SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-20000, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Life in the DeWitt Colony-Contents

 

MODE OF LIVING, CUSTOMS, AND PERILS OF THE EARLY SETTLERS OF TEXAS

By Guy M. Bryan ca. 1898
From Wooten's Comprehensive History of Texas, headings added by current editor
(Guy Morrison Bryan 1821-1901 was a nephew of Stephen F. Austin, son of Emily Austin Bryan Perry, a Texas legislator, leader in the movement for secession of Texas, a charter member of the Texas Veterans Association and the Texas Historical Association)


Anglo-Saxon industriousness and ambition. The writer would regard his work as incomplete were he not to briefly tell of the social condition, customs, and habits of living, and the perils of the early settlers of Texas. The Anglo-Saxon is the strong race on earth. It is the race, above all others, to pioneer, redeem the wilderness to civilization, and to establish and maintain government. It seems that God, with all the imperfections of the race, has made it His chosen race for settling the wilderness, or expelling, absorbing, or elevating inferior races by the introduction of its own government, manners, customs, and religion. If ignorance is bliss and it is folly to be wise, and the uncivilized man is happier than the civilized, then the Anglo-Saxon may be no chosen race, but a scourge. Be that as it may, the course of this race on this continent has been onward and upward; it has extended from a narrow strip on the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean, and from the frozen regions of the north to the sunny clime of Mexico. In all the successes of this race in settling a wilderness country, after the establishment of the first colonies on the Atlantic, nowhere is there a more remarkable instance of sagacity, perseverance, adaptability of means to the end, and of self-government, than can be found among the early settlers of Texas. With the exception of the two little towns of San Antonio and La Bahia (Goliad), the population of both not exceeding three thousand five hundred, the whole of Texas was a wilderness when Moses Austin entered it in 1820. The work of his son has been previously briefly told; now we will speak of the colonists or people.

Land, housing, livestock and wildgame. They came to better their condition, to obtain land for themselves and families in a new and uninhabited country. They got the land, erected thereon log cabins, with clapboard roofs, retained in place by heavy logs extended across them from one side of the roof to the other, held in position by the split hearts of the "cuts" of the trees from which the boards were made; the floors were of dirt or puncheon slabs hewn from tree-cuts; the chimneys were of "'cat and clay," or stone where it could be had. When this was done, then commenced the clearing, or ploughing up of prairie near the timber, for a field to raise corn; the splitting of rails and fencing followed. They did not cluster together, but would rather run the risks of Indian attacks than to be crowded. Thus they began, but soon the cabin became double, with hall between, and shed-rooms and a gallery, and plank sawed by hand for floors, with plain furniture; the field grew larger and larger, hogs, cattle, and horses multiplied around the premises, and poultry were numerous in and near the yard. Wild game abounded, and the correct eye of father and son with the unerring rifle kept the larder generally supplied with venison, wild turkey, bear-meat, and when game became difficult to find, then fat mustangs, being numerous, furnished food. Thus, self-reliant, brave, energetic, hopeful of the future, with independent, generous hearts, helpful to each other, and hospitable to a fault, lived these early settlers. (photo below: Sam Houston's temporary double planked cabin residence in capitol Houston)

Houston's Temporary Residence in HoustonReligion and moral character. Sunday was a day of visiting, and to ride five or ten miles on horseback, take dinner and spend the day with families, was the custom. Their religion was only in the family circle, where there were readings, prayers, and singing. The Roman Catholic was the legal religion, but the colonists at home kept the faith of their fathers, and did nothing to provoke censure of the established church or government. Some of the colonists subdivided their lands, selling the same to enable others to settle among them, and thus the colonies of Austin rapidly populated and improved under his judicious and parental government. He required all applicants to bring with them certificates of good moral character from their former places of abode, or they would not be received. By firmly enforcing this requirement he obtained a good class of people. From having been reared among them, the writer can truthfully say that he never knew anywhere, as a class, better men and happier communities than were found in the colonies of Austin. If the great object of man in this life is contentment, and to live in a society where each one respects the rights of the other, having the largest share of freedom of thought and action, nowhere has it been realized more thoroughly than among these intelligent, contented, honest, hospitable, self-supporting communities. Nowhere was a pauper to be found, and rarely a thief. There were no locks, and the latch-string ever hung out. If sickness, misfortune, or distress came, as such casualties at times come to all men, warm and sympathetic hearts of neighbors came to soothe and relieve; if a settler was weak-handed in making his improvements, or in log-raising or logrolling, in ploughing or cultivating his crop, ample gratuitous aid was at hand, and no one suffered for want of this aid. Each one had "the best tract of land, the most beautiful situation, and would not exchange it for any tract in the colony."

