THE WOMEN OF PIONEER DAYS
"....men are animated by love of adventure, desire for wealth or fame....female pioneers are sustained alone by the strength of their devotion to others." The general character of women who willingly venture into unexplored wilds finds illustration in the lives of a few deservedly famed in the early annals of Texas. While men are animated by love of adventure, desire for wealth or fame, which convert every obstacle overcome into a glorious triumph, female pioneers are sustained alone by the strength of their devotion to others, and weak hands learn to perform labors, and tender hearts to bear trials, unendurable by the sterner sex, and which in less perilous times would have been impossible, even themselves. There are places on the Texas coast where women displayed fortitude and endured hardships illustrative of the wonderful depths of conjugal love, the great capacity for calmly awaiting a hoped-for result in the midst of untold dangers, which belong alone to noble souls, to capacious minds. It requires far less strength of character to face visible danger than to dwell calmly where it is known to be near, but keeps partially veiled. Chronicles of the first occupancy of Texas by families from the "States" abound with tales of perilous sea-voyages followed by shipwrecks on the sandy shores; then even greater hardships ensued, scarcity of food, exposure to the elements before suitable habitations could be provided, attended by dangerous illnesses and deaths, not to mention the always dreaded and too often realized terrors of attacks by savage Indians. The Carancahuas on the coast, almost amphibious in their habits, were as likely to approach a lonely habitation by water as by land, and their reputation as cannibals made them even more dreaded than the tribes of the interior.
Mrs. Jane Long. The story of Mrs. Jane Long's weary waiting in the fort at Bolivar Point, on Galveston Bay, braving cold, hunger, Indians, and pirates in her fearless determination to await the return of her husband, belongs to pre-colonial days, but illustrates well the spirit of the women of those times. With no companions save a Negro servant-girl, her own little girl, two years old, and an infant born in the fort, buoyed up by confidence in the success of her husband's expedition against the Spaniards at La Bahia, she resisted all entreaties to abandon the fort when the few men who had been left in charge despaired, and in the excess of her devotion became a stranger to fear or weakness of any kind. Whenever the Indians came near enough for her to anticipate an attack, she had presence of mind to fire off the small cannon which guarded the fort, and give other signs to indicate that it was occupied by a formidable force. There were times when, not daring to go out by day, Kian, the servant-girl, would creep stealthily to the beach by night and grabble for oysters, often their only food. Great was their rejoicing during the severe winter of 1821 and 1822, which converted the surface of Galveston Bay into a sheet of ice, for the watchful Kian discovered numbers of benumbed fish beneath the ice; with Mrs. Long's assistance a hole was cut, a good supply of fish obtained and packed in the brine of mackerel barrels. One day, a Mexican messenger from San Antonio, sent by General Palacios, bore the sad news of the tragic death of General Long in the City of Mexico. The hope so tenderly nurtured for more than a year, thus rudely struck down at one blow, the utter dreariness of her situation, and the impossibility of remaining longer in it, became for the first time plainly manifest. The way was long (about three hundred miles) between Bolivar and San Antonio, and the only means of transportation was the back of a horse or mule. Time ran into months, the dreariest of all, before another messenger with led mules came over the trackless prairie and conducted her and her family to the Mexican head-quarters in Texas, to San Antonio de Bexar. The Spartan qualities of this remarkable woman were further shown in her untiring efforts to discover and procure the punishment of her husband's assassins, even going to Monterey, Mexico, in a carriage sent for her by the governor of Coahuila, who professed friendship; but finding her mission fruitful of promises only, she returned to her family and friends in Mississippi, making the long journey on horseback in company with friends who had come in search of her. However, after a few years she again cast her fortunes in Texas, as one of Austin's colony, closing her long life of widowhood at Richmond at the age of eighty, December 30, 1880.
Tales of shipwreck and first arrivals. Few women came to Texas before the establishment of the first colony, when numbers settling in a specified locality greatly lessened the dangers, and banished that feeling of utter loneliness unbearable by women except those possessed of the strongest natures. Among these few, the experience of one, the wife of Dr. Johnson Hunter, will be taken as a type. According to family records, in the year 1822 she, with her husband and five children, one an infant in arms, was cast ashore on Galveston Island. Amid dangers and difficulties inseparable from such an accident at such a period of time, repairing the wrecked vessel, they reached Morgan's Point, where she assisted her husband in making a home, one of the first on Galveston Bay. There, with the camp-fires of the Carancahua Indians at Red Bluff, about seven mile, distant, in sight on one side of her, and a boundless uninhabited region on the other, she possessed her soul with that composure born of necessity which comes to those who feel that courage must be theirs in order to inspire it in younger hearts. On one occasion, her husband, being necessarily absent for some days, left as a protector a worthy old man named Brown, who in a few days fell sick and died. Without neighbors, without help to prepare a coffin or dig a grave, Mrs. Hunter felt, as never before, the extreme isolation and desolateness of her situation. Wrapping the body in a counterpane, she, with her little children, prayed that a kind Providence might send aid in this dire hour of need. Truly, an answer to her prayers seems to have been granted, for on the second day two men rode up and dismounted; the touching tale of the unburied man told by the anxious, almost unnerved woman appealed to one of the strongest instincts of humanity, and the hitherto light-hearted travelers assumed the unwanted roles of undertakers and grave-diggers. Thus did that sternest of teachers, necessity, adapt unskilled hands to the performance of varied tasks, and thus were the women of those times subjected to anxieties which from their very nature would be impossible in older communities. The keenest suffering of these women was always for others, for the safety of husbands, fathers, brothers, and children, whose manner of living involved the daily risk of their lives, for, in the first years, game must be won from the forest and prairie, else the family would be without meat. Except the fish from the rivers and bays, the country afforded nothing else palatable to the white race.
