In November 1835, three months before Texas declared its independence from Mexico, war clouds had grown into a full rebellion and the citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, eager to lend support, began raising money to purchase two cannons for the looming battle. Since the United States remained neutral throughout the war, the two iron six-pounders were secretly shipped down the Mississippi River labeled “hollow ware.” Stories abound about how they actually reached Sam Houston’s volunteer army camped about seventy-five miles up the Brazos River from its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.
Most accounts say the cannons traveled from New Orleans aboard the schooner Pennsylvania to Galveston where Dr. Charles Rice’s nine-year-old twin daughters Elizabeth and Eleanor were invited to be part of the official handing over of the cannons to Texas. Since the ceremony consisted of twins presenting the two cannons, the six-pounders became known as the “Twin Sisters.” The Pennsylvania continued to the mouth of the Brazos River and traveled inland about eighteen miles to Brazoria. Houston’s camp lay an additional sixty miles upriver. According to an account taken from General Houston’s correspondence and orders, worry over the terrible condition of the roads and concern that Santa Anna’s army might intercept the Twin Sisters resulted in the decision to ship the cannons back to Galveston. Over the next eleven days, the cannons moved through Galveston Bay and up Buffalo Bayou to Harrisburg (near present Houston). Then, horse-drawn ox-carts slogged through the rain, mud, and fiercely cold weather to General Houston’s campsite on the Brazos River.
As soon as the Twin Sisters arrived, nine men drew assignment to each cannon and the drilling and firing practice began as the Texan Army moved east along the same route the Twin Sisters had just covered.
Sam Houston’s army of about 900 men set up camp on April 20 in a thick growth of timber where Buffalo Bayou flowed into the San Jacinto River. The Twin Sisters spent the afternoon in their first combat dueling with Santa Anna’s Mexican cannons.
The following afternoon the Twin Sisters led the charge across the rise in the prairie toward Mexicans who, convinced the Texans would not dare attack, were enjoying their usual siesta. At 200 yards the two little cannons opened fire with the Texans’ only ammunition––musket balls, broken glass, and horseshoes. The battle cry of the Texans’ split the air with “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad.” In eighteen minutes the startled forces of Mexico’s superior army had been defeated. The carnage did not stop, however, as the Texans continued to use rifle butts and bayonets to kill the enemy in a furious retaliation for the brutal deaths of up to 275 Texans at the Alamo on March 6 and the massacre of nearly 350 at Goliad on March 27.
Although the Twin Sisters secured their place in history, their travels did not end at San Jacinto. After being moved to Austin, probably to help protect the frontier capital from Indian attack, the two cannons appeared again on April 21, 1841, when they were fired to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Later that year, as Sam Houston kissed the Bible at the conclusion of his inauguration for his second term as president of the Republic of Texas, the cannons roared to life in a salute to the new president and hero of the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Twin Sisters made no further public appearances and became part of the military property moved in 1845 to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge, Louisiana when Texas joined the Union. However, when secession talk reached full tilt with the election in 1860 of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin McCulloch who as a young man had served on the crew manning the Twin Sisters and was destined to become a general in the Confederate Army, sent a letter to then Governor Sam Houston asking him to bring the Twin Sisters back to their home in Texas.
In the years after the cannons reached Louisiana, the Twin Sisters had been sold as scrap iron to a foundry. An investigation found that one cannon remained at the foundry in poor condition and the other had been sold to a private individual. The Louisiana legislature purchased and repaired both cannons at a cost of $700 and returned them to Texas on April 20, 1861, the twenty-fifth anniversary of their first skirmish with the Mexicans at San Jacinto.
The Twin Sisters performed again on January 1, 1863, Battle of Galveston in which Confederate forces beat the Union Navy to regain control of Galveston Island. During that fight, Lt. Sidney A. Sherman, whose father had been one of the heroes at the Battle of San Jacinto, was killed while commanding one of the Twin Sisters.
