Memories of a Pioneer Woman

Thanks to the stories that Elizabeth Owens told her daughters, we know about life in South Texas during some of its most turbulent times

Elizabeth was two years old in 1829 when her stepfather, James Quinn, moved the family from New Jersey to Texas as part of McGloin-McMullen’s Irish Colony. While the group of fifty-three families camped on Copano Bay near present Rockport, Elizabeth’s baby sister became the colonists’ first death, perhaps from cholera that spread through the settlers and followed them as they traveled inland to the old Spanish Mission Nuestra Señora del Refugio.

Elizabeth’s family remained near Refugio and began farming. She and her brother Thomas always carried lunch to James Quinn when he worked in his fields. One time, Elizabeth said a drunk Indian caught Thomas and terrified the children by saying the sweetest morsel ever known was a white man’s heart. Elizabeth ran for help, and her stepfather used an ax to strike the Indian more than once before he released the boy.

In 1835, the family acquired from the De León Colony a league of land (4,428 acres) outside Victoria. The following year, Elizabeth witnessed a Tancahua Indian Scalp Dance on Victoria’s Market Square in celebration of the tribe outwitting the Karankawas. Elizabeth explained that the warlike Karankawas had asked the peaceful Tancahuas for help attacking the aristocratic and refined Mexican family of Don Martín De León the empresario who had founded the colony. Instead of joining the attack, the Tancahuas cut the Karankawas’ bow strings, killed thirteen members of the tribe, and carried the scalps stuck atop their spears, to Mrs. De León as a gesture of their friendship. Mrs. De León expressed her gratitude with a huge feast for the Tancahua and that is when Elizabeth, a nine-year-old, witnessed the Scalp Dance.

When war clouds built up for Texas independence, James Quinn joined a company that made the twenty-five-mile trip to La Bahía, to defend the presidio from Mexican attack. Elizabeth and her mother went to a nearby home where the women molded bullets for their husbands. With the approach of the large Mexican Army, James Quinn and other men rushed home to move their families to safety. However, Quinn discovered that his oxen had roamed away, which meant the Quinns and two other families could not leave.

They listened to the sound of the cannons fifteen miles away during the battle between James Fannin’s troops and General Urrea’s Army. A man arrived on horseback carrying a message for Colonel Fannin, but when he heard the cannon fire, he stayed with the Quinns. Startled at nearby gunfire, the messenger rushed to his horse and galloped away only to be discovered and shot.

General Urrea’s army accepted Fannin’s surrender and reached Victoria with great fanfare, parading through the streets to the sound of their bugles and drums. A Mexican officer took possession of Quinns’ front room. Although their home was constructed of adobe and had only three rooms with dirt floors, it was one of the more comfortable houses in town. Elizabeth said that ironically, the officer’s presence saved the family. A group of Mexican soldiers banged on the door with their muskets, but when the wife of the Mexican officer opened the door, the startled Mexicans quickly withdrew.

Elizabeth says that Señora Alvarez, the woman known as “The Angle of Goliad,” because she saved several of the Texans before the massacre, was the wife of a Mexican colonel. Despite stories of his abandoning her when he heard that she had rescued some of the young Texans at Goliad, she came to Victoria with her husband. Seven men who escaped the massacre rushed into Victoria, unaware that it was occupied by Mexican troops. They attempted to enter the Quinn home, and when Elizabeth’s mother exclaimed that they would all be killed if the Texans were found there, the men ran back into the yard where Mexican soldiers killed three of them. The other four were imprisoned in one of the homes. Elizabeth’s mother bribed a guard to let her son Thomas take food each day to the prisoners. A new guard discovered the boy delivering food and choked him severely.

When the Mexicans moved the four Texan prisoners to Market Square for execution, Señora Alvarez threw herself in front of the Texans, spreading her huge skirts out before them and protesting that she too would be shot. That halted the execution, and the four men were released after Texas won its independence from Mexico.