With the advent of Austin's colony, who came in numbers sufficient to form settlements, small schooners began to frequent the waters of the bays, enabling the colonists to obtain supplies from an occasional vessel bearing men as adventurous as themselves. In January, 1829, there landed at Matagorda Peninsula sixty immigrants who had been out thirty days from New Orleans on the schooner Little Zoe. Gales had been violent and the vessel leaked, and, besides being in imminent danger from shipwreck, the passengers narrowly escaped death by starvation. Mrs. Mary S. Helm [Mary S. Sherwood, married Mr. Helm after death of Wightman in 1841---WLM], one of the passengers, being at that time the wife of Elias R. Wightman, a surveyor of Austin's colony, recorded her recollections of that trying time, which were afterwards published in a little book. She noted with what keen satisfaction the abundant supply of hominy, which they obtained on first landing, was received by the passengers, and also her impressions of the Carancahua Indians, who were to be seen every day in their canoes on the Lavaca River and in their huts on the shores. Not very encouraging to white settlers were their night festivals of dancing and music, which they said meant prayer to the Great Spirit for success in stealing horses and other stock. She was pleased and somewhat surprised at the extraordinary courtesy and deference which, notwithstanding the primitive rudeness of their surroundings, were invariably shown to women by the pioneer men, and says: "We did not expect such perfect Chesterfields in the garb of buckskin and moccasins." She was also strongly impressed by the apparent self-possession of the children in the presence of grown people, which was later accounted for by the fact that their minds were prematurely developed by the circumstances of danger by which they were surrounded. Although aware that the government recognized no religious teaching but the Roman Catholic, her pious nature led her to gather the children of her neighborhood into a Sunday-school, the first at Matagorda.
(Photo: Mary Jane Harris Briscoe, daughter of J.R. Harris and wife of Andrew Briscoe, mother of Mrs. Looscan). Early housing, lumber and grist mills. The first stationary dwellings were log houses, or those made of clapboards cut and split in lengths of about four feet, floored with hewn logs, called puncheons, and roofed with split shingles held in place by sapling poles fastened down with wooden pins, no metal whatever being used. All houses were furnished with stick and mud chimneys built on the outside, the fireplaces plastered, and without andirons. Windows were few, unglazed, and closed by wooden shutters, and doors had neither bolts nor locks; the latch-string literally hung on the outside. As the first colonists, usually people of good circumstances, improved in their condition, their houses grew in proportion to their needs, and in time the double log house, consisting originally of two rooms with a passage between, was supplemented by shed-rooms at the back and gallery in front. Not infrequently there were only dirt floors, but with people of more pretension lumber for flooring, furniture, and other purposes was cut with whip-saws, a slow and laborious process, and its results are to be classed among the luxuries of the times. In preparing for whip-sawing lumber, a stout scaffold was erected or a pit dug about six feet high or deep, as the case might be, on which the saw logs were rolled either from the level or up an inclined log-way; chalk lines having been struck along the logs to indicate the desired thickness of the planks, a man on the scaffold held one handle of the long whip-saw, while the other was grasped by his co-laborer below, and by alternate pushing and pulling the logs were slowly converted into lumber. The first steam saw-mill was erected by John R. Harris in 1829, at Harrisburg, and was in operation in 1836 when destroyed by the Mexicans. But other and less expensive devices were adopted in other neighborhoods for saving labor and quickening speed. A primitive grist- and saw-mill, erected in 1834 by William Harris and Stephen Richardson on Chocolate Bayou, was built on the principle of an inclined plane, where the weight of a number of cattle driven forward on a slightly inclined wheel constituting a moving platform, and tethered to the beams above, turned the wheel, thus furnishing the power which ground the meal and sawed the lumber not only for the neighbors but for communities at a distance. This mill was in operation from 1834 to 1838. Before the establishment of public mills for grinding corn, or when distances were too great to make them available, hominy was made by a contrivance like an old-fashioned well-sweep, to which, instead of a bucket, a stick of heavy wood was attached; this was rounded somewhat at the lower end and served as a pestle, while a large block of wood set firmly in the ground, or the trunk of a felled tree, by alternate charring and scraping, was converted into a mortar large enough to hold a peck, more or less, of corn, which the pounding of the pestle gradually converted into hominy. In time these primitive devices were gradually substituted by steel mills, until finally every neighborhood and almost every family owned one; facilities for transportation being limited, they continued to be used for many years, and even until after annexation. They resembled a mammoth coffee-mill with two handles, and were turned by hand.
Every imported article was taxed at a very high rate, which compelled the use of home-made articles; wagons were constructed entirely of wood; the wheels consisted of traverse sections cut from the trunk of large trees, and in all cases as little iron was used as possible; sleds were also in common use. Yet sometimes handsome articles of furniture and sets of fine china were to be seen, the latter ranged on shelves around the best room, and often the only one. Every house was open to travelers, and there was seldom a time when some sojourner from the outside world was not temporarily a member of the household; in summer the gallery or passage afforded good enough lodging for a traveler who carried his own bedding (a couple of blankets tied behind his saddle), but in cold weather a room for their accommodation was called the "men's room," where, seated around a blazing log-fire, tales were told of marvelous adventure, of hair-breadth escapes from wild beasts and Indians, interspersed with the always interesting political news brought by the latest arrival from the United States. In some instances houses were built for defense in the style known as block-houses, one or two logs near the eaves being perforated with port-holes or omitted entirely, and the walls for a space of two or three logs near the top were made to slope outward, so that persons crouching behind them could discharge their shots immediately upon assailants who might venture close enough to attack or set fire to the house. In the more thickly-settled colonies danger from Indians was comparatively slight; but where single families were scattered over large areas, the nearest neighbors many miles away, the gloom of night was increased by dread of the Indians' tomahawk and torch. Careful women so situated usually slept in dark-colored gowns, and never retired without making provisions for escape should danger threaten, by having a loose puncheon or board in the floor, leaving space sufficient for a person to pass p through and lie or crawl under the house until the danger had passed or favorable opportunity offered for seeking shelter in thicket or tall prairie grass. Courage and great presence of mind were continually brought into play on the part of the women, the daily absence of the men in the field, in the chase, and on necessary journeys to meet business engagements rendering these qualities of prime necessity. Many are the instances recorded where the lives of the family were saved by their exercise, and when they were wanting or brought into action too late bloodshed and captivity often resulted.
