Austin, Texas. April 12. Wednesday
1,483. That is the number of school children scheduled to be visiting the Bullock State History museum today, as we were told by several docents and employees. It was the largest number in several weeks and they expected to be busy. They were busy, but the museum is large (three floors) and we were not overly bothered by throngs of young students.
Our arrival at the museum was preceded by dropping off our car at the Austin Subaru dealership for its 30,000 mile check-up. It was a little before it was needed but there aren’t any dealerships in the sections of West Texas we will be visiting over the next week to ten days and the miles will be adding up. The dealership provided us with a ride downtown and picked us up in the afternoon.
AAA rates this museum as a gem and said to expect to spend three hours here. We were here for 4.5 hours, including lunch in their cafe and did a pretty good job of visiting exhibits of interest. There were two exhibits that we went through quickly (Music Festivals and Stevie Ray Vaughn).
As one expects of a state history museum, the focus is on Texas history from Native Americans through its time under Spanish and then Mexican rule up to the 20th century. The Texas Independence movement a highlight and is told from the American side, as one would expect. The Mexican immigrants and European settlers that were invited into this province of Mexico were losing their previously granted freedom of action and subject to stronger central Mexican rule. They chafed under it and demanded their independence. Mexico said no way and the Mexican army was the better prepared.
Then in 1836 came Mexican victories at the Alamo and Goliad (lesser known outside of Texas but the Texas rebels were slaughtered by the Mexican forces). Instead of shutting down the independence drive, the two losses fueled it. Sam Houston and his troops defeated the larger and better trained Mexican forces under Santa Anna at San Jacinto and Texas became a newly independent country. In 1845, under request of the Republic of Texas, Texas was annexed into the United States. It was not an easy decision, even though many Texans were for it from the beginning. Some Texans wanted to remain a separate country and many US Northerners did not want an additional slave holding state to enter the US. The Republic of Texas faced a mounting debt, a weak currency, and continual threats of invasion by Mexico. Becoming part of the Unites States addressed those issues. The Mexican-American Was of 1846-48 (or from the Mexican side, the War of the United States against Mexico) resolved the question of Texas and portions of today’s Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California were added to the United States.
I was struck by how long-lasting and deep can be the development of cultural myths and story lines. All history is complicated but people have a pattern of developing a concise world view that is usually based on some facts but which facts are kept and which discarded form the lens by which we decide current issues.
Texas’ varied geography is shown along with the crops and minerals produced by those different geographic areas. Wool, rice, cotton, cattle, goats, lumber, mercury mining, wheat, and oil all played a major role in different areas. The new role of technology is presented but we breezed through that.
As we have seen in other museums, the fact that cowboys were not really white males with European ancestry but began as Mexicans and were significantly influenced by newly freed blacks after the Civil War was prominently shown.
Our Evergreen hosts took us to a honky-tonk restaurant (the Broken Spoke) for dinner and for a ride around Austin. The photo at the top of the page illustrates “Graffiti Hill”, a landmark Austin shows off to outsiders. People are invited to paint their own graffiti message and the wall changes constantly. We saw several new works of art going up as we stood there.
A second stop was the Treaty Oak, the last remaining oak tree from a grove of trees (the others fell victim to neglect and urban development) standing when, according to folklore, Stephen Austin negotiated a treaty with Indians. In 1989 a vandal poured an enormous amount of pesticide on the roots of the tree. Two-thirds of the tree died but a massive effort funded by a “blank check” from H. Ross Perot of Dallas saved the rest of the tree.
Thursday, April 12
Our drive to San Antonio took us through San Marcos, Texas and we stopped at the Meadows Center for Water and Environment run by Texas State University. The Meadows is located at a spring on the Edwards Aquifer, a huge aquifer providing drinking water for people from Austin to San Antonio. The spring is on a fault where the flat land starting at the Gulf of Mexico ends and the hills of the Texas Hill Country begin. The aquifer bubbles up here through numerous springs and creates Spring Lake where we took a glass bottom boat ride. The boat ride allows one to see the springs bubbling up, turtles, fish, vegetation, and two scuba divers who were trimming the vegetation underwater so it does not get out of control.
In San Antonio we stopped at one of the five missions still standing from the 1718-1824 period when the Spanish originated missions were vital in establishing control and settlement. The missions are now church buildings run by the Catholic archdiocese in San Antonio while also part of the National Park Service.
The Park Service has films and displays about the Spanish role in colonization. Native Americans were decimated by European diseases and threatened by other Indian tribes. A number of the Indians gave up their way of life for a chance at survival by living at the missions and being almost forced labor to keep the missions functioning. It did work in that many Indians were converted to Catholicism and are a significant cultural force in Texas today. It also was one of the factors in the loss of Indian traditions.
Ed and Chris. April 13