State Archives Resources Contribute to the Rediscovery of San Felipe de Austin

By Michael Rugeley Moore

Stephen F. Austin founded San Felipe de Austin in 1823 with high ambitions. He laid out an expansive town plat that he intended to one day serve as the capital city of Texas.Thirteen years later, his village lay as smoldering ashes, completely destroyed during the “Runaway Scrape” in the Texas Revolution (1835-1836). Another town named for Austin ultimately became the capital.

The significant story of San Felipe, the Villa de Austin, became lost as did the evidence of the town itself. Blocks that once housed hotels, stores, workshops and houses reverted to cattle pastures. San Felipe’s municipal archives were destroyed or dispersed in the evacuation and burning of the town. Recovering that story and identifying specific locations for those buildings have occupied more than two decades of my research efforts.  Resources of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) have been key to many of my discoveries.

The new museum at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

The new museum at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site, Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

In 2018, the Texas Historical Commission opened a new museum and expanded interpretation for the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. Items from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission are prominently featured in the exhibits and programs.  More critically, TSLAC resources helped recover the site’s story and have led to exciting archeological finds. I am very grateful to the Archives staff for their help in my research visits and requests for scanning of illustrations and archival items used in the exhibits.  I encourage everyone to visit the new museum and experience this rediscovered story of the life and cataclysmic death of San Felipe de Austin.

I wanted to share a few anecdotes that demonstrate how TSLAC resources make a critical difference in the understanding of San Felipe’s story and significance.


The Texas Revolution was governed from San Felipe’s Council Hall that served the San Felipe Committee of Safety, the November 1835 Consultation, and the Provisional Government established by the Consultation.  Until the discovery of a rental receipt in the State Archives collection, it was not known where these governmental bodies met.  The Council Hall, it turns out, was a rental building owned by San Felipe merchant Joseph Urban.

Rental receipt for use of the council hall, dated February 7, 1836. Records of the Quartermaster General, 1835-1836, Army Papers, Texas Adjutant General’s Department. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

The most dramatic month in the history of San Felipe began with the receipt of William Barret Travis’ “Victory or Death” letter from the Alamo.  This document, perhaps the most famous single item in the TSLAC collection, was addressed “To The People of Texas and All Americans” with Travis’ instructions to “Send this to San Felipe by Express night & day.”

Portrait of William B. Travis by Henry McArdle, McArdle Notebooks. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Texas had no functional government at the time, with the Provisional Government adjourned until the March 1836 Convention at Washington gaveled into session. San Felipe’s citizens responded immediately, forming a militia company under Moseley Baker, and having them march to help defend the Alamo. Printer Gail Borden, joined by the ladies of the town, presented the company a flag based on Stephen F. Austin’s design.  Baker’s company, however, had only made it as far as Gonzales when news arrived of the fall of the Alamo.

Austin National Flag, Historic flags collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Gail Borden and his partners had established a printing office in San Felipe de Austin in the fall of 1835. Issues of their Telegraph and Texas Register and separate broadside imprints from their press documented the Texas Revolution. Much of their printing was done for the Texas government.  A list of their most famous imprints of February and March of 1836 are listed on an invoice to the Government of Texas, including “Travis letter” on February 29th, the “Declaration of Independence” on March 5th, and a broadside announcing the fall of the Alamo on March 16th.

Baker & Bordens Invoice, Texas Secretary of State public printing records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

San Felipe merchant Nathaniel Townsend wrote “in haste” on March 16th saying “We have recd [received] intelligence which can be relied on that the Alamo is taken and every man in it massacred, and that our forces are retreating from Gonzales.”  Throngs of families fled their homes in the Runaway Scrape to escape along with the army.

Nathaniel Townsend, Photograph of portrait, Margaret Robertson Collection 1962/279, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

On March 28th, Houston’s army arrived on the outskirts of San Felipe.Texian officers came into town to requisition supplies for their men. Juan Seguin received round jackets, vests, trousers, and shoes to outfit several of his men. Captains Baker, McIntyre and Eberly also supplied their men from the stores, as did the army’s quartermaster, Major Edward Winfield.

Requisition by Juan Seguin from P. B. Dexter’s San Felipe store, Republic Claims #1246 025:647.

