Mary, A Texas Maverick

She came to Texas as the young wife of a powerful man, and the diary she kept of her travels and her life in the growing republic has captured historians and lovers of Texas history. Mary Ann Adams Maverick (1818-1898) was born on a plantation in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. She attended a nearby boarding school and when she was eighteen, she met thirty-three-year-old Samuel Maverick––a Yale-educated lawyer who had just returned from the Texas war for independence. His plans to sell some of his property in Alabama and hurry back to land speculation in Texas got delayed when he met Mary. They married within three months.

Samuel A. Maverick

Mary and Samuel Maverick did not get to San Antonio until June 1838 and by then Mary had given birth to the first of their ten children. Samuel knew San Antonio well, for he had gone there in the fall of 1835 with plans to start building a land empire. Instead, he was thrust into the developing Texas Revolution. Mexican officials placed him under house arrest for a time and when he was released he went to the Texan force gathered south of the city and urged them to continue their siege of San Antonio de Bexar. He kept a detailed diary of the events as the Texans defeated the Mexican garrison and took over the town. He stayed in San Antonio and after Santa Anna’s army arrived on February 23, Maverick was elected as a delegate to the Texas Independence Convention in Washington-on-the Brazos. He made it through the Mexican Army lines on March 2 and reached the convention in time to be one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  By the time the convention ended, the Alamo had fallen and Texans were fleeing east ahead of Santa Anna’s advancing army. Suffering from chills and fever, Maverick made it to Nacogdoches where he remained until after Texas won independence at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Soon after the Mavericks reached San Antonio, Mary gave birth to their second son. That same year, she also used ink and watercolors on paper to produce the oldest known image of the church, which we know today as the Alamo and the Convento, which had served as

Alamo and Convento, ink and watercolor drawing of Mary Maverick.

the quarters used by the priests when the old structure was a mission. And Samuel set the pattern that he kept for the rest of his life. He made forty-one land purchases, moved the family into a house on the northeast corner of

Maverick home on the northeast corner of the Main Plaza.

the Main Plaza, and entered politics as mayor of San Antonio.

The following year, Mary wrote in her diary that March 19, 1840, was “a day of horrors.” Comanches had come to San Antonio seeking a treaty to draw boundaries that would halt western settlement into Comancheria. Texan authorities had demanded that the Indians bring in all their white prisoners. When they arrived with only Matilda Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old girl who had been a captive for over eighteen months, the Texans announced that the Indians would be held as prisoners until all the captives were returned.

Mary Maverick and a neighbor who lived nearby heard the gunfire and watched from behind a fence the battle that spilled into the plaza. When the terror ended, thirty-three Comanches lay dead and thirty-three were taken prisoner. Six Texans and one Mexican also perished.

Mary’s memoir, published in 1895, offers an account of the Council House Fight that historians reported for years. She claimed that the Texans were horrified to discover that Matilda Lockhart had been raped, had burns all over her body, and her nose had been burned away. However, later research revealed that Matilda Lockhart’s sister-in-law who was in San Antonio at the time wrote a letter to her mother and did not mention any injuries. In Col. Hugh McLeon’s report of March 20, 1840, he commented about Matilda’s intelligence but said nothing about a missing nose. Since the memoir was not published until many years later, it may have been an effort to justify the Texans rage.

Within two days of the Council House Fight, Samuel Maverick left for South Carolina and Alabama where he sold some of his property and purchased two-year’s worth of provisions. He had the supplies shipped to Linville, the seaport on Lavaca Bay.

Meantime, the Comanches who had been taken prisoner in San Antonio escaped, returned to Comancheria to grieve their losses and plot revenge. The following August, a party of about 1,000 warriors and their families swept across Texas in what became known as the Great Raid of 1840. They attacked Victoria, stole several hundred horses, and sacked the seaport village of Linnville. While terrified residents sat in boats in the shallow bay, they watched the town burn and all the warehouses destroyed. Among the losses, were Samuel Maverick’s supplies waiting to be shipped on to San Antonio.

Mexico had never accepted Texas independence and had made several forays across the border. In 1842, while Samuel Maverick served as San Antonio treasurer, word arrived that Mexican forces were headed toward the city. The Mavericks joined families fleeing the advancing troops in what was known as the “Runaway of ’42.” They stayed for a time in an abandoned house near Gonzales and then Maverick moved the family to LaGrange to get them farther away from the Indian threat. He had returned to San Antonio to argue a case before the district court when the Mexicans captured the city and marched many prisoners, including Maverick, to Perot Prison in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz.

