gilded lettering on the cover is faded, and the green cloth binding bears some
staining, but my copy of a Congressional document with the typically governmental
title of “Proceedings of the House of Representatives on the Occasion of the Reception
and Acceptance from the State of Texas of the Statutes of Sam Houston and Stephen
F. Austin – February 25, 1905” is still quite readable after more than a century.
Forty years prior to the document’s publication, on July 2, 1864, Congress
passed an act to turn the original House chamber into a hall of statuary, with
each state able to contribute only two statutes, the same number of senators it
can have. To be made of either marble or bronze, the statues were to honor figures
“illustrious for their historic renown or from distinguished civic or military
As of early 1905, only 20 states had furnished statues for
the hall. Today, all 50 states have their statues in place.
House document includes the arcane legislation authorizing acceptance of the two
Texas statues, plus official copies of all the Congressional oratory connected
to their unveiling. Those speeches, while flowery, included a history of Texas
and the biographies of the men being honored.
In fact, the volume stood
as one of the better sources for information on Austin’s life until the publication
in 1925 of Dr. Eugene C. Barker’s biography, “The Life of Stephen F. Austin.”
While its value as a reference has been considerably lessened over the
year, the Congressional document’s title is revealing of a long-standing inequity
that still stands today: Ole Sam gets more attention than Austin, the man Houston
himself called “the Father of Texas.”
By all measures of logic and grammatical
correctness, the document’s title should list Austin first and Houston second.
For one thing, “A” obviously comes before “H.” For another, Austin came to Texas
more than a decade before Houston, establishing an Anglo colony in 1821.
course, Houston always got more and better press than Austin. One reason is that
Houston lived longer (he died at 70 in 1863, Austin at 43 in 1837). Too, Austin
did not win the decisive battle
at San Jacinto that assured Texas’ independence
from Mexico or have as colorful and controversial a life. Finally, Houston was
a much more colorful character than Austin.
Still, it would be hard to
argue against the notion that had it not been for Austin, Houston would not have
won immortality – at least not in Texas.
elected speech makers taking part in the 1905 statue dedication understood this.
“Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston!” gushed Rep. Samuel Bronson Cooper of Beaumont.
“The founder and the preserver! Each the complement of the other. Without [an]
Austin to build States no Houston would be needed to liberate them from oppression
or to defend them from aggression; and without the sheltering and conserving genius
of a Houston, vain would be the work of those who lay the foundations of States
amid the solitude and savagery of the desert.”
Another speaker, Rep. Oscar
W. Gillespie of Fort Worth, put
it this way:
“Austin’s life embodies hope; Houston’s, courage.”
two statues dedicated that winter day in Washington were copies of the statues
sculpted by Texas artist Elisabet
Ney that had been placed in the Texas state house in 1903.
| Texas had been much
slower to recognize Austin than Houston. Not until 1910 did Texas lawmakers finally
decide Austin’s grave deserved to be in the state
cemetery in Austin rather than at
Peach Point Plantation in Brazoria County.|
With family members and state
officials on hand, Austin’s grave was opened on Oct. 18, 1910 and his well-preserved
bones exhumed and brought by train to the Capital
City for reburial.
A military escort first bore the remains to the
Capitol, where they lay in state until being moved the following day to their
final resting place at the highest point of the state’s burial ground.
over Austin’s new grave notes he was born Nov. 3, 1793. Texas honors Jefferson
Davis’ birthday, Lyndon B. Johnson’s birthday and Caesar Chavez’, but not the
day Austin started life.
On the other hand, Houston has his holiday, even
if it does not formally commemorate his birthday – Texas Independence Day. He
was born March 2, 1793. Forty-three years later, at Washington-on-the-Brazos,
Texas declared its independence from Mexico. The legislature made March 2 a holiday
observed each year with a parade and various ceremonies.
F. Austin statue. TE Photo|
|Despite the lack of
a Stephen F. Austin Day, the empresario has his giant-sized statue near Angleton.
Earlier, a towering statue of Houston went up at Huntsville.
More recently, on Oct. 28, the Tarrant County Commissioners Court in Fort
Worth proclaimed Nov. 3 as Stephen F. Austin Day in that county. When the
Legislature convenes in Austin in January,
maybe it’s time for Texas lawmakers to finally designate Nov. 3 as a state holiday
Even if the legislature continues to ignore Austin’s birthday,
as one of the 1905 speech makers noted, “geographical monuments” are more enduring
than marble or granite, brass or bronze, oil on canvas.
“So long as the
counties of Houston and Austin are on the map,” declared Rep. James Beauchamp
Clark of Missouri, “so long as the ambitious cities of Houston and Austin lift
their spires to heaven, the names of those twain will linger upon the tongues
© Mike Cox
November 6, 2008 column
A definitive history
Books by Mike Cox - Order Here|
| || |