Saturday, December 10, 2011

Passport to Texas History, San Felipe de Austin

San Felipe de Austin is a small collection of buildings dedicated to the memory of Stephen F. Austin. Austin was an Impresario or land agent. The original contract for land in Texas was given to his father, Moses Austin. Moses traveled to Spanish owned Texas and received authority to bring legal settlers into Texas. As he traveled back to his home in Missouri, he was attacked and eventually died as a result of pneumonia that set in while he recovered from the attack.

 Stephen F. Austin obtained permission to take over his father’s contract, but between the time he set out and the time he arrived in Texas with 300 families (‘The Old 300”) Mexico had declared independence from Spain. This rendered his contract null and void, both because it was a Spanish contract and because it was in his father’s name. Austin headed to San Antonio and managed to get a new contract issued to him from the Mexican government. Thus began the legal settlement of Texas by American citizens.  

At the time, all of Texas and portions of what is today New Mexico, Colorado, and Oklahoma were owned by Mexico. The southern portion (what is currently still Mexico) was well settled, but most Mexicans did not want to move north to settle in the Texas portion of Mexico. There were many reasons for this, but a huge drawback to settling in Texas was the threat of Indian attacks.

Posing in front of the statue. It was windy!
The missions in Texas, begun by Spanish priests, had converted and ‘civilized’ many of the local Indian tribes. But, these tribes were willing to be under the protection of the priests because they were being attacked by more violent tribes moving in to their hunting areas. The problem now was finding someone willing to brave the Indian attacks long enough to establish ownership of the land for Mexico. Mexico decided to open up settlement to non-Mexican citizens.
Josey General Store - now the Visitor's Center

We had never been to San Felipe de Austin and were pleasantly surprised. There isn’t a lot to do or see, but you could spend a pleasant hour on the grounds. The visitor’s center is an old general store – its history much more recent and completely unrelated to Stephen F. Austin. The attendant was friendly and knowledgeable and we enjoyed visiting with her while we waited for a rain shower to subside. She told a story about Austin and the building of a town using a Jacob’s ladder – it was really cute!
Replica of Stephen F. Austin's cabin

In addition to the General Store/Visitor’s Center, the park includes a statue of Mr. Austin, a replica of his cabin, and a well. The cabin was a traditional dogtrot cabin and one room had wooden toys to play with. FRitW and MT are getting pretty familiar with dogtrot cabins at this point – we saw a total of 4 on this trip.

Thunderstorms were headed our way and we had another stop to make today, so we said good-bye to San Felipe de Austin and headed toward Houston.


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