When Mary heard of her husband’s capture, she gave money to one of her slaves to use for ransom and sent him with her Uncle John Bradley and another company to free her husband.  Mexicans surprised the little group, the slave was killed, and her uncle was taken to the prison with Maverick. They were not released until April 1843.

While he was in prison, Samuel Maverick was elected senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. He served in the last session and was a strong advocate for Texas annexation to the United States. During the time he served in the Texas Senate, Mary and the children lived in a log cabin near LaGrange on the Colorado River.  Believing the site caused some of their illnesses, in late 1844 Maverick moved his growing family to Decrows Point on Matagorda Peninsula. During that time, a farmer repaid his debt to Maverick with 400 head of cattle. Samuel had no interest in ranching and turned the management over to some of his slaves who did not bother to brand the calves. Finally, Maverick moved the cattle and the slaves to a ranch south of San Antonio. Still, the cattle roamed unbranded and neighbors began referring to the unmarked beeves as Maverick’s. Over time, that moniker stuck, and by the end of the Civil War when so many unbranded cattle roamed the Texas countryside, they were called “Mavericks.”

Mary Maverick and five of her children.

Violence was not the only hardship faced by those early Texas settlers. When they finally moved into a new home across from the Alamo, their seven-year-old daughter Agatha died from a fever. Over the next two years, cholera took

Maverick home on Alamo Plaza.

both Augusta then John Hays. Ironically, the child named for their friend the legendary Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays died the year that his father traveled with Coffee on an expedition to chart a route from San Antonio to El Paso. Maverick’s task was to document the trip. Finally, their youngest a girl of about eighteen months died in 1857.

After the Mavericks returned to San Antonio, Samuel expanded his West Texas landholdings from almost 140,000 acres in 1851 to over 300,000 acres at the time of his death in 1870. He served in the state legislatures from 1851-1863, where he worked for equal opportunity for his Mexican and German constituents. He fought for liberal land acquisition laws and for a fair and efficient judicial system.

He opposed secession, but when the conflict became inevitable, he supported the Confederacy. Four of their sons served in the Confederacy and Mary worked in the relief effort in San Antonio. A devout Episcopalian, she helped establish St. Mark’s Church and served for over twenty years as president of the Ladies’ Parish Aid Society.

With the help of her son George Madison Maverick, Mary shaped her diaries into her memoir and published a few copies in 1895.  She served as a member of the San Antonio Historical Society and of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. As president for many years of the Alamo Monument Association, she kept the public aware of the need to restore the decaying site, even writing a brief account of the fall of the Alamo. Mary Maverick and her many descendants have worked to preserve San Antonio and the memory of the pioneer men and women who shaped the future of Texas.

Picture File
Maverick Family
Mary Adams Maverick
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THE BLIND MAN’S TOWN

In 1854 Adam Rankin Johnson, a twenty-year-old from Kentucky settled in Burnet County on the edge of the western frontier. He fought Indians, which could be expected since he worked as a surveyor and Indians believed the surveyor’s compass was the instrument that

Adam Rankin Johnson (1834-1922)

was pushing them off the land. In 1854, Johnson stood on the banks of the Colorado River and a dream took shape as he viewed a waterfall cascading down fifty feet over a series of three limestone formations. He had found the spot for building an industrial city.

“Quaker Guns” made with a charred log and a stovepipe set between wagon wheels.

During the Civil War, Johnson went back to Kentucky to enlist as a scout. He rose in the ranks as his Rangers fought behind enemy lines, harassing Union supply centers. In July 1862, Johnson’s men were outnumbered by federal troops guarding supplies at Newburgh, Indiana. He had his men construct two “Quaker Guns,” using a stovepipe and a charred log which they anchored between wagon wheels. Placing the assemblage on a hillside, the Union troops believed they were looking down the barrel of two cannons. Johnson led his band of about thirty-five guerillas across the Ohio River and captured the Union supplies without firing a shot. From then on, his men called him “Stovepipe Johnson.”

His exploits during the war eventually earned him the rank of brigadier general by June 1864. However, two months later, in a battle in Kentucky, Johnson was accidentally shot by his own men, permanently blinded, captured by the federals, and imprisoned until the end of the war.