Having resupplied from San Felipe’s stores, Sam Houston’s army marched northward toward Groce’s Ferry. Two companies refused to follow, and Houston ordered each to defend their  local Brazos River crossings. Moseley Baker’s San Felipe company was ordered to burn the town on sight of the Mexican Army to deny them the logs that could be used to build rafts to cross the Brazos. On the night of March 29, 1836, Baker’s company burned San Felipe to the ground. Houston later disclaimed having given the order, but the “Board of Examination” paid most claims for the destruction of San Felipe property as an official act of the army. Nathaniel Townsend, for example, had a claim of more than $11,000 paid for the value of his buildings and store merchandise.

Republic Claims, Nathaniel Townsend, Audited Claim, #9172 106:179.

Perhaps the single most important discovery in the TSLAC Republic Claims receipts was a request by San Felipe merchant Joseph Urban for reimbursement of his losses in buildings, furnishings and merchandise amounting to more than $8,500.  His claim provides important details of building sizes and functions in the village. Of particular importance was his claim for the burning of “The Courthouse 26 feet by 22 feet.”  Two witnesses who testified to his loss added that this building was the one “in which Court was held in said town and in which the convention was held….”

Republic Claims, Joseph Urban, Unpaid Claim, 257:463.

This claim also provided important clues about Urban’s own dwelling house and its brick cellar. It had begun its life as the Farmer’s Hotel, with a cellar used for storage or perhaps brewing. Because of the resources of the Texas State Archives, the buildings on this one lot are now some of the best documented of any in the village. Archeological excavations are adding to that knowledge and will form the basis for many future exhibits and educational programs.

Interactive mural of the village of San Felipe de Austin, with Joseph Urban’s buildings depicted on the right.

Interactive mural of the village of San Felipe de Austin, with Joseph Urban’s buildings depicted on the right. Courtesy of Cortina Productions.


Excavation of the brick cellar of the Urban dwelling,

Excavation of the brick cellar of the Urban dwelling, Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

During my research at the Texas State Archives every member of the staff proved helpful, particularly Tonia Wood, who helped coordinate the scanning requests for items to be used in the exhibit design process. I would also like to acknowledge the important role of the Summerlee Foundation of Dallas, who provided grant funding to TSLAC to digitize and host the Republic Claims in an online database. This one resource was one of the most critical in rediscovering San Felipe’s story and built environment.

On behalf of the San Felipe de Austin project team, we say “thank you” to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission for preserving these important items of Texas history and making them available for the Texas Historical Commission to feature in the exhibits at the San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site.

About the Author:

Michael Rugeley Moore served as project historian for the San Felipe de Austin development as a volunteer and contractor to the Texas Historical Commission.  He wrote the exhibit narrative, assembled graphic support for the exhibit and authored the San Felipe de Austin Site Guide.  His connections to the Texas State Archives go back almost 50 years, where his first training in primary source research was provided by his grandmother, Helen Rugeley, who served for more than 20 years as editor of the Austin Genealogical Society Quarterly.

NASA Turns 60 – Featured Collection in the Reference Reading Room

By Stephanie Andrews, Library Assistant

ARIS invites you to check out the newest featured book display now up in the Reference Reading Room. NASA Turns 60 features publications from our MAIN, Texas Documents, and U.S. Documents collections. From its humble beginnings as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, explore our out-of-this-world resources that examine the founding and history of this exciting federal agency.

To search for these books and more, check out our catalog at If you are interested in checking out a title on our Featured Collection shelf, please visit the Reference Desk in room 109. Below is a complete list of titles you’ll find on our Featured Collection shelf for October and November.

522 EV15B
Big and bright : a history of the McDonald Observatory
Evans, David Stanley

522.2919 Sc83a
Adventure in space : the flight to fix the Hubble
Scott, Elaine

523 Sc83c
Close encounters : exploring the universe with the Hubble Space Telescope
Scott, Elaine

629.4 B743o
Our Space Program
Bredeson, Carmen

629.40973 N1
NASA factbook; guide to National Aeronautics and Space Administration programs and activities
Renetzky, Alvin

629.45 K863f
Failure is not an option : mission control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and beyond
Kranz, Gene

Z UA380.8 P281we
We could not fail : the first African Americans in the space program
Paul, Richard

Z UA380.8 W736La OVER-T
Last launch : Discovery, Endeavor, Atlantis
Winters, Dan

Z TA475.8 H883DE
The Development of Propulsion Technology for U.S. Space-Launch Vehicles, 1926-1991
Hunley, J. D.