The breadth of a woman's duties, interaction with slaves and homespun clothes. The duties devolving upon a woman of colonial days in Texas were more numerous and care-compelling than can readily be conceived. Besides the ordinary responsibilities, such as every mistress of a household experiences, hers were multiplied a hundred-fold. The ownership of slaves, of which there were many in the colony, I while perhaps lessening the amount of hard labor which might otherwise have been her share, in itself greatly increased her responsibility. Their houses were situated at a considerable distance from that of the family, the kitchen often fifty or a hundred feet distant, and, unless a separate room near the kitchen was built for a dining-room, the hall-way in the main house was used for that purpose, and a retinue of little and large servants was kept constantly passing to and fro at meal-times. The mistress presided over the coffee-cups at table and directed the movements of the small waiters, some of whom were always in training. Foreign travelers have, commented upon the absolute silence upon general topics of conversation which characterized the custodians of the coffee-cups, forgetting that the almost universal presence of strangers and the great preponderance of men at the table engendered habit of modest reticence which in no way impaired their conversational powers when circumstances favored. An enumeration of the manifold daily tasks which engaged the attention of the presiding genius of a colonial household conveys a reproach to the busiest women of today. In the first place, the clothing for whites and blacks was mostly of homespun, the whir of the spinning-wheel, the beating of the loom, and the click of the knitting-needles were as common as in the first colonies on the Atlantic coast. All the clothing was made at home, from the coats and pants of the master, usually dyed a rich brown with the bark of the black walnut, to the white and blue cottonades of the slaves. Buckskin suits, consisting of pants and overshirt trimmed with cut fringes of the same material, were much in vogue, and moccasins were usually worn, brogans or top-boots being rarely obtainable. Even when the possession of a competent Negro seamstress relieved the mistress of much sewing, she at least did most of the cutting out and directed all the work. Coarse blankets were made into over coats. The stripes at the ends ran across the shoulders and ornamented the lapels, a good matching of stripes being considered the test of skill in a sewing-woman. Blankets with a slit in the middle and faced to prevent raveling were worn in the style of the ornamental and expensive Mexican blankets, which, on account of their cost, were owned only by a few. Homemade hats of braided palmetto were common, as were also caps of coon- or rabbit-skins or other peltries.
The ordinary equipment of a man for a journey was a good pony, Mexican saddle, bridle and rope made of horse-hair, the latter tied to the saddle-bow, homespun wallet containing panola, or cold flour, which consisted of parched corn ground in a steel mill and flavored with sugar and spices, ground coffee, a tin cup, two bottle gourds filled with water, one or two blankets rolled and tied behind the saddle, a hunting knife, flint and steel, home-molded bullets, a shot-pouch and powder-horn suspended from the person, and a gun, usually a rifle, laid before him. Whatever meat he needed he expected to kill, and the panola mixed with water furnished a most nutritious and palatable substitute for bread. All these little details of equipment were matters of careful attention on the part of the housewife, and in cases of alarm on account of threatened invasion or incursions of hostile Indians, while her hands were very full her heart was very heavy.
Sickness incident to the unaccustomed manner of living and acclimatization made it necessary for the women to acquaint themselves with the natural remedies afforded by vegetation. Doctors were not to be had by telephone, and distances were too great to permit of a messenger being despatched for the one physician of a neighborhood, except in very serious cases. Besides the family and slaves, there was frequently the stranger within the gate to be nursed back to health, or the wounds inflicted by Indian arrows or other casualty to be healed. Not only was the colonial woman mother, housekeeper, weaver, tailor, dressmaker, seamstress, apothecary, doctor, nurse, but sometimes, in case of prolonged illness or death of her husband, she became the overseer of farm-work as well. As was natural with families of good social standing and education, and there were but few others, the need of schools was pre-eminent in their minds, and many a good scholar who came to Texas with no in intention of teaching was pressed into service by the importunities of his neighbors. A schoolhouse erected in a neighborhood was made large enough to accommodate not only all the children within riding distance, but many others from less favored or less thickly-settled sections were received into families, often without thought of requiring or accepting payment for board, and were taken care of by the good women as their own. In the coast country the names of Wilbarger, Henry Smith (afterwards provisional governor), Phineas Smith, Thomas J. Pilgrim, Mr. Nona, J. W. Cloud, and Mr. Copeland are still cherished by a few of their surviving pupils. The first young ladies' boarding-school was opened by Miss Track, of Boston, at Cole's Settlement, in January, 1834.
(Photo: Mr.& Mrs. Jesse Grimes). Religion and marraige. There were no churches in the colonies the visit of a minister, affording opportunities for holding service in private houses, occurring rarely. The organization and building of churches made no progress until after independence. Mexican law required that none but baptized Roman Catholics could hold land, and no marriage ceremony was recognized as entirely legal unless solemnized by a Roman Catholic priest. Colonists who had been otherwise married before immigrating to Texas were required to go through with these ceremonies in proper form in order to acquire a good legal status for themselves and children. As there was no priest resident in the colonies, parties wishing to be married were allowed to sign a legal bond that the ceremony of the Church would be observed on the arrival of the priest in the neighborhood. News of padre Muldoon's expected visitations, which occurred at intervals of one or two years, was the signal for large gatherings at central points and at the most commodious houses. These mammoth weddings and baptizings were perhaps the most pleasurably exciting incidents in the lives of the colonists, for the padre's visitations were hailed as a kind of festival time, calling together friends and neighbors from long distances. All classes of matrimonial candidates, including those previously married, those living together under legal bond, and young men and maidens, came on horseback, and were gathered as many as possible into one room. This formal compliance with the ceremonies of a Church of whose teachings they knew nothing was regarded by them as a mere legal requirement, and the cases were rare where people were willing to forfeit their claims to property or the legitimacy of their children on account of religious scruples. The padre was a jolly companion, and made his presence always welcome.