General Adam Johnson came home to his wife and family and set about fulfilling his dream. Although he could no longer see, he had not lost his vision. Some accounts say he directed from memory one his sons to drive his carriage about the county as he made land purchases.

In 1881, General Johnson’s land ownership suddenly took on new importance when the Texas state capitol burned. In the rush to rebuild, the planners discovered that the intended limestone for the capitol’s exterior was inferior. It so happened that Johnson’s land lay within a mile of Granite Mountain, and the owners of the 180-acre batholith that rose above the landscape offered to give the granite for the capitol if the state constructed a railroad from Austin. General Johnson immediately set about getting the land donated for the right of way.

Granite Mountain provided for Galveston’s seawall and many state buildings.

When the railroad arrived to begin hauling what was eventually 4,000 flatcars of granite for construction of the Texas capitol, General Johnson and his partners were ready to lay out their town. Within a week Johnson held a public sale of lots from a grandstand in the center the new town. Although many people called it “The Blind Man’s Town,” the official name of Marble Falls finally took root.

The Old Mill overlooking the limestone series of falls

Johnson’s dream of harnessing the Colorado River kept meeting setbacks until 1893 when The Ice, Light and Water Company provided power for the city and the nearby textile plant. But it was 1951 before The Blind Man’s Dream was fulfilled in a different form. The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) completed a series of six dams beginning at a site on the river that General Johnson had marked in 1854 as the perfect site for industrial development. Buchanan Dam is the first in the chain of dams that create the Highland Lakes, known not for industry, but for hydroelectric power, flood control, and recreation.

Max Starcke Dam, the fourth in the chain, created Lake Marble Falls, which covers the old limestone outcropping that General Johnson gazed upon in 1854. The city he dreamed of building has become the center of a vast recreational region.

General Adam Johnson’s other legacies include one son, Rankin Johnson, Sr. who became a Major League pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals.  General Johnson died in 1922 and is buried at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin next to his wife Josephine and near his grandson, Judge George Christian Sr., and a great-grandson George Christian Jr., White House Press Secretary for President Lyndon Johnson.

Adam Johnson standing before the old mill.

Immigrants Built a San Antonio Icon

The 159-year-old Menger Hotel is the grand dame of San Antonio’s Alamo Plaza, thanks to the hard work of two young immigrants William and Mary Menger. William was one of those younger sons in Germany who didn’t inherit so he became a cooper, making casks and

William Menger
Courtesy Menger Hotel

barrels for beer and wine. The twenty-year-old sailed for the United States in 1847 and arrived in San Antonio about 1850. He took a room in a boardinghouse run by Mary Guenther because the young widow spoke German and she was a fine cook and housekeeper.

Mary and her mother emigrated from Hanover in 1846. Soon after they reached San Antonio, her mother died, and Mary was robbed of all her money. She worked for an American family until she married Emil Guenther in 1848. Together, they operated a boarding house, but within the first year of marriage, Emil and their infant baby died, leaving Mary alone again.

Mary’s new border, William Menger found that his cooperage skills served him well because barrels were in demand for shipping and storing everything from coffee to crackers, molasses to bacon and flour. The following year, although she was eleven years his senior, William and Mary decided to marry.

William was Lutheran, but in deference to Mary’s Catholic faith, he hired a horse to go thirty miles west to Castroville to bring his friend Rev. Claude Dubuis (future Bishop of the Galveston Diocese) to perform the nuptials. When the priest arrived, William apologized for the horse that was obviously a broken-down old nag. The priest said, “I’m glad you didn’t send a better horse or Indians along the way would have killed me to get my horse.”

William helped with the boardinghouse, continued with his cooperage business, and over the next nine years, they had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood. In 1855, William decided to stop making the barrels and concentrate on filling them. He hired a German master brewer and constructed the Western Brewery east of Alamo Plaza. He selected the site for two reasons: its access to the spring waters of the Alamo Madre Acequia or irrigation ditch. The waters cooled his thick-walled underground cellar and chilled the lager beers. And the locale sat next door to the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Depot, providing a clientele of officers and soldiers.

The Mengers also built a larger boardinghouse nearby. They solved the problem of it being across the San Antonio River from the primary commercial centers of the Main and the Military plazas by offering carriage rides for boarders and diners in the boardinghouse restaurant. Of course, the guests enjoyed the brewery.

