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EVOLUTION OF A STATE


CHAPTER XX



Founding of Austin City; Early arrivals; Land grabbers. John Caldwell.

Though there had not been a tree felled anywhere in the vicinity of the city of Austin prior to the location of the capital there, as soon as the seat of government was established in the new log cabins provided for its reception, people began to gather about it; by far the larger portion outside of official circles being lawyers and gamblers.

The wholesale issue of bogus land certificates, together with numerous other irregularities in the land business of the colonial period were a prolific source of litigation, offering a fertile field for legal talent; and thither, accordingly, came lawyers of all grades, including some of the best in the United States. Among the latter, none ranked higher than William H. Jack, or, as he was commonly called, Bill Jack, and the latter name seems the more appropriate as it is suggestive of strength, which was characteristic of the man. With him were associated his two brothers, Patrick and Spencer, all lawyers, natives of Alabama. Barrie Gillespie, also of Alabama, was early in the field, as were Judge Webb, Judge Lee, Sneed and Oldham, George W. Paschal, and, a little later, A. J. Hamilton, William P. Duval (ex-governor of Florida), John Hancock, and perhaps others.

Captain Jacob Harrell, at the lower end of Congress avenue, and Bullock, further up, dispensed the hospitality of the city to the stranger within the gates. The first two men to venture into the mercantile line were Martin Moore and Blessin, both Irish. Michael Ziller started it with a junk shop, gradually enlarging his business until it became too large for the modest quarters in which he began. The indefatigable Ziller then set to work, and, with only such assistance as was absolutely necessary, himself quarried, hauled and prepared stone, with which he erected the first stone building in the city.

Lamar Moore put up the first brick building, on the corner of Congress avenue and Pecan street, in which he carried on a general merchandise business until his death. Dietrich & Horst opened the first meat market; Dietrich subsequently retiring to open a dry goods store with George Hancock.

Austin was an exceedingly healthy location, hence poor pickings for medicos, the fraternity being represented by Drs. Cook, Johnson and Chalmers, with old Dr. Anderson of Webber's Prairie to fall back on in critical cases. Nor must "Old King Cole, the jolly old soul," be omitted. Being flat broke and afflicted with an ulcer on his leg when he struck Austin, a friend set him up in the whisky business with a half barrel for a starter. His kindly disposition soon won him friends and his business thrived apace, enabling him to open the first decent saloon in town. The militiamen made Cole's place their favorite resort and often made the walls ring with the song, "Old King Cole is a Jolly Old Soul." Being also headquarters for the gentlemen of the green cloth, who are notoriously generous while luck runs their favor, it came to be the regular thing for all schemes of a benevolent nature to be carried first to Cole, who unhesitatingly took charge of them and, heading the list with a generous donation, laid for the sports and, whenever one made a winning, struck him for a subscription, which was collected on the spot. Having acquired a comfortable fortune, he sold out his business and, turning country gentleman, procured a piece of land above the city on the Colorado, where he established himself in a bachelor's hall and was still there the last I knew of him.

Another noted character associated with the republic was Thomas William Ward, otherwise known as Peg Leg Ward, he having given his right leg for the freedom of Texas in the talking of San Antonio in 1835. In consideration of his patriotism he was made commissioner of the land office. Later, while engaged in firing a salute on some state occasion, the cannon was prematurely discharged, depriving the luckless Ward of his right arm and right eye. He then set to and learned to write with his left hand and by the time he recovered sufficiently to resume his official duties could write a respectable hand. People honored him for his indomitable courage as well as his patriotism, and he was allowed to continue in office. John Nolan, a brother Irishman, of whom I shall have occasion to speak again, was rather jealous of Ward's popularity. "Yes," said he, "he is a great man now, but when I knew him in New Orleans he was shovin' a jack plane while I was a gintleman merchant."

It often happened that legal acumen cut a small figure in the decision of cases. John Anderson, a son of Dr. Anderson, was reading law in the office of Barrie Gillespie. He said they once had a client in a dispute over a land title. Gillespie took the client aside and asked: "What can you prove?"

"By ----, sir, that's not the question; what do you want proved? My witnesses are here," was the reply. The lawyers for the other side, being made aware of the state of the case, advised their client to compromise, a piece of advice he accepted, thereby saving himself a goodly sum in the way of costs.

Old Ziller had some very practical views on the dispensation of justice. He, with characteristic generosity, had taken in a destitute fellow countryman and was rewarded for his kindness by being robbed by his protege. I give the story in his own words.

