From the Annals of the Revolution – In 1836, Jim Bowie arrived at the Alamo in San Antonio. Bowie was notorious as an Indian fighter, duelist and land speculator. He was actually involved in one of the largest attempted land swindles in U.S. history in Louisiana, but was never able to complete the scheme. He was not only a slave owner and trader, but a slave smuggler as well with a scheme that made him rich off of smuggling, buying and selling slaves. After coming to Texas, he renounced his U.S. citizenship, became a Mexican citizen and married into the influential Veramendi family of San Antonio.
He arrived at the Alamo with about 30 volunteers and initially was of the mind that the crumbling mission was indefensible against the Mexican Army on the march. He later became convinced that San Antonio must be held at all costs – most likely by the commander James Neill. One of his cadre, James Bonham circulated a resolution decreeing that The Alamo must be held and Bowie signed it. It would be his death warrant along with the other defenders of The Alamo.
From the Annals of the Highways – In 1841, the Houston and Austin Turnpike Company was chartered. The plan was to lay out a road from Austin to Houston. The charter allowed the HATC to charge tolls provided that toll gates be located at least forty miles apart. The work was to start within twelve months and be completed in five years. The road was planned to start at Houston, cross the Brazos River within five miles of San Felipe de Austin, and to continue from there to Austin on a route to be selected. Nothing came of the HATC and it was followed by the chartering of another 50 failed attempts between 1841 and 1905.
Considering how long it took the state to make Hwy 71 a four-lane divided highway running from Columbus to Austin, Red is not surprised at the repeated failures. Red reckons that it took almost 30 years for that project to be completed and he is still amazed that there is not a controlled access freeway accessing Austin from the east.
From the Annals of the U.S. Army – In 1942, Camp Hood near Killeen was activated as a temporary camp in preparation for active operations in World War II. The temporary camp, was named for Confederate general John Bell Hood. The Army initially acquired about 180,000 acres, and it was estimated that the camp would cost $22.8 million for the land, facilities, and development of utilities. The date of completion was set for 15 August 1942. Almost 300 families were displaced by the acquisition. The communities of Clear Creek, Elijah and Antelope were demolished during construction. The base was designed with large open spaces for the training of mobile anti-tank units to be deployed in Europe and elsewhere.
Fort Hood is now one of the largest military installations in the world in terms of size and the number of Army and civilian personnel stationed at the site. Fort Hood had a total population of 53,416 as of the 2010 U.S. Census making it the most populous U.S> military installation in the world. Fort Hood covers 214,000 acres making it one of the largest military bases in the world by area.
From the Annals of the Wildcatters – In 1901, the first Spindletop well came in near Beaumont. The site had been the object of speculation since the early 1890s, mostly by amateur geologist Patillo Higgins who was convinced there was a large pool of oil under a salt-dome formation south of Beaumont. He and his partners founded the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company but never brought in a successful well. In 1899, Higgins leased a tract of land at Spindletop to mining engineer Anthony Lucas. The Lucas well erupted on January 10 scattering the oil hands as drilling pipe was blown out of the hole, followed by mud, gas and a 100 foot gusher of oil. It took 9 days to cap the well. This started the Spindletop boom. Within a year, there were almost 300 active wells at Spindletop and hundreds of oil exploration and land companies operating in the area. Companies such as Exxon, Texaco and Mobil got their start at Spindletop.
From the Annals of the Civil War – In 1865, the Kickapoo Indians defeated a Confederate Army force fighting with about 325 state militiamen at the Battle of Dove Creek in present day Tom Green County. In December 1864, a force of Texas Militia under Captain N.M. Gillentine discovered an abandoned Indian camp on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Gillentine believed that Comanche or Kiowa might have been at the site and called for action. A few days later, Confederate Texas Frontier Battalion troops under the command of Captain Henry Fossett arrived at Fort Chadbourne to address the supposed threat. Fossett located an encampment on Dove Creek. Fossett was unaware that it was a band of Kickapoo – a relatively peaceful tribe since the Black Hawk war.
As Fossett prepared for an attack, the Texas Militia troops arrived after a forced march and a joint attack was planned. The Militia launched a frontal assault on the camp from the north. The Confederates under Fossett maneuvered around to the southwest, captured the Indians’ horse herd, and attack from the flank.
The entire operation was bungled. The Kickapoo benefited from the well-placed camp, located on a tall bank covered with light timber and protected by natural brier thickets. The Militia got caught in the brier and came under intense rifle fire. Three Texan officers (including Gillentine) and sixteen enlisted men were killed in the first few minutes.
