Elisabet Ney, Sculptor of Renown

Elisabet Ney

Elisabet Ney

In 1873, perhaps the most unusual and nonconforming couple in early Texas—German sculptor Elisabet Ney and her husband Scotch philosopher and scientist Dr. Edmund Montgomery—bought a former slave plantation outside Hempstead.

“Miss Ney,” as she was called even after her marriage to Dr. Montgomery, had always been beautiful, talented, and self-willed. She shocked her family by going to Munich at the age of nineteen to study art. She soon made a name for herself as a sculptor, but she continued to scorn convention by her open affair with young Montgomery. She undertook many important commissions, even moving into a studio at the royal palace in Munich to execute a full-length state of Ludwig II, the mad king who almost financially ruined Bavaria before he was assassinated.

After Miss Ney and Dr. Montgomery married, it is said that her relations with him and her political activities caused the couple to decide that the United States offered a better environment for them. They lived about two years in a German colony in Georgia before moving to Texas and purchasing Liendo Plantation.

The nineteen years she lived at Liendo, she devoted her life to rearing her two sons and trying to help the neighborhood freedmen, but neither venture was very successful. The blacks ridiculed her, one son died, and the story is told that fear of spreading an epidemic prompted Miss Ney to cremate his body in the family fireplace. The other child separated himself from his mother because of her strict rules and the embarrassment he felt over the community talk generated by her life-style and behavior.

Formosa Studio, Austin

Formosa Studio, Austin

Miss Ney received a commission to execute the statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for the Texas Exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair. (Both statues stand today in the state capitol in Austin. A copy of Austin is in the U.S. Capitol Hall of Columns and Houston is in the National Statuary Hall.) She moved to Austin, built her studio Formosa, and completed busts of notable Texas politicians and a depiction of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth (the marble is displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art.) She also assembled works of European notables—King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Otto von Bismarck, and Jacob Grimm—that she had created as a young artist in Europe.ney_werk_b

Although she lived at Formosa until her death in 1907, she and Dr. Montgomery continued to visit, and she was buried at Liendo among the oak trees they had planted. Sometime after her death, friends organized the Texas Fine Arts Association, purchased her Austin studio, and developed it into a museum of her work. Dr. Montgomery became a leading local citizen in Hempstead, serving as a county commissioner and helping to found Prairie View College (present Prairie View A&M University).

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TEXAS’ LADY CANNONEER

Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

Angelina Eberly, Cannoneer

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 Boarding 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, the new President Lamar inflamed the already contentious political climate by appointing a site-selection commission that moved the capital of the republic from old Sam’s namesake city of Houston to a little village on the Colorado River in the wilderness of Central Texas. The builders had only nine months to erect a city in time to house the next legislative session. The new capital, which rose out of the forest was named “Austin,” in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the father of early Texas settlement.

The temporary capitol, a plank-covered building with a dog run separating the two chambers, faced a wide dirt street named Congress Avenue. The other government agencies were placed in even less pretentious blockhouses made of logs cut from the plentiful cedar trees covering the hillsides. The president’s white house was constructed quickly of unseasoned pine from nearby Bastrop and placed on a high hill overlooking the town and the Colorado River coursing below.

One of the early businesses was Mrs. Angelina Eberly’s Boarding House where President Lamar and his cabinet often dined. When Sam Houston won reelection in late 1841 for another two-year term, he took one look at the president’s crumbling house and refused to occupy the structure. The green timbers had dried and warped, causing cracks in the plastered walls and damage to the roof. Instead, President Houston moved into Mrs. Eberly’s Boarding House.

Indians attacked individuals who dared to roam away from the capital. After dark, residents walked at their own risks in the town’s streets. Part of the defense plan included a six-pounder canon, loaded with grapeshot. Sam Houston and his supporters used the Indian threat as one of the arguments for moving the capital away from its location on the western frontier. Finally, when Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5, 1842, Houston moved the Congress to Washington, a tiny village on the Brazos River.

Determined to keep the last symbol of the capital in their town, Austin residents demanded the republic’s 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 up to Kenney’s 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 state capital. In 1850 Texas residents finally voted to officially designate Austin as the Texas capital.

Ever eager to find a good business location, Angelina Eberly moved in 1846 to Lavaca (present Port Lavaca) where she leased Edward Clegg’s Tavern House while she surveyed the coastal area for the best location for her business. Upon seeing nearby Indianola becoming a thriving seaport, she moved down the coast and opened her American 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 Avenue and Seventh Street.