Social equality, landholders and slaves. Socially, all were on an equality, merit being the only distinction. There were men of education, ability, and superior qualifications among them; the great majority were intelligent, practical, useful, industrious, and moral. There were among the women the refined, cultured, and accomplished, and as a class they all understood the duties and requirements of their situation, possessing in a high degree the best qualities of wife, mother, daughter, and sister; cheering the men in their varied duties, softening their manners and rough experiences. The colonists were law-abiding, faithfully obeying and enforcing the civil and criminal laws made for and given to them by Austin, which prevailed until February, 1828, when the laws of Coahuila and Texas were extended over them. All were landholders, and were, or expected to be, householders (each head of a family received a league and labor, and a single man a third or fourth of a league), and owners of cattle, horses, and hogs. Some owned slaves; no one many, except Colonel J. E. Groce. These were treated with great kindness. They were clothed, fed, attended to in sickness, and each family had a "patch" of land to cultivate, their masters sending the products of their labor with their own to market, and giving them the proceeds, which they could expend as they pleased, except not for liquor. The colonists had their amusements of balls and parties, neighborhood gatherings for athletic exercises, fishing, picnics, horse-racing, rifle-shooting, mustang-catching, story-tellings of their trading, surveying, hunting, and Indian expeditions.

Local self-rule under the empresario. Their local taxes were very light and mostly voluntary; their differences as to person or property were usually adjusted by arbitration. The hand of the Mexican government was so light they never felt it. In all the civil wars and changes of government in Mexico they took no part, turning away their eyes and ears from the same, disposed to recognize the authorities of the time, when authority was asserted. But the Mexican officials were so engrossed with their own affairs, and having entire confidence in Austin, they let the colonists alone to manage their affairs in their own way, without let or hindrance; no taxation, no military service required, and no assertion of Mexican rule other than its acknowledgment.

Early dress, trade and exchange. The dress at first was chiefly buckskin, that varied with the tanning and dyeing; afterwards homespun, calico, plain cotton, and woollen goods but as the colony grew and prospered in resources and as facilities of getting goods by schooners via mouth of the Brazos, and by packing from "Nacitosh," increased, corresponding changes of dress ensued. Considerable trade was carried on by adventurers and enterprising colonists, with Mexico, by caravans of mules. The mules were managed by Mexican muleteers, who were very expert packers; the packs were mainly leaf tobacco and cotton goods, pressed in bales of one hundred pounds each, which were tightly lashed on a leather mattress (stuffed with hay, extending over the back of the mule) on the sides of the mules. These goods were brought through the mouth of the Brazos to Brazoria, or by "Nacitosh." The colonists, on expeditions that required preparation, used large, square saddle-bags of raw-hide, of capacity to carry everything needed, swung across a pack-saddle on a mule. They were so constructed that often swimming ordinary streams would not wet the contents. There was but little money in circulation, and that was Mexican silver coin, and later on Louisiana bank-bills. Much of payment in trade was made in cows and calves, a cow and calf rating at ten dollars, and produce at the current prices.

Nicknames. Where two or more persons had the same name, it was the custom to give them cognomens derived from their occupation, character, or some incident in their lives. Such as " Mustang" Brown, from his habit of catching mustangs, "African" Smith, who owned some Africans, "Dog" Smith, who was a selfish man; "Dancing Master" Smith, who had been a teacher of dancing; "Popcorn" Robinson, who raised the first popcorn in the colony, "Buck" Pettus, "Bill" Jack, etc.

The first Texian Masonic convention. In 1828, eight years before Texas achieved her independence upon the battlefield of San Jacinto, Stephen F. Austin, H. H. League, Eli Mitchell, Joseph White, and Thomas M. Duke met at the little village of San Felipe, on the Brazos River, and formed the first Masonic convention ever held upon the soil of Texas; the record of which having recently been brought to light is given for the benefit of the craft.

At a meeting of Ancient York Masons, held in the town of San Felipe de Austin, on the 11th of February, 1828, for the purpose of taking into consideration the expediency of petitioning the Grand Lodge of Mexico for granting a charter or dispensation for organizing a subordinate lodge at this place, the following Brethren were present: Brothers H. H. League, Stephen F. Austin, Ira Ingram, Eli Mitchell, Joseph White, G. B. Hall, and Thomas M. Duke. On motion of Brother Ira Ingram, and seconded, Brother H. H. League was appointed chairman and Thomas M. Duke secretary. On motion of Brother Stephen F. Austin, and seconded, it was unanimously agreed that we petition to the Grand York Lodge of Mexico for a charter or dispensation to organize a lodge at this place, to be called the Lodge of Union. On balloting for officers of the lodge, the following Brothers were duly elected . Brother S. F. Austin Master, Brother Ira Ingram Senior Warden, Brother H. H. League junior Warden. (Signed) H. H. LEAGUE, Chairman. Attest THOMAS M. DUKE, Secretary.

