By Anna Reznik, Archivist
In the early hours of December 30, 1842, a group of men lead by Colonel Thomas I. Smith and Captain Eli Chandler began loading Republic of Texas’ government archives into wagons. Smith and Chandler had instructions from President Sam Houston to move the records for safekeeping.
In Houston’s eyes, the advancing Mexican army made Austin unsafe. Earlier in 1842, Houston instructed the government to move to a safer location. Government officials began operating from Washington-on-the-Brazos; however, the archives remained in Austin. In December 1842, the president ordered men to move the archives.
In the eyes of Austin citizens, Houston’s orders were an excuse to move the capital away from a city the president disliked. Many felt that Houston’s peace negotiations with Native American peoples made Austin safer than it had been previously.
Under the cover of darkness, Smith, Chandler, and twenty men loaded three wagons before widow Angelina Eberly realized the implications of the archives leaving Austin. To alert other Austinites, Eberly fired a cannon outside her boarding house. Her shot missed the men but hit the General Land Office building. Smith, Chandler, and clerks from the General Land Office fled with three wagons. The vigilantes followed with the cannon. Shortly after, near Brushy Creek, the vigilantes forced Smith and Chandler to surrender. The archives returned to Austin.Both houses of the legislature investigated the matter. The House Select Committee stated that Houston requested that the Congress order the archives be removed from Austin, but Congress had refused. The committee also found that Houston had acted beyond his powers in moving the capital to Washington-on-the-Brazos. The full House rejected the committee’s report by a vote of 19 to 18.
On January 13, 1843, the Senate Committee on Public Lands recommended that the government should move back to Austin to save taxpayer money. Despite strong words from the legislature, the Republic government continued operating in Washington-on-the-Brazos for two more years.
Without the government, many Austin businesses closed, and the city almost became a ghost town. But the records created before the 1843 remained in Austin. In 1845, Austin once again became the capital, and the government records were united. Five years later, in 1850, Austin became the permanent capital of Texas.
In the 175 years since Angelina fired her cannon, the Archives War has become symbolic of the importance of government records. Archives allow citizens to monitor government operations, understand actions of all three branches of state government, and assist in determining property rights.
The Archives War is reflected in the following materials at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission:
The Andrew Jackson Houston collection contains correspondence to and from Sam Houston throughout his life. Of special interest is an order to remove the archives from Austin and a draft of Houston’s response to Congress’ investigations of the Archives War.
The materials at the center of the Archives War were the Republic’s land records. Though many of Texas’ land records are preserved and maintained at the Texas General Land Office, TSLAC holds the General Land Office’s incoming correspondence from the 19th century. Included in these records are a warning about the Mexican Army in San Antonio, efforts to recover “lost” records, and the government struggling to operate in Washington-on-the-Brazos while the archives remained in Austin.
Our publications collections include books and articles about the Archives War as well as Angelina Eberly and others who played central roles in the Archives War.
Additional publications can be found by searching the library catalog.
|The Archive War of Texas||Jewett, Henry J.||976.404 AR25w||Main (non-circulating)|
|The Archive War in Texas||Yager, Hope||976.404 Y103a OVER-T||Main (non-circulating)|
|The Houston Story; A Chronicle of the City of Houston and the Texas Frontier from the Battle of San Jacinto to the War Between the States, 1836-1865||Bartholomew, Ed Ellsworth||976.414 B283||Main (circulating)|
|A Texas scrap-book: made up of the history, biography, and miscellany of Texas and its people||Baker, D. W. C.||976.4 B17s 1875||Main (non-circulating; available online from the Internet Archive)|
|The Lady Cannoneer: A Biography of Angelina Belle Peyton Eberly, Heroine of the Texas Archives War||King, C. Richard||976.404 K58L||Main (circulating)|
|Sam Houston: A Biography of the Father of Texas||Williams, John Hoyt||923.273 H818WILJ||Main (noncirculating)|
|Peg Leg: The Improbable Life of a Texas Hero, Thomas William Ward, 1807-1872||Humphrey, David C.||327.73 H884p||Main (non-circulating)|
|Journals of the Senate of the Republic of Texas, 7th Congress||Texas. Congress. Senate.||L1793.6 J826 7TH||Texas Documents (non-circulating; available online from the Legislative Reference Library)|
|Journals of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas, 7th Congress||Texas. Congress. House of Representatives.||L1791.6 J826 7TH-9TH||Texas Documents (non-circulating; available online from the Legislative Reference Library)|
|Secret journals of the Senate, Republic of Texas, 1836-1845||Texas. Congress. Senate.||L1793.6 J826sj 1836-45||Texas Documents (non-circulating; available online from the Legislative Reference Library)|
|Southwestern Historical Quarterly. (Indexes)||Texas State Historical Association||976.406 SO8 INDEX V. 1-107||Reference Reading Room (non-circulating)|
For more about the Archives War and its importance to Texas history, check out our website at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/republic/archwar/archwar.html.