Despite Santa Anna’s surrender, a rumor spread that the Mexican Army had reorganized and was heading to Victoria. The family loaded a small cart and began their journey northward with a Mr. Blanco and his son. They crossed a creek and the Lavaca River before they reached a ferry on the mile-wide, swift-running Navidad. When their turn came to board the ferry, it tipped and threw them into the water. Elizabeth grabbed a partially submerged tree and clung to it. Mr. Blanco’s son disappeared under the water, but Mr. Blanco spotted Elizabeth’s white cap and pulled her to safety. Mr. Blanco’s son became the only casualty.

Many times, impending Indian attacks or fears of a Mexican army sent the women and children to the protection of a blockhouse; other times they crossed the Navidad River, even spending the entire winter of 1836-37 away from Victoria.

When they returned home, the Quinns found their house reduced to ashes. It happened when Texan soldiers mistook a herd of deer on a hillside for the Mexican Army and ordered all the houses burned except those that surrounded the town square. They saved the houses on the square for the soldiers’ use. That winter the family lived in the church with other families. They hung partitions for privacy.

In 1840 Comanches, who felt betrayed by whites in an incident at San Antonio’s Council House, swept down across Texas in what became known as the Great Comanche Raid. When they reached Victoria, they killed several and terrorized the town before moving on down to the port of Linnville, which they completely destroyed.

At seventeen, Elizabeth married Richard Owens, a New York native who had arrived in time to serve in the Army of the Republic of Texas. He became a very successful building contractor, freighter, merchant, and mayor of Victoria. Elizabeth worked as a community leader and raised their twelve children.

During the Civil War, Elizabeth and her daughters sewed the regimental flag for Col. Robert Garland’s Sixth Texas Infantry. Using material from Richard Owens’ mercantile store, they selected red Merino wool for the background and white silk fringe for the border. A large blue

From Home Page of Co “K”, 6th TX Infantry reenactment group

shield with twelve white stars circling a larger star represented the Lone Star State. The regiments’ name showed in white silk letters.

Before Elizabeth McAnulty Owens died in 1905, she shared the stories of her life adventures with her daughters, and in 1936 they published Elizabeth-McAnulty-Owens, The Story of her Life.

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The First Grand Mansion on the Texas Coast

Today Fulton Mansion would be called the empty-nest home of George W. Fulton and Harriet Gillette Smith since at the time of its construction the Fulton’s six children were already grown. In 1877 when the 3 ½-story, nineteen-room Second Empire style mansion rose along

Fulton Mansion

Fulton Mansion

the shore of Aransas Bay, it was the grandest house on the Texas coast, and the Fultons, with the help of seven servants, entertained lavishly in their elegant new home.

Fulton, like his cousin Robert Fulton of steamboat fame, was a brilliant engineer and used his skills to design a house with features that were rare for that time—hot and cold running water, gas lights, a refrigeration system, central heat, and flush toilets. Despite sitting only yards from Aransas Bay, the Fulton Mansion withstood massive storms, including the 1919 hurricane and ten-foot tidal wave that destroyed most structures in the area. Fulton designed a shellcrete (a form of concrete made from the plentiful local shell) foundation. Walls, both inside and out, were made of one-by-ten-inch pine boards stacked side-by-side to form a solid ten-inch-thick frame. Shellcrete filled in between every fourth or fifth board in the floors creating a structure as stable as a grain elevator.

Fulton could afford to construct the house, which cost about $l00,000, because of his wife’s inherited land and his own entrepreneurial spirit. Fulton, born in 1810, had worked in Indiana as a schoolteacher, watchmaker, and creator of mathematical instruments until he organized a company to fight in the Texas Revolution. He arrived too late for the action, but Fulton joined the Army of the Republic of Texas in 1837 and for his service received 1,280 acres. Fulton worked for the General Land Office, which introduced him to the legal maneuvering necessary to acquire land. In 1840 he married Harriet who was the daughter of Henry Smith, governor of Texas for a short time in 1835 before the war for independence from Mexico. After Smith failed to win the presidency of the new Republic of Texas, he continued to serve in several government positions, to purchase land along the coast, and to promote the development of his property.

Meantime, George Fulton and Harriet left Texas and spent the next twenty years in Ohio and in Baltimore where they raised and educated their children. After Harriet’s father died and the Fultons returned to Texas and cleared the titles on Smith’s coastal land. Using his knowledge of land titles, Fulton purchased acreage and combined with the land Harriet inherited from her father, Fulton owned 25,000 acres. After joining with partners in the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, the holdings peaked at 265,000 acres, creating one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. The lavish lifestyle that ensued from the business allowed the partners to live like cattle barons and the Fultons to build their grand mansion.

