Monday, June 29, 2009

They Were First

A Great Day Trip
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor called me up to see if the kids and I wanted to go to the Fort Bend County Museum and the Morton Cemetery in Richmond, Texas
After about half a second of thinking, I replied, "Yes!"  [How cool of a Cajun neighbor do I have?]  We all had a great time touring historic homes that contained many beautiful antiques.  The little museum was a pleasant surprise in this sleepy town.  From the outside you'd never imagine what is packed inside of it.  Between the museum, the historic homes, and the Morton Cemetery, I took a ton of pictures [and we didn't even tour all of the homes in Richmond].  Some pictures are of official registered landmarks and some tell an important part of our Texas history.  There are so many to share that I've broken them down into more "easily-digested" pieces. Plus, I'll share the tombstone and cemetery pictures on my companion blog, "Family Stories in Stone." [I've already shared some here.]


The Museum & The "Old 300"
As I mentioned before, the museum was a pleasant surprise.  It may be small, but it packs a big "punch" as far as Texas history is concerned.  It starts off with an exhibit of Stephen F. Austin [a.k.a. Father of Texas], and his "Old 300."  I've mentioned him before on a previous post.  He followed his father to Texas, where his dad procured a Spanish land grant, but then shortly thereafter, he died.  After a few "hiccups" [mainly Mexico winning its inependence from Spain in 1821] Stephen F. Austin finished the job, and the rest, as they say, is Texas history.  According to the Handbook of Texas Online and the museum exhibit, Austin [now an "empresario" a.k.a. an immigration promoter] divvied up the land grant then actively recruited his first group of colonists from the United States from about 1822-1824.  A lesser known fact is that there were actually 297 grantees not 300, not counting Austin's own grant.  [I guess I'm not the only one who likes "round" numbers.  The "Old 297" just doesn't have the same ring to it either...]  The grants were family grants, so in order for Austin to allow single men into the colony, they had to be issued to partnerships of two men [who would further divide up the land between them].  Also, there were 9 families that received 2 land grants.  The only stipulation was that the grantees had to have the land improved within 2 years of grant issuance, and most were able to comply [only 7 grants were forfeited].  Each farming family received one "labor" [or abt. 177 acres], and each ranching family received one "sitio" [or abt. 4428 acres].  [If I had been those colonists, I would've said I was a rancher...]  Actually, according to the Handbook of Texas Online, some did do this, even though they had never ranched before.  Hey, it came with waterfront property on the Brazos River "equal to about one-fourth" of the land grant's length.  For those who have no clue about ranches and ranching [not that I have first-hand knowledge; we're not all ranchers here...], a water source is imperative for your operation to keep the cattle watered and the grass green for grazing. Basically, no water leads to no cattle, which leads to no money, which leads to no food, etc. Not only did these first colonists settle on the Brazos  River, but the banks of the Colorado and the San Bernard Rivers were occupied - from the areas that are now known as Brenham, Navasota, and La Grange down to the Gulf Mexico.  [Below is an overview map of the general area of Fort Bend County and surrounding counties.  Richmond, Texas is marked.]

View Larger Map

Where Were the Colonists From?
Austin was a planner, and I say that because he didn't just open up his colony and let anyone into his colony.  He was careful to think about who he wanted to invite.  According to the Handbook of Texas Online, he wanted no problematic issues with his colonists, so he recruited those mainly from a good class who were from what is known as the Trans-Appalachian South - mainly Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri.  [Drunks, gamblers, and/or ne'er-do-wells need not apply.]

How Did the Colonists Get To Texas?
Pictured above is a diagram of the migrations of the "Old 300" to Texas.  Some came by land, and some came by sea [or, rather, by the Gulf Of Mexico].  No matter which way they came, it was a rough ride, and when they got here, they found a very unforgiving land [as the first German immigrants would find out approximately 20 years later].  Also, pictured here is a diorama of what the colonists would've brought with them when coming via the Gulf of Mexico.