Queen of Weird’s Book Isn’t Kidding

Two books have just been published that will convince nonbelievers that Austin is weird. Howie Richey just wrote Party Weird: Festivals & Fringe Gatherings of Austin. Chapter 3 is called “Aralyn Hughes.” Aralyn

Myra, Aralyn & Howie in the Texas Assoc of Authors tent at the Texas Book Festival

Myra, Aralyn & Howie in the Texas Assoc of Authors tent at the Texas Book Festival

Hughes is the editor of the second book, Kid Me Not.  The article below offers a sample of Aralyn, “The Queen of Weird.”  You will see how Aralyn and Howie  make a lively Austin team.

By John Kelso

It’s hard to have the blues when you chat with Aralyn Hughes. She can tapdance, paint a picture, tell a story, write a book, throw a costume party, drive an art car covered with pigs, remove a chewing gum stain from a pair of pants, and convince women to be their own boss and do what they want.
Aralyn Hughes, known around Austin as the Queen of Weird, just might be Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare.

It’s not her art car or choice in pets that would make his skin itch. The ’88 Oldsmobile Aralyn bought for $500 is covered with pig figurines. Back when the pig car was running, Aralyn would drive around town selling real estate with her pet pig Ara riding shotgun.

“Lots of people who bought from me wanted to ride in the pig car, and the pig to go along,” Aralyn said. “If I lived in Waco or Lubbock, they’d think I was a lunatic. But here in Austin they just wave.”

So what would ruffle some folks’ shorts? Aralyn, who started Austin’s first abortion clinic when she arrived in town in the mid-1970s, has put together a book called “Kid Me Not.” It’s an anthology of thoughtful stories told by 15 women in their 60s who survived the 1960s and decided not to become mothers for various reasons.

There’s the pain of childbirth, the lifelong commitment, pursuing a career instead of a crib, and some women simply aren’t cut out to be Mom. You’ve heard the expression, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That includes the children.

The stories are well told by some successful women, among them CK Car-man, who worked as a bartender, a crop duster and finally a radio and TV broadcaster; Austin writer and horse rancher Lin Sutherland; and Aralyn, who can tap dance, paint and make you laugh.

Aralyn has done nine solo performances that include, among other things, a straightforward marching order: Gals, you’re the boss of your own life, so do what you want and get after it.

Of course, announcing that you’re not fixing to raise a family sometimes brings the look that asks, “What’s your problem?” In her book, Aralyn writes about a friend she helped through childbirth twice. Later, the friend dropped Aralyn like a bad habit.

“When I asked why, she said, ‘Because you don’t have children and don’t want to have children,’” Aralyn writes. “My feelings were hurt beyond measure.”

Some folks won’t appreciate Aralyn’s outrageous humor. There’s the dominatrix outfit she wears in her movie “Love in the Sixties.” And she’s known around town for her costume parties. She once dressed as a pregnant Girl Scout. The pork and beans ensemble was benign by comparison. The pig went as the pork, while Aralyn filled in as the beans.
“People say, ‘You’re going to ruin your reputation,’” she said. “I’m 68 years old. Do you really think I have to worry about my reputation now?”

Aralyn sees herself as a pioneer. She remembers when “the pill” came along and gave women a choice. Aralyn wants young women today to realize who got the ball rolling for them a half-century ago.

“I was told if I wanted to go to college that was fine,” Aralyn said. But there was a caveat. “I was also told I was going for an MRS degree, because all the men I wanted to be married to were in college.”

So Aralyn attended Oklahoma State and got a degree — in home economics. “For gosh sakes, I thought I was going to be the stitch and stir woman,” she said. “I’m also known around town as the stain queen. I can get a stain out of anything.”

Aralyn’s background certainly wasn’t radical. She grew up in Elk City, Okla., an oil town on Route 66 she describes as “a peek and plum town. Take a peek and you’re plum out of town.”

But Elk City wasn’t a hotbed of activism.

“When the church bells tolled, everybody was there,” she said.

Aralyn was a cheerleader in high school and was president of the Tri Delta sorority at Oklahoma State. She married a Navy man, and nine years later, she split the sheets. He wanted kids; she didn’t. She was flamboyant. Apparently he wasn’t.

“He said it looked as if somebody from the circus lived here because my side of the closet was colorful hats and scarves,” she said. “And I just kind of joked that the circus came to town and I just left with it.”

Aralyn jumped into real estate. Then in 2008, when the housing market went sour, she switched gears and took to the stage. She put together nine monologues. “I just got up and told my story.”

