Lessons From A Short History Of Texas
December 14, 2005, 04:00 AM
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[Recently by Linda Thom: Jobs Americans Won't Do? Not Where I Live!]

In school, I didn't like American history, especially history of anything west of the Mississippi. Because of my sister Barbara's penchant for genealogy, however, I recently learned a bit of Texas history that provides some important lessons.

A couple of years ago Barbara triumphantly told me that we are direct descendants of William and Samuel Gates, who were members of the Old Three Hundred. Barb might just as well have said that we are descended from extraterrestrials.

From my silence, she inferred that I had no idea what she was talking about. So she explained that the Three Hundred were part of Stephen Austin's settlement of Texas. Now, I did know that the capital of Texas is Austin. Stephen must have been important. I also knew about the Alamo, because Davy Crockett lives in Santa Barbara where I resided for thirty years until being displaced to Washington State. (He now goes by the name of Fess Parker and has joined up with the Indians—a.k.a. Chumash Nation—to build on their casino land.)

Armed with this less than thorough knowledge, Barb and I set off for San Antonio in April to see family and to do genealogy. We visited the Alamo and in the library there read Samuel Gates' original, handwritten will and his Mexican land grant from 1824. His will bequeathed his land, a few farm animals, his "servant" and his possessions to his wife. He did not own much.

I also learned that Samuel Gates and his father, William, and their families arrived in Texas in the fall of 1821, settling just south of Washington on the Brazos. I learned that two of William's daughters married other early Texas settlers, Abner Kuykendall and Wyatt Hanks. I learned that William Gates had fought in the American Revolution.  These folks were ordinary people. Census records show they were "stock raisers and farmers."

I wondered why and how they went to Texas. So I bought a history book at the Alamo entitled Crisis in the Southwest, by Richard Bruce Winders. In addition, my family genealogists found that prior to moving to Texas, the Gates, Abner Kuykendall and Wyatt Hanks lived in Arkansas. They lost their land, but were compensated, in the Choctaw Treaty. They went to Texas because Stephen Austin offered them new land.

How could Stephen Austin offer Mexican land to Americans? In 1819, Spain ruled Mexico and, therefore, Texas. According to Richard Winders:

". . .Spanish officials were concerned that Texas's sparse population left the region open to encroachment. Spain needed a loyal population on which it could depend to ward off invasion from both nomadic tribes and the United States. Colonization appeared to be the answer."

In 1820, Moses Austin, Stephen's father, traveled to San Antonio to confer with the Spanish about bringing Americans to Texas. Moses Austin received a grant of land but died in 1821. Stephen Austin went to Texas in the summer of 1821 to continue his father's work.

Then, in September of 1821, Mexican forces marched on Mexico City and ended 300 years of Spanish rule. The Mexican government affirmed Austin's land grant and required that American grantees become Mexican citizens and convert to Roman Catholicism. By the end of 1824, Austin had settled 300 families in Texas.

That is the source of the name "the Old Three Hundred."

Stephen Austin was one of many land agents or empresarios who contracted for grants with the Mexicans. And, in addition to the Americans who held legal land grants, many Americans were crossing the border illegally from Louisiana to find land. According to Winders, many of the American settlements fought with others and some of the empresarios defaulted on their contracts to the Mexican government.

Leaders in Mexico became increasingly concerned by the continuing difficulties in Texas. In 1828, a Mexican general surveyed Texas and found that American settlers outnumbered Mexicans ten to one. In 1830, Mexico banned further American settlement and encouraged European immigration.

But it was too late.

It took several years for disputes between the American settlers and the Mexican government to erupt in armed conflict. In 1835, the Mexican government sent troops under General Cos to occupy Texas. In rallying his troops, General Cos said in part, "These ungrateful men have revolted against our government, assumed the right to live as they like, without any subjection to the laws of the republic." Mexicans viewed the colonists as invaders who wished to separate Texas from Mexico.

The Texas campaign began in 1835 and ended when General Santa Ana surrendered in April 1836 at San Jacinto.The details of the battles are not important except to say that the Mexicans were particularly brutal.

What can be learned from this?

  • First, the American settlers had no great vision. They were folks who wanted land. My family members lost their land in Arkansas. They were farmers; they needed land. They settled at Washington on the Brazos where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. They had no part in it. They were just good people coming to Texas to work hard and support their families.

  • Second, the Mexicans let in too many people in too short a time. Moreover, they did not protect their border with the United States and Americans illegally poured across the Louisiana border to get land, work hard and improve their lives.

  • Third, the American settlers were not of the same beliefs and the same culture as the Mexicans and misunderstandings ultimately resulted in the hostilities. The Americans did not assimilate. There were so many of them. They did not become Catholics and, while they may have become Mexican citizens in name, they remained Americans at heart.

And there are other lessons. The Mexican government was corrupt and unstable. Its people were poor and primitive. Some things have not changed.

President Bush claims he is a Texan but many Texans declare that he is not. He is a rich Yankee from Connecticut who spent his vacations in Maine. Perhaps the President does not really know Texas history. That is too bad.

President Bush continues to push for his Mexican guest worker amnesty because they are good, hardworking people who just want to have a better life and to do jobs Americans will not etc etc. Which is just what the Mexican elite told itself in the 1820s.

If President Bush does know Texas history, he either cannot connect the dots—or, for some mysterious reason, he does not care.

Linda Thom [email her] is a retiree and refugee from California. She formerly worked as an officer for a major bank and as a budget analyst for the County Administrator of Santa Barbara.