Much of the partners’ wealth came from the hide and tallow factories lining the shore of Aransas Bay near the Fulton’s home. Hundreds of thousands of cattle and mustangs were slaughtered and their carcasses reduced to tallow in great boilers. The hides were cured and shipped along with the tallow, bones, and horns on waiting steamers headed for the U.S. east coast.

Ever the inventor, Fulton received a U.S. patent for shipping beef using artificial cooling and for a steam engine modification. He introduced new livestock breeds that are still prevalent in Texas. Before barbed wire became available, the company used smooth wire to fence some of the ranges. A wooden plank fence enclosed one 2,000-acre pasture near present Rockport. Fulton gave land for the railroad, and towns—Sinton, Gregory, Portland, and Taft—were laid out on the company’s vast holdings.

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

Parlor, Fulton Mansion

The most elegant of Fulton’s achievements, which survives today, is the Fulton Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a house museum by the Texas Historical Commission.

Lindheimer, Father of Texas Botany

Texas rat snake

Texas rat snake

If you have heard of the Texas prickly pear, the Texas yellow star daisy, milkweed and loco weed, or the Texas rat snake, you may be surprised to know all five derive their scientific name from Ferdinand Jacob Lindheimer—a botanist who scoured the wilds of Texas in the 1830s

Frederich Lindheimer, Botanist

Frederich Lindheimer, Botanist

and 40s to discover several hundred new plant species.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear

Raised in a wealthy German family and university educated, Lindheimer taught at Frankfurt’s Bunsen Institute where he became affiliated with a group seeking government reforms. Finding himself at risk for his political associations, which alienated him from his family, he fled to the United States. Lindheimer settled first in Illinois where he joined some of his former German colleagues. From there, he went to a German group on a plantation near Vera Cruz, Mexico, where he began his lifelong fascination with collecting plants and insects.

Excited by reports of the Texas Revolution in 1836, Lindheimer joined a company of volunteers heading to Texas. They missed the action, however, arriving the day after the final battle at San Jacinto. For the next year Lindheimer served in the Texas army.

At the invitation of George Engelmann, a botanist and friend from Frankfurt, Lindheimer traveled to St. Louis where he agreed to collect plant specimens in Texas for Engelmann and Asa Gray, a Harvard botanist. Lindheimer roamed the Texas coast and hill country for nine years with his botanical cart and his dogs, collecting plants, which he identified, dried, and shipped to Englemann at the Missouri Botanic Gardens and Asa Gray at Harvard.

When a group of German noblemen organized the Adelsverein in 1844 with a plan to settle immigrants in Texas, Lindheimer helped their leader Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels find the settlement site, which became New Braunfels, at the confluence of the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. Prince Carl awarded Lindheimer with a piece of property high above the Comal River in New Braunfels where Lindheimer built his home.

Lindheimer collected his first specimen of the nonvenomous Texas rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta lindheimeri) in New Braunfels. Reaching lengths of more than six feet, the Texas rat snake consumes large quantities of rodents, birds, frogs and lizards.

Because of his years roaming through Texas, Lindheimer held the respect of area Indians and occasionally hosted Santana, war chief of the Comanche, in his home.

After he married and began raising a family of four children, Lindheimer gave up his travels in 1852 and for the next twenty years served as editor and then publisher of the German-language New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. He also ran a private school for gifted children and served as the first justice of the peace for Comal County.

Believing a lack of bees needed to pollinate the fruit in the area accounted for the low fruit production, Lindheimer convinced Wilhelm Brückisch, a scientific beekeeper from Silesia (Prussia) to come to Texas. Brückisch arrived with his wife, three sons, two daughters, and several hives of Italian black bees and settled across the Guadalupe River from New Braunfels. Credited as the first person in Texas to begin the commercialization of bees, Brückisch established an apiary on the river and published numerous books and articles on beekeeping.

