receive a lot of mail, much of it deservedly destined for the trash
can. Fortunately, whoever opened the letter from New York that came
to the Austin Statesman sometime in January 1920 had the good sense
to realize it contained something worthy of attention.
The letter came from Scott Farley, a 60-year-old news editor for
the Buffalo Commercial. He had enclosed a letter written in Austin
on April 20, 1840 by his father and sent to one of his uncles in
New York. Its inked script faded brown by time, the letter captured
issues and sentiments of the day.
Horace H. Farley, then 27, was replying to a letter he had received
from his brother, a missive he noted had taken three months and
13 days to get from the Empire State to the capital city of the
Republic of Texas.
Farley started off by telling his brother that he was just getting
over a case of the fever, “brought on by my own carelessness in
exposing myself to the inclemency of the weather.”
The “hello, how are you?” formalities out of the way, Farley said
he had been planning to take a trip home that summer, but could
not afford it on account of the low value of Texas currency. Reckoning
it would take “nigh up a cord” of Texas money to fund a three-month
journey to the United States, Farley pointed out that Texas dollars
were worth about a quarter each in New Orleans.
Texas would quit printing its own money when it joined the Union
in 1845, but some things don’t change, particularly Austin’s
“We have had a very mild winter,” Farley wrote, “not a particle
of snow has been seen, and but little of the cold rains which are
common in the winter here. On the contrary, it has been what one
would call beautiful spring weather all the winter season.”
in Central Texas may have been mild that year, but not the Indians.
“We are in the immediate vicinity of Indians and they are constantly
on the lookout for some person wandering from the settlements alone,”
Farley wrote. “They have also come within the limits of our corporation
[city] at several different times, stolen our horses and murdered
two or three of our citizens.”
Texas had proclaimed its independence from Mexico four years earlier
and fought and won a revolution to achieve it, but as far as Mexico
was concerned, Texas was still one of its provinces.
“Rumor says that the Mexican government now has an invading army
on the march for this little republic...but the report is not generally
believed,” Farley continued. Mexico was busy trying to put down
other sectional rebellions and was not likely to try to retake Texas
any time soon. (Two years later, Mexico did make a mild slap at
it, but after briefly occupying San
Antonio, a modest invading force retreated back across the Rio
“So much for Indians and war!” Farley said, turning to the prospect
for a fine agricultural crop that year. Corn was high and cotton
coming right along, he said.
Farley, who must have been older than his brother, offered a mild
lecture on the importance of education and urged him to “be a little
more careful about making mistakes, blotting your paper, spelling
words wrong and making capital letters in the wrong place, etc.”
The Austin daily published the letter, omitting only a number of
messages to Farley’s parents, relatives and friends.
The New Yorker did not leave particularly deep tracks in Texas,
at least that have come to light.
It is known that Farley took part in the ill-fated Santa
Fe expedition a year after he wrote the letter to his brother.
Three hundred twenty men left Austin
in June 1841 to assert Texas's claimed control of much of New Mexico
and more important, to establish trade between the republic and
Santa Fe. But the effort was badly planned and even more poorly
executed. Those who survived attacks by Kiowas ended up being captured
by the Mexican army and marched 2,000 miles to prison in Mexico
Thanks largely to diplomatic efforts on the part of the United States,
the Mexican government freed the Texans in April 1842. At some point,
Farley returned to New York where he was a school superintendent
for many years. He died in Union Springs, N.Y. in a railroad accident
in 1885. The one-time Texas resident is buried in Union Springs'
Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
Who knows what the Austin newspaper did with the original letter?
Surely someone had the foresight to give it to the University of
Texas library or some other institution. But at least the newspaper
published it, saving its contents for posterity.
© Mike Cox
- February 26, 2016 Column
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