Stories abound about what happened to the Twin Sisters after the Battle of Galveston. One account says they were sent to Colonel John “Rip” Ford in San Antonio as he began the march south to recapture the Rio Grande from federal troops, but no record exists of the cannons reaching San Antonio. Some veterans claim to have seen the Twin Sisters at various locations around the Harrisburg area of Houston. Another account credits several Confederate veterans, concerned the Twin Sisters would fall into the hands of the federal troops during Reconstruction, with burying the cannons in an area hugging Buffalo Bayou. For years, history buffs and the curious have searched without success for the burial site.
In 1985, two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology supervised the construction of replicas of the Twin Sisters. They stand today on the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site waiting for a discovery that will return the original Twin Sisters to the location where they made Texas and world history.
In 1855, German immigrants William and Mary Menger built a one-story boarding house and brewery on the dusty plaza next to the Alamo. A sheep pen (where Rivercenter Mall now stands) served as the Menger’s other neighbor. Mary’s cooking and
William’s beer proved so popular that local hacks picked up guests at Main and Military plazas and brought them to dinner. Travelers from New Orleans and California arrived by stagecoach.
Within four years, the Mengers erected a two-story stone hotel on the site, and other additions followed. Prominent military personnel stationed at or visiting nearby Fort Sam Houston—such as generals Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and John Pershing—frequented the Menger. Poet Sidney Lanier praised the atmosphere and many of O. Henry’s characters in his short stories had dealings at the Menger.
In 1876, before John Bet-A-Million Gates made his first million, he set up a barbed wire fence in Alamo Plaza in front of the Menger and filled it with Longhorn cattle to demonstrate to the skeptical, big time ranchers who stayed at the Menger that barbed wire would hold the restless cattle. The performance proved so successful that orders for barbed wire poured in with such fury that the company Gates represented had trouble meeting the demand.
Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Menger first in 1892 while on a javelina hunting trip. The hotel’s famous solid cherry bar with its French mirrors and gold plated spittoons is a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London and is touted as the locale where Roosevelt in 1898 recruited the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, the regiment known as the “Rough Riders” of the Spanish-American War.
The Menger’s Colonial Dining Room grew famous throughout the southwest for its wild game, mango ice cream, and snapper soup made from the turtles caught in the San Antonio River.
The hotel grew until it eventually encompassed the entire block, changing to Kampmann family ownership and then to the Moody family interests. Today, the owners are the Galveston-based 1859 Historic Hotels, Inc.. Through the years, each owner added to the charm of the prestigious structure. The last restoration in 2016 increased the hotel to five stories and 316 guest rooms and suites. The Menger remains part of San Antonio’s heritage from the days the city was known as the “Paris of the Wilderness.”
After Minnie Fisher graduated at the age of nineteen with a degree in pharmacy from the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston, she discovered on her first job that she did not earn half the wages of the less-educated male employees. She claimed that remembering that experience in 1901 led to her life’s work of championing the status of women.
Minnie Fisher married lawyer and insurance executive Beverly Jean (Bill) Cunningham in 1902, moved to Galveston and began volunteering in local, state, and national women’s suffrage organizations. She honed her speaking skills by touring the country urging the passage of equal rights for women and universal suffrage. Cunningham moved to Austin in 1917 and opened the state suffrage headquarters near the capitol. A vote in January 1919 by the Texas state legislature granting full suffrage to women failed when the referendum went before the voters. Then, the United States House of Representatives on May 21, and the United States Senate on June 4, passed a joint resolution on the Nineteenth Amendment. Immediately Cunningham began campaigning to secure ratification by the Texas state legislature. On June 28, 1919, Texas became the first southern state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote.
Cunningham joined a national tour of ratification supporters saying later that she “pursued governors all over the west” urging their states to ratify the amendment. Finally, on August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state out of the existing forty-eight to bring the total to the required three-fourths of the states necessary to ratify a constitutional amendment.
Cunningham helped organize the League of Women Voters (LWV) in 1919 and served as its executive secretary. Twenty years later Eleanor Roosevelt recalled that when she heard Minnie Cunningham speak at the LWV’s second annual convention, the speech made her feel “that you had no right to be a slacker as a citizen, you had no right not to take an active part in what was happening to your country as a whole.”