1859 Menger Hotel

Apparently, the high-quality beer and fine restaurant grew the business, because within two years the Mengers hired a Prussian born builder J.H. Kampmann to construct a two-story limestone (from the quarry that created the current Sunken Gardens) hotel on the boardinghouse site. The Menger Hotel opened on February 1, 1859, with tours of the rooms, a reception, and positive reviews even in the national press. By the third night, the hotel was fully booked with army officers, their families, and traveling merchants.

Menger Gallery, historic wing.

Almost immediately, plans began to add a forty-room annex with a tunnel connecting to the brewery. Since the railroad would not arrive until 1877, the Menger offered fine stables for the convenience of their guests.

The Menger family and many of their employees who were German immigrants lived in the hotel, along with about twenty-four hotel guests. The restaurant under the direction of Mary took advantage of German farmers for fresh fruits and vegetables that were not common to Anglo-Americans. She broadened the meat selection to include venison, wild turkey, quail, bear meat, buffalo, and turtles from the San Antonio River. William raised and butchered his own hogs for bacon, ham, and sausage. They imported specialty items such as tea, cod fish, seasonal cranberries, sultana raisins, English currents, and stuffed olives. Eager to make the hotel more than a local attraction, Menger brought in champagne, wine, claret, sherry, and whiskey. The hostelry was famous for its ice shipped from Boston through the port at Indianola and hauled to San Antonio on special wagons. It cost extra if a guest wanted ice in their whiskey.

Menger Hotel prospers

The Menger served as a center for social and civic organizations. In the approach to and during the Civil War, the hotel accommodated political groups where speeches were held and parades gathered in front of the building. Despite the Union blockade of the Gulf ports, Confederate officers stayed at the hotel, and Menger acquired food through his connections in the West and South for shipments from the neutral Mexican ports.

By 1867, the city was still ten years away from getting a railroad that would connect with Texas ports, and the Army was looking for a better location. Menger quickly built facilities following Army specifications, which included a large warehouse and two cisterns, next to the hotel. He then leased the buildings to the federal government at a low rate. The Army used the facilities until Fort Sam Houston was opened in 1877.

The Mengers traveled to Germany and Paris in 1867 to purchase furniture for the hotel. Upon their return, William saw a Silsby Rotary Engine used for firefighting in New York. He had founded and led the Alamo Fire Association Number Two before the war. He immediately paid $4,000 for the equipment and had it shipped at a cost of $900 to Indianola and then by ox wagon to San Antonio, giving his city the first steam engine in Texas.

William Menger died unexpectedly at the age of forty-five in 1871, leaving Mary and their eldest son Louis to successfully maintain the high standards of the hotel. Mary bought more land to expand the hotel and added modern gaslights. Illustrious guests continued to frequent the hotel. When President Ulysses Grant visited in 1880 the menu for his reception was printed in French.

With the arrival of the railroad in 1877, national beer companies moved in to compete with the Western Brewery. Mary and Louis Menger closed the brewery the following year and used its space to build a three-story, L-shaped addition, which added one hundred rooms. In 1881 Mary and Louis Menger sold the hotel and property for $228,500 and the furniture for $8,500 (about $2.8 million today) to the original builder, J.H. Kampmann.

The Menger continued to prosper, underwent several major restorations and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It is a member of the Historic Hotels of America.

The Menger Hotel today

Nicholas Clayton, Texas Architect

In the last half of the nineteenth century, the most powerful men in Texas called Galveston home. The Strand, a street stretching five blocks along the docks, wore the moniker of Wall Street of the Southwest. Two-dozen millionaires officed along the route, controlling Texas’

Nicholas Clayton
Wikipedia

shipping, banks, insurance companies, and the vast cotton export business. But, one man, by the power of his designs, left a heritage for Galveston and Texas that all the power brokers combined could not equal. Nicholas J. Clayton arrived in Galveston in 1872 and changed the face of the booming cultural and business metropolis of Texas. Although he arrived without friends or business contacts, his position as supervising architect for a Cincinnati firm constructing the First Presbyterian Church and the Tremont Hotel caught the eye of Galveston notables.

Beach Hotel,
Galveston Historical Foundation.