The Confederate force was initially successful in capturing the horse herd, but an attack on quickly faltered splintering the Rebels into three groups who were routed with heavy casualties. The Confederates and Texas Militia retreated eastward. The now embittered Kickapoos headed south for Mexico and began raiding settlers along the Rio Grande.
From the Annals of Engineering – In 1870, the Waco Suspension Bridge opened to traffic. The WSB is a 475 foot long single-span suspension bridge over the Brazos River that looks like a smaller version of the Brooklyn Bridge. The twin double-towers on each side of the Brazos were considered engineering marvels of the day and contain more than 3 million bricks made onsite. At the time of construction, Waco lacked the ability to manufacture much of the material needed. The suspension cables were made by the Roebling Company of Trenton, NJ and other materials were made in or imported via Galveston and then shipped up the Brazos to Bryan and then by oxcart to Waco.
The WSB could accommodate two stagecoaches passing each other. But the main initial use was for cattle crossing and pedestrian traffic. For years it was the only bridge crossing the Brazos. As a result, the $141,000 cost to build the bridge was quickly paid back by tolls.
The WSB It was closed to vehicle traffic in 1971 and is now open only to pedestrians and bicycles. The bridge is in the National Register of Historic Places and received a state historic marker in 1976.
From the Annals of Weaponry – In 1846, Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers procured an order of 1,000 revolvers for gunmaker Samuel Colt. Colt had previously produced the Paterson Revolver which proved to be useful but too fragile for rough conditions and ready use. As a result, Colt’s business had gone bankrupt. His friend, Walker, pointed out the problems with the Paterson and suggested improvements to the trigger and the need for a pistol that did not require removal of the barrel for reloading. Colt was eager to restart his business and agreed with Walker’s suggestions and made some additional improvements on his own.
The result was the most powerful handgun yet made. The six-shot “Walker” Colt had a 9 inch barrel, a longer cylinder than the five-shot Paterson and was manufactured in .44 caliber rather than .36, and was easily reloaded. The big gun weighed a hefty 5 pounds, but the longer barrel and weight improved its accuracy.
Colt needed a buyer and Walker went to straight to President Polk to whom he was known from his army and Texas Ranger exploits. The celebrated Texas Ranger explained the benefits and need for Colt’s new revolver. Polk immediately ordered his Secretary of War to purchase 1,000 of the revolvers for twenty-five dollars each. Colt contracted with Eli Whitney to manufacture the weapons. The power and accuracy of the new weapon completely changed the ability of mounted fighters to conduct operations from the saddle.
From the Annals of the Taxpayer Funded Stadiums – In 1962, the ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Harris County Domed Stadium (later dubbed the Astrodome) in Houston. It was designed to be the first fully air-conditioned and completely enclosed sports stadium in the world. The Houston team at the time was named the Colt 45’s so the ceremony was not held with the standard gold-plated shovels. Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz and other local dignitaries shot Colt .45 pistols into the dirt. Red is disappointed to learn they shot blanks and that the pistols have been lost to history; but it was a foreboding sign for a team that would take 55 seasons to finally win the World Series. The Astrodome itself is rusting hulk that has now sat empty for more than 15 years.
From the Annals of Football – In 2003, the Dallas (Arlington) Cowboys announced that Bill “Big Tuna” Parcels would be their new head coach. The two time NFL Championship head coach would post a decidedly mediocre 34-30 record as the Cowboys’ coach – making the playoffs in 2003 and 2006 but never winning a playoff game. Since retiring (or being fired) after the 2006 season, Parcels has never coached again.
From the Annals of the Capital City – In 1839, the City of Austin was incorporated. At the time the city had 856 citizens. The site of Waterloo had been previously chosen for the Capital of the Republic of Texas moving from Houston to a more central but dangerous location. The Texas Congress designated the name of the new Capital as Austin after Stephen F. Austin who was already revered as the father of Texas. President Mirabeau B. Lamar assigned Judge Edwin Waller to lay out the plan for a capital city. Waller chose a 640-acre site on a bluff above the Colorado River, bordered by Shoal Creek and Waller Creek on the west and east respectively. Waller surveyed a square-mile plot with 14 blocks running in both directions. The main throughway was designated as Congress Avenue by Lamar and ran from Capitol Square to the Colorado River. The streets running north-south were named for Texas rivers in geographical order. The east-west streets were named after native trees. Downtown Austin retains much of this original design today.