Maturity and reliability of Texian children. Children never trained to habits of close observation and self-reliance; boys of fourteen, or even younger, were often sent alone on important errands distances requiring several days' journey on horseback. After the camp-fire had served its purpose, prudence taught them to leave it a mile or more distant before lying down to sleep, in order to mislead Indians who might have been attracted by the smoke or light. It often became the duty of the boys at school to mount their ponies and accompany their elders in pursuit of bands of Indians. A notable instance occurred at Rutersville College soon after the opening of the school. Two young boys in the neighborhood while hunting horses were attacked by Indians, and one of them, Henry Earthman, was killed; his brother Fields escaped and brought the news to the school. The excited boys joined in the search for the body, which lay a mile away in a dreadfully mutilated state. The scalp had been taken, the hands cut off and thrown into the grass, and the heart, with ligaments unsevered, laid on one side of the body; it was found to have a bullet in the centre, and was, no doubt, exposed in a spirit of bravado to show how unerring was the aim of the red man. Nearly all the boys in the school, ranging in age from fourteen to sixteen, joined in the pursuit of the Indians, which lasted about three weeks. In fact, one of them still living says they did little but hunt Indians while at school at Rutersville prior to 1842.
The daily fare. Privations experienced by families living in the interior were far greater than those on the coast after the first dangers from Carancahuas were dispelled; opportunities for procuring groceries and other comforts, or even luxuries, occasionally offered; but where transportation by pack-mules was the rule, flour was almost unknown. Children three or four years old have been known to receive a biscuit as a plaything, accepting with apparent incredulity the assurance that it was good to eat. In times of scarcity of corn, venison took the place of bread, and wild turkey or buffalo furnished the supply of meat. But, however scanty the supply of food, no traveler was denied admission to the family board; the long-handled gourd, with the bucket of water, stood on a shelf at the front door, and the coffee-pot was always on the hearth, ready at a moment's notice to refresh the wayfarer.
Mail service and communications. There was no regular mail service until after the organization of the government in 1836, and it was for years very imperfect and irregular. Letters were carried by travelers, and those from the outside world were months old before they reached their destination. Newspapers were rare and were read with intense interest, and it was considered a wonderful improvement in the mail facilities when, as late as in the "forties," regular communications once a fortnight were established by Captain Wright, with the old steamer Columbia, between Galveston and New Orleans. Letters from the colonies contained pretty faithful records of daily events, and those written by Mrs. Mary Austin Holley, cousin of S. F. Austin, were published in 1831 in a book, with a map of the colony, constituting the first History of Texas in English. While dangers continually lowered over the colonists, they by no means surrendered themselves to gloomy forebodings, but rather enjoyed in the fullest measure such pleasures as belong to the young and buoyant.
Optimism and value of festivals. The very exuberance of nature's beauties bade them be merry; the prairies were carpeted with flowers, the forests festooned with garlands; all seemed to invite the celebration of May-days as in the old homes, when youth and fair nature meet the rapture is mutual. When balls were given in social centres, the stately magnolias, the fragrant yellow jessamines, yielded their blooms for decoration, or, in default of flowers, the cedars were wrought into graceful designs. The refinements of society were not neglected amid nature's wildness, but the latter seemed rather to stimulate their exercise. The flower plucked from the edge of a precipice is more prized than that which grows in a garden, and so the very dangers which surrounded the early Texans made the enjoyment of social pleasures more intense. Dances were frequent, for in most neighborhoods a violinist was present, and grand balls were given to celebrate the arrival of noted visitors, people willingly travelling fifty and even a hundred miles on horseback to attend them.
At the very beginning of the Revolution, in June, 1835, when the imprisonment of peaceful citizens by Captain Tenorio at Anahuac caused Travis to send him and his forty Mexicans packing, they stopped at Harrisburg on their way to San Felipe, and the officers attended a dance which happened to be in progress. Little did the young ladies who danced with the dashing captain realize the gravity of the political situation. A few months, afterwards the little town was bristling with military preparations, and the women were busy cutting up their woolen garments for making cartridges, molding bullets, and making and filling knapsacks for the company preparing to march to the west. Mrs. Sarah Rudolph Dodson, whose husband, A. B. Dodson, was first lieutenant in the company commanded by Captain Andrew Robinson, designed and made a flag different from any that had ever floated over an army. It was made of calico; the three colors-red, white, and blue-were cut of equal sizes, square in shape; a five-pointed star, copied from an old military button, was placed in the centre of the blue square, which was fastened next to the flag-staff, the white square next, and then the red, making an attractive banner, and one which with little alteration was afterwards adopted by the government of the republic. This flag was presented early in the fall of 1835, and was carried by the company through the campaign which resulted in the capture of San Antonio. (Details of the design of the flag and of its presentation were obtained from the husband of Mrs. Dodson, to whom she was married in May, 1835, but a few months before its presentation. He is still, March 2, 1896, living at Alice, in Nueces County.)
Host for the provisional government--Mrs. Jane Harris. After the Declaration of Independence and during the most exciting period of the Revolution, from the 19th of March until within a few days of the battle of San Jacinto, the residence of Mrs. Jane Harris (photo left), of Harrisburg, was the seat of government President Burnet, Vice-President Zavala, and others members of the cabinet having repaired thither immediately after the adjournment of the convention at Washington. At her home on April 9, 1836, President Burnet adopted the first naval flag for the republic of Texas; its conformation was union blue, star central, and thirteen stripes, alternate red and white. During this time Mrs. Harris administered to the wants of her household and provided for their comfort, even after the news of the onward march of the Mexican army made her feel that longer tarrying was dangerous. For several nights before the final retreat from Harrisburg, dreading an attack during the night, after seeing to the comfort of her guests, she, with her trusted Negro woman, would cross the bayou in a row-boat and spend the night at a neighbor's, about two miles distant, returning early in the morning in time to prepare breakfast. It was well known that the capture of Vice-President Zavala was anxiously desired by the Mexicans, as his conduct was considered especially treacherous. His wife was at their residence, about fifteen miles distant, near the mouth of the San Jacinto River, and thither he would sometimes go on horseback to visit her, but by no means considered it safe for her to come to Harrisburg.
