Tough Pioneer Woman

School children often read that Jane Long was the “Mother of Texas.” She was a courageous woman who followed her husband when he led a group of filibusterers intent on freeing Texas from Spanish rule. However, many Native American, Mexican women, and several English-

Jane Long

speaking women came to Texas before Jane Long arrived in 1819.

Born in 1798, the youngest of ten children, Jane Herbert Wilkinson lost both her parents by the time she was thirteen. She lived with her sister on a plantation near Natchez, Mississippi, where she met the dashing James Long after he returned from the Battle of New Orleans. They married before her sixteenth birthday, and for several years James Long practiced medicine, operated a plantation, and worked as a merchant in Natchez

James Long, filibusterer

James Long and many of the residents in the Natchez area were unhappy over the Adams-Onís Treaty, in which Spain gave Florida to the United States in exchange for setting the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase at the Sabine River. Initially, they expected, and even Thomas Jefferson stated, that the border should be the Rio Grande, which would have made Texas part of the United States.

Citizens of the United States had already made several filibustering attempts to wrest Texas from Spain when James Long in 1819 was named commander of an expedition financed by subscriptions totaling about $500,000. Over 300 young men volunteered, expecting to receive a league of Texas land in exchange for their service.

When James Long left for Texas, Jane was pregnant and remained behind with their eighteen-month-old daughter, Ann. The second girl, Rebecca, was born on June 16. Twelve days later Jane left with both children and Kian, her young slave girl, to join her husband in Texas. By the time they reached Alexandria, Louisiana, Jane was sick. She left both children and Kian with friends and plunged on, finally reaching Nacogdoches in August.

The citizens of Nacogdoches declared the independence of Texas, organized a provisional government, and named James Long its chief. Supplies did not arrive as expected from Natchez, and Long made a fruitless attempt to persuade the pirate Jean Laffite, who occupied Galveston Island, to provide supplies and men for the expedition. Finally, in October Spanish authorities sent more than 500 troops to Nacogdoches and drove the Long Expedition out of Texas.

As they fled to Louisiana, the Longs learned of the death of their baby, Rebecca. Undeterred by his failure, Long organized a new expedition. By March 1820, he took Jane, their daughter Ann, and the slave girl Kian with him to Bolivar Peninsula that extended into Galveston Bay across from the eastern end of Galveston Island. Long organized his forces at Fort Las Casas on Point Bolivar and continued to court the elusive Jean Laffite.

In later years, when Jane recounted her experience on Bolivar Peninsula, she claimed that she dined privately with Laffite to get his support for her husband’s expedition. She also said that she made a flag, which she called “The Lone Star” for Long’s troops to carry with them.

Finally, in September 1821, Long and fifty-two men sailed to La Bahía (present Goliad) with plans to capture the town. In the meantime, Mexico won its independence from Spain and had no intention to allow citizens from the United States to take Texas. Long held La Bahía for only four days before Mexican forces overpowered his troops, marched them to Mexico City and killed Long.

Jane, who was expecting another baby, had promised her husband that she would wait for him with several others families at Fort Las Casas on Bolivar Peninsula. After a month, the food supply ran low, and the Karankawa Indians in the area were increasingly unfriendly. The families began to leave, but Jane insisted on waiting for her husband until she, her daughter Ann and Kian were all who remained at the fort. With the help of Kian, Jane gave birth to daughter Mary James on December 21, 1821, at a time when it was so cold that Galveston Bay froze.

In early 1822, an immigrant family arrived, and Jane reluctantly moved with them up the San Jacinto River. The following summer, she received word that James Long was dead, and she returned to Louisiana. After her baby Mary James died in 1824, Jane Long returned to Texas and received a league of land in Stephen F. Austin’s Colony. Family tradition says that many of Texas’ leaders courted Jane including Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Ben Milam, and Mirabeau B. Lamar. She refused all their proposals, remaining loyal to James Long—the love of her life. After living several years in San Felipe, the headquarters of Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she opened a boarding house in Brazoria.

The Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation, which maintains Jane Long’s memorabilia, states that Jane held a ball at her boarding house in Brazoria when Stephen F. Austin returned in 1835 from prison in Mexico. It was at the ball that Austin made his first speech favoring Texas independence from Mexico. The foundation claims that during the Texas Revolution in 1836 Jane fled Brazoria ahead of the advancing Mexican Army and that she saved the papers of Mirabeau Lamar, which included his original history of Texas.

In 1837, at the age of thirty-nine, Jane Long moved to her league of land, part of which she sold to developers for the town of Richmond. She opened another boarding house and ran a plantation with the help of twelve slaves. At the beginning of the Civil War, Jane owned nineteen slaves and 2,000 acres valued at $13,300. After the war, she worked her land with tenant farmers. When her daughter Ann died in 1870, the value of Jane’s estate had diminished to $2,000. Jane Long died at her grandson’s home on December 30, 1880.

Today, the Bolivar Peninsula Cultural Foundation has dedicated a Jane Long Memorial on Bolivar Peninsula, which consists of a monument, Texas historical markers, and three flags—the United States, the Texas, and the Jane Long flag.

Jane Long Memorial, Bolivar Peninsula

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SAGA OF A PIONEER WOMAN

The story that places Margaret Leatherbury Hallett in early Texas merits being called a “legend” because not every part of her saga meets the truth test. Born on Christmas Day 1787, she was the youngest daughter of a prominent Virginia family and probably the feistiest.

