Angelina Eberly, Innkeeper/Cannoneer

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.

Austin, 1844, A. B. Lawrence, Courtesy Dorothy Sloan-rare books

Austin, 1844, A. B. Lawrence, Courtesy Dorothy Sloan-rare books

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

Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

TEXAS’ LADY CANNONEER

I call it being organized–juggling several things at the same time.  However, like a circus clown trying to toss one too many bowling pins, I’ve dropped the whole passel.  Expecting Friday to be especially busy, I wrote my blog, even added all the photos and went to bed knowing at the appointed hour on Friday I could press “publish” and poof, it would post.

Then, I woke with a start.  Why did Angelina Eberly, the subject of the blog, already appear in the category list?  At 1:30 a.m., my husband, who patiently put up with my flaying and fretting over forgetting, suggested I get up and forage through my folder of files.  I did.

Over the years I’ve written historical markers and articles about the markers, and books about the stories on the markers and even given lectures about the stories on the markers and in the books.  You can understand how I might forget if a story appeared on a marker or in an article or in a book.

My middle-of-the-night search revealed I published a post about  Angelina Eberly February 23–of this year–not six or eight years ago. Last Monday night I told her story again during a lecture.  Folks liked it well enough to inspire me to tell it again in this Friday’s blog.  I’m confessing this confusion because I assume you, as a faithful reader, may remember the February version.  I’m calling the version below The Second Iteration:

Texans love stories of pioneer settlers and heroes.  Angelina Eberly fits the bill.  Born in Tennessee in 1798, Mrs. Eberly married her first cousin, made the journey to Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast in 1822 and finally, with the help of several slaves, opened an inn and tavern in the new village of San Felipe de Austin on the Brazos River.

After her husband died, Mrs. Eberly continued operating the hotel until Texans burned the town in 1836 to prevent it from falling into General Santa Anna’s hands during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico.

After the war she married again and moved with her new husband in 1839 to the new Texas capital of Austin where they opened the Eberly House.

History reveals Texas’ politics as contentious during the days of the republic as they are today.  The constitution of the new republic allowed the president to serve only one, two-year term, which meant Sam Houston, first president and hero of the war for independence, stepped down to allow the election of his successor and nemesis Mirabeau B. Lamar.

Immediately Lamar appointed a site-selection commission that moved the capital of the republic from ole Sam’s namesake city of Houston to a little village in the wilderness of Central Texas and named the place “Austin,” after the father of early Texas settlement.

The legislature met in a frame house on Congress Avenue and other offices occupied different structures along the dirt street. Because of Austin’s vulnerability to attacks by Indians and Mexican troops, the new government provided the residents with a six-pounder cannon, loaded with grapeshot.

Despite primitive conditions, President Lamar and his cabinet dined at the Eberly House.  When Sam Houston won reelection two years later, he moved into the Eberly House rather than occupy the house Mirabeau Lamar designated for the president.

Since Sam Houston and his supporters disapproved of the capital’s location on the western frontier, they jumped at the opportunity to move the Congress to Washington, a tiny village on the Brazos River when Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842.

Determined to keep the last symbol of the capital in their town, Austin residents demanded the national archives, which consisted of diplomatic, financial, land, and military-service records, remain in Austin.

When Mexicans invaded San Antonio again in December 1842, Sam Houston found his excuse for action.  He instructed two army officers to take eighteen men and two wagons to Austin in the middle of the night and quietly remove the archives from the General Land Office.

No one ever explained what Angelina Eberly was doing outside in the middle of the night, but when she saw the wagons leaving with the archives, she ran to the loaded cannon and fired it to warn the citizens of the robbery.

The military men traveled about twenty miles that first day to Kenney Fort located near present Round Rock. The next morning, when the officers rose to continue their journey, they discovered the citizens of Austin circling the fort with their cannon aimed toward the enclosure.  Without further ado, the military men returned the files to the Austin citizens, thus ending what has been dubbed both “The Archives War” and “The Bloodless War.”

With most of the republic’s business handled in Washington, Austin struggled for several years, the population dropping below 200 and its buildings deteriorating.  Finally, in 1845 a constitutional convention approved Texas’ annexation to the United States and named Austin as the new state capital.  In 1850 Texas residents finally voted to officially designate Austin as the state’s capital.

Angelina Eberly moved in 1846 to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) where she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House while the surveyed the area for the best location for her business. Upon seeing nearby Indianola becoming a thriving seaport, she moved down the coast and opened a hotel.  At the time of her death in 1860, her estate appraised at $50,000, making Mrs. Angelina Eberly the wealthiest citizen of Calhoun County.

Today, Austin residents honor their cannoneer with a larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture at the corner of Congress and 7th Street.