When at length it became known that the Mexican army had crossed the Brazos River, and that the Texans were retreating towards the Sabine, it was deemed advisable for the members of the cabinet to run to avoid unnecessary risk of capture; so they went on board a schooner, which conveyed them to New Washington at the same time that Mrs. Harris and her servants, Mrs. Westover, and Mr. Batterson's family took passage for Anahuac. Mrs. Westover's husband had been killed with Fannin at Goliad, and she, attended by a single Mexican servant, had fled on horseback from her isolated home at San Patricio and arrived at Harrisburg a short time before, exhausted in strength and with little clothing except what she wore. The march of the invading Mexican army was everywhere preceded by the flight of the entire population, as, from the events at the Alamo and Goliad, death seemed the only other alternative, and this general movement was afterwards, and even until now among old Texans, called the "Runaway Scrape." It was during the "Runaway Scrape" that Mrs. Laura Harrison Jack, wife of William Houston Jack, made the acquaintance of Mrs. J. W. Fannin, whose husband's cruel fate had excited the sympathy and indignation of the civilized world wherever the news of the massacre had extended. Deeply touched by her melancholy state, Mrs. Jack asked her to share her home, and bestowed upon her as many kind attentions as if some tie of kinship had existed. Under her roof a few months afterwards the child, Minerva, was born, whose clouded intellect was but a deepened shade of the poor mother's gloom, and there Mrs. Fannin soon completed the short term of her sorrowful life. In early days at San Felipe, Mrs. Jack was one of the few whose strong religious conviction caused her to refuse compliance with the Mexican law in regard to the Roman Catholic baptism and marriage ceremonial. Her strength of character was only equaled by her personal beauty, which, with other attractive qualities, made her greatly beloved. The trials of the women of the Revolution reached their climax in the "Runaway Scrape" But the return after the runaway was in most instances fraught with even more discomfort than the first establishment of homes had been, for everything had been literally swept away by marauders. Many homes that had been comfortably furnished were utterly bare, and the former occupants were reduced to the necessity of manufacturing their own bedsteads with one post in the corners of the rooms. In many instances, as at Harrisburg and San Felipe, every house had been destroyed by the torch. But the horizon was so brilliant with national glory that personal discomfort was cheerfully endured; homes were desolate, but the "sun of liberty and independence arose in Texas" with the victory at San Jacinto, and personal griefs were put aside in the general rejoicing.
Battlefield hospital at San Jacinto---Mrs. Lorenzo Zavala. One of the most unhealthy seasons on record was experienced in the summer and fall of 1836, especially in the region near the battle-field of San Jacinto, where the atmosphere became pestiferous from decaying bodies of Mexicans which clogged the little bayous and lakes in the vicinity. The residence of Vice-President Lorenzo de Zavala, on the opposite bank of Buffalo Bayou, was used as a hospital for a few months, and when he and his wife again occupied it he fell sick and died, the victim of malaria bred from the foul effluvia of the locality. Soon after the city of Houston was laid off. Mrs. Obedience Smith built a large residence in its outskirts, and its doors were thrown open to the sick and wounded soldiers, many of whom were tenderly cared for by the members of her household. Several of her sons had fought in the last battle, one, Ben Fort Smith, with the rank of major, and her generous heart embraced in sympathy all who suffered or were in need, and especially the gallant men who had served in the army.
Sentry against military coup against President Burnet---Mrs. Hannah Este Burnet. One of the brave women who had experienced all the dangers and privations of colonial life since 1830 was called upon during this summer, 1836, to undergo the most trying ordeal of all. This was the wife of President David G. Burnet. While the seat of government was at Velasco, the troops, especially some of those who had arrived after the decisive battle, were indignant at the alleged leniency with which President Burnet treated the prisoner Santa Anna; the life of the former was threatened because he refused to yield up the latter to the military. Realizing the serious danger, Mrs. Burnet, who sustained and encouraged her husband in his humane policy, kept nightly watch for weeks with pistols by her side, while her husband enjoyed the needed rest which his exciting position required; thus proving the fine moral fiber of a character which fitted her to be the mate of the stern, noble, old patriot, David G. Burnet. Soon afterwards the prisoner was sent to Orazimbo, the plantation of Dr. J. A. E. Phelps for safe-keeping. Here, though comfortably housed, he was overcome by despondency and attempted suicide by an overdose of opium. The doctor's prompt medical attention prevented fatal consequences, and the kind attentions of his wife made a deep and lasting impression upon Santa Anna. Of this he gave proof when their son Orlando was a Mier prisoner in the City of Mexico, he testified his gratitude by releasing and otherwise befriending him.
Mrs. Mary Jones. Very few of the women who were pioneers in the true sense of the word are living today. One of these is Mrs. Mary Jones, widow of Anson Jones, the last President of the republic. She came to Texas in 1833, when fourteen years old; three years afterwards she participated in the helter-skelter retreat of women and children, known as the "Runaway Scrape," and the next year became one of the first settlers in Houston. With the removal of the government to Austin she again experienced pioneer life at the mountain capital, where Indian arrows could be picked up any morning in the Avenue, and the organization of squads to go in pursuit of Indians who had swooped down upon some defenceless family, committing murder and carrying into captivity, was of almost daily occurrence. Having been identified with every phase of life in Texas, her love for its institutions is proportionate to the privations endured in early life on its soil. As President of the Society of Daughters of the Republic of Texas she still labors for Texas, counselling with the descendants of patriotic Texans to obtain from the State a more generous recognition of the services of the founders of the republic, the purchase and conversion of the San Jacinto battlefield into a State park, and the erection of suitable monuments being among the important objects of their organization.
