Disaster at Santa Fe

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July 30, 2009

 

            With his capital on the frontier and government actively engaged in destroying the Indians, Lamar directed his attention to the final phase of his imperial plan, consolidation and expansion of the nation’s territory.  Texas had in December 1836 claimed an area far enough west to include Santa Fe and much of New Mexico.  Jefferson Jones, in a letter to Lamar written February 8, 1839, clarified the republic’s interest in pursuing its claim.  “The lowest estimate of the trade of what was formerly New Mexico has been placed at $20.000.000 (millions) . . .  .”   Goods passed between Mexico and the United States via an arduous road connecting Santa Fe and St. Louis.  “The heavy obstacles opposed to this trade have served to curtail its profits . . .  .”
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Texas Ethnic Cleansing

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  July 28, 2009

          Lamar vigorously pursued a stern policy against “the wandering tribes that infest our borders”.  He denounced a soft approach toward “the debased and ignorant savages” and their “atrocious cruelties”.  “As long as we continue to exhibit our mercy without shewing [sic] our strength, so long will the Indian continue to bloody the edge of the tomahawk . . .  .”  Contrary to Sam Houston, whose friendliness toward the Indians in general, and the Cherokee in particular, aroused accusations of treason from Lamar partisans, the new President did not concede “that the Indians, either Native, or Emigrant have any just cause of complaint.  That the Emigrant Tribes have no legal or equitable claim to any portion of our territory is obvious . . .  .”  Even the native tribes “shall deport themselves in a friendly manner; being subordinate to our laws . . .  .”  Lamar felt this way despite the fact he had immigrated to Texas fifteen years after the Cherokee, and only three years before this speech.

                When Lamar assumed office relations between the Texas government and the Cherokee were peaceful.  This would change.  Lamar, like many Texans, suspected the Cherokee of conspiring with Mexico against the new republic.  Chief Bowles, the elderly leader of the Cherokee, and a close friend of Sam Houston, professed good will toward Texas, but Lamar thought him a liar.  His suspicions seemed to be confirmed when Texan militiamen captured papers from a Mexican bandit containing an invitation by the Mexican government for the Cherokee to join them in ousting the Anglo Texans.  Lamar demanded that the Cherokee leave the republic.  When Bowles refused, Lamar sent an army to evict him.  The inevitable battle destroyed Cherokee military power.  A wounded, unarmed Bowles had his brains blown out by one of the Texans.  Another then cut strips of flesh from the chief’s body to make a belt.  The old man’s trademark hat was shipped to Sam Houston in mocking tribute.

                Lamar’s treatment of the Cherokee triggered ethnic warfare.  Just as many 21st century Muslims expressed outrage at the American invasion of Iraq, so did many Texas Indian tribes react violently to the expulsion of the Cherokee.  The Comanche in particular saw in Lamar’s actions proof that the whites intended to destroy them.  Anglo settlers suffered under the ensuing barrage of brutal attacks, which seemed to them pointless and cruel.  They fought back without pity, attacking and burning villages, killing indiscriminately while taking no prisoners.  Scores died on both sides.  Under the circumstances most Texans were unapologetic in their ferocity.  “Life sits lightly on the borderer,” wrote settler Jane Cazneau. “Neither his own nor his friend’s is spared any risk, and as for the Indians, in his eyes they were only made to be killed.”

next - Fiasco in Santa Fe
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Lamar vs. Houston

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July 27, 2009

           Mirabeau Lamar’s most formidable political enemy could not run against him, another lucky break decried by critics.  The Texas constitution barred President Sam Houston from running for successive terms.  His supporters found a reluctant candidate in Peter Grayson, one-time Attorney General of the Republic and a man with a history of mental instability.  On July 9, 1838 Grayson wrote of the “fiend that possessed me” in a final note before shooting himself in the head.  Chief Justice James Collinsworth became the second presidential aspirant to die two days later when, after several days of heavy drinking, he was found drowned in Galveston Bay.  Most attributed the death to suicide.

  
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The Poet President

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July 25, 2009

When does history become myth?  What are the forces guiding the transformation of a fallible human being into a figure of unerring wisdom?  How does a mortal man of flesh and blood become an acclaimed and beloved memory, an icon of our past, a giant to whom we all, we are taught, owe a tremendous debt of gratitude?

          
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Deja vu All Over Again

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July 23, 2009

 

This “accidental” president embarked on a ruinously expensive imperialistic quest, thereby igniting years of devastating ethnic warfare.    He was a mediocre public speaker who ignored the voices of critics and deliberative bodies.  He questioned the motives of dissenters. He accused his political opponents of behavior bordering on treason while he, in turn, was accused by them of trampling the constitution.  Although born outside of Texas, he earned his fame under the Lone Star banner.

 

OK, who am I referring to?

 

George W. Bush, have a seat.  For this report at least, you’re off the hook.  Mirabeau B. Lamar, front and center please.  You are hereby called to the stage as we cast off the rose-tinted glasses welded to our eyes by our junior high history teachers and examine the uncanny parallels between our two former national leaders.

 

Did you get it?  Want to know more?  I'll be posting the rest of this article I wrote a while back over the next few days.  Stay tuned!

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The Fascination With Austin

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I didn't plan on becoming an author.  A few years ago I heard the story of Mirabeau Lamar shooting a buffalo at what is now the intersection of 8th Street and Congress Avenue in Austin.  Curious, I began nosing around older parts of the city, eventually landing at the Austin History Center, where I discovered a treasure trove of fascinating photographs.  I wrote a book.  Then I wrote another.  I've kept writing ever since.
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