John Arrowsmith, Map of Texas, Compiled from Surveys Recorded in the Land Office of Texas..., 1841.
Texas: The Garden Spot of the World
by Jon Dotson
"I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here. There is a world of country here to settle.” -- Davy Crockett
The First Anglo-American Settlement in Texas In 1821, Stephen Fuller Austin located the very first Anglo-American families on the Colorado and Brazos rivers in East Texas. Stephen's father, Moses Austin, who had previously lived in Spanish Louisiana, was the first foreigner to receive permission from the Spanish government to settle 300 families in Texas. However, Moses died shortly after the grant was approved, leaving Stephen to fulfill his father's quest. At the time, only 5,000 Spanish citizens were living in Texas and the government hoped that Americans of "good character" who received land would be faithful to the Spanish government and ward off their former countrymen from taking over the region. Shortly after Austin arrived in Texas, however, Mexico declared independence from Spain, requiring Austin to resubmit his grant in Mexico City. Austin spent a year in the city to build relations with the new Mexican leadership and provided a preliminary map of east Texas based in part upon his own limited surveying. As part of his negotiations with the new Mexican government, Austin committed to providing the government new and improved versions of his map. In the spring of 1823 the Imperial Colonization Law was passed, and Austin was finally approved to settle 300 American families in East Texas. This first colony came to be known as the "Old 300." Unlike some other Mexican land agents, which allowed settlers to take over new lands with little supervision, Austin chose to survey in advance of settlement, so there were no disputes over ownership. In a little over a year, 272 families had relocated to these newly surveyed lands.
Example of an 1830 Stephen F. Austin land grant introducing Abraham Eddings to the Commissioner of Lands for Coahuila y Tejas (Image courtesy of The Portal to Texas History)
While Austin was the first foreign "empresario," or land agent, he was by no means alone in capitalizing on this vast unsettled region that had been largely ignored by the Spanish, and now Mexican, government. Other early Texas empresarios include Martin de Leon, Green C. DeWitt, Haden Edwards, and Robert Leftwich. Favorable land prices in Texas further encouraged immigration from the north, with land selling in Texas for a mere 1.5 cents/acre as opposed to the $1.25/acre charged by the U.S. government for its public lands. The resulting surge in settlement meant more surveying and more complete information for Austin's new map of Texas (see below), but it also alarmed Mexico City that Texas was becoming increasingly anglicized. As a result of these shifting demographics, the government enacted the Law of April 6, 1830, barring all new American settlements.
Stephen Austin, Map of Texas with Parts of the Adjoining States..., 1830. The most detailed map of its time, reflecting the knowledge from the new American settlements of Austin's Colony and DeWitt's Colony. A new Austin grant is located to the northwest (Image courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Formation of the Republic American colonists were angry with this new law that prevented family and friends from joining them in Texas. When the colonists organized the Convention of 1832, they crafted resolutions asking the Mexican government for lower tariffs on goods coming from the United States, increased immigration from the north, and to detach Texas from the existing province of Coahuila y Tejas. These resolutions were quickly dismissed by Ramón Músquiz, the political head of the province, stating that the convention was illegal. Another convention was organized in 1833 with additional resolutions (again requesting Texas as a separate province) but with no success. The same year, Santa Anna was elected President as a liberal, giving Texians hope for more rights, but he quickly flipped his political philosophy to a centralist regime, believing that the country wasn't ready for democracy.
Edward Everett, Ruins of the Church of the Alamo, San Antonio de Bexar, 1850. The earliest view of the Alamo in ruins, based upon an eyewitness drawing.
By October 1835 rebellious Texian colonists had had enough and launched a small victorious campaign at the Battle of Gonzales, commencing the Texas Revolution. Though Santa Anna did respond with forceful victories at Goliad and the famous Battle of the Alamo in the coming months, Texians reorganized under Sam Houston and defeated Santa Anna's forces at San Jacinto, taking Santa Anna prisoner. As a condition for sparing his life, Santa Anna commanded his troops to retreat to south of the Rio Grande River. On March 1, 1836 Texas declared independence from Mexico, established a provisional government, and drafted a constitution. As part of their declaration, the new Republic of Texas claimed over 350,000 square miles of land from the Sabine River west to the headwaters of the Rio Grande in present-day southern Colorado, much of which was part of Mexico and never Texas.
