We’ve upgraded and moved our latest issue of The End of Austin to endofaustin.com. Go take a look!
In 1842, there was much controversy about the capital of Texas. Austin had been voted the capitol four years earlier. Early in the year, however, the Mexican army cast the Austin’s permanent status as capitol in doubt by staging two raids on nearby San Antonio.
In response to the threat that the Mexican army posed to the Republic of Texas archives, Republic of Texas President Sam Houston—who disdained Austin anyway, for its squalor—declared Washington-on-the-Brazos the interim capital. In December of 1842, Houston sent a small militia to remove the Republic’s archives from Austin.
Austin residents were not pleased. The statue below, located on 6th and Congress, depicts Angelina Eberly, an Austin resident who, putatively, fired a canon into the General Land Office, where the militia was loading the archives into wagons. The malitia beat a hasty retreat, and Austin residents soon banded together to track down the stolen archives. That same night, they chased the militia 18 miles into Travis county, and, the next morning, brandishing a recently arrived two-ton canon, they convinced the militiamen to return the archives.
Though Austin won the “archive war,” the ensuing years were not kind to the once-and-future capitol. Its population dipped below 200, its buildings crumbled, and its economy reverted to barter. One visitor called the city “the abode of bats, lizards, and stray cattle.” Another deplored, somewhat histrionically, “On entering the city of Austin, Lo! Dreariness and desolation presented themselves.”
Austin then seemed on the brink of oblivion. Only when Sam Houston stepped down from the Republic’s presidency did the Texas government return to Austin. In July of 1845 it was determined that Austin would again be the state capital until 1850. It has not since relinquished that title.
Below is a chart roughly detailing the growth of Austin from 1850 to the 21st century.
Data Source: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/demographics/tabular.htm
All historical narrative drawn from Austin: An Illustrated History by David Humphrey and William Crawford.
A city writes its history in the dirt. Not just the dirt that floats around the city, the grime we can see, but the stuff beneath the asphalt, the layers of stone that hold aquifers—the soil that stretches out beyond the last house. Yet we don’t think about the dirt too much. The chimerical glow of the shopping center is too bright to discern an unfettered horizon, the places out there where the soil comes to the surface.
It is all too easy to neglect dirt. The stuff seems like it’s everywhere, accumulating on shoes, the floor mats of cars, even the sides of windblown houses. Urban humans are inclined to expel dirt from their abodes, identifying it with uncleanliness.
Before arriving in Austin in Fall 2009, I envisioned the city as a place to sweat profusely, eat smoked meat and dream of large and recondite tattoos to garland my neck. Such fantasy was decisively curbed at the unforgettable hour of eight pm on August 17th of that year, marked by “an informal meet-and-greet” at an “authentic Austin” tarpaper bar-cum-chicken-shack lacking air conditioning or windows, illuminated only by low-hanging string lights that caught and lifted my glasses off of my face as soon as I stepped inside. None of this gnarled geography mattered much, though. The Austin that truly welcomed me registered as immaterial, an inland empire, a portable confessional chamber tailored for the perpetual review and atonement of intellectual sins. One’s discipline would follow you down the grocery aisles of dried beans and canned jalapeno in search of ninety-eight cent tortilla strips. It would rustle in the bed sheets by your feet. It would cheerfully accompany you into the shower. This was not a city, but an echoing solitary space capsule, and the air supply was limited.