St. Mary’s Cathedral, Austin
McIlvain

A faithful Catholic, who attended mass almost every day, Clayton began his connection with Galveston’s movers and shakers by walking, as soon as he arrived, to St. Mary’s Church (now St. Mary’s Cathedral) and discussing with the bishop improvements to Galveston’s oldest church built in 1846. Clayton soon designed the central tower and later a new bell and the statue of Mary, Star of the Sea.

The bishop may have been influential the next year in Clayton receiving the contract to design Saint Mary’s Church (now Saint Mary’s Cathedral) in Austin, which served at that time as part of the Galveston Diocese.

Clayton’s residential, commercial, and church designs won respect for their exuberance of shape, color, texture, and detail. He was so involved in his work that he often continued sketching church buildings, windows, altars, and steeples, even while carrying on a conversation. He worked every day except Sunday and Christmas and expected near perfection from those he employed. His family claimed his most abusive term was “muttonhead” for those who did not meet his expectations.

He designed, built, added to, or remodeled eleven churches in Galveston and other churches all over the South and Mexico. In a time of slower communication, Clayton traveled extensively and made use of the telephone, telegraph, and letters.

Many of his designs have never been duplicated such as the intricate brickwork on Old Red (1891), the first building for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. The carpentry has never been matched in the Beach Hotel

Ashbel Smith Building, “Old Red,” First Building for the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Gresham House, “Bishop’s Palace,” High Victoria style Wikipedia

(1883-1898) and the Electric Pavilion (1881-1883), both destroyed by fires. The flamboyant octagonal Garten Verein (1876- ), an inspired work in wood, served as a social center for the German community.

Gresham House, Bishop’s Palace
Galveston Historical FoundationClayton worked quickly and new ideas appeared to come easily. Mrs. Clayton claimed that the idea for the design of the octagonal-shaped Garten Verein came to Clayton instantly, and he finished the plans in a single night.

His most spectacular residential design, the Walter Gresham House (1887-1892) (known today as Bishop’s Palace) rises three stories over a raised basement and boasts fourteen-foot ceilings. Among

Grand staircase, Bishop’s Palace
Galveston Historical Foundation

the grand details is a forty-foot tall octagonal mahogany stairwell with stained glass on five sides lit by a large skylight. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Gresham House is one of the most significant Victorian residences in the country.

Despite his prolific production and vigorous work ethic, Clayton’s son acknowledged that his father wasn’t a very good businessman. His insistence on perfection, often caused him to go over budget for a project, and he would continue working at his own expense. He mostly left financial arrangements to others. His concern centered on creating outstanding buildings. Eventually, his relaxed business practices and dependence on a partner to follow through on a contract while Clayton was out of town, caused him to forfeit a bond that eventually resulted in bankruptcy. As the legal battle dragged on for ten years, many clients turned their backs on him and refused to pay. Devastated by the loss of his integrity and prestige, the final blow came when the 1900 storm––still considered the worst natural disaster in US history––severely damaged or destroyed many of his finest designs.

He continued to get small projects such as the design and reconstruction of the main building of St. Edward’s University in Austin after a fire damaged the original structure. He built the new Incarnate Word Academy in Houston, but he could never get a bond for a large contract.

In November 1916, as he repaired a crack in his chimney, the candle he held ignited his undershirt. Severely burned, he developed pneumonia and died on December 9, 1916.

Mrs. Clayton grieved to her husband’s dear friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, that she did not have money for a proper monument. Rabbi Cohen replied, “Oh, you don’t need one, my dear Mary Lorena. He’s got them all over town. Just go around and read some cornerstones.”

Today, eight buildings of Nicholas J. Clayton design, survive on the Strand, thirty-four remain all over the country, and eighty-six have been razed. His legacy continues in the beauty and style he brought to his beloved Galveston, known as “The Texas Victorian Oasis.”

Father of “The Father of Texas”

History takes little note of Moses Austin (1761-1821).  The man known for his grand plans and bold schemes and really big failures initiated Anglo settlement in Texas, which led to Texas independence from Mexico, which led to Texas annexation to the United States, which led to the Mexican War, which resulted in the United States expansion all the way to the Pacific Ocean.   And, like dominoes continuing to fall, anger over the slave issue led to the Civil War.  He died before seeing the history he set in motion, which makes it necessary to ask: Who was Moses Austin?