John Arrowsmith, Map of Texas, Compiled from Surveys Recorded in the Land Office of Texas..., 1841. Arrowsmith's map of the Republic of Texas (illustrated in full at the top of this article) shows the full extent of Texas' claim to the upper Rio Grande valley. This close-up shows a proliferation of land grants extending north to the Red River and west beyond Austin.
With its new status as a republic, Texas had the difficult task ahead of forming a functional government to manage its vast new territory. Among its many challenges were a lack of funding and population to defend itself from the Indians to the west and the Mexicans to the south. In fact, when the government was first established in 1836, there was a little more than $50 in the bank. In many ways, Texas' challenges were no different than the fledgling United States about fifty years earlier. The one resource that Texas had a surplus of was land, so a general land office was created to document all land titles and manage public lands to fund the government, encourage settlement, and compensate its military.
While the outstanding Mexican land grants were canceled by the new Republic of Texas, new systems were introduced to encourage settlement. Three different headright acts were introduced in 1837, 1838 and 1842 giving generous amounts of land to relocate to Texas. Bounty land grants also rewarded soldiers of the Texas Army, which awarded 320 to 1280 acres for service ranging from 3 to 12 months. Additionally, the old empresario system was reestablished in 1841 along the frontier to help defend against Indian attacks. New colonists included W.S. Peters, Charles Mercer, Henri Castro, Henry Fisher, and Burchard Miller. The aggressive use of land sales increased Texas' population during the Republic period and pushed the frontier line further west.
C.S. Williams, Map of Texas from the Most Recent Authorities, 1845. New settlements continue to push west, encroaching upon Comanche territory.
Transition to Statehood Constituents in Texas had voted for U.S. statehood as early as 1836, but were turned down by the Van Buren administration due to fear of war with Mexico and concerns about adding another slave state to the Union. The mood changed in 1844 when Britain got involved and tried to keep Texas independent for a variety of reasons, including the slavery issue, preventing U.S. expansion, and trade. Near the end of his term (and vying for four more years in office), President Tyler responded by crafting a joint resolution to Congress seeking the annexation of Texas, and the bill was finally signed by new expansionist President Polk on December 29, 1845. This accelerated method meant that Texas was the only state to skip territorial status and was also the only state (other than the original 13 colonies) to keep its land and debt.
Samuel Augustus Mitchell, No. 13 Map of the State of Texas..., 1846. This school geography map features the "stovepipe" configuration depicting Texas at its largest extent when first admitted to the Union.
To ensure a speedy approval, the Texas boundary question was never addressed in the joint resolution. Instead, Polk sent John Slidell to Mexico City in November 1845 to negotiate a sale price for the disputed lands but was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons. In 1846, Polk became more assertive and sent General Zachary Taylor to build a fort near the mouth of the Rio Grande to defend Texas' claim. Mexico perceived this as an act of war, thus initiating the Mexican-American War.
With a relatively easy victory over the Mexicans in 1848, the United States now claimed lands extending to the Pacific Ocean, including New Mexico and Upper California. Victory also brought the boundary question to the forefront. While Texas still insisted the Rio Grande as its border, citizens of New Mexico wanted their own voice and federal status. Compounding the issue was the slavery question, with southerners wanting all lands open to slaves and the northerners wanting to prevent its spread. The boundary issue was finally solved by the Compromise of 1850 whereby Texas relinquished all claims to New Mexico. Its western boundary was set at the 102nd meridian and its northern boundary at the 34th parallel. In return, the United States assumed $10 million of debt that had accumulated when Texas was a republic.
Samuel Augustus Mitchell, County Map of Texas, 1860. An attractive map showing Texas with its final borders and county development past the 100th meridian.
Texas' dramatic rise is undeniable - this "garden spot of the world" went from a small Mexican possession to a large independent Republic, and finally a U.S. state in a little over two decades. Upon admittance in 1845, Texas was immediately the largest state by area with over 261,000 square miles of land - nearly four times larger than the second largest state of Missouri at the time (69,000 square miles). With all of the land office's efforts to induce settlement in a state with the "best land and best prospects," population grew quickly from a handful of families to over 600,000 people in 1860, and just over 3 million by 1900. Its fascinating history and development make Texas a favorite subject among map collectors.
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Martin, James C. & Robert Sidney, Maps of Texas and the Southwest, 1513-1900, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, 1999.
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