Y 4.SCI 2:115-04
NASA: past, present, and future : hearing before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House of Representatives, One Hundred Fifteenth Congress, first session, February 16, 2017
United States. Congress. House. Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

NAS 1.2:K 38
Kennedy Space Center Story
Harris, Gordon L.
Some items have been held behind the desk due to fragility or rareness of the item. The following items can be requested from the Information Services staff at the Reference Desk in room 109.

NAS 1.86:ST 2/DVD
Journey to the Stars
Emmart, Carter

NAS 1.86:IM 1/CD
The First Forty Years: A Collection of Selected Images
Goddard Space Flight Center. Office of Public Affairs.

NAS 1.86:AP 4/2/2004/CD
Remembering Apollo 11: The 35th Anniversary Data Archive CD-ROM
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. History Office.

NAS 1.86:SU 7/5/DVD
Mysteries of the Sun
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NAS 1.86:P 23/DVD
NASA’s Earth Observatory presents: National Parks–from Space
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NAS 1.2:T 69/2/KIT
Space Travel Hazards [game]: How Safely Can You Travel Through Space?
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


What’s New (and Revised) at the Texas State Archives?

By Rebecca Romanchuk, Archivist

The Zavala Building as seen from San Jacinto Street. Now easily accessible by scooter.

If you drive, cycle, scooter, ride the bus, or walk past the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building often enough, you might have noticed that this large, pink granite edifice stays the same size year after year, nestled in its spot next door to the Capitol. Next time you go by, think again. The Texas State Archives located within constantly grows and evolves, and the archivists at the State Archives continually receive historically valuable materials—primarily records from state agencies. We already provide online descriptions about our state and local records and our manuscript and photograph collections: Check out the finding aids we contribute to Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) and view or download digitized and born-digital materials on our own Texas Digital Archive (TDA). But what if you want to know what’s been recently inventoried and described at the State Archives?

The answer: Go to Archives: Finding Aids (New & Revised) to browse a list of all archival materials we’ve created a new finding aid for or that have been updated in the last 90 days. This list is pulled from our online public access catalog, and each item has a can’t-miss-it red link that goes directly to the TARO finding aid. The blue title link takes you to the full item information and catalog record, both of which also feature the TARO finding aid link. And if any of the materials are available in the Texas Digital Archive, a link for that will be there, as it is in the TARO finding aid (we do our best to make sure you really can’t miss these links!). We also maintain a list of anything new and updated in the TDA, if your focus is on the digital world.

Say you already knew that the State Archives has Texas Supreme Court records from the earliest days of the court in the 1840s through the 20th century. That’s true, but we’ve recently revised our description of these records to include cases through 2004. And you might be excited to learn that we’ve begun digitizing the earliest cases, which are becoming available here on the Texas Digital Archive, along with Supreme Court indexes and registers. The image below is an example of an early court document now available online and is the first Texas Supreme Court case that concerns a murder.

So keep checking back to keep up with the latest additions to the Texas State Archives!

M is for Murder: The first Texas Supreme Court M case file that concerns a murder is a charge made against a man named Pleasant I. Slaughter in 1848. M-275, M case files, Case files, Texas Supreme Court records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. (Click the image for zoom features offered in the TDA.)

Electronic Records Day and the TDA

Archival repositories must preserve electronic records along with materials in physical formats. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission established the Texas Digital Archive (TDA) to handle the enormous amount of electronic files contained in the papers of the former governor of Texas, Rick Perry. The TDA manages, preserves, and facilitates access to an increasing number of “born digital” electronic records accessioned with the archival collections transferred by state agencies.

The TDA also provides an access point to items that have been converted to electronic form through digitization. Researchers will find photographs, film, and recordings from state agencies and the Texas government available online. Some wonderful examples of this reformatting are the The Texas State Department of Public Highways and Public Transportation (now the Texas Department of Transportation) films their tourism division created to promote the use of roads and highways. The TDA also includes materials from historical collections like the Mabel H. Brooks photographs digitized from scrapbooks.

Capitol in the snow, about 1920. 1932/005-1, Mabel H. Brooks photograph collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Learn more about the TSLAC materials in the TDA and how to search for records by taking on this scavenger hunt on “Texas Governors and the Capitol” we created for the occasion. Happy Electronic Records Day!