So What Does This Have To Do With Richmond, Texas?
A good question because if you'll notice, I haven't really mentioned Richmond in this whole explanation of the first colonists of Texas.  If you take a close look at the map pictured below, you'll see that Richmond, Texas is on the Brazos River.  It is located in and is the county seat of Fort Bend County, but neither was formed and/or incorporated until 1836 [when Texas won her independence from Mexico, and the Republic of Texas was formed].  However, in the area that would become Fort Bend County, 56 families of the "Old 300" settled.  In fact the "Fort" in Fort Bend comes from the term "Fort Settlement" which was the name of the the first 2-room cabin built in the area.  The word "Bend" comes from the bend in the Brazos River that occurs in the county, which is shown in the map below.  [Not really all that creative, but, hey, it stuck...]  Also, the museum had an exhibit on the life on the Texas frontier pictured below.  Notice how the logs are squared-off.  This was essential because of the humidity.  If left round, the moisture would collect in between the logs.

View Larger Map

So Were These Colonists Still American?
Uh, no.  When Austin and his father came to what is now known as Texas, Spain was running the show.  Then in 1821, Mexico, tired of being ruled by a monarchy that was too far away to understand its day-to-day problems [a common theme in history, I might add], fought and won its independence from Spain.  Of course, Mexico's problems with Spain would later mirror the problems that Tejas would have with Mexico's government [but I'm getting ahead of myself and all that's for a later post...].  Now, back to our first colonists:  it was part of the land grant deal that they become naturalized citizens of Mexico.  I'd imagine with the wide-open spaces, the sizes of  & cheap prices of the land grants combined with the long distance of the Mexican government all helped to make becoming a Mexican citizen not that big of a deal.  However, that long distance from their government would later become a seed of resentment that would help to grow problems that led to an all-out bloody fight for independence. [More on that later...]

Next post: The story of a woman who would later be known as "The Mother of Texas."



Texas Historical Commission's Texas Online Handbook

Fort Bend Museum Association

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Piney Woods of East Texas, Part 2

Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin was born in Virginia 3 Nov 1793 and after several unsuccessful ventures reluctantly followed his father to Texas.  As Texans we are glad he fought his reluctance and, we are forever in his debt!  The original grant that was issued to his father for colonization in Tejas was authorized by the Spanish government, and after Mexico won its independence from Spain, there were some questions/problems about the authorization.  After a "quick" visit to Mexico City, Stephen F. Austin ironed out these problems.The original 300 families that Austin sponsored for his colony and issued grants to are now known as the "Old 300".  The below "SFA" design is of a memorial celebrating the birth of Austin, "The Pioneer of Texas Colonization" and is located in front of the Old Stone Fort on the Stephen F. Austin State University campus.

Stephen F. Austin

Oak Grove Cemetery
Oak Grove Cemetery is the "home" to 4 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Texas and is a registered Texas landmark.  It is also "home" to many of the original settlers/families of Nacogdoches, Texas.

Oak Grove Cemetery

Old Stone Fort
This is an official Texas replica of the Stone Fort originally built by Antonio Gil Y'Barbo, a Spanish trader who led a group back to what is now Nacogdoches, Texas when they had been ordered out of the settlement by the Spanish government due to the costliness of running the settlement.  It was re-settled and Y'Barbo was its first Lt. Governor.  The Stone Fort was used for Y'Barbo's trading business.  Interestingly, in the past it's housed a commercial building and saloon.  Today it serves as a museum of Nacogdoches' history located on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Old Stone Fort


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Landmark Hunting in the Piney Woods, Part 1

We Went Snarfin', or Landmark Hunting, in the Piney Woods
To escape the rain of Houston, Texas the Sunday before Memorial Day, my family and I decided to go snarfing [a Markeroni term for landmark hunting] in Nacogdoches, Texas.  I looked up some places to go see there, and, lo and behold, there are a ton of them!  We only went to a few before it started raining again.  I have plenty of pictures [and stories] to share though.