Stephen F. Austin, before he removed from St. Louis to Texas, was a member of St. Louis Lodge, No. 3, holding a charter from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, at the town of St. Louis, in the then unoccupied Masonic territory of Missouri. About this time intense excitement existed in Mexico on the subject of suppressing the Masonic societies, in obedience to a "Bull" fulminated against them by the reigning Pope. Civil war soon after raged, and in the struggle that followed, the rival Masonic bodies lost their power and prestige and were rent into fragments. Owing to this distracted state of affairs the enterprise of forming a lodge at San Felipe was permitted, to die out. These statements are taken from a volume in the State Library called "History of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons and Concordant Orders," written by a board of editors, Henry Stillson, chief editor, William James Hughan, European editor.

Self-reliance and sacrifice. Thus lived these joyous, thriving, noble people, redeeming a wilderness to civilization. This redemption, too, was undertaken and established by individual enterprise alone, without aid of strong capitalists, and totally unsupported by troops or succors of any kind from government. The people of today, who are the beneficiaries of this work of the old-timers of Texas, cannot realize the difficulties, privations, dangers, and hardships that the colonists had to meet and endure, from the wilderness and the Indians. Bread, salt, sugar, and coffee were luxuries; seed corn at first had to be packed from San Antonio and "Nacitosh. " Nearly all of the country north of the latter place in Louisiana and all south of the Arkansas River, was a wilderness. Into these wilds, then, came these hardy men with their families, bearing their flint-lock rifles, axes, and hoes to plant the germ of a new and great empire. Nobly did they perform their mission under the direction of their leader, emlawgiver, judge, and military commander, whose wisdom and forecast, justice and prudence, patience and forbearance, tempered with firmness and decision, united to great tact and fidelity to obligations, enabled them and him to succeed in their objects, where so many other similar enterprises had failed in this and other countries, even when supported by the strong arm of government and wealthy corporations and capitalists.

George ErathMajor George B. Erath, of Waco, says "In the year 1832 had occurred a revolution, in which the Texans took sides with Santa Anna, as the champion of liberty, and drove off the Mexican garrison at the mouth of the Brazos. After that engagement, in June, 1832, the town of Velasco was laid off near the spot of the battle, and here, at the time of my arrival, were about fifty inhabitants in buildings or mere shanties, one two-story not finished, the sides half opened. The making of salt from water obtained from saltwells comprised about the whole of Velasco's business, and this was conducted on a very small scale. I saw little of Velasco on this first visit, as we delayed there only half a day putting out goods, and then sailed up to Brazoria, where we arrived in the last days of April. The latter place was in a more advanced condition, though surrounded by Brazos bottom, with onehalf the houses built of pine lumber brought from New Orleans or Mobile. The river was then rising very rapidly, and announcements had been made of heavier rains up the country; so it was expected to get much higher. There were in the place two young men from whom I learned in conversation much of Mexican affairs, and one of the two was E. M. Pease, afterwards governor of Texas; the other was John A. Wharton. Santa Anna, so I learned from these, was at this particular time in favor with Texans.

It was on the morning of the ist of May that I threw my baggage on one of the ox-wagons then transporting goods from the coast to the interior, and, in company with several other travellers, went out as far as the Brazos bottom, but no farther; for here was a large encampment of negroes hauling goods either from Brazonia or Bell's Landing, and, according to a custom in vogue among the wagons here, the large encampment was likely to stay for some time. The custom was that of all wagons travelling together. If the carelessness of one wagoner caused a yoke of oxen to stray at night, the whole train of wagons must stop to wait; sometimes a new yoke was lost while the old one was being hunted, and then another, possibly ere the second was found, and so on. Thus our journey was stopped in the Brazos bottom until a party of Mexicans joined us, from whom horses were to be obtained. The average price of the Mexican horse, since erroneously called Spanish, was then ten dollars, which had to be paid in gold or silver, down, though the Americans, who asked double the price for the same, would take part in paper or trade, and also give credit. We all bought horses, and I rode barebacked, with a rope around the nose of my animal, while my companions of the road used the saddles of old American or English style which they had brought along with them, and which were, however, almost worse than none here in Texas on the sharpbacked Mexican horses. And thus we came, in the course of two days, to San Felipe. There, Indians one hundred years old were declaring that they had never seen the Brazos so high. I wanted to go on to the Colorado, but could not get on owing to the overflow, and was told that it would not be possible to cross, as the ferry-boat was gone. Finally, I went to the Colorado, but returned, and travelling down towards Brazonia, waited a week in the same wagon encampment again, and then went back in a canoe to Velasco, and there began work in the making of salt. I have spoken of this wagon transportation as carried on then, and, with little change for ten or twelve years after, until annexation.