At eighteen she fell in love with John Hallett, a merchant seaman—not exactly the pedigree her parents planned for their daughter. One account says that John was the youngest son of a gentleman from Worcester, England. At an early age, he joined the Royal Navy, but when an officer threatened him, he jumped overboard and swam to a nearby American ship. Allowed to stay on board, he was brought to the United States and adopted by a merchant seaman. Either Margaret’s family did not know his history or they did not care, because it is said that when they insisted that she could do better than a seaman, she said “I would rather marry John Hallett and be the beginning of a new family than remain single and be the tail-end of an old one.” Whereupon she left for the Chesapeake Bay area, and a chaplain married the couple onboard ship.

Margaret and John lived in Baltimore for several years, and after John fought in the War of 1812 against his former countrymen, one of the accounts says that he and Margaret joined a wagon train of homesteaders heading west. The West to which this story refers was still part of Spain’s colonial empire and the Mexicans were involved in a war for independence from Spain (1810 to 1821), which makes it unlikely that homesteaders were heading to that region. It is far more likely that John took his wife aboard a ship that sailed through the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Rio Grande. Again, the legend needs checking because it says the couple settled in Matamoros, a Mexican port across the Rio Grande from present Brownsville. The village where they settled was a commercial center used by area cattlemen that did not get named Matamoros for another ten years. It’s still an amazing account since they opened a mercantile business in the Spanish Colonial village while Mexicans were fighting for independence from Spain. During that time, their first two sons were born in 1813 and 1815.

The family moved up to the community surrounding the Presidio La Bahía that was known as Goliad and opened a trading post. A third son, Benjamin, and a daughter, Mary Jane, were born at Goliad. Something happened to Benjamin when he was ten; some accounts say Indians carried him off, but no record of the incident survives. In 1833 John acquired a league (4,428 acres) of land from the Stephen F. Austin Colony on the east bank of the Lavaca River in present Lavaca County. The family continued operating the trading post at Goliad while John took workers with him to build a log cabin on their new property, dig a water well and protect the property with a moat around the cabin that was five feet wide and three feet deep. (The moat is never mentioned again in any of the accounts.) The family remained in Goliad and John continued to travel to their new land until his death, probably in early 1836.

After the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, Margaret and her daughter Mary Jane fled in the Runaway Scrap with all the other families escaping Santa Anna’s advancing army. Upon their return, they found their property destroyed and set about rebuilding and replanting. The two oldest sons fought at San Jacinto on April 21 in the battle that won Texas independence from Mexico. The oldest son, John, Jr., returned home after the war and was killed by Indians. That same year, his brother William went to Matamoros to buy land where he was accused of being a spy and sent to prison where he died.

Margaret, a forty-nine-year-old widow, and her daughter Mary Jane were the only survivors, and when a young man, Colatinus Ballard, rode into Goliad to let Margaret and Mary Jane know that settlers were moving onto the property they owned up on the Lavaca River, the two left immediately for their cabin. Upon arriving they met two friendly Tonkawa Indians and their new white neighbors who told stories of constant Comanche attacks. Margaret called a meeting of the settlers and the Tonkawas who agreed that they must go to San Antonio to seek help from Texas Rangers to rid the land of the raiding Comanches. Margaret prepared food for the trip and issued instructions for the best route. Within two weeks the Rangers had cleared the Comanches from the area.

As more settlers arrived, Margaret stocked her cabin with supplies and began operating a trading post, bartering coffee, sugar, and other merchandise with the Tonkawas and her new neighbors in exchange for hides and pelts. She hauled the hides and pelts to nearby Gonzales to trade for corn, which she planted as a crop and began raising cattle and horses that carried her own brand.

One legend says that some Tonkawas came into her trading post asking for free merchandise (same say whiskey). When she refused, one of the Indians began to help himself, and Margaret hit the Indian on the head with a hatchet raising a large knot. When Chief Lolo came to investigate the incident, he was so impressed with Margaret’s independence that he named her “Brave Squaw” and made her an honorary member of the tribe.

Despite being a widow, Margaret never wore black, instead preferring brightly colored clothing. She also wore a chatelaine bag––a purse like affair––that hung by a chain from her waist. Gossips claimed that she carried powder in that bag, and it was not the kind that required a puff. Apparently, no one had the nerve to ask what was in the bag.

Margaret donated land in 1838 near her trading post for a town, which was named Hallettsville in her honor. She built a new house in the town and when the legislature of the Republic of Texas authorized a new county named La Baca (it later became Lavaca) Margaret opened her home for county and district court sessions. When the time came to select the county seat, the older town of Petersburg claimed the honor. Some stories claim that after two elections failed to secure Hallettsville as the county seat, Margaret Hallett sent an oxcart to Petersburg to retrieve the county records, and that settled the matter.

Although Mary Jane attended a private convent, Margaret gave the land in 1852 to establish the town’s first public school, and she helped organize the Alma Male and Female Institute. Mary Jane married Colatinus Ballard, the young man who had ridden all the way to Goliad to warn Margaret that settlers were moving onto her league of land. One story claims that Ballard, a native Virginian, was the first cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Margaret Leatherbury Hallett died in 1863 at the age of seventy-six and was buried on her league. Her remains were later moved to City Memorial Park and a grave marker placed on the site that names her the founder of Hallettsville.

Marker for Margaret Hallett in City Memorial Park, Hallettsville.