The Tale of Jim Bowie’s Log Cabin (Maybe)

cabin_maintext

A couple of years back, the Southwest Collection acquired the papers of Texas Governor Coke Stevenson. While loading up archival boxes at the Stevenson ranch hidden back amongst the cedars near Telegraph, Texas, Stevenson’s daughter revealed to us a hidden treasure. Tucked into a barn on the property was a log cabin that, according to family lore, once belonged to Jim Bowie, inventor of the Bowie knife and hero of the Texas Revolution who died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

landscaperoundcabin

The Southwest Collection staff are not only archivists, but also historians. Therefore we listened to the tale with a mix of hope for its veracity, but also our innate academic skepticism. Fortunately, over the years we had tackled similar archeological questions with help from two professors from the Texas Tech University Architecture Department’s Historic Preservation Program: Dr. Elizabeth Louden and Dr. John White. They didn’t just teach undergraduate and graduate students the basics of evaluating historic structures and planning for their preservation. They were prone to lacing up their hiking boots and working in the field, bringing their expertise to claims like Stevenson’s. Louden and White could get to the bottom of this.

stevensoncrosssection1And so they set to work in 2014, applying the standards of the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey to the “Coke Stevenson Ranch Log Cabin,” as the final report titled it. The images here depict some of the results of their survey. Although these are hand-drawn, the Southwest Collection houses many of the digital 3D models and architectural renderings that Louden and White created.

cabin-interiorSo what did they learn? A lot about the structure itself, for one thing. It measured 14’ by 16’, with no interior walls (a “single pen-type,” as they described it.) It had been moved 100 yards from its original site to the shelter of the barn where it still rests atop several vertical log supports. Its roof had been removed, leaving no evidence of its shape or how it had been joined to the rest of the cabin. It also sported an amusing set of painted ducks on its north side.

logcabinbirds

But was it Bowie’s? Well, it is likely that Bowie owned more than one cabin during his itinerant days on the US frontier. It is not, however, certain what happened to them after 1836. And so we are sad to report to you that, as with so many archaeological questions, we still don’t have a definite answer. However, we’re happy to repeat the Stevenson family’s story and provide the results of Louden and White’s months of work, so that future researchers can take a crack at the tale of Jim Bowie’s log cabin.

Texas Independence Day in the (19th Century) News!

Staunton Spectator_March 24, 1836-3

March 2nd : birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev, Jon Bon Jovi, Dr. Seuss, and the author of this blog. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game on March 2nd, 1962. President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of Texas, and later U.S. Senator Sam Houston was born on that day, too. That last one is fitting, because March 2nd is also Texas Independence Day, celebrated statewide since 1836. With that in mind, we’re once again sharing the best of our newspapers dating from that era!

Here’s page 3 of March 24, 1836’s Staunton Spectator, sharing all the news out of Virginia. They knew all about the Mexican army headed by former President of Mexico General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. But news traveled slowly back then: by the time this issue was published the Battle of the Alamo had occurred nearly three weeks earlier.

Albany Journal_April 15, 1836-1

Two weeks later in the Albany Journal of Albany, New York, related the tale of the Battle of the Alamo. 150 men killed, their bodies thrown into a heap! Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie: dead! Commander William Travis committing suicide rather than surrender! Every Texian inflamed with a passion to fight until “every Mexican east of the Rio del Norte should be exterminated!” (Texian, by the way, was the name for residents of Mexican Texas and, later, the Republic of Texas.)

Staunton Spectator_May 12, 1836-2

Here’s May 12th’s Staunton Spectator, reminding its readers that the Texas Revolution was doomed. As we’ve seen two times already, 19th-century newspaper information had a habit of being out of date. Sam Houston’s army had defeated a portion of general Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto, Texas back on April 21st, forcing the end of the conflict. The most entertaining part of this article, however, is the lionizing of Davy Crockett. Check it out: “Crockett was found (within the Alamo)…on his back, a frown on his brow, a smile of scorn on his lips–his knife in his hand, a dead Mexican lying across his body, and twenty-two more lying pell-mell before him….” Wow.

Exeter News-Letter_May 31, 1836-2

Word finally caught up with the east coast by the end of May 1836, as we can see here in Exeter, New Hampshire’s Exeter News-Letter. We have the Battle of San Jacinto, the routing of Mexican forces, and the capture of Santa Anna, which came along with its own dubious tale. After over 600 Mexican troops laid down their arms, mounted riflemen began chasing a few attempted escapees. Only one continued to elude them, a chase that lasted 15 miles and ended when one pursuer guessed that “like a hard pressed bear, (Santa Anna might) have taken a tree. The tree tops were then examined when lo, the game was discovered snugly ensconced in the forks of a large live oak.” The captors allegedly didn’t even know who they’d nabbed until the Mexican troops began hailing their commander as his captors walked him through the camp.

