If you visit downtown Austin, on the corner of Congress Avenue and 7th Street, you will see a larger than life bronze of barefoot Angelina Eberley lighting an equally gigantic cannon. The story requires a little explanation.
After Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836, Sam Houston won the election as the new Republic’s first president. The capital resided in Sam Houston’s namesake village on Buffalo Bayou; however, the constitution allowed the president only one term at a time. Houston’s successor Mirabeau B. Lamar envisioned the capital of the Republic farther west in anticipation of settlement moving beyond the coastal regions. Lamar selected a hamlet on the Colorado River in Central Texas and named it for Stephen F. Austin, the empresario who brought the first group of Anglo settlers into Texas.
Many, especially Sam Houston, regarded Austin as a poor choice because of constant danger from Indian and Mexican attacks. After Houston was reelected president in 1841, he tried unsuccessfully, to have the archives—consisting of all the Republic’s land titles, treaties, military records, and other documents—moved back to Houston.
When Mexican troops attacked San Antonio, about 80 miles south of Austin, in March 1842, President Houston again called for the archives to be removed. In wake of a possible Mexican attack, most Austin residents fled and the town was placed under martial law. The remaining contingent insisted that the archives were safe, and refused to allow the documents to leave Austin.
The following September Mexicans again attacked San Antonio and again Austin citizens refused to give up the records. Houston managed to move Congress, the high courts, even the foreign embassies 100 miles east to what he claimed as safer territory in Washington, a tiny community on the Brazos River.
Finally, a determined Sam Houston secretly dispatched 26 men with instructions to haul the archives to Washington. Before dawn on December 30, 1842, Angelina Eberley, an Austin innkeeper, and one of the few women left in the village, happened to be outside. Who knows why? She saw the men in an alley loading the archives into their wagon.
Mrs. Eberley rushed to the cannon that had been given to Austin for Indian protection and began firing at the departing wagon. Alerted, 68 Austin citizens gave chase.
The little band of men with the archives headed north to Kenney’s Fort, near present Round Rock, and camped for the night inside the fort’s picket enclosure. The following morning, Houston’s men discovered the Austinites surrounding the fort, backed by their cannon, demanding the return of the archives.
Sam Houston’s men complied, ending what became known as the Archives War. The standoff with Houston did not end. The government of the Republic remained in Washington during the inauguration of Anson Jones, Houston’s successor. Even the session of Congress that approved Texas’ annexation as the 28th state in the Union took place in Washington. In the late summer of 1845 Austin again became the official capital of Texas.
The Texas Historical Marker telling the story of the Archives War is located at the State Archives and Library Building at 1201 Brazos, Austin, Texas.