As rumblings of secession from the United States grew in intensity, Lindheimer is credited with keeping down much of the discontent felt in other German communities with his editorials admonishing his German readers opposing the Civil War to support the Confederacy as a means of maintaining regional stability. Historians say his postwar writings indicate his true loyalty lay with the Union.

Lindheimer died in 1879 and is buried in New Braunfels. Today, the Lindheimer home on the banks of the Comal River serves as a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors see framed botanical specimens, the sword given to Lindheimer by Prince Carl, the family Bible published in 1701, Lindheimer’s desk, and several pieces of furniture made by some of the New Braunfels cabinet makers.

Frederich Lindheimer House Museum, New Braunfels

Frederich Lindheimer House Museum, New Braunfels

At least twenty institutions hold Lindheimer’s plant collections, including the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the British Museum, the Durand Herbarium and Museum of Natural History in Paris, and the Komarov Botanic Institute in St. Petersburg.

Stephen F. Austin, “Father of Texas”

Stephen F. Austin fits the image of a reluctant father. He came to Spanish Texas in response to his own father, Moses Austin’s, deathbed wish for Stephen to continue with Moses’ dream of settling 300 families in Texas. Like many apprehensive fathers, Stephen F. Austin austin1embraced his responsibilities and spent the remainder of his life guiding his colony and all of Texas toward its best opportunity for success.

Austin understood and admired the adventurous, hard-working settlers willing to move to a wilderness and carve out a new life because he grew up around the French Canadian, Spanish, and American mine workers in the primitive, lead mining towns his father founded in western Virginia and Spanish Louisiana (present Southeast Missouri). Unlike Moses Austin whose quick temper and need to challenge those with whom he disagreed, Stephen embraced patience, tact, willingness to compromise, and the diplomacy necessary to work with the independent-minded settlers and with the tangles of Spanish and Mexican government bureaucracy.

Stephen reached San Antonio in August 1821, secured authority to continue with Moses Austin’s colonization grant, and arranged for allocating 640 acres for each man, plus 320 acres for a wife, 160 acres for each child, and eighty acres for each slave at a cost of twelve and a half cents per acre to be paid to Austin for administering the surveys and expenses of establishing the colony.

Settlers eagerly grabbed the land offer as Austin scrambled to find financial partners. From the beginning of his colony, Austin insisted all land grants be carefully recorded in bound volumes to preserve a permanent record—a wise decision in light of the news of Mexico finally winning its long battle for independence from Spain.

The first test of Austin’s diplomatic prowess came in December 1821—the first settlers were already arriving—when Mexican authorities refused to approve the terms of Austin’s Spanish land grant.

He left immediately for Mexico City, and after patient negotiation, the Mexican government established a new empresarial policy offering each married man a league of land (4,428 acres) and opened colonization to several more empresarios, agents like Austin who received permission to bring settlers into Texas. The law denied empresarios the right to charge administrative fees, providing instead 67,000 acres for settling each 200 families. However, empresarios received their payment in land only after settling all the families. Imagine trying to sell land to colonists that were getting it free in Mexican grants.

Despite the loss of administrative fees and personal debts mounting as he bore more and more of the unforeseen costs of establishing the Austin Colony, by late 1825, Austin’s colony reached 300 families—known today as the “Old Three Hundred.” Between 1825 and 1829, Austin settled an additional 900 families.

Dealing with the Mexican government required constant compromise. The slavery issue presented a continuing challenge since most settlers came from slave-holding states and the original colonization law allowed them to bring their chattel into Texas. When the new constitution of the state of Coahuila and Texas prohibited slave importation, an uproar spread through the colony. Austin’s personal beliefs (he owned a slave woman he described as old and not worth anything) seemed to shift. As with other issues that he felt represented the best interest of the colonists, he negotiated a scheme allowing settlers to free their slaves at the Texas border and make them indentured servants for an indefinite time.

Recognizing the plight of many colonists who came to Texas without paying their debts in the United States, Austin secured a law closing the courts for twelve years to debt collectors and permanently exempting land, tools, and implements used in business and farming from creditors—an early version of the homestead exemption law.

Austin located his colony in fertile farmlands with access to transportation along the Colorado and Brazos rivers, and then lobbied the Mexican congress to legalize the port of Galveston and to allow trade through ports at the mouth of the Brazos and other rivers.

