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Texas trails Nov. 11, 2022

published: November 11th 2022
by: Clay Coppedge
source: Southern Livestock Standard

The many capitals of Texas

The state capital of Texas was not so much a place of government as it was a moving target in its early days. San Felipe, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Harrisburg, Galveston Island, Velasco, Columbia, Houston and even a steamboat. All had a turn as the center of state government at one time or another.  

The republic’s provisional government met at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 1, 1836, at the behest of the town’s founders, who were dreadfully unprepared when the offer was accepted. A scheduled three-month convention was cut to 17 days partly because the little community wasn’t ready to be a capital of anything. There was little food except fatback and cornbread, and the buildings had no windows or heat. Just when the delegates were settling down to business, a blue norther blew in.

The new government drafted a Declaration of Independence, appointed Sam Houston commander-in-chief, and then found out that Santa Anna and his army had killed everybody at the Alamo and were headed to Washington-on-the-Brazos to do the same thing to them. The delegates left in a hurry and took their capital with them to Harrisburg, on the Buffalo Bayou. The steamboat Cayuga served as site of a floating state capital during a retreat to Galveston Island. From there the capital moved to Velasco.

The capital remained a moving target until a year after Texas gained its independence from Mexico, in May of 1837, when Texas government set up shop in Houston, a mosquito-ridden settlement founded on the Buffalo Bayou by brothers Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen and named for Sam Houston, the new republic’s first president. The Allen brothers offered to build a two-story capitol building for free if Houston was made the capital of the Republic, and it came to pass— for a while.

Mirabeau Lamar, Houston’s vice-president, took a vacation from Houston, the city, and Sam Houston, the man, because he cared very little for either. Lamar and his secretary, Reverend Edward Fontaine, set out for the frontier where the Comanche still held sway. They got an escort of six Texas Rangers to a small stockade settlement at the mouth of Shoal Creek called Waterloo.

At a site where Congress and Seventh Street intersect in downtown Austin today, Lamar killed a huge buffalo bull. The party assembled afterwards on a hill where the state capitol building now stands and Lamar, stirred by the beauty of the Colorado River Valley, declared that this should be “the seat of future empire.” Lamar was fond of empires.

As president of the republic in 1838, Lamar appointed a commission to locate a site for a new capital closer to the middle of the state. The commission voted unanimously for Waterloo, noting the Colorado River valley’s “fertile and gracefully undulating woodlands and luxuriant prairies at a distance from it.” The Texas Congress approved the measure and renamed the city for Stephen F. Austin, the father of Texas.

Sam Houston, during his second stint as president of the Republic, ordered the capital back to Houston when Mexican troops began once again menacing the city of San Antonio. This did not go over well with the people of Austin. Houston sent a group of rangers to get the archives in Austin and fetch them back to Houston. He stipulated, however, that the retrieval be bloodless.

A group opposing the move was unprepared for the rangers’ raid on the state archives, but a Mrs. Angelina Eberly fired off a mostly symbolic cannon shot at Houston’s men as they departed. The vigilantes took off in armed pursuit and caught up with the archives at Kenney’s Fort on Brushy Creek. The rangers put up token resistance before turning the archives over to the angry Austinites.

The Constitution of 1845 provided that Austin be the state capital until 1850, at which time an election would decide the site of a permanent capital. Austin won that election with 7,674 votes. The 1845 document also called for another election, just in case Austin didn’t work out, in 1850. Austin won that election with 63,297 votes followed by Houston with 35,188 and Waco with 12,776.

The first supposedly permanent capitol building, built in 1853, burned on Nov. 9, 1881. Not everybody saw this as a bad thing. The weekly humor magazine Texas Siftings reported, “The venerable edifice that bore such a striking resemblance to a large size corn crib, with a pumpkin for a dome…took fire on Wednesday.”

The current capitol building opened to the public in 1888, its dedication proclaimed by none other than Temple Houston, a state senator, gunfighter, and the youngest son of Sam.

“Texas has changed the site of her government oftener than any other state in this union, or any nation on this side of the globe,” Houston declared. By his count, the new and current capitol building was (and is) the eleventh such structure to serve the state.

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