The Archives War
Mrs. Angelina Eberly firing off a cannon
The early Texas republic faced many decisions, including choosing a site for a permanent capital. The Texas Congress favored searching for a favorable location in Central Texas and building a planned city. Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic, blocked this plan; the president preferred that the capital go to Houston, his own fledgling namesake city on the Gulf. The choice remained in limbo until 1839, when Mirabeau B. Lamar replaced Houston as president and pushed the Central Texas plan. A site was chosen along the Colorado River near the tiny settlement of Waterloo.
Within the year, Lamar had moved to the new capital, now called Austin, and Congress was meeting in log buildings in the frontier town. Forty wagons carried the government archives from Houston to their new home. Over the next several years, the archives would become a highly visible symbol of a tug-of-war for government power in Texas.
In 1841, Sam Houston again became president. He often described Austin as "the most unfortunate site on earth for a seat of government," and refused to move in to the official residence, preferred instead to take a room at a boarding house run by Mrs. Angelina Eberly.
The next year, Houston saw his chance to move the capital back to the city of Houston. The Mexican army invaded Texas and took control of San Antonio, Goliad, and Victoria. The president called a special session of Congress to meet in Houston, arguing that Austin was defenseless against Mexican attack. He also ordered the secretary of state to remove the archives back to Houston. The citizens of Austin were determined to prevent the move. They formed a vigilante "Committee of Safety" and warned the heads of government in Austin that any attempts to move the official papers would be met with armed resistance.
In December 1842, Houston announced that Austin was no longer the capital and ordered Colonel Thomas I. Smith and Captain Eli Chandler to Austin to remove the archives. Smith and Chandler and 20 men loaded three wagons without incident before being spotted by Mrs. Eberly. She fired a cannon to alert the citizens of Austin.
Smith and Chandler fled with their wagons, with the vigilantes in hot pursuit. At Brushy Creek in Williamson County, just north of Austin, Chandler and Smith were forced to surrender at gunpoint. The archives were returned to Austin, where the citizens celebrated with a New Year's Eve party.
The government itself did not move back to Austin until 1845, and the question of the location of the Texas capital was not completely settled until 1850, when Texans voted by a large majority to make Austin the permanent seat of government.