A historian’s account of the political struggles that surrounded the founding of Austin as the Texas state capital.
Originally known as Waterloo, Austin began in 1837 as a tiny, far-flung Anglo-American settlement on the banks of the Colorado River. Texas had just declared independence from Mexico the year before and had no permanent capital. When presidential candidate Mirabeau Lamar went campaigning in 1838, he was enchanted enough by the area’s lush beauty to claim that if elected, he would declare it the capital of the fledgling republic. But Lamar’s dream of making Austin the “seat of future empire” met with stiff opposition. Supporters of his archrival, Sam Houston, wanted the capital to remain in the east—specifically, in Houston’s namesake city. Lamar’s election victory gave him the clout he needed to move the capital to Austin, which he believed would eventually link western lands yet to be conquered to Texas seaports in the south. The reality was quite different—and dangerous. The city’s remoteness left it vulnerable to Indian attacks, and its geographical location made it susceptible to periods of drought. After Mexican troops captured San Antonio in 1842, President Sam Houston ordered the government back to east Texas. But feisty Austinites refused to turn over archival records, which remained in the city. For three years, the city languished, and the population fell precipitously. In the end, it was not Lamar who would save Austin; rather, it was Houston’s successor, Anson Jones. In 1845, the last president of Texas approved not only the capital's return to the banks of the Colorado River, but also the republic’s annexation to the United States. Austin Post columnist Kerr (Austin, Texas, Then and Now, 2004, etc.) engages deeply with his subject and offers a well-researched narrative, but general readers will likely not find all the details he provides—especially those pertaining to minor historical figures—equally interesting.
Best suited for an academic audience.