Some Difficulties of a Texas Empresario
Aylett C. Buckner to Austin 10 Jun 1825 Sir I appears that I am called here for undertaking one of the most just causes in my opinion imaginable that which is not only admitted of under free Governments but even under the most despotic Governments Now sir as it respects myself I disregard rigid measures but Sir you probably are not apprised of the bad effects it may have I do assure you Sir it will enrage the people beyond all calculation and it will be the downfall of your---self and I believe the Colony---These are the reasons why I make the following proposition which is this That the whole colony shall be called togather and if there is a majority in favor of the petition it shall go on if not it shall fall The people in every direction have herd of your irons for my imprisonment, as it respects myself I disregard all you can do I ask no favors, but for the prosperity of the Colony is the reason why I make the above proposition It is a proposition that every man in the Colony will approve of with few exceptions AYLETT C BUCKNER Mr Austin 10th June 1825
Andrew Rabb to Austin 11 Jun 1825 Big Bernard June 11 1825 SIR Agreeably to Your summon I have proceded thus far but on account of the complaint with which I am afflicted, I am unable to ride any further: If however my evidence should be material, I shall perhaps be able in a day or two to come to Town---All I know in this case is what almost every other person knows, with, perhaps, this exception---A few days ago, when in company with Mr. Buckner, he observed, that If you prosecuted Jackson, it would only be thro malice, and that he (Buckner) would fight for Jackson as long as he had a drop of blood in his veins ANDREW RABB To Col. S. F. Austin
Austin to James Cummins 13 Jun 1825 The
matter has been investigated Which induced the summons of A. C. Buckner before me, and the
result of such investication has satisfied me that the acts of said Buckner which were
deemed exceptionable proceeded from misconception, and the said Buckner having manifested
a submission to the Laws and authorities of the Government---Therefore in order that the
public may be satisfied as to the result of this matter it is directed that the whole
affair be dismissed, under the belief that his deportment will be such as to merit the
approbation of the authorities of the Government and the more effectually to avoid any
excitement which a reference to the subject in private conversation might create it is
recommended that it be totall forgotten and consigned to oblivion. San felipe de Austin 13
June 1825. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN [Rubric] To James Cummins Esqr
Austin to Jefe Politico Saucedo 15 Jun 1825 Por mi oficio fha 6 del Corriente dí parte V. S. del arresto de dos Yndividuos y en efecto les llamé delante de mi el dia 11 del presente y despues de una averiguacion de su causa parecía q estuvieron engañados por los falsos rumores y representaciones que algimos malvados han circulado tocante á las Autoridades de esta Colonia y sus facultades, y luego qe les espliqué el error qe habian cometido sumetieron enteramente á las autoridades del Gobno. y declararon q desde entonces quedarian contento y obedeciente, y en el Concepto q se debe usar de la suavidad y la razon siempre qe estas basta para mantener ó restablecer la tranquilidad les puse todos en libertad, advirtiendolos por lo futuro su conducta ha de ser enteramente arreglad.a con las leyes y con lo q exije el buen Orden y así tengo la satisfacion decir qe se ha tranquilizado este dificultad. Dios y Libertad San Felipe de Austin 15 de Junio de 1825 ESTEVAN F. AUSTIN [Rubric] Al Sor Gefe del departamento de Texas Ciudadano D José Antonio Saucedo
III. SPECIAL GRANTS.---Another cause of dissatisfaction, inseparably connected with the one just discussed, arose out of the discretionary power vested in Austin and the commissioner to make additional grants of land to such individuals as they had special reasons to favor in this manner. A large family and industrious habits frequently brought to the settler at least a double portion; special grants of five sitios were made to those who agreed to erect mills or other works of public utility; even as many as ten sitios were allotted to single families, though these larger grants were rarely made. Many of those who applied for increased grants and were refused felt that a discrimination had been made against them. A "North American frontier republican" believes that he is as good as his neighbor, and if land, or anything else, is distributed, his pride and cupidity are wounded if he does not receive what he regards as his full share. Such individuals never stopped to inquire why certain of their neighbors received more than one sitio; it was enough that Austin and the commissioner had shown favor, and not to them. Many of the disgruntled ones joined the ranks of the opposition and gave ready ear to all the damaging reports circulated as to Austin's authority. It has been noted above that in the call for a meeting made by Buckner and Jackson, one of the charges against Austin and Bastrop was that they had made larger grants to some colonists than to others.