Despite Austin’s efforts to ease tensions between the differing cultures and remain aloof from Mexican government intrigues by encouraging the colonists to “play the turtle, head and feet within our own shells,” outside forces kept Mexican officials on the defensive. Several offers from President Andrew Jackson for the United States to buy Texas drew Mexican suspicion that the U.S. was plotting to take Texas, which resulted in an 1830 Mexican law halting further colonization by settlers from the United States. Again, Austin wrangled an exemption for his and for Green DeWitt’s colony, and by the following year succeeded in getting the law repealed.

However, when Haden Edwards, in an effort to win Texas independence from Mexico tried to drag Austin’s beloved colonists into the Fredonian Rebellion in late 1826, Austin sent a militia to put down the revolt and save his settlers from the wrath of the Mexican government.

The colonists’ dissatisfaction with Mexican President Anastacio Bustamente’s heavy-handed immigration controls and introduction of tariffs finally led to Austin joining the colonists in supporting Antonio López de Santa Anna in the Mexican presidential elections. Santa Anna soon proved not to be the liberal leader of his campaign, but a dictator who clamped down on the increasingly independent-minded colonists.

Austin did not favor the conventions held in 1832 and 1833 to express Texan grievances, and believed they would not serve the colonists’ best interests, but he attended each event hoping to moderate the actions of the increasingly rebellious settlers. Despite his efforts to temper the resolutions, the delegates, even those who disagreed with Austin, recognized his influence with the Mexican authorities, and elected him to present their petitions of grievance to the government in Mexico City.

Austin’s negotiations resulted in important reforms, but as he headed back to Texas, Santa Anna ordered him arrested and held until July 1835—an absence from Texas of twenty-eight months. During that time Austin recognized that independence would be the only answer for Texas.

Strong factions organized a consultation to begin the process of declaring independence. The consultation delegates selected Austin and two other men as emissaries to the United States to solicit loans and volunteers and to arrange credit for munitions and other equipment, including warships. The men were also charged with getting a commitment of recognition of Texas independence and eventual annexation to the United States.

By the time Austin returned to Texas in June 1836, the celebrated Battle of San Jacinto on April 21 had decisively won the Texas war for independence from Mexico.

Austin “offered his services” as president of the republic in the September election, but it was not to be. Sam Houston, the man who marched across Texas with the army, the flamboyant general who led the troops in the winning Battle of San Jacinto, won the contest. President Houston appointed the quiet and unassuming Austin to the office for which he was well suited—Secretary of State.

Despite failing health and no money to heat his tiny office and living quarters, Austin worked diligently to set up the state department of the new Republic of Texas. As he lay near death with pneumonia on December 27, 1836, he roused from a dream with these last words: “The independence of Texas is recognized. Didn’t you see it in the papers?”

Austin died at age 43 without knowing his beloved Texas, which he nurtured and guided with such patience, would become the twenty-eighth state to enter the Union, and that annexation would trigger the Mexican War (1846-48). Like dominoes falling across the historic landscape, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending that conflict stretched the United States borders to the Pacific Ocean, adding nearly a million square miles and increasing the size of the nation by almost one third.

Father of German Immigrants

Many early Texas settlers escaped a past that they preferred forgetting.  Johann Friedrich Ernst not only turned his back on his past, he changed his name and became such an outstanding German Texan that he earned the title of “Father of the Immigrants.”

Born in 1796 as Christian Friedrich Dirks (or Dierks), the future Texan began a five-year service in 1814 in the Duke of Oldenburg’s regiment, rising to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and earning a medallion for participating in the campaign against Napoleon. After five years of military service, the duke made Dirks clerk at the post office. (Some accounts claim he served as head gardener for the Duke of Oldenburg.)  In September 1829, apparently aware he was about to be charged by the duke with embezzling a large sum of money from the post office, Dirks took the name Ernst and fled Germany with his wife and five children.