The Texas State Library and Archives division for State and Local Records Management (SLRM) has compiled a list of Electronic Records Day activities, events, and sites on their blog, The Texas Record.

Celebrate Texas Archives Month!

We are celebrating Texas Archives Month throughout the month of October along with repositories around the state. Visit our webpage for news of awards, events, exhibits and proclamations happening in Texas. The page features the virtual Texas Archives Month poster, which allows visitors to click through to the home repositories housing the digital images. Part of the celebration is recognizing the efforts to preserve and make accessible the cultures and cultural traditions of Texas. Out of the Stacks blog posts in October will highlight archival activities and collections. Be sure to follow @TSLAC on social media for the most current happenings!


Archivists Recover Stolen Documents

Archivists at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) recently recovered legal documents stolen years ago. The Archives and Information Services Division of TSLAC maintains a webpage detailing the types of documents known to be missing from the State Archives, and a Houston lawyer contacted Assistant Director Laura Saegert to notify her of the six-page item for sale through an online bookdealer. Archivist Tiffany Criswell was tasked with investigating the online images and comparing the descriptive information to in-house databases listing Texas Supreme Court files. The red “M number” stamp was the key detail in identifying the papers as state property.

The documents are from the 1845 state Supreme Court case, James M. Johnston v. James Perkins.

State Archivist Jelain Chubb notified the bookdealer of the status of his merchandise, citing Texas Government Code §441.192 that allows TSLAC to demand the return of items removed from state agencies in an unlawful manner. (More information about the sale of government records is available here.) The bookdealer was very cooperative and quickly returned the documents to the archive. After receiving the package, Tiffany began the process of restoring the papers to their rightful place in the repository.

Archivist Tiffany Criswell opens the package containing recovered legal documents from a bookdealer.

Archivist Tiffany Criswell with a recovered legal document. She will prepare the papers for storage in the repository.

Legal documents from nineteenth century court cases are typically folded, sealed, and tied with ribbon. In order to flatten the documents without damaging the paper, Tiffany will humidify them in a crate placed over a pail of water. After humidification, she will carefully smooth out the pages and place them in a press for about a month.

Typical court case document packet from the 1800s.

This simple humidification chamber will loosen the folds in the paper and allow the archivist from to flatten the pages for storage in archival boxes.

Hundreds of documents have been returned to the State Archives through this recovery process, legally referred to as replevin. If you discover documents that may belong to TSLAC, visit to learn more. We are always eager to locate missing items and restore, preserve, and make them freely available to the public in fulfillment of our role as custodians of government records.

TSLAC Fellowship Recipient Researches the Experiences of Black Soldiers in Texas in the Late 1800’s

TSLAC Research Fellow Edward Valentin Jr. sits at a table in the State Archives reading room. Valentin is opening hand-written documents.

TSLAC Research Fellow Edward Valentin Jr. conducts research in the State Archives reading room.

Texas State Library and Archives Research Fellow, Edward Valentin Jr. visited the State Archives to conduct research on his dissertation topic, “Black Regiments on America’s Imperial Frontier: Race, Citizenship, and Military Occupation.” Supported by the Friends of Libraries & Archives of Texas, the Texas State Historical Association administers the fellowship with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) for the best proposals incorporating research at the State Archives.  Valentin’s project explores the experience of black soldiers in Texas during the late 19th century, including their relationship with Texans.

Reference Archivist Richard Gilreath (left), Senior Reference Archivist Tonia Wood (center) and TSLAC Research Fellow Edward Valentin Jr. (right) in the State Archives Reading Room.

Reference Archivist Richard Gilreath (left), Senior Reference Archivist Tonia Wood (center) and TSLAC Research Fellow Edward Valentin Jr. (right) in the State Archives Reading Room.

Currently a doctoral candidate at Rice University, Valentin has been awarded their Fondren Fellowship, History Graduate Fellowship, and a Southern Historical Association Fellowship with the Journal of Southern History. The TSLAC award provides funds to travel to Austin and conduct research at the State Archives. Valentin is investigating papers from the late 1800’s, including the records of the adjutant general, the papers of governors Richard Coke and Edmund J. Davis, and military records from Fort Stockton, Texas.