One extreme case will suffice to show to what extent certain of these frontiersmen were willing to go in enforcing recognition of what they believed to be their rights. Jacob Betts was one of the first settlers who came to Texas and was one of those who felt that he had been discriminated against in the distribution of lands. In May, 1825, he complained to Austin as follows:
Happily there were few cases like this. Betts was conciliated in some manner, for exactly two years later, May 13, 1827, we find him the sole representative of Austin's colony, signing a treaty with the Carancahua Indians along with such men as Anastacio Bustamante, Martin de Leon, and Green Dewitt. It required great prudence, consummate tact, and perfect understanding of frontier character to deal successfully with such cases. Had Austin no other claim upon us, we should be compelled to respect him for the wisdom and good judgment he exercised in the control of that most uncontrollable class of people---the class that carry Anglo-Saxon civilization into the western wilderness. It would be too much to say that he put down all dissatisfaction; many of his colonists did not become reconciled to their leader for years; some, never. But by timely concessions in one place; by threats in another; by reason and explanation where such would be listened to; and especially by a wise and efficient administration of the affairs of the colony, he was able to blunt the edge of criticism and keep the discontented within bounds. "The reflecting and worthy part of the settlers have always adhered firmly to me throughout," he wrote to William H. Wharton in 1829, though he added that the refractory element "at times had weight enough to require humoring and management." The particular source of discontent with which we are here concerned was removed by the colonization law of March 24, 1825, which required all petitions for increased grants of land to be made to the state government.
It required considerable time, however, for the doubt as to Austin's authority to disappear. One instance will serve to show that it still existed and was even strong in 1826. Dr. Lewis D. Dayton came into the colony in the winter of 1825-6 and located some eight miles north of San Felipe. He was soon talked of as a good doctor and acquired some influence among the settlers. He took up the old cry and began anew the agitation of the matter of Austin's authority. He accused the empresario and his secretary of repressing parts of the colonization law for their own profit and of imposing on the colonists in many other ways. He was so successful in his agitation that a doggerel song which he circulated against Austin became quite popular in certain localities. It began thus:
H.H. League wrote to Austin 28 Aug 1827 "....we have some little commotion amongst the people in the outsettlements of the colony---which has been got up by this man Daton that was here when you left...." On 10 Sep 1827, League writes "...The difficulty that was apprehended on account of Daton is over he has been punished and driven out of the colony. his designs on the colony was full of mischief and Rebellion and had become more formidable than any of us imagined and was On the Eave of breaking out but fortunately Over...."
Early in 1826 [probably 1828], while on a visit to the Fort settlement, Dayton was seized by William Hall and others; he was carried to San Felipe, tried before judge Lynch, and declared worthy of a coat of tar and feathers, which sentence was duly executed. He then disappeared. It should be stated in justice to Austin that he was absent when these irregular proceedings took place and afterwards was heard to express regret on account of the affair.
IV. BAD CHARACTERS.---Difficulties of another kind were those which arose from the appearance at times of criminals and bad characters in the colony. Outside of Texas, there seems to be even yet a general lack of information as to the character of the men who settled in Austin's colony. There were indeed many rude frontiersmen like Buckner, and even some like Betts, who felt that they were every inch sovereigns, and who would defend to the last breath what they believed to be their rights; but they were at least honest and their hands were not stained with crimes committed in other countries. On that point Austin's attitude was most uncompromising. "You must examine the Red River emigrants very closely," he wrote in 1823 to one of his subordinates, "and take care that no bad men get in---let us have no black sheep in our flock." Mrs. Holley said in 1836, "The empresario, General Austin, has never admitted into his Colony any man known to be of disreputable standing and has always, as far as practicable, made diligent inquiries in order to ascertain, if possible, the conduct and reputation of each applicant." Crime of any kind committed by colonists was rare. From the beginning of the settlement in January, 1822, and to December, 1824, a space of three years, there were in the whole colony no cases of homicide and only one of theft. It was by no means an infrequent occurrence that passing strangers gave trouble by theft of stock or even of other property. Sometimes these rogues were caught and in such cases it cannot be said that they were always hospitably treated by the settlers. Austin's judicial authority was not sufficient to cover such cases. He could only put the accused at hard labor until the authorities at Bexar could be heard from. He repeatedly asked for the establishment of a tribunal with jurisdiction to inflict corporal punishment upon such offenders. But the general government was slow, and no such tribunal was erected for several years. In the meantime Austin put a liberal interpretation upon his powers and himself sat in judgment on the culprits. There were no jails in the colony and it was too expensive to employ guards to watch prisoners, so, as a short way out of the difficulty, Austin introduced the whipping-post. Possibly he was stretching his authority, but he did so with the knowledge of the political chief, and, if that official did not directly encourage it, at least he winked at such an efficient method of keeping order.
As Austin was held responsible for the settlement, he was given power to reject any applicant who might present himself for admission---indeed the government strictly enjoined him not to admit any one who could not produce certificates satisfactorily proving the holder a man of good character. A few instances will suffice to show how Austin used this power. On his return from Mexico he expelled five "persons, with their families, of infamous character," who had entered Texas during his absence. A short time after, one Garner in some manner made himself obnoxious and was whipped and sent out of the colony.
After this case was disposed of, Austin decided not to receive any person "nor even permit him to remain in the colony who comes without proper recommendations, no matter what may be his appearance." To this end, he authorized at least one of his subordinates to administer not exceeding fifty lashes to any notoriously bad character who entered the bounds of the colony, and send him under guard as far as the Trinity. The single theft mentioned above was William Fitz Gibbons and William and Peter Whitaker. The two former escaped, but Peter Whitaker was duly brought to trial. He was found guilty of having stolen four hogs; and the alcalde reported the case to Austin, with the information that Fitz Gibbons and the Whitakers were "a bad set" and deserved expulsion from the colony. Austin approved and sentence was passed upon them.
Such examples as these had a most salutary effect, for while they caused the criminal class to avoid the colony they had exactly the opposite effect upon honest settlers who were seeking homes for their families. When Austin turned over the government to the Ayuntamiento in 1828, that body continued the custom of investigating the character of new comers, and, on several occasions not only declined to admit questionable persons, but also expelled such old settlers as gave offense [On 4 Nov 1830, the Ayuntamiento voted to deny admission to two applicants, to expel four persons who had been in the colony for some time, and to put two others on probation, see Austin's address to Ayuntamiento from the Texas Gazette, 6 Nov 1830]. Many other instances of this purging process might be added, but enough have been mentioned to illustrate Austins method of dealing with such people.
One or two other cases will be cited because they involved special danger to the colony or to Austin. John Roe, of the Colorado district, had become disaffected, it seems, because he had not received what he regarded as sufficient compensation for certain services; to avenge himself he abandoned the settlement and proposed to incite the Indians to make an attack on the colonists. Here was a case in which mere expulsion from the colony brought no advantage, and Austin recommended imprisonment instead. Roe escaped but probably had little success in his designs against the settlers.
At times the best feeling did not exist between Austin's colony and that of Martin de Leon, which was made up of Mexicans. The enmity of this Mexican empresario was much to be feared, because the government would naturally accord him a more favorable hearing in case of a dispute or investigation than it would give a foreigner. In the spring of 1826, one McLocklin, then in de Leon's Colony, addressed charges against Austin to the political chief and was evidently supported by de Leon himself. Austin answered the charges and as to McLocklin, stated that he had formerly been a member of a gang of "picarros" on the Sabine and that "in the places where he was known it was sufficient only to pronounce his name to give an idea of all that is low and criminal in the character of man." The empresario added that McLocklin had once come to his colony, but "I ordered him to leave this jurisdiction without delay as the government had no use for such inhabitants." Austin complained bitterly against de Leon for sheltering such men and mentioned another notorious criminal who was then harbored by de Leon, "the mulatto Drake," whom Austin had previously whipped and driven from the colony. It is easy to see that even expelled criminals had the opportunity of injuring Austin and his colony.
Perhaps the instances which have been cited above may serve to convey an idea of the general character of the difficulties which Austin had to meet in the internal administration of the colony. Add to these the difficulties which grew out of the proximity of the red man and those which arose from the relations of the American colony to the Mexican government, and one's admiration of Stephen F. Austin grows constantly as he understands better how that great leader met and mastered them all.