The Great Texas Archives War of 1842

Austin's unwillingness to take any guff, even from the Legislature, goes way back--at least to the Great Archives War.

When Sam Houston, the fledgling nation's first president, was reelected after a one-term hiatus, he insisted on moving the capital from Austin to Houston. But what's a state capital without the state archives? These records were resting in the land office in Austin.

President Houston was handed a fait accompli when Mexicans raided the country in the spring of 1842. Authorized by the Texas Congress to locate the state archives at ''any point he (the President) deemed eligible,'' he insisted that the country's records be moved to Houston for safekeeping.

At that point, Austin residents sensed something was up and formed a vigilance committee to protect the archives--by force if necessary. That was a sign of rebellion to President Houston, who tried through various political maneuvers to form a volunteer army to quash what he termed ''that treasonable and insurrectionary spirit'' in Austin.

Unfortunately, all he could muster was 20 men.

The hapless 20 stole into Austin at midnight and loaded the archives into a wagon. But before they could finish the job, a local townswoman heard their activity, rushed to a six-pound cannon in the town square, touched it off, and put a cannon-ball-size hole in one wall of the land office.

The cannon's report startled the President's men and alerted the vigilance committee, which mustered and gave chase to the fleeing ''volunteers.'' Weather delayed the committee members. But by the next morning, Houston's 20 men found their encampment surrounded by Austin's volunteers, plus one six-pound cannon. Meekly surrendering the archives, the 20 were allowed to return home, ending the Great Archives War and cementing Austin's role as national, then state, capital.

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