Mrs. Rebecca Gilleland Fisher, Indian kidnap victim and survivor. Another, one of the vice-presidents of this society, whose patriotism was nourished by early sufferings and sorrows, is Mrs. Rebecca Gilleland Fisher. Her early life is illustrative of the tragedies which were so often enacted on the borders living on the Don Carlos Rancho in Refugio County with her parents, in 1840, a body of Indians made a murderous attack upon them, killing both parents and carrying the two children, Rebecca, aged seven, and her younger brother William, into captivity. [The Gilleland kidnapping occurred next door to Sarah Creath Hibbens Stinnett Howard, a repeated victim of Indian depredations during her life--WLM] A body of Texas Rangers under Captain, afterwards General Albert Sidney Johnston, who fell at Shiloh in 1862, camped near San Antonio, went in pursuit of the Indians; the latter, being hard pressed, found their prisoners a hindrance, and piercing the boy's body with a spear, they stunned the girl with a blow and left them in the darkness of night in a thick wood. The next day the latter succeeded in dragging the little brother with her to the prairie, where they were discovered by the Rangers; the scene was so touching that tears moistened the eyes of the soldiers, and the army surgeon, Dr. Axsom, was completely unnerved at the sight of the bleeding wounds of the little boy. The children were restored to their relations, and both became in time heads of families. Few such tragedies on the frontier had so pleasing a termination, and examples are many abounding in sickening details and ending hopelessly.
Mrs. Eva Catherine Rosine Ruff Sterne. Still another surviving pioneer is Mrs. Adolph Sterne, the widow of Adolph Sterne, whose patriotic service at Nacogdoches began in 1826. In 1828, when Mrs. Sterne moved there, three hundred Mexican troops were quartered in the church, which had been turned into a cuartel for their accommodation. Every night the Spanish phrase, meaning "All's well," rang out from the different stations in the town and the powder-house beyond the outskirts, where guards were stationed. Nacogoches was the scene during her residence not only of several battles, but of numerous alarms, both as to Indian and Mexican invasions. Mrs. Sterne's house was a very long one, with her husband's store at one end, and here the frightened women and children would gather and sleep on pallets rather than remain in their homes. Three times all the white inhabitants fled from the town, many going as far as Natchitoches, while others contented themselves with reaching the border of the United States. When General Houston came to Texas he was baptized [into the Catholic faith], according to the usual custom, Mr. and Mrs. Sterne acting as godfather and godmother. The latter was always called by him madre, and a handsome pair of earrings presented by him in memory of this event she keeps and wears only on state holidays. [Adolph Sterne's father was an Orthodox Jew, his mother a Lutheran. Mrs. Sterne was a devout Catholic and is said to have encouraged Houston to join the Catholic faith--WLM].
Mrs. Augustus Chapman Allen [Charlotte Baldwin], who has but lately passed away at the age of ninety, was also a pioneer at Nacogdoches, whence she removed to Houston, which place she had the honor of naming when first laid out by her husband and brother-in-law in 1836. She was a prominent figure in the social life of this city while it was the capital, and until the weakness of extreme old age compelled her withdrawal from active participation.
Mrs. Samuel A. Maverick, who still lives at San Antonio, in her "Memoir" gives an account of life in that city, beginning June 15, 1838. At that time most of her neighbors were Mexicans, and the Indians were so troublesome, that, in attempting to farm during the next year at a short distance from the Alamo, they cut the traces of the work-horses, while the negro slaves sprang into the river to save their lives. "In November, 1839," she says, "a party of ladies and gentlemen came from Houston to visit San Antonio, on horseback; it consisted of two ladies and two gentlemen, judge Evans and his daughter, Miss Trask, and Colonel J. W. Dancy, Secretary of the republic of Texas. Ladies and all were armed with pistols and bowie-knives. In the fall of 1839 or 1840 eighteen dead bodies were brought in from the edge of town and laid out in the court-house. They were the remains of a riding-party who had been surprised and cut off while riding." In 1840, Mrs. Maverick witnessed the terrible hand-to-hand conflict between Comanches and citizen-soldiery, in which thirty-three Indians were killed and the same number made prisoners. This is known in history as the "Council House Fight." The following extracts from her diary give an excellent account of the conduct of a brave woman in danger: "When the deafening war-whoop sounded in the court-room, it was so loud and shrill, so sudden and so inexpressibly horrible, that we women, looking through the fence-cracks, for a moment could not comprehend its purport. The Indian boys, however, instantly recognized its meaning, and, turning their arrows upon judge Robinson and other gentlemen standing near, slew the judge on the spot. We fled precipitately, Mrs. Higgenbotham into her house and I across the street to my Commerce Street door. Two Indians rushed by me on Commerce Street and another reached my door, and turned to push it just as I slammed it to and beat down the heavy bar. I rushed into the house, and in the north room found my husband and my brother Andrew sitting calmly at a table inspecting some plats of surveys. They had heard nothing. I soon gave them the alarm, and hurried by to look after my boys. Mr. Maverick and Andrew seized their arms. Mr. Maverick rushed into the street and Andrew into the back yard, where I was now shouting at the top of my voice, ' Here are the Indians! Here are the Indians!' Three Indians had gotten in through the gate on Soledad Street and were making towards the river. One had stopped near Jinny Anderson, our cook, who stood bravely in front of the children, mine and hers. She held a great stone in her hands, lifting it above her head, and I heard her cry out to the Indians: 'G'way from heah, or I'll mash your head with this rock!' The Indian seemed regretful that he hadn't time to despatch Jinny and her brood; but his time was short, and, pausing for a moment, he turned and rushed down the bank, jumped into the river and struck out for the opposite shore. As the Indian hurried down the bank, my brother ran out in answer to my loud calls. While the Indian was swimming, Andrew drew his unerring bead on him. Another Indian was climbing up the opposite bank and was about to escape, but Andrew brought him down also. I housed my little ones and then looked out of the Soledad Street door. Near by me was stretched an Indian wounded and dying. A large man, an employ of Mr. Higgenbotham, came up just then and aimed a pistol at the Indian's head. I called out, 'Oh, don't; he's dying!' and the big American laughed, and said, 'Well, to please you, I won't; but it would put him out of his misery.' Then I saw two others lying dead near by."