Last year, one of her shows made it to New York for a major solo theater festival.

“I’m a person who gives people permission to do what they want, even if they’re getting along in years,” Aralyn said. “How often do you hear people say, ‘I’m saving for a rainy day?’

“Folks, I say the rainy day is here. You’re in your 60s. Get with it.”

John Kelso’s column appears on Sundays in the Austin-American Statesman. Contact him at jkelso@statesman.com or 512-445-3606.

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

Book Signing Invite

9781491709542_COVER.inddTo all you lovers of Texas history who faithfully read my weekly blog, I am sending a very personal invitation to two book signings for Stein House.  If you have been on board for a few months, you already know that Stein House is historical fiction (the history is accurate) set in the thriving Texas seaport of Indianola between 1853 and 1886.

I’ve already written about how I came to tell the story of Helga Heinrich the German immigrant and her children who sail into Indianola determined to overcome the memory and haunting legacy of Max, her husband and their papa, who drowned in a drunken leap from the dock as their ship pulled away from the German port.

The family operates Stein House for boarders of all stripes whose involvement in the rigors of a town on the edge of frontier influences and molds all their lives: the cruelties of yellow fever and slavery, the wrenching choices of Civil War and Reconstruction, murder, alcoholism, and the devastation wrought by the hurricane of 1886.

If you, dear reader, are in Sweden or Australia or India or one of the iced-over states in the U.S., I know you probably can’t make it to the book signings, so here’s my offer:  The publisher of Stein House has given me some free E-book stubs. If you would like to read Stein House, just let me know, and I’ll be tickled to send you the secret code for downloading a copy to one of your electronic devices.

I have ten copies to give away. Of course, I am secretly hoping that you will like Stein House, and that you will write a gentle review, and that you will spread good words about Stein House to your many friends.  If you prefer a real, between the covers copy of Stein House, you can order it by clicking on the link on the right side of this blog.

Meantime, here’s the invite for dear readers who live in this neck of the Texas woods:

 Meet and Greet the Author at Barnes & Noble, Arboretum

10,000 Research Blvd., #158

Austin, TX 78759

Saturday, February 1, 2014

 2 to 4 pm

Meet and Greet the Author at Hastings Books

5206 N. Navarro

Victoria, TX 77901

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Noon to 4 pm

I hope to see you there. 

Houston: The Second Choice

Houston reigns as the largest city in Texas and the fourth largest in the United States, but it hasn’t always enjoyed top billing.

In 1832 brothers Augustus C. and John K. Allen came to Texas from New York and joined a group of land speculators.  During the 1836 Texas War for Independence from Mexico, the Allen brothers outfitted, at their own expense, a ship to guard the Texas coast and to deliver troops and supplies for the Texas army.  Their operation along the coast offered an opportunity to look for a good site for a protected deep-water port.

Some stories claim that after Texas won independence from Mexico in April 1836, the brothers tried to buy land at Texana, a thriving inland port at the headwaters of the Navidad River located between present Houston and Corpus Christi.  Despite a generous offer, the landowner countered with a demand for double the price.  One of the brothers reportedly became so angry that he climbed on a nearby stump and declared, “Never will this town amount to anything.  I curse it.  You people within the sound of my voice will live to see rabbits and other animals inhabiting its streets.”  (Today, Texana rests under an 11,000-acre lake, a recreational reservoir on the Navidad River that is part of Lake Texana State Park.)

Lake Texana State Park

Lake Texana State Park

Soon, the Allen brothers discovered a site on the west bank of Buffalo Bayou, a muddy stream that wound its way for fifty miles to Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  They purchased about 6,500 acres for $9,500 and wisely named the new town for Sam Houston, the hero of the Texas War for Independence and the future president of the republic.  By August 1836 the brothers placed newspaper ads claiming the new town was destined to be the “great interior commercial emporium of Texas.”  The ads also said that ships from New York and New Orleans could sail to the door of Houston and that the site on the Buffalo Bayou offered a healthy, cool sea breeze.  They did not mention the heat and humidity and that Buffalo Bayou was choked with tree branches and logs.

The Allen brothers had the town laid out with wide streets on a grid pattern parallel to the bayou to accommodate their

Original Plan, 1869 map

Original Plan, 1869 map

future port, sold town lots at a brisk rate, and generously donated property for churches and other public institutions. The first small steamship arrived in January 1837 after a fifteen-mile journey that took three days during which passengers helped clear logs and snags from the channel.  The travelers found a “port city” of twelve inhabitants and one log cabin.

