Famous for firing the howitzer that started Texas’ “Bloodless War,” Angelina Eberly was really a smart businesswoman. Born in Tennessee in 1798, Angelina Belle married her first cousin Jonathan C Payton in 1818 and began a journey that ended in 1825 in San Felipe de Austin, headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony. The couple operated an inn and tavern with the help of several slaves. After Jonathan died in 1834, Angelina continued running the inn and raising their three children until the Texas War for Independence from Mexico when the town was burned to keep General Santa Anna’s army from benefiting from its stores.
After Texas won independence from Mexico in 1836, Angelina married Jacob Eberly and moved to Austin the new capital of the republic, which sat on the far western edge of Texas settlement. They opened the Eberly House, an establishment that must have been the best in the little village because on October 18, 1839, the president of the republic Mirabeau B. Lamar and his cabinet had dinner at Eberly House. When Sam Houston won the presidency for the second time in 1841, he moved into Eberly House rather than live in the president’s residence. Despite being widowed again in 1841, Angelina continued operating her hotel.
Austin residents were kept on alert because of potential Indian attack, and because Mexico had never accepted Texas independence, frequent reports reached Austin of Mexican forays into Texas. The remote location provided President Sam Houston with an excuse to begin moving the congress, the courts, and the embassies back toward his namesake town of Houston. Austin residents realized that with Houston removing all the government offices, the only hope of retaining their little town as the capital lay in keeping the land records that detailed how the republic had been paying its bills through the issuance of land titles. After Mexican troops occupied San Antonio for the second time in December 1842, President Houston sent two officers with eighteen men and two wagons to Austin with instruction to quietly remove the records from the General Land Office.
Who knows why Mrs. Eberly was out in the middle of the night, but she saw the wagons pulling away from the land office, ran to the cannon Austin used to protect itself from Indian attack, and lit the fuse. One account says she blew a hole in the Land Office Building, but did not injure anyone. Warned of the impending loss of the records, Austin residents gave chase. Houston’s men made it as far as Kinney’s Fort, outside present Round Rock where they spent the following night. When they awoke the next morning, the Austin residents had surrounded the fort and had the cannon ready to fire. Without a single shot being exchanged, Houston’s men gave the records back to the angry Austinites. By 1845 when Texas voted to join the Union, Austin was again named the capital of Texas.
Angelina Eberbly, like many other business people, cast her eyes south to Matagorda Bay on the Central Texas coast where the huge influx of German immigrants had increased the development along the coast. She moved first to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) and initiated a one-year lease for a tavern, paying $180 every three months for the property while charging the owner $30 a month for his family to remain on the premises. At the end of that year, it was clear that Indian Point (soon renamed Indianola) was the place to begin a new business. She promptly moved to the thriving seaport and opened the American Hotel.
The census of 1850 listed the forty-six year old widow as the principal property holder of Indianola with assets of $50,000. In March she was acknowledged as a force in the community when she was publically thanked for serving as hostess for the celebration held for the United States Boundary Commission tasked with establishing the border between the United States and Mexico. Despite stiff competition from other hotels that attracted travelers, the American Hotel catered to families and remained in constant demand. Community events, including a March 2nd celebration of Texas Independence that started with flags flying on ships in the harbor and a parade of military officers, the Sons of Temperance, and the local residents, ended at the American Hotel with the reading of the Declaration of Texan Independence.
After a nineteen-day illness in 1860, the sixty-three year old Angelina died of “oscillation of the heart.” She left her entire estate to her ten-year-old grandson, Peyton Bell Lytle, whom she had raised since his mother’s death.
Today Austin honors Angelina Eberly with a seven-foot, 2,200-pound bronze statue near the corner of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street. The gigantic, barefoot woman, created by Pat Oliphant, the widely syndicated Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, is lunging forward to light the howitzer that led to saving the capital for Austin