Iconic Daguerreotypes

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The Prints and Photographs Collection at the Texas State Archives documents the events and spirit of Texas politics, culture and life from the mid-19th century to present day in the way that only images can. This case highlights three iconic daguerreotypes from the collection, each featuring individuals associated with historic milestones in Texas history.

The image of General Edward Burleson is the only known photograph of the former vice president of the Republic of Texas. His nephew, Dr. Rufus C. Burleson, shares in a letter to artist Henry McArdle that the "grand old hero of [some] 30 battles had such a contempt for all the tricks and artifice that little souls rise to magnify themselves, he never had a likeness taken of himself." After he died, members of the Texas Senate commissioned the artist Thomas Flintoff to produce a portrait for $500. Unfortunately Flintoff only ever saw the general as he lay as a corpse in the senate chamber. For a more lively likeness, he captured instead the features and expressions of the general’s brother, John Burleson.

The image of Private Samuel Waller Cole is the earliest conclusively dated image in the holdings of the Texas State Archives. Even though Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, it wasn’t until after the election of expansionist-minded James K. Polk as president that Texas joined the Union in December 1845. On April 25, 1846, Mexican cavalry laid siege to an American fort along the Rio Grande but were defeated. The U.S. Congress formally declared war on Mexico on May 13. Private Cole must have been among the initial few who enlisted as his picture was taken on June 25, 1846. The war ended with Mexico losing about one-third of its territory, including nearly all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.

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The image of Sam Houston in a linen duster is representative of his campaigns for governor of Texas in 1857 and 1859. In 1857 alone he traveled about 1500 miles and made 49 speeches. His "chauffeur" was Ed Sharp, a plow salesman who gave Houston a ride to Montgomery early in the campaign in his scarlet two-horse drawn buggy with brilliant lettering on the side announcing "Warwick’s Patent Plow." Sharp was struck by how many onlookers gathered around his buggy and inquired after the Warwick plow. He realized he could "see and reach more Texas farmers in a week than he could in a year on his own" if he served as Houston’s driver throughout the campaign, and thus began their relationship.

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Samuel Waller Cole, 1/134-4Samuel Waller Cole, 1/134-4

Private Samuel Waller Cole served in Company A, 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Mexican War.  The regiment went on to fight at Cerro Gordo in 1847, where they found and kept Santa Anna’s wooden leg as a souvenir. Private Cole however fell ill soon after arriving in Texas and was discharged in August 1846 at Camp Patterson. He died on October 4, 1846. Taken on June 25, 1846, this is the earliest dated image in the Prints and Photographs Collection at the Texas State Archives.

Sam Houston wearing a riding duster, 1/136-1Sam Houston wearing a riding duster, 1/136-1

During his campaigns for governor of Texas in 1857 and 1859, Sam Houston rallied support across the breadth of the state in a two-horse drawn buggy, wearing a coarse linen duster that reached from his neck to his ankles. In 1859, eyewitnesses recount watching him deliver speeches while shirtless on particularly warm summer days. The same year, the 66-year-old succeeded in winning the office of governor.

Edward Burleson, 1/134-10Edward Burleson, 1/134-10

This is the only photograph that Edward Burleson, vice president of the Republic of Texas, ever allowed to be taken. Burleson’s daughters caught him one day in 1850 in San Marcos in "his everyday farm suit and by entreaties forced him into a picture gallery… and had a poor likeness taken." The complete account can be read in a letter dated October 31, 1887 in the McArdle Notebooks at the Texas State Archives.

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Page last modified: May 20, 2016