles from Tenoxtitlan. They shot one Indian, sent the other fleeing through the brush critically wounded, and recovered all the stolen horses. 53

In the summer of 1835, Tenoxtitlan was the point of rendezvous for an expedition which the western and central colonies of Texas sent out against the Indians. The four small companies of Captains Robert M. Williamson, John H. Moore, George W. Barnett, and Philip Coe assembled there in late July, and on the 31St marched east to Fort Parker to relieve Captain Robert M. Coleman. The expedition spent several weeks in the field and proved to be such a successful show of strength that the Indians remained overawed for some time. 54

The most sensational Indian raid that ever occurred in Tenoxtitlan, however-- the one which no doubt terminated its existence as a Texas town_took place in May, 1841. Most of the clothing worn by the Texas pioneers was made at home on a hand loom, and the King family near Nashville was no exception. Soon Mrs. King found that she needed another spinning wheel to supply the ever-increasing needs of the large household of whites and Negroes, but all the spinning wheels for that part of Texas were made by Major Ben Bryant, a resident of Tenoxtitlan. Consequently young Rufus King and "Uncle Jim," a faithful old Negro, were sent down river to Tenoxtitlan to bring back a new spinning wheel.

They had instructions to spend the night with Joseph Rowland, a close friend of the King family. Rowland, as was characteristic of many Texas pioneers, had a large family. The four oldest children were girls, who usually did the milking, but that night they had some special assistance. Rufus went along with Bill and Burt, two of the Rowland boys, to tie off the calves.

After they had returned to the house, the girls discovered that they had left some of the milking gourds at the pen and asked the boys to go back after them. It was getting dark rapidly as the boys slipped through the tall weeds which bordered the narrow path. Just as they came in full view of the fence, they saw that the cows were alarmed and looking steadily at some objects in the pen. As Rufus and his companions drew nearer, they saw two Indians busy skinning a calf, while a third Indian on the fence kept guard.

The boys ran back to the house and spread the alarm. Horses were rounded up and tied to two timber posts that supported a dirt-floored shed in front of Rowland's double cabin.

When the family retired for the night, Rufus was given a primitive bed outside the house under the shed_a framework against the wall of the house, over which had been laid a beef hide, a comfort, and a sheet. Rufus slept next to the wall, and a man named Campbell, who worked for Rowland, slept on the outside next to the horses. Rowland was to stand guard until, midnight, and then Campbell was to take over. A full moon was shining, the air was soft and balmy, and at last, despite all the excitement, Rufus dropped off to sleep, for it was long past the little boy's bedtime.

Suddenly he was awakened by a most bloodcurdling and harrowing scream from his bedfellow. As he opened his eyes, he saw Campbell attempting to rise, with an arrow shot clear through his body. He struggled toward the door, dragging the sheet behind him, but, before he could get inside, fell dead.

The noise of startled horses, their tramping feet and wild, scared snorting, showed that the Indians were still nearby. Campbell had gone back to sleep after going on guard duty, and the Indians had crept up to the posts, cut the horses loose, and shot him as he attempted to rise.

There was no sleep in Tenoxtitlan during the remainder of that night, but pursuit could not be attempted until morning. Meanwhile the dead man was prepared for burial, powder horns were filled, bullets were molded, and rations were cooked for the expedition.

Like every growing boy, Rufus wanted to go with the party, but Rowland gave him positive instructions to return immediately to Nashville. Next morning, therefore, Rufus and Uncle Jim started home with their spinning wheel. Jim strapped the wheel on his back so that his arms would be free to use his single-barreled flintlock shotgun in case of an Indian attack. He put the bench across his lap so that he could throw it aside at a moment's notice. Rufus carried the head, spindle, and smaller parts of the spinning wheel. The flintlock holster pistol tied to the horn of his saddle seemed to afford much less protection than it had on the way down to Tenoxtitlan. They covered the fourteen miles of the return journey without mishap, although they expected to be attacked by Indians every step of the way. And never was a boy more relieved to see his mother than was little Rufus when Mrs. King welcomed him home that day. 55

Two weeks after that raid, a little one-act play was published in a Houston newspaper. The scene was laid at a ford on the Brazos, near Tenoxtitlan. A traveler was standing on the opposite bank of the river, gazing intently upon the ruined village. A hunter approached, and in the ensuing conversation it was revealed that Tenoxtitlan had been deserted. One reason for its abandonment was that the land titles in that area were still in dispute. The other reason was that President Houston's Indian policy had left the settlers at Tenoxtitlan completely unprotected. 56

So it was that Tenoxtitlan, first founded as a bulwark against Anglo-American immigration, then converted into a shelter for those same immigrants, and twice-told dream capital of Texas, passed into oblivion.

At present, the site is marked by a gray granite marker erected in 1936 by the Texas Centennial Commission, which bears the following inscription:

The monument stands on land originally granted to the heirs of John Teal, at the point where Dam Creek flows into the Brazos River. Northwest of the monument, along Dam Creek, is the site of the Mexican settlement; just south of the point where Dam Creek empties into the Brazos is the site of the fort; and on the road off to the left, across a boggy creek, and in heavy underbrush is the Mexican cemetery, where there are tumbled piles of red brick and some traces of a wall or sides of graves. On the village site there remain many pieces of pottery, mostly with flower designs, lead rifle balls, and various kinds of bones.

The Burleson County Historical Survey Committee and the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce presently hope to improve access to the site, create a picnic area, and restore Fort Tenoxtitlan with the assistance of the county commissioners and the state Parks and Wildlife Department.

Map Showing How to find the Tenoxtitlan site Today