The family settled first in New York where they operated a boarding house and became friends with Charles Fordtran a tanner from Westphalia, Germany.  Fordtran and the Ernst family made plans to settle in Missouri but as they sailed up the Mississippi River they heard of the free land available in Texas and changed their destination.  Arriving in Galveston on March 9, 1831, Ernst applied as a family man for a league of land (4,428 acres) from the Mexican government in the fertile rolling hills between present Houston and Austin.  Fordtran, as a single man received an adjoining quarter league.

Ernst did not reach Texas prepared for a pioneer life.  He did not know how to build a cabin, hated guns, and owned so little farming equipment that he was forced to use a hoe to break the soil for planting.  Still, he was so pleased with his new life of political freedom, good climate, and limitless opportunities that he wrote a glowing letter to his friend in Oldenburg describing the wonderful life that Texas offered.  The account received wide publicity throughout Germany, prompting many Germans to follow him to the new land.  Ernst and family welcomed the newcomers to their home, even loaning money to help many of the immigrants get started.

Apparently overwhelmed by the size of his land holdings, Ernst traded 1,000 acres for a dozen milk cows.  As Germans settled in the area around Ernst, they followed his lead and began growing corn, a crop and diet source totally unfamiliar to the immigrants.  Ernst also introduced tobacco growing and made cigars, which he marketed in Houston, Galveston, and nearby San Felipe.  He even kept records of the rainfall and temperature at his farm.

He sold pieces of his land as town-size lots to establish in 1838 the community of Industry, the first German town in Texas.  The source of the town’s name came from either the industriousness of its citizens or Ernst’s cigar industry.

Despite efforts of German noblemen in the mid-1840s that brought thousands of German settlers to Texas, Industry still carries the title of “Cradle of German Settlement in Texas.”  The 2010 census lists a population of 304.

Father of the Immigrants

Many early Texas settlers escaped a past that they preferred forgetting.  Johann Friedrich Ernst not only turned his back on his past, he changed his name and became such an outstanding German Texan that he earned the title of “Father of the Immigrants.”

Born in 1796 as Christian Friedrich Dirks (or Dierks), the future Texan began a five-year service in 1814 in the Duke of Oldenburg’s regiment, rising to the rank of quartermaster sergeant and earning a medallion for participating in the campaign against Napoleon. After five years of military service, the duke made Dirks clerk at the post office. (Some accounts claim he served as head gardener for the Duke of Oldenburg.)  In September 1829, apparently aware he was about to be charged by the duke with embezzling a large sum of money from the post office, Dirks took the name Ernst and fled Germany with his wife and five children.

The family settled first in New York where they operated a boarding house and became friends with Charles Fordtran a tanner from Westphalia, Germany.  Fordtran and the Ernst family made plans to settle in Missouri but as they sailed up the Mississippi River they heard of the free land available in Texas and changed their destination.  Arriving in Galveston on March 9, 1831, Ernst applied as a family man for a league of land (4,428 acres) from the Mexican government in the fertile rolling hills between present Houston and Austin.  Fordtran, as a single man received an adjoining quarter league.

Ernst did not reach Texas prepared for a pioneer life.  He did not know how to build a cabin, hated guns, and owned so little farming equipment that he was forced to use a hoe to break the soil for planting.  Still, he was so pleased with his new life of political freedom, good climate, and limitless opportunities that he wrote a glowing letter to his friend in Oldenburg describing the wonderful life that Texas offered.  The account received wide publicity throughout Germany, prompting many Germans to follow him to the new land.  Ernst and family welcomed the newcomers to their home, even loaning money to help many of the immigrants get started.

Apparently overwhelmed by the size of his land holdings, Ernst traded 1,000 acres for a dozen milk cows.  As Germans settled in the area around Ernst, they followed his lead and began growing corn, a crop and diet source totally unfamiliar to the immigrants.  Ernst also introduced tobacco growing and made cigars, which he marketed in Houston, Galveston, and nearby San Felipe.  He even kept records of the rainfall and temperature at his farm.

He sold pieces of his land as town-size lots to establish in 1838 the community of Industry, the first German town in Texas.  The source of the town’s name came from either the industriousness of its citizens or Ernst’s cigar industry.

Despite efforts of German noblemen in the mid-1840s that brought thousands of German settlers to Texas, Industry still carries the title of “Cradle of German Settlement in Texas.”  The 2010 census lists a population of 304.