in Texas is a sword with a history.
The long steel blade could be rusting in an old trash dump, it could
be hanging on someone’s wall or it could be for sale at a gun show.
No one knows and most likely, no one ever will.
What is known is that the sword’s first owner lost it twice. And each
time made him justifiably angry.
The sword, probably a piece of Civil War surplus property, was issued
in the mid-1880s to Capt. Charles Vernon Terrell, second-in-command
volunteer militia company, the Decatur Rifles.
In 1888, Terrell’s company, along with other guard units from across
the state, converged on Austin
to march in the parade following the dedication of the new
red granite capitol. That’s when he got an unusual request, albeit
one he couldn’t very well turn down: Sen.
Temple Houston, son of the first
president of the Republic
of Texas, wanted to wear a sword as he led the parade.
The young captain wasn’t too keen on being the only sword-less officer
in the Congress Avenue procession, but like a good soldier, he unbuckled
the belt and scabbard that held his sword and handed it over to his
company commander, Maj. Tully A. Fuller. The major outranked Terrell
when they had uniforms on, but in civilian life Tully was Terrell’s
friend and law partner. Fuller, in turn, took the sword to Sen.
The Panhandle senator, first elected to the Legislature in 1884, had
not chosen the Decatur
militia company at random. Houston
met Fuller when the Decatur
lawyer was serving in the House of Representatives. The two had worked
closely together in defeating an effort to impeach a district judge
from the High Plains. In the process they became friends, so it was
natural enough that Houston
approached Fuller for the loan of a sword.
showing the Capitol building
Courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
After the parade,
Capt. Terrell and the other militiamen attended the final dedicatory
event of the day, a grand ball. At some point, presumably the following
day, he went to retrieve his sword. To his chagrin and Houston’s
embarrassment, Terrell learned the senator no longer had the sword.
He had lost it, he said.
Whether Terrell questioned the senator enough to learn that he had
gone on a toot the night before or whether the young lawyer figured
it out on his own based on Houston’s
obvious signs of a hangover, Terrell walked down Congress Avenue
to check the saloons.
Sure enough, he found his military gear at a popular Capital City
Terrell stayed in the Decatur
militia company through the Spanish
American War, but did not see service in Cuba. Though no longer
a citizen-soldier, he kept the belt, scabbard and sword. After all,
it had been worn by the son of the man who assured Texas’ independence
The North Texas lawyer moved to Austin
in 1921 to be sworn in as state treasurer during the administration
of Gov. Pat Neff. In preparing for the move, Mrs. Etta May Terrell
came across the old sword. Having no idea of its historical value,
she “disposed” of the sword without consulting her husband.
The judge had intended the long-obsolete sword to go on display
in a museum, someday, but this time he had no luck in finding it.
Just how his wife got rid of it was not reported when the then 92-year-old
Terrell (he lived another six years) relayed the story to a young
reporter in Austin in
1953. But the sword worn by Sam
Houston’s son on the day of the Capitol dedication remains missing.
© Mike Cox
- June 8, 2005 column, modified May 28, 2015