"I go way and leave him to keep my store. When I come back all my money and some my goods gone. I go to Judge Johnson and tell him I want one paper for catch ze d----d scoundrel. Ze judge make out ze paper and I say, 'Where is ze constabler?' He say, 'I make you ze constabler, Captain Ziller.' I take ze paper and go after ze tief. I catch him at Walnut Creek. I get all my goods and zen I tie him to a tree and give him one d----d good whipping. I turn him loose and go home. I go see Judge Johnson. He say, 'W'at you do mit him?' 'I tie him to one tree and give him one d----d good whipping,' I say. 'O. well,' he say, 'You make one very good constabler, Captain Ziller.'"

In those days and for many long years thereafter goods for all the upper Colorado were brought from Houston by ox-teams; slow transports under the most favorable circumstances, and when the rain transformed the black soil into vast beds of wax, they were sometimes several weeks on the trip. Old Ziller had sent by the Thompson boys, who were regular teamsters, for a barrel of whisky. The rain retarded their progress, the whisky in the meantime getting rather "wet." Ziller was wrathy when he discovered the damage to his goods, giving vent to his feelings in the following language: "G---- ----n dem Thompson boy; he pull all ze whisky out of my barrel and fill him wis water."

A genial, entertaining old fellow was William P. Duval, ex-governor of Florida. Possessed of an inexhaustible store of anecdotes, gathered from the varied experience of a long life, with the characteristic genius of the Frenchman for story telling, his appearance in public was a signal for all the lovers of good stories to assemble around him. In recounting his experience in Florida during the four years in which he was the head of the territorial government, he averred that, "if he went to hell when he died and the authorities who presided over that institution did not give him credit for those four years, he should always think they did him an injustice."

The gubernatorial mansion was a pine log cabin located on a low sandy flat, destitute of vegetation. The air was alive with mosquitoes, and the sun, beating down with almost tropical fierceness upon the thin pine board roof, gave to the situation an atmosphere as nearly resembling that ascribed to the infernal regions as anything he could imagine. Thomas H. Duval, his son, was our third district judge, Mills and Baylor having preceded him.

It was about 1840 or 1841 that T. J. Chambers laid claim to four leagues of land on the west side of the Colorado opposite Bastrop, on which my mother-in-law, the Widow Blakey, the Hemphills, old Colonel Knight and a number of others had located headrights. Chambers was appointed judge by the Mexican government and he advanced a modest claim for forty leagues of land in compensation for his services, though he never held a term of court. His claim may have been just, that is to say legal, for anything the trial of the case developed to the contrary, but there certainly was an element of injustice, especially in the case of Mrs. Blakey, who had given two sons to die in the defense of the country and then was threatened with the loss of her home.

Having then no son old enough to attend to her business, Mother Blakey made me her agent. I went around to the other interested parties and proposed to them to all go in together and fight the claim before the courts. This they agreed to do. Without loss of time I retained Bill Jack and Judge Webb to conduct the defense, but when I called on the balance of the defendants for their share of the retainer's fee they hung back, saying that one case would decide all. Disgusted with the desertion of our natural allies, I went to Mrs. Blakey and, acquainting her with the situation, advised her to compromise with Chambers. Being empowered to act according to my judgment, I went to Chambers and, stating the case, asked what terms he would make. Chambers was gentlemanly and affable and a likeable fellow, withal. Said he: "I have no wish to rob the widow and orphan; but, if I relinquish my claim in her instance, it will weaken it in the others. If Mrs. Blakey Will accept a deed to half her headright - 4,400 acres - she can then raise her certificate and relocate the whole amount." To this we assented, and the family thus saved their homestead. When the other parties heard of the compromise they came post haste to know why we didn't go on with the suit. I told them to go ahead and get all their claim if they could, we would take what we could make sure of. They went on and lost the case and had to buy their land from Chambers. They made a big mistake in not standing by us, as it would have been hard to find a jury to dispossess Mrs. Blakey, whom everyone knew; at least from character. Lemuel, her second son, was one of the seven heroes whose ashes are mingled with the historic dust of San Jacinto, and her eldest son, Edward, lost his life in the battle with the Indians at Brushy.

As to the rights of T. J. Chambers, he could at least advance the claim of being one among the first Americans to pitch his tent in the wilderness, and, having been appointed surveyor-general for the colonies, it was quite reasonable to suppose that he would select the most desirable locations obtainable on which to lay his certificates. But there were those who came to the state after its annexation and bought up or manufactured old Spanish grants, and, with witnesses made to order, robbed the old pioneers of their hard earned homes. Judge Lucket, who lived below Austin, once asked me. "Do you know where that old Spanish mission on the San Gabriel is?" I told him I did. Said he: "Colonel Snively will give any man a league of land to show him that old mission." I began to smell a rat. "And what does he want to find it for?" I asked. "Why, he has a grant for thirty leagues of land cornering on that old mission." The situation flashed over me like fire. I was at that time located on Brushy creek, some ten miles above its confluence with the San Gabriel at which point were the remains of an ancient mission built by the old Spanish missionaries away back in the seventeenth century. There was nothing left of it but a kind of mound, preserving the size and shape of the building, which, being of adobe, had succumbed to the influence of the rain, or perhaps an inundation, so long ago that goodly sized trees had grown up from the ruins.