The class of men among the wagoners, and over the country generally, were for the most part Americans, and from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas, all stages of intelligence among them, and at least two-thirds could read and write. Farming and stock-raising, of course, formed the chief industries of the country ; but the farming was carried on in a very primitive manner, excepting perhaps near the coast, where there were slave-owners. Families were to be found very comfortably established, however, in double log cabins with stone chimneys and plank floors (the planks sawed by hand) ; then again you saw cabins of logs with the bark on, one room for the whole family, comers and goers, and for the Texas wind, which found the crevices between the logs and sometimes helped the fire to set a wooden chimney to burning. In the latter case-that of the log fireplace conspiring with the fire to roast you on a cold day-you had nothing for it but to climb up on the outside and throw your chimney down, thus leaving the small room more at the mercy of the roaring norther. School-houses of logs were found in the thicker settlements, but seldom was school kept continuously in one for a year. The same houses, or the shade of a tree, did very well for a religious service, and preachers of all denominations were' passing and repassing. With the exception of the Mexican element, however, I must say there were very few Catholics.

The Mexican Constitution of 1824 is in substance very little different from that of the United States, except that it requires a citizen of Mexico to be a Catholic. For this the formality of being baptized into the Catholic Church was gone through with by a few of the earlier settlers, but this was before the time of my arrival. Much trade was done by the way of exchange of property, and cows and calves had got to be used somewhat as legal tender for ten dollars each. If a man wished to say he had paid fifty dollars for a yoke of steers, very probably he declared, although he might have paid the money down, that he paid five cows and calves for it. I heard it said repeatedly in those days that cows and calves were ten-dollar bills, and hogs and chickens were change. The government at that time demanded no taxes. Every man of family arriving in the country was entitled to a league of land (four thousand four hundred and twenty-eight acres) by paying about fifty dollars for surveying, seventeen dollars and fifty cents for title, and twenty cents to the government for every lab6r (one hundred and seventy-seven acres), and the last he had six years' time on. An unmarried or single man was entitled to one-fourth of a league, with the expenses proportionate. Although the expenses on a league did not amount to a hundred dollars, and needed not adl to be paid down, yet there were many who would give half their land to some one willing to pay expenses on the other half."

William P. ZuberW. P. Zuber, of Grimes County, says "From my own observation and personal knowledge, derived from residence in Harrisburg, in Brazoria County, and in the present county of Grimes, and from extensive travel, and from conversation with travellers, I affirm the following facts: Where a family was not totally isolated, the sick suffered not from want of nursing nor from want of medicine if their neighbors had it. No man, whose neighbors had meat and bread, suffered from hunger. The new-comers who had not yet procured cattle were supplied with milk and butter by the voluntary loan of cows. Those who were in distress dared not, under penalty of giving offence, offer pay for relief and personal help. Working tools, of which no family for a long time had a full supply, circulated by loan, as common property. All were industrious. The wilful non-payment of a just debt was regarded as no better than theft. To sue an honest but unfortunate debtor, who was not able to pay a debt, was condemned as an outrage. The wilful non-compliance with a promise was an intolerable disgrace. Seduction and slander of females were not tolerated. The promises of most persons were given and accepted as their most binding obligations, And, the general want of facilities for education notwithstanding, the extensive intercourse between widelyseparated individuals and corporations excited the inquiries of the young, and endowed them with a fund of cumulative intelligence which is incredible to those who were not there to witness it."


Law of the Golden Rule and betrayal by Mexican centralists. I have especially described the people of Austin's colony, because my personal knowledge was mostly limited to them; but the same duties were required of the empresarios of all other colonies, and the same character was developed in the people elsewhere, more or less, in proportion to the extent to which those duties were executed. Hence, the numerous slanders that were industriously circulated against them notwithstanding, the Texans of the colonial period, as a whole, were a model people, whose example the world would do well to imitate. Those who regard patriotism as nothing better than public selfishness cannot appreciate the Texans of that period. They recognized no moral difference between private and public obligations. Of course their character and their opinions were moulded by their peculiar circumstances. One of the principal of those circumstances was the example and influence of the man who, under an overruling Providence, directly or indirectly steered the course of their conduct. That man was Stephen F. Austin, whose law was the golden rule, and who regarded a voluntary oath as binding.

Under his lead (of which his unostentatious deportment rendered them almost unconscious) the more conscientious of the colonists maintained their allegiance to the Mexican Constitution, till it became known to them that the whole Mexican people had succumbed to Santa Anna's treasonable destruction of the Constitution, and had united with that traitor in waging against the Americans in Texas a war of subjugation or extermination. This relieved them of their allegiance to Mexico, and rendered secession both honorable and necessary. Then, almost without dissent, they declared Texas independent of Mexico, and assumed the responsibilities of separate nationality.


SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2000, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved