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Stephen F. Austin died 175 years ago today 12/27

The Father of Texas and the most well known person buried at the Cemetery died 175 years ago today. Stephen F. Austin was a man who tirelessly worked to see Texas turn from a no man's land between the United States and Mexico's outer provinces into a bustling nation in its own right. Before Austin and his First 300 colonists arrived, Texas had been one of Mexico's most troubled holdings with the Comanche, Apache and other tribes using it as a staging ground for raids into the Mexican heartland. The Comanche, Apache, Karankawa, Tonkowa, Wichita and other tribes called Texas home and no colonists from Mexico went much further north than San Antonio. Moses Austin, Stephen's father, had a scheme to bring Anglo colonists from the United States to then Spanish Mexico. The authorities in Mexico City agreed, partly to develop a buffer between the raiding Indian tribes and the outlying Mexican provinces. Permission was given despite misgivings and in 1821 Moses set to bring his first colonists to Texas. He died and Stephen took his place as the first empresario of Texas. He helped guide the First 300 colonists to their new homes along the Brazos River. For more on Stephen F. Austin, much more, click on the links below.




Texas State Library and Archives

Texas A&M

Handbook of Texas


TSHA Moses Austin Article

Mike Cox Article

In 1910, some sixty years later than the Texas Legislature wanted, Austin's remains were removed from his sister's land at Peach Point in Brazoria County and brought to Austin for burial at the Texas State Cemetery. One of the first laws passed after the Legislature founded the Cemetery in 1851 was a directive to have Austin's remains moved here. Governor O.B. Colquitt was the man to do it. He commissioned famous San Antonio based sculptor Pompeo Coppini to make a suitable marker for his grave. One of the more common questions I get as a tour guide is 'What is Austin doing with his hand?' Well, there are a lot of stories out there as to what he's doing. One story goes that the statue was originally commissioned for the Congress Avenue bridge over Town Lake and Austin is showing off downtown, but I've seen no real first hand evidence for this. Another is that he is pointing in the direction of his colony (he's not). Another is that he is saluting the viewer. Sometimes after telling a very bright group of kids what he's doing, one will say 'but wait, if that's a salute, it looks an awful lot like the Nazi salute...' and then everyone nods uncomfortably. Then I have to explain that the sculpture was made long, long before the Nazis came to power in Germany, Hitler was barely out off his twenties at that time.

So, what is he doing? Its a matter of opinion, but personally, I think he is doing the old Bellamy Salute (pictured right). It seems strange now, but before we gave the Pledge of Allegiance by putting our hands over our hearts, we gave the Bellamy Salute. Before the rise of National Socialism, people all over America saluted the flag of the United States with a hand raised just like Austin's statue. The gesture was abandonded in America because of the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy, where it was widely used. It was because of the rise of fascism that Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the official gesture to the hand over the heart. On Coppini's statue, Austin is making a gesture with one hand and holds a map of Texas with the other. Perhaps he is pledging his allegiance to Texas? Maybe not, but until we get a hold of Pompeo's personal journals, we'll never know. More on Pompeo and his work in the days to come.


- Will Erwin