Reference Archivist Richard Gilreath and Senior Reference Archivist Tonia Wood assist TSLAC research fellow Edward Valentin Jr.

Reference Archivist Richard Gilreath and Senior Reference Archivist Tonia Wood assist TSLAC research fellow Edward Valentin Jr.

We look forward to reading the compelling scholarship Edward Valentin will no doubt produce from his research at the State Archives. The Texas State Historical Association is currently accepting proposals for the 2019 TSLAC fellowship award. Follow the link for more information:


Featured Collection: Secret Societies in Texas

By Taylor Fox, Reference Librarian

Our newest featured collection is now on display in the Reference Reading Room. Secret Societies in Texas features publications from our Main and Texas Documents collections on the history of these organizations in Texas and the south. From Freemasons to the Woodmen to the Oddfellows, and more, we hope you find this collection intriguing.

Our mascot, Lorenzo the Gargoyle, has also gotten into the spirit and will be dressed up for the duration of the display:

Call No. Title Author Collection
366 D297h History of the Improved Order of Red Men and Degree of Pocahontas, 1765-1988 Davis, Robert E. MAIN
366.1 C245 1958 Masonry in Texas : background, history, and influence to 1846 Carter, James David MAIN
366.1 C245e 1846-61 Education and Masonry in Texas, 1846 to 1861 Carter, James David MAIN
366.1 C245h History of the Supreme Council, 33° : mother council of the world, ancient and accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 1861-1891 Harris, Ray Baker MAIN
366.1 H55h History of Austin Lodge Number 12, Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons Hill, C. L. MAIN
366.1 M199 1946 V.1-3 Encyclopedia of freemasonry Mackey, Albert Gallatin MAIN
366.1 W119m Masonic dictionary, Republic of Texas : [with identifying record of those master Masons who participated in the Texas revolution or rendered worthwhile service towards the success of the Republic of Texas Wade, Houston MAIN
366.1 Z85s A short history Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Texas Zumwalt, J. Lee MAIN
366.3 W154o Odd fellowship in America and in Texas Walker, William Henry MAIN
366.3 W832a Album of Odd Fellows homes Wolfe, Joseph M. MAIN
366.4 L586 1941 Rosicrucian questions and answers : with complete history of the Rosicrucian Order Lewis, H. Spencer MAIN
366.973 W553 Handbook of secret organizations Whalen, William Joseph MAIN
366.9764 C245 The first century of Scottish Rite masonry in Texas, 1867-1967 Scottish Rite (Masonic order) MAIN
368 L329W The Woodmen story : our first 100 years


Larson, Leland A. MAIN


370.9764 C245 Education and Masonry in Texas to 1846 Carter, James David MAIN
973.7 K675D Dark lanterns : secret political societies, conspiracies, and treason trials in the Civil War Klement, Frank L. MAIN
973.713 K243kn Knights of the Golden Circle : secret empire, southern secession, Civil War Keehn, David C. MAIN
Z UA380.8 AD32as c.2 As above, so below : art of the American fraternal society, 1850/1930 Adele, Lynne TXD


Registration Open! Participate in a Free Workshop: Introduction to Grant Proposals

UTEP Libary image

“Introduction to Grant Proposals” will take place at the U.T.E.P. Library in El Paso on August 21, 2018.

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) presents the second of two free workshops this summer for Texas archives professionals. Registration is open for “Introduction to Grant Proposals,” which takes place on August 21, 2018 at the U.T.E.P. Library in El Paso. This course surveys the types of state, federal, and private foundation grants available and provides information about researching and writing grant proposals. Topics include types of grants, types of funders, elements of a grant proposal, the grant review process, managing your grant project, reporting requirements, and funding resources. To learn more and register, visit:

THRAB workshops are presented in conjunction with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

TSLAC Conservation Blog Moves to New Home

By Sarah Norris, Conservator

TSLAC Conservation is moving to a new digital home!  Please reset your bookmarks to  . E-mail subscriptions will continue as always, with no updates needed.  Come visit us at our new address for upcoming posts on a POW Journal; fragile, tracing-paper maps from Texas Supreme Court case files; our upcoming exhibit, “Setting the Texas Table”; and more.  See you soon!

Conservator Sarah Norris applies heat-set tissue with a tacking iron to a manuscript with iron gall ink.