Moses Austin

Born in Durham, Connecticut, the fifth generation in a long line of Austins in the United States, Moses Austin at age twenty-one didn’t look much like a mover and shaker as he began a career in the dry-goods business with his brother Stephen.  Over the next seven years the Austin brothers’ dry-goods business prospered, but for some reason they moved in 1789 in a completely different direction—taking over lead mines in southwestern Virginia.  By agreeing to use only Virginia lead on the roof of the new Virginia capitol in Richmond, the brothers gained control of the state’s richest lead deposit.

They did not enjoy all smooth sailing.  The new lead roof leaked and had to be replaced with slate; however, by 1791 Moses Austin moved his family, which now included two-year-old Stephen Fuller Austin, to the mines and named the new community Austinville.  During this period of gigantic land speculation, the Austin brothers’ business thrived and then appears to fail rather suddenly.  It is thought that the young men, not known for conservative business moves, over-extended themselves.  The scant records indicate Moses Austin was impetuous, lending credence to the story of a rift that never completely healed after Moses left his brother Stephen in Virginia trying to salvage the business.

Moses Austin struck out west on his own to the rich lead deposits in Spanish Upper Louisiana (present southeastern Missouri).  He found rich lead deposits forty miles west of St. Genevieve.  Despite the site being in Osage Indian country, he obtained a Spanish land grant of one league (4,428 acres) under an agreement to swear allegiance to the Spanish crown and settle families in the area.  In 1798 Moses led his family and forty whites and a few blacks to a primitive site where he established a settlement named Potosi.  In the next few years, despite his personal short-comings—lack of patience, tact, and diplomacy—Moses Austin used a furnace design he learned from the English to gain control of most of the smelting in the region, allowing the family to live very well in Durham Hall their southern-style mansion.

Durham Hall

This second period in the history of the American lead industry became know as the “Moses Austin Period.”  The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and the transfer of government to the United States, stimulated emigration to Missouri and increased business for Moses Austin.

Fortunes changed, however, during the War of 1812, paralyzing trade and the lead mining industry in Missouri.  Moses Austin tried, unsuccessfully, to use leased slave labor to expand the mining operation.  Then, in an effort to increase the money supply in circulation, he helped organize the first bank west of the Mississippi, River in St. Louis.  It failed in the Panic of 1819.  Stretched beyond his capacity, Austin suffered complete financial ruin.

The following year, his eldest son Stephen F. Austin took charge of the mines and the other businesses in Potosi hoping to “free the family of every embarrassment,” but the financial collapse proved more than he could salvage.

As Moses searched for ways to recover from his loses, he kept mulling over the possibility of another daring scheme—acquiring a land grant from the Spanish government in Texas—an opportunity to make another fortune by settling families on the Texas frontier.

Sometime in November 1820, after visiting with his son Stephen F. Austin in Little Rock, Moses set out for a meeting with Spanish officials in San Antonio.  He traveled with a gray horse, a mule, a slave named Richmond, and fifty dollars—a borrowed cache valued at $850 for which he agreed to repay Stephen F. Austin.

He reached San Antonio on December 23, claimed to be fifty-three years old (he was actually 59), a Catholic, a former subject of the King of Spain, and a representative of 300 families who wished to settle with his family in Texas.

The Spanish governor turned him down without looking at his papers.  Fortunately, as a dejected Moses crossed the plaza on the way back to his quarters, he met Baron de Bastrop, a man he knew from earlier years in Louisiana.  The Baron intervened for Austin with the governor and in three days Moses received an Empresarial grant to settle 300 families in Texas.

Stories differ as to what caused Moses Austin to suffer exposure and exhaustion on his return trip to begin preparations for Texas settlement, but his body grew weak from the journey and despite ill health, he continued feverish preparations for establishing his new colony.  In late May 1821 he developed pneumonia and despite his young doctor blistering and bleeding him “most copiously,” he died on June 10.

With his dying breath he begged his wife to tell their son Stephen to fulfill the dream of settling Texas for the benefit of the family.

Next week, we’ll look at the mirror image of Moses Austin in the life and legacy of Stephen F. Austin, “Father of Texas.”

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: RABBI HENRY COHEN

When you travel Texas highways, you see historical markers that tell some of Texas’ best tales.  For several years I wrote some of those marker stories and in the process I discovered a lot of Movers & Shakers that history books never mention.  I plan to share some of the stories in my blogs.