"Captain Lysander Wells about this time passed by riding on Soledad Street. He was mounted on a gayly- caparisoned Mexican horse with a silver-mounted saddle and bridle, which outfit he had secured to take back to his native State on a visit to his mother. As he reached the Veramendi House, an Indian, who had escaped detection, rushed out of his hiding-place and, jumping upon the horse behind Wells, clasped his arms and tried to catch hold of the bridle-reins. The two men struggled some time, bent backward and forward and swayed from side to side, until at last Wells managed to hold the Indian's arms with his right hand, and with his left to draw his pistol from the holster. He turned partly round, placed the pistol against the Indian's body and fired, a moment more and the Indian rolled off and dropped dead to the ground. Wells put spurs to his horse and did good service in the pursuit. I had become so fascinated with this struggle that I had unconsciously gone into the middle of the street, when Lieutenant Chevalier, who was passing, called out to me, 'Are you crazy? Go in, or you'll all be killed.' I obeyed; but my curiosity and anxiety again got the better of me, and I peeped out on Commerce Street, where I saw the dead bodies of four or five Indians."
Mrs. Isabella Haddon Hopkins (Ibbie) Clark Gordon. Examples might be multiplied of the tragedies witnessed and experienced by the women of those times, the records of Gonzales, Goliad, Bastrop, Austin, and all the frontier settlements of the southern and western parts of the State contributing a share. How many sleepless nights were spent by the lonely women left by circumstances in isolated homes, in listening to the stealthy tread of the moccasined feet of marauding Indians, will never be known, and lucky was the dawn which brought the discovery of no greater loss than that of horses or other property. It is much to be regretted that no records of the experiences of Mrs. Ibbie Gordon of Clarksville, could be obtained. This noble woman died at the age of ninety years, on May 31, 1895. She was one of the earliest settlers in what is now Red River County, and at the time of her death was the oldest living pioneer in that region, having resided there since the year 1823. She was born in Kentucky, her maiden name being Isabella Haddon Hopkins, and her parents were themselves of pioneer stock and heroic experiences. They moved to Texas and settled at the mouth of Mill Creek on Red River. Isabella was first married to John Hanks, in 1824, and was twice married afterwards, her second husband being James Clark, after whom the town of Clarksville was named, and their children, Dr. Patrick B. Clark and Hon. James Clark, are among the most honored and influential citizens of Red River County. Her last husband was Dr. George Gordon, and she has been known to most of the present generation of Texans as Mrs. or Aunt Ibbie Gordon. In 1832, when General Sam Houston visited Texas in company with several others, he stopped at her home for his first night in Texas, she being then Mrs. Clark. During the struggle for independence she equipped and sent forward at her own expense a large number of recruits for the Texan army, and this was but the beginning of many acts of patriotic zeal and large-souled benevolence for which her whole life was noted. Possessed of ample means, her home was the hospitable resort of all the prominent men of early days in Texas, while throughout her life she was distinguished for deeds of public and private generosity and kindness. Like all the women of the colonial and revolutionary times, her experiences in the wilderness of that day were vivid and sometimes tragic, and had she left a record of her many heroic sacrifices, thrilling adventures, and intimate acquaintance with the men and events of our early history, it would have furnished a most valuable contribution to the literature of that interesting era in our development. It is to be hoped that even yet some of the more valuable recollections of her long and remarkable life may be rescued from total loss by the aid of her surviving relatives and friends.
International recognition, cultural and social life in the Republic. After the independence of the republic was acknowledged by the United States an impetus was given to immigration, and the invitation to free trade brought many ships bearing foreign flags into the ports. With the establishment of commercial relations with European countries fine goods were imported, and luxuries thus obtained had a hundred-fold value to those who had been long deprived of them, and many of whom in fact had never seen them. Immigration agents from France and Germany sought out favorable locations for colonies. One of the French agents, Snider de Pelegrini, established a business, and on January 1, 1843, gave a ball at Harrisburg, which was noted in all the country round for the elegance of its appointments and the toothsome French confections and fine wines furnished by the generous host. The city of Houston, which was the capital from 1837 to 1840, became the social and political centre of the new republic, and the presence of representatives of foreign countries lent dignity and brilliancy to state occasions, which had been wanting in the colonial assemblies. Social events were marked by whatever of elegance in style was practicable in a new country. The battle of San Jacinto was from the first observed as an anniversary, and its celebration by a ball at Houston on April 21, 1837, was an event of great social importance, and was given in a large, half-finished, two-story frame building on the south side of Franklin Street, near Main. On the completion of the capitol the next year, a ball was given in the Senate chamber. Dresses elegant in texture and design, comprising velvets, satins, laces, and mulls, were worn by ladies whose grace and beauty would have been admired in any assembly. The presence of all of the officers of the government, the eclat attending their recent military achievements, and the courtliness of manner which distinguished them, rendered this and similar entertainments occasions for refined enjoyment, which were highly appreciated. Ladies and gentlemen, accompanied by their retinue of colored servants, came in parties on horseback fifty and sixty miles. Brazoria, Columbia, San Felipe, Harrisburg, Lynchburg, Richmond, and Washington, all places of importance at that time, besides all the surrounding country, were represented. The ball tickets were printed on white satin, and a description of the San Jacinto ball, written by a participant, attests that it was marked by refinement becoming a society largely composed not only of good families but of many who bore names of distinction in their former homes. The music of violins, bass-viol, and fife heralded the grand entry with the air "Hail to the Chief," and General Houston accompanied by one of the most distinguished ladies led the march. The following account of General Houston's evening dress was obtained from the same authority: "Being the President elect, he was of course the hero of the day, and his dress on this occasion was unique and somewhat striking his ruffled shirt, scarlet cashmere waistcoat, and suit of black silk velvet, corded with gold, was admirably adapted to set off his fine, tall figure; his boots, with short red tops, were laced and folded down in such a way as to reach but little above the ankles, and were finished at the heels with silver spurs. The spurs were, of course, quite a useless ornament, but they were in those days so commonly worn as to seem almost a part of the boots. The weakness of General Houston's ankle, resulting from his wound, was his reason for substituting boots for the slippers then universally worn by gentlemen for dancing."