Cunningham worked for an act in 1921 designed to lower infant mortality rate and for an act in 1922 that allowed women to have citizenship based solely on their own status and not the status of their husbands. In 1924 Cunningham experienced another eye-opener, this time regarding the need for women to get more involved in partisan politics. Eleanor Roosevelt invited Cunningham to join the Democratic Women’s Advisory Committee to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) where Cunningham found that despite the DNC authorizing the women’s group, it refused to meet with them. Cunningham managed to gain access to the platform committee only because of her membership in the LWVs.
In 1928 Minnie Fisher Cunningham became the first woman in Texas to run for the United States Senate. In an effort to raise the status of women among the electorate, she ignored her colleague’s advice to assume a combative style that had colored past elections and ran instead on a platform advocating prohibition, tax reform, farm relief, cooperation with the League of Nations, and opposition to the Ku Klux Klan. She lost in the state’s primary.
Working in College Station as an editor for the Texas A&M Extension Service, Cunningham became interested in the link between poverty and poor nutrition and advocated alongside the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs to enrich flour with basic vitamin and mineral content. In 1938 she organized the Women’s Committee for Economic Policy (WCEP), which worked for a fully funded teacher retirement system. While working in Washington for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, President Roosevelt began calling her “Minnie Fish,” a title she carried for the rest of her life.
Returning to Texas in 1944, Cunningham ran for governor in a campaign against Coke Stevenson in which she was particularly critical over Stevenson cutting pensions to balance the state budget. To raise money for her filing fee, she sold lumber from the trees on her old family farm in New Waverly and Liz Carpenter served as her press secretary. Cunningham lost the primary, coming in second in a field of nine.
When the University of Texas Board of Regents began in the 1940s firing professors as suspected Communists and then dismissed the president for refusing to go along with the charges by claiming he had not disclosed a “nest of homosexuals” among the faculty, Cunningham created the Women’s Committee for Education Freedom to stand up to the regents. She helped organize groups to support the New Deal policies and worked tirelessly for Democratic candidates such as Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, and Ralph Yarborough.
Cunningham received a guest invitation to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in appreciation for her work in helping him carry her predominately Republican Walker County. She financed the campaign in her county through the sale of used clothing.
Minnie Fisher Cunningham did not rise to great political heights. But, she set a standard for never giving up, for working to enact policies that benefited women and improved the lives of all citizens of Texas. She died of congestive heart failure on December 9, 1964.
Lucy Ann Thornton was a bundle of contradictions—a lady ahead of her time who believed women should be educated also touted the need for women to hold home and family above all else. Born into an old southern family in Kentucky in 1839, the barely five-foot-tall Lucy
enjoyed a genteel education in the classics and fine arts.
The financial burdens brought by the Civil War were compounded by the long illness and death her husband Dr. Henry Byrd Kidd. Left with three children and mounting debts, Lucy immediately set about recouping the family’s financial stability. She sold land she had inherited from her husband and brought suit for $1,500 against another widow with three children who had defaulted on a note due for some land. Lucy won the suit. Her husband had held part ownership in a pharmacy and to collect unpaid balances on customer accounts Lucy stationed a Negro servant at the front door of the pharmacy to halt anyone who owed money. In this fashion, Lucy soon shored up the family finances.
Then, Lucy took a job as the presiding teacher of Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi. Boasting an outstanding music department, the school grew to be the largest college for women in the South. During ten years at Whitworth, Lucy developed many standards for educating young women.
Her success led Methodist Bishop Charles B. Galloway in 1888 to recommend Lucy Kidd to bring life back to the North Texas Female College, which had been closed for a year. When she reached Sherman for her interview, she demanded that the board of trustees come to her hotel. The men were impressed by her educational credentials and by the recommendations from Mississippi’s governor and lieutenant governor. The trustees probably thought that Mrs. Lucy Kidd, dressed in black widow’s weeds, would bring some of her personal wealth to the college since it was customary at that time for presidents of private schools to invest their personal funds in the institutions by paying for construction of campus buildings. In fact, Lucy Kidd had less than $10,000, and she carried it sewn into her underwear to keep anyone from knowing her financial status.
