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There Oughta be a Marker

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February 26, 2012 - While I love stopping to read Texas historical markers, I find that some of them commemorate mundane landmarks or people of little true historical significance.  I came to understand this better when I learned years ago that landmark placement relies upon individual initiative.  True, the Texas Historical Commission oversees the process and must approve final placement, but there is no state body responsible for initiating placement of a particular marker.  Nor does the state pay for the markers, leaving this up to the person or group wishing to see it erected.  Wanna let folks know that your great-great-granddaddy fought in the Civil War and was born in a log cabin in Your Town, Texas on this very spot?  Be prepared to fork over about a thousand bucks.


The Republic of Austin (Waterloo Press: 2010)Recently, a friend asked if I would like to assist his effort to erect a marker at Austin's Spicewood Springs.  The site features prominently in one of the stories from my book The Republic of Austin.  In 1844 two children, Emma and Tommie Simpson, were snatched by Indians while bringing in some cows to the family home at West 6th and Guadalupe streets.  The children's mother witnessed the kidnapping from the house.  Her screams brought assistance and several men chased after the mounted Indians.  After the Indians lost their pursuers at Mount Bonnell, they paused for rest and water at Spicewood Springs.  The spring still exists at the corner of MoPac and Spicewood Springs Road, although its flow is less regular and less forceful than in previous times.

Spicewood Springs, where Indians killed Emma Simpson in 1844In describing what happened next, contemporary Rip Ford referenced "the brutal cruelties and outrages of a captivity a thousand times more terrible than the pangs of death" that awaited any white woman kidnapped by Indians.  In plain speech, Emma Simpson expected to be raped.  The terrified 14-year-old girl had been screaming and sobbing from the moment of her capture, despite the prudent urgings of Tommie to keep quiet.  By the time they reached the spring, the Indians had had enough.  One of them forced Emma onto a horse, which he also mounted and rode away from the spring up a nearby hill.  He returned minutes later with Emma's bloody scalp.  Eighteen months later Tommie returned to Austin after being purchased by more benevolent Indians in Taos.  Leading a search party to the scene of the murder, he was able to recover his sister's remains.

Bullock's Hotel is the large white building at lower left in this 1840 painting by Edward HallMy friend's proposal to erect a Texas historical marker at Spicewood Springs reminded me of several other Austin sites that I believe deserve similar recognition.  The intersection of Sixth Street and Congress Avenue has pulsed as the heart of the city since the very first sale of town lots in August 1839.  This may be due to the fact that Sixth, or Pecan as it was known in those days, was the city's first east-west roadway and represented the main eastern approach from Bastrop.  Even before officially purchasing their lots, Richard and Mary Bullock constructed the first hotel in Austin on the northwest corner of the intersection.  The hotel consisted of a log house where the alley dividing the block met Pecan Street, with hewn-log extensions stretching westward along Pecan, northward along the alley, and eastward along the lot's north line to form a horseshoe facing Congress.  A log house east of this on Pecan stood on tall posts.  The Bullocks enclosed the area underneath with weatherboarding to create the hotel dining room.  Finally, a log house in the center of the courtyard served as a parlor.  The imposing appearance of this complex soon had locals referring to it as "Bullock's Fort."

Bullock's Hotel sat on the northwest corner of Congress Avenue and West Pecan (6th) StreetMost visitors to early Austin spent time residing with the Bullocks.  Sam Houston, Richard Brenham, Abner Lipscomb, R. E. B. Baylor, and the French Charge de Affaires Alphonse de Saligny were guests.  City residents fled to the security of the "fort" during threatened Indian attack.  On one such occasion, George Hockley strolled among a group of nervous women with the reassuring words, "Don't get frightened, ladies, don't get frightened; there are enough men here to whip all the Indians between here and Santa Fe."

President Mirabeau Lamar, the man most responsible for creating a new seat of government on the Texas frontier, celebrated his triumphant entry into Austin at Bullock's.  After speeches and a welcoming cannon blast two miles east of town, Lamar led a procession across East Avenue (now IH 35) onto Pecan Street, which he then followed to Congress Avenue and the hotel of Richard and Mary Bullock.  There the Bullocks served Austin's first formal dinner to the President and his guests.  To kick off the toasts, Lamar stood to thank the man supervising construction of the city, Edwin Waller.  "By the touch of his industry there has sprung up, like the work of magic, a beautiful city, whose glory is destined, in a few yeras, to overshadow the ancient magnificnence of Mexico."

Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, French Charge de Affaires to the Republic of TexasBullock's Hotel figured prominently in the notorious Pig War of 1841.  A year earlier, Austin residents thrilled to the arrival of the newly appointed head of the French legation, Count Alphonse Dubois de Saligny.  Saligny, a career diplomat with a self-important streak, established himself and his entourage with the Bullocks.  At checkout time Saligny expressed surprise at the amount of his bill.  Richard Bullock refused Saligny's offer to pay what he deemed a more reasonable charge.  The Count therefore left town without paying.

Upon his return to Austin, Saligny of course could not stay at Bullock's.  He rented a house on the southeast corner of Guadalupe and Pecan streets, which he soon began using to schmooze those that needed schmoozing.  Meanwhile, his servants planted a vegetable garden in an adjacent empty lot.  I believe that the site deserves recognition with an historical marker.

Saligny's immediate task and the reason for his dinner parties involved the Franco-Texienne bill, which would charge France with constructing a series of forts on the extreme western edge of the frontier in exchange for immigration rights, certain duty-free imports, and mineral concessions.  He hoped to persuade the Texas government to pass the bill not only to benefit France, but to enrich himself.  A private contractor would build the French forts.  Saligny envisioned himself as the contractor.  Thank heaven we've completely eliminated such shenanigans from modern politics!

While Saligny busied himself with the local fatcats, his servants strove to raise enough food to keep 'em coming to the house at Guadalupe and Pecan.  Unfortunately, Austin's large pig population quickly developed a taste for French-grown vegetables.  In those days, many people living in the city kept livestock.  Rather than pay for feed, folks typically turned the animals loose to forage throughout the mostly undeveloped streets.  Thus, everyone's pigs visited Saligny's garden, but Richard Bullock, through the large herd necessary to feed his 70-odd hotel guests, provided most reason for offense.  One can imagine, though, the lack of pity Bullock evinced when Saligny complained.

Austin, Texas-Then and NowThe Franco-Texienne bill failed.  An infuriated Count Saligny returned to his house to hear from his servants that the pigs had returned.  "Enough is enough!" roared the Count.  "If the pigs come back, kill them!"  The pigs did and the servants obeyed.  In retaliation, Bullock confronted a Frenchman named Eugene Pluyette in front of his hotel at Pecan and Congress.  A verbal harangue by Bullock quickly escalated until the inkeeper drew French blood with his walking stick.  Saligny, outraged, complained to the Secretary of State, James Mayfield.  To make a long story short, Mayfield failed to satisfy Saligny, who threatened to close the legation.  Glad to be rid of the matter, Mayfield pointed out that Saligny then would lose his diplomatic immunity and that Bullock had filed a criminal complaint over the unpaid hotel bill.  Saligny left town in disgrace.

On Christmas Day, 1871, the Theodore Kosse brought rail service to AustinThe story of Bullock's Hotel and the Pig War are also related in greater detail in The Republic of Austin.  The fourth Austin location that I believe deserves an historical marker is described in my book Austin, Texas-Then and Now and concerns the arrival of the railroad.  Like many 19th-century American cities, Austin yearned for rail service.  Without it, cities withered and died, as populations dwindled and businesses starved.  Austinites therefore rejoiced when the Houston and Texas Central Railroad began extending a line to the Texas capital.  On a rainy Christmas Day, 1871, workmen hammered in the last spike while a local dignitary named General Hamilton spoke of the "glorious and progressive future" that awaited. East 5th Street at Waller Creek, scene of the arrival of the first train in Austin As a crowd of several thousand waited at Congress Avenue and 5th Street, Houston and Texas Central Railroad Engine #22, otherwise known as the Theodore Kosse, rolled into town via East 5th.  Just past the Waller Creek bridge the engine stopped to let off a few passengers at the Depot House.  Mission accomplished, the engineer climbed back into his seat for the triumphal ride into the city.  But the train wouldn't start.  Someone sent a boy over to Congress Avenue to inform the waiting multitude.  Not willing to forego its party, the excited crowd thronged en masse to the stalled engine.  The "great era" described by General Hamilton had begun!

Texas Historical MedallionSo, do you agree with me that these four sites deserve a marker?  What sites would you add to my list?  Depending on how strongly you feel about the matter, you just might want to check out the Texas Historical Commission website and make an application yourself.  But keep your checkbook handy!

Jeffrey Kerr
Written on Sunday, 26 February 2012 20:51 by Jeffrey Kerr

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