I first heard of Rabbi Henry Cohen when I received a fat folder of information that had to be squeezed into a historical marker story of not more than 24 lines. In that sparse space I tried to capture the life of the extraordinary man whose boundless energy and love of humanity burst from every page.

In 1888 the wiry little man, barely five feet tall, with a booming British accent arrived in Galveston to serve Temple B’nai Israel. He wore black, tuxedo-type suits, starched white bow ties, and white shirts with stiff cuffs on which he wrote his appointments and sermon notes. (I imagine his wife loved getting those cuffs clean.)  Dressed in this formal getup, he rode about Galveston on a bicycle from jail cell to hospital bed to Galveston’s red-light district ministering to and helping every person in need regardless of his or her faith or lack thereof. He was known for saying “there is no such thing as Episcopalian scarlet fever, Catholic arthritis, or Jewish mumps”.

He may have been small but he showed a giant’s determination when facing injustice.  Hearing of a girl being kept in prostitution against her will, he tore across town on his bicycle, barged into a whorehouse, and found the girl half naked. Wrapping her in a blanket and walking with one arm around her and the other guiding his bike he led her to a clothing store where he told the merchant to “fit her out from head to foot”.  Then, he took her home to his wife and found her a job. His fearlessness quickly created a name for himself in the back streets of Galveston.  When a woman on her deathbed asked to be given a “Christian burial”, Rabbi Cohen received the call to conduct the service.  Not bothering to ask what kept a Protestant minister from showing up, Rabbi Cohen marched to the cemetery where he found a large crowd had gathered from the bordellos.  He led the service using prayers from the New Testament.

Millions of European Jews arrived on the East Coast without the means to survive in the strange new world.  They settled with fellow emigrants in the slums of New York’s lower East side where whole families crowded into tiny rooms, even sleeping in hallways.   Unable to speak English or find work, they huddled in congested, impoverished conditions that led to child labor and crime.  Many in the Jewish community that had come to America and prospered became embarrassed at so much suffering. They devised a plan that allowed immigrant ships to bypass Ellis Island and go instead to Galveston where Rabbi Cohen set up an immigration office and met most every ship.

Since he traveled extensively preaching in cities and towns that did not have a rabbi, he had developed a network of contacts in communities that let him know what occupations they needed.  It might be cobblers, hat makers, tailors, carpenters or clerks. El Paso for example asked to have trunk, harness and saddle makers, whereas Corsicana needed weavers, spinners, and doffers for its new textile industry.  Between 1907 and 1914 Rabbi Cohen and his group placed 10,000 immigrants in jobs and homes west of the Mississippi.

After World War I the Ku Klux Klan began making inroads in towns across the South and Midwest.  When the Klan came to Galveston and tried to get a parade permit, Rabbi Cohen and his friend Father James Kirwin used their considerable influence with the city commissioners to block the parade.  The Klan never got a foothold in Galveston.

Rabbi Cohen worked for prison reform, often having prisoners paroled into his care. He found them jobs, loaned them money, and remained in touch with them after they began new lives.  After he heard of a man raping a twelve-year-old girl and being set free, Rabbi Cohen worked for years to get legislation to raise the age of consent in Texas from ten years old to eighteen.

My favorite story concerns Rabbi Cohen hearing that an immigrant had arrived illegally and faced immediate deportation.  In his usual dramatic fashion, he boarded a train for Washington D.C., and demanded a meeting with President William Howard Taft. And he got it.  Explaining to the president that the man faced a firing squad if he returned to his own country, Rabbi Cohen added that he could find the man a job in Texas.

President Taft listened courteously, and then said he could do nothing for the gentlemen.  The president added, “I certainly admire the way you have gone to so much trouble and expense for a member of your faith.”

“Member of my faith!  This man is a Greek Catholic.  A human life is at stake.”

President Taft picked up the phone and arranged for the man to be released to the custody of the fiery little rabbi.

Rabbi Cohen was fluent in eleven languages; he held the respect of presidents, governors, and cardinals; he wielded influence in state and national legislatures; but the legacy that he would claim with pride was that he made life more bearable for thousands of his fellow human beings.Rabbi Cohen played a major role in providing jobs and homes for immigrants throughout the South and Midwest.  From 1880 to 1920