Tuesday, September 24, 2013

San Augustine

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

The "Halfway House" was located midway between
San Augustine and Nacogdoches and became
a stagecoach stop. 
In the 1690s El Camino Real (The Royal Road or The King’s Highway) was blazed from the interior of Mexico to Spanish Florida. In 1717 Mission Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de los Ais was established alongside El Camino Real and on what would become the southern edge of the future townsite of San Augustine. In the 1820s John and Matthew Cartwright, Elisha Roberts, Alexander Horton, and other Anglo pioneers settled in the area. “When I first came to San Augustine,” reminisced Horton, “I found this to be the most beautiful country I had ever seen.”

Located 11 miles west of San Augustine, the Milton
Garrett cabin was built in 1826 and is probably
the oldest log cabin standing in Texas.
A mass meeting of settlers in 1832 resulted in the acquisition and survey of a townsite. San Augustine developed rapidly and became known as the “Eastern Gateway to Texas,” a port of entry second only to Galveston. Prosperous citizens built Greek Revival homes, and San Augustine boasted many of the earliest examples of Antebellum architecture in Texas. Handsome churches were erected. The University of San Augustine was founded, and later Wesleyan College and the University of East Texas. The Masonic Lodge was one of the first three lodges in Texas, and San Augustine Masons operated the Masonic Male Institute and the Masonic Female Institute during the Antebellum period. San Augustine was proud to be known as the “Athens of Texas.”
Diorama at the Mission Dolores Museum.
Christ Episcopal Church opened in 1870.

Thomas J. Rusk, prominent political leader, practiced law in San Augustine. So did Sam Houston and  J. Pinckney Henderson, first Governor of the Lone Star State. Judge William Ochiltree was a formidable jurist, and young District Attorney Oran M. Roberts went on to become Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and Governor of Texas. A prominent early physician was John S. Ford, who came to Texas at 21 in 1836, and after two years of service in the Texas Army he settled in San Augustine to practice medicine. (Later Ford moved and returned to military service in the Mexican War, and as a Texas Ranger captain and Confederate colonel, but his first home in Texas was in San Augustine.)

The First Methodist Church organized in 1836
 and the current sanctuary was built in 1909.
From 1840-1844 the Regulator-Moderator War was fought in Shelby and Harrison counties. Moderator leader John Bradley sought refuge in San Augustine in 1844, but Regulator “Colonel” Watt Moorman blasted him with a shotgun when he exited a church service held at the Masonic Hall. President Sam Houston soon called on militia men of the Republic of Texas to meet him in San Augustine to quell Regulator-Moderator hostilities. When President Houston rode into San Augustine, he was met by 600 volunteers. Houston established presidential headquarters at the Mansion House, a two-story frame hotel. Aided by Thomas Rusk, major general of militia, and by veteran officer Alexander Horton, Judge William Ochiltree, and District Attorney Oran Roberts, Houston rapidly organized the militia force. The 600-man militia marched north into Shelby County, sending 200 Regulators and 100 Moderators fleeing into the forests and ending the four-year war.

Bill stands in front of the old jail.
Judge H.K. Polk moved into his new home in 1840.
The Regulator-Moderator War was the first blood feud in Texas. One of the last of those conflicts was the Wall-Border-Broocks Feud, which exploded in San Augustine in 1900. Curg Border, a relative of the influential Broocks family, killed Sheriff George Wall, an old enemy, in the streets of San Augustine. Eugene Wall killed Ben Broocks in retaliation, followed by a gun battle around the courthouse in which two more men were slain. Court action produced no convictions, but rough justice was meted out through a series of shootings, climaxing with the death of Curg Border at the hands of a new sheriff.

Judge Ezekial Cullen  built this Greek Revival
house in 1839. 
The rich and colorful history of San Augustine is prevalent throughout the community. The site of Mission Dolores is under the archaeological supervision of Dr. George Avery, and an excellent mission museum center stands nearby. Downtown the Augus Theatre, which dates back to the 1920s, now is owned by the San Augustine County Historical Society and is an excellent museum and, on occasion, a performing theatre. The “Athens of Texas” remains on display with fine old homes, churches, and other venerable buildings.
This home was built in 1839 for Col. Stephen W. Blount,
who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.
The old Augus Theatre houses an excellent museum.
For more information: www.sanaugustinetx.com

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