Lucy received a ten-year contract in April 1888 with the understanding that she would get the buildings back in shape and hire teachers to begin classes the following September. She immediately contacted her old friend Maggie Hill with whom she had taught for years at Whitworth and offered her the position of presiding teacher at a salary of seventy-five dollars a month––payable when the school started making money. Lucy’s eighteen-year-old son Edwin withdrew from the University of Mississippi to become the secretary and financial agent for the college. Her daughter Sarah, who had studied music in New Orleans, New York, and Paris, returned to teach voice at the school. Lucy also hired four of the best teachers from Whitworth to join the faculty.
She moved her family, servants, and furnishings for the school in July and immediately began traveling to church sessions and camp meeting all over Texas and Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) to attract girls and money for the fall semester. In later years Lucy shared stories of the hot, dirty, and exhausting horseback and stagecoach trips she took that summer and of the scary nights sleeping in remote cabins and listening to howling wolves. She also told of one fund-raiser where she was preceded by a preacher who told the congregation that music and musical instruments were tools of the Devil. Then, it was Lucy’s turn to encourage attendance and financial help for her college that emphasized training in the arts, especially music.
By the time the North Texas Female College opened on schedule that September, Lucy Kidd had rounded up 100 students, including the daughter of the governor of Mississippi. More challenges lay ahead. The college consisted of only two buildings, and when it rained, a creek running through the middle of the four-acre campus sent mud flowing into the front door of the main building. By the end of the first year, she used $850 of her own money to purchase four lots and had a three-story frame dormitory constructed, which was named the Annie Nugent Hall for the daughter of the gentleman who gave the first major gift of $10,000. Over the next three decades, the campus grew by another dozen buildings named for generous donors. By 1892 the school boasted telephones, electricity, incandescent lights, zinc bathtubs, running water, and it was the first school in Texas to provide a nurse for its students. The library grew and the school became the only southern women’s college with science laboratories and a $700 refracting telescope.
In 1892 Lucy’s marriage to Joseph Staunton Key, a beloved Methodist bishop, posed a name problem for Lucy who had enjoyed an amazing career as Lucy Kidd. She solved the dilemma in a daring way for the times; she hyphenated her last name to Kidd-Key. She was also ahead of her time in her educational philosophy. Even as she insisted that “her girls” always be womanly, she believed women had brains and should think for themselves. While she did not oppose women’s suffrage, she did not approve of the behavior of some of the women who were organizing for the vote. She wrote that women should be able to take financial care of themselves and their children. Yet, she insisted on surrounding herself with her notion of “womanly” things—flowers and lace in her home and long, flowing dresses that extended into trains.
Townspeople called the students’ excursions into town, “the string” because the girls, wearing their navy blue wool uniforms marched two by two with a chaperone at the head and another at the end of the line. Austin College boys gathered at various sites along the route to watch the girls.
The students enjoyed tennis and basketball teams and calisthenics. Lucy built a skating rink in the gym and in keeping with her ever-present eye for fund-raising, she opened the rink to Sherman residents. When the kitchen staff went on strike in 1908, Lucy hired the older girls to run the kitchen and donate their wages to the new building fund. When the strike ended, she treated the girls to an elegant dinner at a downtown hotel.
Lucy’s interest in music led to her search for financial backing that enabled her to hire the finest faculty from all over the world. The Conservatory of Music auditorium attracted the top orchestras and singers of the day, including Victor Herbert, the United States Marine Band, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She insisted that students have instruments in their rooms, which led in 1910 to 120 pianos on campus.
Enrollment reached its peak in 1912 with more than 500 students; however, times were changing. The were fewer girls who could afford or wanted to attend what President Roosevelt described as “the only finishing school west of the Mississippi.” Less-expensive state supported schools began operating and in 1915 Southern Methodist University in Dallas opened with financial support from the church that had previously gone to North Texas. Lucy’s health began to decline and financial shortfalls forced her to pay faculty salaries herself. The class of 1916 was the last to graduate as Lucy made plans for her retirement and to convert North Texas to an accredited two-year junior college. On September 13, 1916, one week after the new school opened, Lucy Kidd-Key died.