(Photo: Mrs. Sam Houston) Details of toilettes in early times possess a perpetual interest. The costume described below was a young lady's holiday suit at the capital, in 1837. A black silk dress with very full skirt reached to the ankles, a low-necked waist had long leg-of-mutton sleeves, tight fitting below the elbow, but puffed out very full at the arm-holes, a double shoulder cape of white embroidered mull called a Vandyke was trimmed with lace, and concealed the neck and shoulders. This out-door costume was completed by a pink satin bonnet, with brim of eight or ten inches projecting over the face, and a crown three or four inches high towering above the head. Close to the face inside was a double rushing of tulle, with minute bows of pink satin and sprigs of flowers interspersed. Fastened by a ribbon around the crown and hanging over the face was a white blond veil a yard wide and about a yard and a quarter long; this was elaborately wrought in flowers, all in white, and furnished at the lower end with a rich border. White silk stockings and black slippers were worn with this suit. A dress strangely out of keeping with the life in the woods, propriety seems to say, but feminine love of dress manifests itself wherever there are human eyes to see and admire. As an instance of the good feeling and utter lack of jealousy prevailing among the ladies of that day, it is related that some eminent visitor had been invited to dine with General Houston at the home of a certain lady. Another lady, knowing of the presence of this distinguished stranger, heard he would dine with the President, but where she did not know. She happened to have a fine turkey, at that time a rare luxury, and being determined that it should form the piece de resistance for the state dinner, the gobbler was sent from house to house until the right one was found, it is needless to say the gift was gratefully accepted. The intellectual character of the men is evidenced by the formation of a philosophical society in the Hall of Representatives, in Houston, December 5, 1837. Among the autograph signatures, significant of the culture of the founders of the republic, are Sam Houston, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Thomas J. Rusk, Ashbel Smith, William H. and John A. Wharton, Patrick C. Jack, William Fairfax Gray, David S. Kaufman, Andrew Briscoe, and perhaps a dozen others.
The new nation attracted scientists of distinction. In 1837, Audubon, the great naturalist, visited the capital. Mr. F. Roemer, an eminent German geologist and botanist, came a few years later, in 1845, and penetrated far into the interior. Mr. and Mrs. Houston, of England, sailed in their own yacht as far as Galveston in 1845, and proceeded thence in a steamboat to Houston. They were attracted merely by the desire to see a country with whose fame the whole civilized world was ringing. All have left records of their visits, and with one accord they expressed surprise and satisfaction at meeting people of such liberal culture in the midst of rude surroundings. With the removal of the capital to Austin, circumstances were not so favorable to social pleasure, but even in the midst of the primeval wildness and savage neighbors which surrounded the chosen seat of government, the same round of gayety prevailed. The one-storied capitol, enclosed by a stockade, was often the scene of festive gatherings, and the Senate-chamber reflected the taste of the ladies in the beautiful decorations of mountain flowers, swords, and flags which adorned its walls on such occasions. The two-storied mansion occupied by President Lamar was thrown open for levees, although there was no Mrs. Lamar to preside. A greater number of representatives from foreign lands rendered the society here, if anything, more distinguished by courtly graces. In 1842, the threatened invasion by Mexico caused the transfer of government officials to Washington on the Brazos. Houston again presided over affairs of state, and his accomplished wife with dignified grace, and assisted by the wives of officers of state and other ladies of the town and neighborhood, formed a coterie rich in the traits which not only ennoble womanhood, but attest the cultivation of a people. The second administration of General Houston gave way in 1844 to that of Anson Jones, during which the ultimate destiny of the young nation finally culminated. Again the hill-crowned, mountain-begirt capital became the centre of national life, and the scene of the merging of the Lone Star, with all the national associations clustering round it, into the brilliant galaxy of a kindred government.
A description of this event as written and read by Mrs. Jane Gray, widow of judge Peter W. Gray, at a celebration of the anniversary of Texan independence, on March 2, 1893, in the city of Houston, reveals the love borne by old Texans to the republic, and their regret at seeing it pass away. As the patriotic expression of one who gave a long life to the social, intellectual, and religious advancement of the republic and the State, it closes this record---
The day we celebrate, dear ladies, is a birthday, that of a fair princely maiden, whom I will call a republican queen if I may be permitted to do so. Her birth was hailed with joy, not only by the United States but by the leading powers of Europe. England, France, Belgium, and Holland sent their greetings, and in the form of treaties recognized her independence and power. I can never forget one pleasure given me in my girlhood, when I was permitted by a friend to hold in my hands and examine the treaties sent by Holland and Belgium. They were folio books of vellum, bound in rich velvet, one in blue and gold, the other in scarlet and silver, each having attached the large seal in gold and silver cases, with tassels and cords. To my inexperienced eyes they were the most gorgeous and precious works of art I had ever seen. Like all young republics, this young maiden was born amid strife and contest, but added to this our maiden was cradled in privation and subjected to trials of every kind. No purple and fine linen for her. Yet amidst all this she could proudly lift up her head among the nations of the earth. She was supported, sustained, and defended by high-born men of culture and refinement, who have left their impress upon her character for all time. Her life was full of thrilling events familiar to some of the ladies present, which events have turned the fate and made the prosperity and advancement of this Western continent. But this high-souled maiden only lived to be ten years old.
That was a brilliant and perfect day in winter, still fresh in my memory, when, with a goodly company assembled on the spacious veranda of the log-built capitol at Austin, we saw the Lone Star banner floating once more over our heads. At the close of those momentous ceremonies this banner was gently, by loving hands, pulled down from its staff, and with regretful hearts and tearful eyes we heard the fiat pronounced by his Excellency, President Anson Jones, 'The republic of Texas is no more!' But we, her loyal so-called 'daughters,' will do our best to keep the bright star of her memory shining in the front, and while we live its lustre shall not fade. I feel confident that an overruling Power who controls all events will allow some of us to see a monument erected worthy to perpetuate the memory of those brave heroes who lived and died that this fair maiden might live. Did ever so short a life as hers accomplish a mission so great and wonderful?