Texas Independence Day: In the (19th Century) News…Again!

Every year in anticipation of Texas Independence Day (March 2nd, for those who aren’t from around here) we dig into our collection of Texas Revolutionary-era newspapers to see what folks of the early 19th century had to say about the soon-to-be Lone Star State. It turns out, they said a lot!

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Texas’ independence can trace its origins to a number of sources, one of the most significant of which was the Mexican Revolution (1810-1821) and the creation of the Republic of Mexico. That conflict was reported worldwide, including under somewhat misleading heading “South America” in this copy of the Aberdeen (Scotland) Chronicle from November 9, 1816. Only a small portion of the conflict took place in Texas, but the province does get mentioned in this early report. It was also on the mind of the United States, as the revolutionary forces frequently petitioned for legitimacy (and funds) from their northern neighbor.

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During these tumultuous revolutionary years, opportunistic men from the States kept their eye on the millions of acres of land that Mexico had to offer in the province of Tejas. The National Journal on August 6, 1825, reported an instance of attempts to purchase such territory. “Captain Leftwich” of Kentucky had recently moseyed into New Orleans claiming to have snatched up enough land for 800 families. Six to eight million acres of land, in fact! More importantly, speculation about adding Texas to the United States was also well underway in the paper.

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As an aside, have you ever wondered where some of the names of Texas’ counties and cities come from? Houston and Crockett are fairly obvious, named for heroes of San Jacinto and the Alamo, respectively. But Milam County is somewhat lesser-known. It’s named after Colonel Ben Milam, about which the Niles Weekly Register of Baltimore, Maryland, had a lot to share on July 19, 1828. He was a Kentuckian, but his status as a self-proclaimed “citizen of the world”–a world in which he bought up a whole lot of Mexican land (as had Stephen F. Austin, also mentioned in the article, and who is now the namesake of Texas’ capital.)

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By 1835, revolution was in the air! Texian rebels had risen, determined to free themselves from Mexican rule (and, not coincidentally, to ensure that Mexico was no longer going to tax all that land mentioned above…) The New Yorker on October 31, 1835, offered a glimpse of the excitement. Retaliation by Mexico’s President, “that Chief” Santa Anna “and his myrmidons (was) hourly expected.” Further flowered loquacions followed, including a letter written by General Sam Houston himself asking all patriotic Americans to volunteer to aid his people’s cause (and get a generous grant of land to boot.)

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The first battle of the Texas Revolution occurred at Gonzales on October 2nd, 1835. News traveled slowly in the 19th century, and so it was November 9, nearly a month after the skirmish, that Rhode Island’s Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, and Providence and Pawtucket Advertiser reported it. The numbers of combatants and casualties was exaggerated, turning two hours of desultory exchanges into a much larger conflict…but story probably wouldn’t have sold many newspapers.

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The Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, effectively ended the Texas Revolution in favor of the Texians. And despite what the August 17th, 1836, issue of the National Intelligencer would have you believe in these excerpts, Mexican forces never reentered Texas after the capture of President and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna during that fight. In fact, thousands of settlers swarmed Texas, eager for a fight (which was not forthcoming) and for a chance to settle in the newly liberated area (which definitely forthcame.)

These newspapers in their entirety, along with many of their contemporaries, can be found among our numerous digitized archival collections. For interested researchers who make the journey to us in Lubbock, some can even be viewed in person, along with our many other collections related to Texas history. Just give our cheerful Reference Staff a call and they’ll see what they can set up for you.

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Elmer Kelton’s Papers at the Southwest Collection

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The Southwest Collection is home to the papers of a number of prominent fiction and non-fiction writers, but few among them were as prolific as Western fiction writer Elmer Kelton. Born in 1926 in Horse Camp, Texas (a name that destined him to do something related to West Texas…), Kelton was raised on the McElroy Ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father worked for over thirty years. This experience among a host of others throughout his life shaped the ensuing five decades of non-stop composition.

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After a stint at the University of Texas at Austin from 1942 to 1944, then 1946 to 1948 (sandwiching two years of service in the army during World War 2), he acquired a journalism degree and returned to West Texas where he spent over a decade writing for local newspapers. Kelton’s work appeared primarily the San Angelo Standard-Times, but pieces appeared throughout the region, such the one above from the Big Spring Daily Herald.

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But it was the authorship of more than 30 novels that made his reputation. The resulting accolades are almost too many to list (but we’ll try). 3 Western Heritage Awards, given by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center; 7 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America; the Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award from the Institute of Texas Letters; a lifetime achievement award from the National Cowboy Symposium; and the first Lone Star award for lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University. Oh, and in April 1997 the Texas Legislature declared an Elmer Kelton Day.

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Novel-writing and award receptions had to be scheduled around his other career. Kelton spent five years as Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine’s editor, twenty-two as associate editor of Livestock Weekly, and of course, the diligent newspaper work that he continued until the 1990s. The excerpt above is an excellent example both of his prose and the sense of humor that permeated it (as well as a host of entertaining ads for the upcoming local rodeo).

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As a longstanding member (over 40 years) of the Western Writers of America, Kelton often found himself collaborating with other writers. The letters below and above, dating from 1972, concern a project wherein several writers would compose a story by passing it from writer to writer, each of whom would add to it before giving it to the next. Although the outcome of this project wasn’t apparent from a brief search through the boxes of correspondence in his Papers, we suspect a dedicated researcher might find the answer someday.

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Elmer Kelton’s catalog continued to grow even after his passing in 2009, with Texas Standoff, a novel in his Texas Rangers series, appearing posthumously in 2010. But honestly, our 500 words of description are hardly able to do justice to the man’s colossal body of work. His novels are widely available in libraries (including ours) and you’d do well to pick one up and read it through. Or, if you’d like to research further into the nuts and bolts of a famed Western writer’s process, our helpful Reference staff would be happy to get Kelton’s papers into your hands.