Even the Landmarks Are Texas-Sized!
The Millard-Lee HouseWhen we got back, I started to sift through everything and look things up.  I found that Texas really loves landmarks.  I mean you cannot sneeze without hitting one, and Nacogdoches is no exception.  According to this listing of Texas Historical Markers, there are 80 landmarks of various designations in Nacogdoches County [where the town of Nacogdoches is], but according to the Texas Historical Commission [THC] and their 3rd party atlas/database, there are 306 markers in Nacogdoches County.  [Whew!]  Because of the interruption by Mother Nature, I knew that the kids and I would be back in the summer, but, goodness, I think it's going to take more than 1 more daytrip.  I cross-referenced the lists and discovered there are some double and triple entries in the listings on the second database because some landmarks had met, had applied, and were approved for more than one marker. [Sigh of relief.]  I won't go into detail about all the designations [you can find them here], but as I introduce you to the various landmarks I'll let you know what they are designated as [because that's the way I roll...].

What Exactly Is That Funny-Named Town?
I'm so glad you asked, and lucky for you, I know the answer.  Nacogdoches is located in East Texas, about  3 hours northeast of Houston and is known as the town of "firsts".  According to the Texas Historical Commission, it is the oldest town in Texas.  Some other "firsts for Texas" in Nacogdoches listed are as follows:
  • First Ceiling Fans [to those up north it may not sound like a big deal, but it gets HOT here!]
  • First Oil Well [drilled in 1866]
  • First Oil Field
  • First Pipeline
  • First Steel Storage Tanks
  • First 2-Story Building
  • First Newspaper [1813]
  • First Wine Cellar
  • First District Court Session
Burrows-Millard House

As you can probably guess Nacogdoches has a long and varied past.  It was the epicenter of a new republic that fought and struggled to keep its independence.  A total of six flags have flown over what is now the state of Texas [hence, the Six Flags Amusement Park], but a total of nine flags have flown over Nacogdoches.  This bit of information [courtesy of the THC] is new to me.  I remember learning about the six flags in 7th grade Texas History, but not the nine flags over Nacogdoches.  The additional three flags represent three failed rebellions prior to Texas' independence: the Gutierrez-Magee Rebellion [1812-1813]; the Dr. James Long Rebellion [1819-1821]; and the Fredonia Rebellion [1826-1827].  Keeping in mind that Texas became an independent republic in 1836, it seems that persistence and determination do pay-off.  For a full history of Nacogdoches and the beginnings of Texas, or anything else about Texas, see the Texas Online Handbook.  [I like the use of the word "handbook" for our online encyclopedia.  It makes it sound like before you come to stay here, you need to read it...]

Double Corn Crib
The First Stop
We first went to Millard's Crossing which was touted as a representation of a 19th century East Texas Village with a couple of Texas landmarks [nice and efficient], and it didn't disappoint.  Turns out, though, it's a registered Texas museum as well. [I told you we're serious about our landmarks!] This particular historical village/museum once started out as a dream to save Nacogdoches' history by a Lera Millard Thomas, and she is another "first" for Texas.  She became the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress for Texas following the death of her husband former U.S. Congressman Albert Thomas for Harris County in 1966.  She was the daughter of John Joseph Millard who lived his whole life in Nacogdoches, Tx.  His father, Robert F. Millard came to Texas in about 1835 [actually it would've been known as Tejas then], and according to unverified information the Millard family came to Maryland from England in the early 1600's.  However, I was able to trace the Millard family by census through 1790 [they stayed in Maryland], and this coincided with the unverified information that I found on this family.  Along with Millard's Crossing being a recognized historical museum, there are two Texas Recorded Historical Landmarks located there: the Millard-Lee House and the Burrows-Millard House.  The rest of the pictures/collages are other historical beauties that I liked and wanted to share. [Census information accessed through Heritage Quest Online and]


This caboose was chartered by E.B. Hayward Lumber Co in 1905 to haul logs out of East Texas bottomland forests.  This charter eventually became the Nacogdoches and Southeastern Railroad Line.
Old Log Schoolhouse

Watkins House

A Few More...
I have a few more landmarks and stories from Nacogdoches to share with you next week.  Also, check out my companion blog Family Stories for a photo collage of an 1860's log office and visit my other companion blog Family Stories in Stone for some photos of a Texas historic cemetery...