Lucy’s memory was honored in 1919 when the school was named Kidd-Key College and Conservatory. Her son and daughter continued running the school for several years before the Depression brought new financial worries and at the end of the 1934-1935 term, Kidd-Key closed.
Today a Texas Historical marker is all that remains at the old school site, but the legacy of Lucy Kidd-Key continued well into the twentieth century as her graduates made names for themselves as educators, writers, musicians, singers, and sculptors.
As the railroad spread westward across Texas, the common saying was, “West of the Pecos there is no law; west of El Paso there is no God.” Texas Rangers were called in to quell the criminal element that followed the railroad crews through the desolate Chihuahuan Desert. The
rangers had to haul prisoners to the county seat at Fort Stockton—a 400-mile round trip—and they needed a local justice of the peace in Vinegaroon, a town just west of the Pecos River. It was August 1882 and Roy Bean, who had left his wife and four children in San Antonio earlier that year, won the appointment. He kept the job with only two off years––when he lost elections––until 1902.
Bean’s training in the law consisted of a talent for avoiding it. He was in his early twenties when he made a quick exit from the law in Chihuahua, Mexico. He made a jail break in San Diego and avoided being hanged in San Gabriel, California. He prospered for a time in the saloon business with his older brother in Mesilla, New Mexico.
After the Civil War, he settled in a part of San Antonio that became known as Beanville. He married in 1866 and spent several years in various jobs—a firewood business until he was caught cutting his neighbor’s timber; a dairy business until he began watering down the milk; and a butcher shop that sold meat from cattle rustled from nearby ranches. When he opened a saloon, a rival barkeeper was so eager to see him out of the business, that she bought out his entire operation for $900, all the money he needed to head west and set up his own tent saloon along the new railroad construction in Vinegarroon.
With his new position as justice of the peace, Bean acquired an 1879 edition of the Revised Statues of Texas and undertook his first action—he shot up the saloon shack of a Jewish competitor. His tent saloon served as a part-time courtroom where his jurors were selected from an array of his best bar customers. When an Irishman named O’Rourke killed a Chinese railroad laborer, a mob of O’Rourke supporters surrounded Bean’s court and threatened to lynch him if he didn’t free O’Rourke. After looking through his law book, Bean announced that homicide was killing of a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a Chinaman. He dismissed the case.
As railroad construction moved westward, Bean followed the line to a town that became known as Langtry, which Bean claimed he named for the English actress Emilie Charlotte (Lillie) Langtry with whom he fell in love after seeing her picture in a newspaper. In truth, the town, sitting on a bluff above the Rio Grande, was named for George Langtry an engineer and foreman who supervised the Chinese immigrants who constructed the railroad.
Apparently, Bean’s reputation preceded him because the landowner sold to the railroad on the condition that no part of the land could be sold or leased to Bean. O’Rourke, the gentlemen who had been acquitted, suggested Bean establish his saloon on the railroad right-of-way because that land was not covered in the railroad sales contract.
Bean built his saloon, which he named The Jersey Lilly in honor of Lillie Langtry who was born on Jersey, one of the islands in the English Channel. He claimed to know Miss Lillie and wrote to her several times inviting her to visit his town. When his saloon burned, he built a new home and called it an opera house where he insisted Miss Lillie would come to perform. Her visit actually came ten months after Bean’s death.
Bean’s creative court decisions in The Jersey Lilly included the time he fined a corpse $40 for carrying a concealed weapon. It just so happened that in addition to his gun, the dead man had $40 in his pocket, which paid for his burial and court costs. Bean was known as “the hanging judge,” despite never hanging anybody. Whereas horse thieves were hanged in other jurisdictions, in Bean’s court, they were let go if the horses were returned to their owners. Since there was no jail, all cases ended with fines, which Bean kept, refusing to send the money to the state. Usually, the fine consisted of the amount of money found in the prisoner’s pockets.