Vermont Gazette_June 14, 1836-2

We’re ending this with a more sedate piece, free of the melodrama of Davy Crockett, generals in trees, and Texans hell-bent on exterminating every last one of their enemies. The Bennington Vermont Gazette instead describes events as they transpired from San Jacinto onward, culled from other news sources such as the New York Courier & Enquirer. Nope, no melodrama at all…oh, wait: “The poor devils…would hold up their hands, cross themselves, and sing out ‘me no alamo,’ but nothing could save them; the blood of our countrymen was too was too fresh in the memory of our people our people to let one Mexican escape, until worn down with pursuit and slaughter, they commenced making prisoners.” Perhaps the real magic of these papers was not so much facts about the Texas Revolution as it was the histrionics of 19th-century newspapers!

We have a vast newspaper collection here at the Southwest Collection, some of which can be found in digital form. We also have manuscript materials about the Texas Revolution and its participants, most notably the Temple Houston Morrow Papers    , a series of letters and documents collected by Sam Houston’s grandson, many of which were items composed by Houston himself. And, as always, our Reference Staff would be happy to help you peruse these or any of our other fine collections.

Texas Independence Day: In the News in 1836!

Staunton Spectator_March 24, 1836-3

Last Sunday, March 2nd, was a date that many hold dear. Among other things, it is the birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev, Jon Bon Jovi, Dr. Seuss, and the author of this blog. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game on March 2nd, 1962. One-time President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of Texas, and later U.S. Senator from Texas Sam Houston was born on that day as well. That last one is fitting, because March 2nd is also Texas Independence Day, celebrated statewide since 1836. With that in mind, we’re sharing many of our newspapers dating from that era!

For our first example we have page 3 of March 24, 1836’s Staunton Spectator, the newspaper of record for Staunton, Virginia that ran almost continuously from 1823 to 1916. This brief snippet reports the arrival in south Texas of the Mexican army headed by former President of Mexico General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. News traveled slowly back then, as by the time this issue was published the Battle of the Alamo had occurred nearly three weeks earlier.

Albany Journal_April 15, 1836-1

This article, published two weeks later in the Albany Journal of Albany, New York, relates the tale of the Battle of the Alamo. This report doesn’t shy away from melodrama: 150 men killed, their bodies thrown into a heap! Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie dead! Alamo commander William Travis committing suicide rather than being captured! Every Texian inflamed with a passion to fight until “every Mexican east of the Rio del Norte should be exterminated!” (Texian, by the way, was the name for residents of Mexican Texas and, later, the Republic of Texas.) It’s doubtful that anyone in Albany could verify these claims, nor were they aware of the fact that the town of Goliad, mentioned toward the end of the article, had fallen on March 27th. Regardless, as we read these we often wonder what images were conjured in reader’s minds about events transpiring over 1,600 miles away.

Staunton Spectator_May 12, 1836-2

The next article, once again appearing in the Staunton Spectator, portrays the Texas Revolution as a slowly-losing cause. As we’ve seen two times already, 19th-century newspaper information had a habit of being out of date. Sam Houston’s army had defeated a portion of general Santa Anna’s forces at San Jacinto, Texas back on April 21st, forcing the end of the conflict and freeing Texas from Mexican control. The most entertaining part of this article, however, is the lionizing of Davy Crockett. Check it out: “Crockett was found (within the Alamo)…on his back, a frown on his brow, a smile of scorn on his lips–his knife in his hand, a dead Mexican lying across his body, and twenty-two more lying pell-mell before him….”

Exeter News-Letter_May 31, 1836-2

Word finally caught up with the east coast by the end of May 1836, as we can see here in Exeter, New Hampshire’s Exeter News. It details the Battle of San Jacinto, the routing of Mexican forces, and the capture of Santa Anna. The latter event contains more of the entertainment that we’ve come to expect. After over 600 Mexican troops laid down their arms, mounted riflemen began chasing a few attempted escapees. Only one continued to elude them, a chase that lasted 15 miles and ended when one pursuer guessed that “like a hard pressed bear, (the fugitive might) have taken a tree. The tree tops were then examined when lo, the game was discovered snugly ensconced in the forks of a large live oak.” The captors allegedly didn’t know who they’d nabbed until the Mexican troops began hailing the prisoner as Gen. Santa Anna when his captors walked him through the camp.

Vermont Gazette_June 14, 1836-2

We’re ending this with a more sedate piece, free of the drama of Davy Crockett, generals in trees, and Texans hell-bent on exterminating every last one of their enemies. The Bennington Vermont Gazette instead describes events as they transpired from San Jacinto onward, culled from other news sources such as the New York Courier & Enquirer. Nope, no melodrama at all…oh, wait: “The poor devils…would hold up their hands, cross themselves, and sing out ‘me no alamo,’ but nothing could save them; the blood of our countrymen was too was too fresh in the memory of our people to let one Mexican escape, until worn down with pursuit and slaughter, they commenced making prisoners.” Perhaps the real magic of these papers was not so much contemporary takes on the Texas Revolution as it was the histrionics of 19th-century newspapers!

We have a vast newspaper collection here at the Southwest Collection, some of which can be found in digital form. We also have manuscript materials about the Texas Revolution and its participants, most notably the Temple Houston Morrow Papers, a series of letters and documents collected by Sam Houston’s grandson, some of which were items composed by Houston himself. And, as always, our Reference Staff would be happy to help you peruse these or any of our other fine collections.