Without stopping to inquire how the grant was to be run, I thought of the numbers of families who had by the time settled in that section and hewed themselves homes out of the wilderness. Said I, "I can show Colonel Snively the old mission, but if he comes fooling around out there with his thirty-league grant we'll establish a permanent corner for him on some convenient tree." The community indorsed my sentiments and that was the last I ever heard from Colonel Snively's thirty-league grant.

There was still another class of land sharks who victimized those who through ignorance of the law had not exactly complied with its requirements. These lynx-eyed land grabbers had their emissaries in the land office and whenever a flaw was discovered in a settler's title they had certificates ready to file on the land, thus compelling the settler to buy the land from them or lose his improvements. And often there was no flaw, but these unscrupulous villains would persuade the holder that there was, offering to make the settler a deed to the land it he would lift his certificate and transfer it to them. By this means they came into possession of many genuine certificates in exchange for lands to which they had no title whatever. As almost all public service was at first paid in land warrants, there were, of course, thousands of them in circulation, and whenever one was located on land claimed by another the locator had the privilege of "lifting" his certificate and laying it elsewhere, a process which of itself was productive of much confusion. The honest settlers at last reached the limit of endurance and began to talk shotgun and hemp. A noted land pirate, who operated all over the state, discovered a flaw in the title by which the settlers along Oatmeal creek held their land and promptly notified them of the fact; also that he had located the land. The settlers held a meeting and passed a resolution breathing strongly of powder, I being present though not an interested party. I shortly afterward met the would-be locator of the disputed territory and told him of the talk I had heard. "Why," said he, "do you think they'd kill a fellow?" "I know they would," I replied. "Old J. J., the leader of the crowd, has already killed one man and would shoot you as soon as he would a wolf that came prowling around his premises." The legislature meanwhile being appealed to, confirmed the original title and the settlers were left in peaceable possession of their homes.

I see that those old grants still crop out from time to time and will probably continue to do so for years to come.

But, to return to Austin. When the first issue of treasury notes came to take the place of the land scrip and military scrip the sporting fraternity hailed the change with delight; but, when, under the endless chain system, of the workings of which we have had a view quite recently in the United States, the treasury notes ran down till it took a mountain of them to represent a small stake, the gamblers grew discontented. Their distress was relieved when the exchequer bills replaced the dishonored redbacks, as the treasury notes were called. But again the currency depreciated till a small jack-pot could not accommodate the bulk of paper. Then they began to talk about the advisability of "a new ish," and, that hope of relief failing, some of them went off and joined the army. Sowell tells of one who drew a black bean and went to his death with a smile. I have heard the story often.

Preachers were a little slow in getting around to look after the lost sheep, and in truth met with little encouragement when they did come. The Methodists held one camp meeting in Webber's prairie during my residence there, but the constant dread of Indians made outdoor gatherings rather poorly attended. Parson Whipple came to the country as early as 1838 and was for forty years the leading preacher in western Texas. Then there were two of the Dancers who preached, and Parson Haynie, father of Dr. Haynie, who lived with his son-in-law, John Caldwell, in Caldwell's prairie. Parson Haynie did not preach much; but, whenever there was need of revenue to carry on the crusade against Satan, he took hold, and few could equal him when it came to raising the wind.

John Caldwell came to Texas in 1830, going at once to Bastrop County, where he located the land upon which he spent the greater portion of his life. A lawyer by profession, highly educated, and very intelligent, he necessarily found his surroundings very uncongenial and was often attacked with hypochondria, under the influence of which he would persuade himself that death was near. Having occasion to go to his house one day, Mrs. Caldwell met me at the gate. Said she: "I am very glad you came; Mr. Caldwell has one of his blue spells on and if anybody can rouse him you can."

I took my cue and upon entering the room took a seat beside his bed and, without any comment upon his situation, plunged at once into the all-absorbing topic of the removal of the seat of government back to Houston, taking pains to be a little aggressive in my endorsement of the president's course. Caldwell was one of his bitterest opponents and he couldn't stand it long. At first his voice was so weak as to be almost inaudible, but it soon began to strengthen, and directly he raised himself in bed. I kept up my hot applications and soon had him out of bed and dressed and by the time I was ready to go he was entirely recovered.

"Now," said Mrs. Caldwell, "when Mr. Caldwell gets sick again I'll know what doctor to send for."

That might have been termed a "faith cure" and might have given me prestige in some circles. John Caldwell represented Bastrop County in the Texas congress and subsequently in the state legislature. It was mainly through his efforts that the settlers on Oatmeal creek, before spoken of, were confirmed in their claim to the land they had settled on and improved.



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