Although a justice of the peace was not authorized to grant divorces, Bean did it anyway, charging $10 for the service. He charged $5 for performing a wedding and ended each ceremony with “and may God have mercy on your souls.” Bean was noted for his colorful language such as, “It is the judgment of this court that you are hereby tried and convicted of illegally and unlawfully committing certain grave offenses against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas, particularly in my bailiwick,” and then he added, “I fine you two dollars; then get the hell out of here and never show yourself in this court again. That’s my rulin’.” He also maintained tight control of the language used in his courtroom, even threatened a lawyer with hanging for using “profane language” when the lawyer referred to the “habeas corpus” of his client.
When Bean heard that railroad tycoon Jay Gould was on a train heading toward Langtry, Bean used a danger signal to flag down the train. Thinking the bridge over the Pecos River was out, the train stopped, and Bean entertained Gould and his daughter at The Jersey Lilly during a two-hour visit. The delay sent tremors through the New York Stock Exchange when reports circulated that Gould had been killed in a train wreck.
While the trains stopped to take on water, passengers poured into The Jersey Lilly where Bean served them quickly and then became very slow giving them their change. When the warning whistle blew announcing the train’s departure, the rush was on with passengers demanding their money and Bean eventually issuing a fine in the amount of their change. His reputation grew as the passengers ran cursing back to the waiting train, and future travelers could not resist stopping to visit the ramshackle saloon and its infamous proprietor.
Prizefighting became illegal in most of the Southwest and in Mexico, which prompted Bean to open a side business promoting fights on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande. In 1898, when promoters could not find a place to hold the world championship title prizefight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Peter Maher, Bean welcomed the event to Langtry. An excursion train arrived with 200 spectators on February 22, and Bean entertained them for a time in The Jersey Lilly before leading them to a bridge he had constructed to reach the makeshift ring. The Texas Rangers watched helplessly from a bluff on the Texas side of the river while Fitzsimmons beat Maher in 95 seconds. The fans and sportswriters enjoyed a few more drinks at The Jersey Lilly before the train carried them back to El Paso to spread the news throughout the United States.
Books, movies, TV shows and Roy Bean himself spread the legend of Judge Roy Bean, “the law west of the Pecos,” with tales true and tainted. Despite failing health, Bean went on a drinking binge in Del Rio in March 1903 and died in his bed the following morning. The Texas Department of Public Transportation has restored The Jersey Lilly Saloon in Langtry and created a Visitors Center just south of US Hwy. 90.
The first Protestant Czech-Moravian congregation in North America built its one-room church of hand-hewn logs in 1866. The tiny community, originally called Veseli meaning “joyous,” had already opened the first Czech school in Texas in 1859, soon after they settled on farmland eight miles south of Brenham. Their pastor was expected to do double-duty as teacher in the little church building.
Reverend Bohuslav Emil Laciak, serving as teacher and pastor in 1888, began painting the interior of the wood building using an art technique called trompe l’ oeil, a method of creating realistic imagery in three dimensions to give the impression of a basilica-style cathedral. He painted rustic-appearing brick walls that rise to the top of the windows. He produced an area above the pulpit that appears to be an apse hosting a gold chalice. The walls are circled by images of columns and arches. The ceiling is colored blue and edged with a geometric chain pattern.
Unfortunately, Reverend Laciak was killed in an 1891 hunting accident before he explained the meaning of his work, although he clearly had not completed his creation because the outlines of more designs are still visible. The congregation believes the bricks, individually highlighted in black, depict the strength of the walls of Jerusalem. The Star of David atop white pillars casting dark shadows remind congregants of the pillars of Solomon’s Temple. The chalice symbolizes the blood of Christ and the continuous chain design around the edge of the ceiling represents the unbroken link of brotherhood. The word “Busnami,” above the pulpit area translates as “God with Us.”
Czech immigrants, searching for cheap land and more opportunities, began arriving in Texas in the 1850s. Although most of them were Roman Catholics, ten to fifteen percent were Protestant and most of those were United Brethren who came to Texas after generations of persecution in their homeland. They held worship services in homes until they built this little one-room chapel. The building was enlarged and the steeple added in 1883. One hundred years later, the congregation built a new church next door, which serves a community of about sixty. The “log church cathedral,” listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open as a museum reminding all Czech-Moravians of their rich heritage.