The Allen’s slickest advertising ploy turned out to be their bid to get the government of the new Republic of Texas to relocate in Houston by offering to construct, at their own expense, a capitol and to provide buildings for public officials at a modest rental of $75 a month. It worked.  By the time the government moved to Houston in May 1837, the town boasted a whopping population of 1,500 and 100 houses.

When travelers arriving in Houston found food and accommodations in short supply, the Allen brothers opened their large home, free of charge.  Their accountant estimated the hospitality cost the Allen brothers about $3,000 a year, but the expense brought rich returns.

The brother’s deal to provide the capitol and all the official office space carried the stipulation that if the government moved from Houston, the property reverted to the Allen brothers.  In 1839 the Texas government moved again from the bogs along the coastal prairie to Waterloo, a tiny wilderness town on the edge of Comanche country in Central Texas that was renamed Austin.

With the loss of the capital, Houston plunged into financial turmoil that threatened to bankrupt the city.  Multiple yellow fever epidemics hurt the town’s image along with a growing reputation for drunkenness, dueling, brawling, and prostitution.  In the midst of it all Houston welcomed the Masons, Presbyterians and Episcopalians organized churches, and the town became the seat of county government.   Businessmen invested in the cotton trade, small steamboats ferried supplies to and from the thriving seaport at Galveston and enterprising merchants used ox wagons to haul goods to settlers in the interior and to return with cotton and other farm commodities.jackson

Following years of regular dredging and widening of Buffalo Bayou to accommodate larger ships, the Houston Ship Channel finally opened in 1914, creating a world class waterway that helped Houston become the “great interior commercial emporium of Texas” just as the Allen brothers advertised in 1837.BuffaloBayouFile:Houston_Ship_Channel

AUSTIN’S MOONLIGHT TOWERS

From dusk to dawn, travelers entering Austin, especially those heading to the downtown fun spots, often notice sprinkled all over the older part of town clusters of six moon-like lights glowing atop strange metal contraptions.  The 165-foot structures are Austin’s Moonlight Towers.  They started illuminating the central part of the city in 1894 when the City Council traded an unused narrow-gauge railroad to the Fort Wayne Indiana Electric Company for thirty-one of its 5,000-pound towers.  The Moonlight Towers propelled Austin into the modern age of the 1890s along with other cities like Detroit, New Orleans, and San Jose, California.  Today, Austin is the only city in the U.S. continuing to light its streets with Moonlight Towers.

The towers arrived in pieces with assembly specifications requiring that the six carbon arc lamps in each structure spread a 3,000-foot circle of light bright enough to read an ordinary watch on the darkest night.

Guy wires extending over streets and across neighborhoods secure the giant structures.  Originally, each Moonlight Tower connected to its own electric generator at the Colorado River Dam.  Some claim that many residents expected the blue-white lights to wreck havoc with nature, cause crops to grow 24 hours a day and hens to lay eggs around the clock.  Apparently, only a few roosters refused to stop crowing.

Although signs warn against climbing the towers, they have not been altogether safe.  A short time after the lights began operating a workman fell to his death from the top of the tower at 9th and Guadalupe.  In 1930, an 11-year-old boy, on a dare, climbed the tower at Wooldridge Square.  After viewing the city, the boy became dizzy and fell through the inside of the triangular-shaped structure, his body miraculously ricocheting from side-to-side.  He completely recovered in a month.

The city continued modernizing the towers over the years.  Incandescent bulbs operated by switches at the base of each tower replaced the carbon arc lamps in the 1920s.  Mercury vapor lamps were installed in 1936, and during WWII the need to quickly black out the city during air raids led to installing one central switch for all the towers.  In 1993 all the towers underwent a complete overhaul, restoring every bolt, turnbuckle, and guy wire at a cost of $1.3 million.

Several towers have been moved, including the one in Zilker Park, which is strung from its top with extra guy wires to accommodate over 3,300 colored lights fanning out at its base to form a giant Christmas tree.

Although downtown construction forced the removal of two towers, the project manager at Austin Energy says both towers will be reactivated–one at a new location–at the conclusion of Austin’s building boom.  When all the construction dust settles, Austin will boast 17 functioning Moonlight Towers.  Boasting is appropriate for the towers have earned designation as State Archeological Landmarks, and in 1976 the towers won a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the Moonlight Towers send their soft blue light across the city.  Even if alternative lighting proves more efficient, don’t expect Austinites to allow all the old structures to disappear.  They are unique among cities, objects of curiosity, and bring back a romantic memory of days when the towers reigned as both fashion and technological marvels.