Mysteries of History

The Texas Archives War

What Happened In The Archives War ?

On December 10, 1842, Sam Houston ordered Colonel Thomas I. Smith to move the Texas Archives from Austin to Houston resulting in the Archives War. Why did he do this? Why did the citizens revolt against this decision? All of these questions answered in this weeks edition of Mysteries of History.

The Archives War Background

During the Texas Revolution the papers that documented the governments workings were moved from town to town as the capital moved so the Mexican Army couldn't capture them. When the war ended the archives were moved to Columbia then to Houston. Sam Houston wanted the capital to be in his town, Houston. The archives symbolize the head of the nation so whichever city they were in was most likely going to be the capital. In 1839 Mirabeau B. Lamar became the second president of the Republic of Texas. He wanted the capital to be centrally located in a planned city. This was done in October of 1839, using fifty wagons. Over the next several years the Comanche raided the town of Austin frequently. The people of Houston used this as evidence of having the capital back in their city. Sam Houston was elected president in 1841 by a landslide victory. Sam Houston wanted the capital moved back to Houston because Mexico still didn't recognize Texas as its own country, so they continually sent Mexican forces to invade Texas. The Congress continued to reject his proposal.

The Archives War Prelude

In January 1842, General Rafael Vasquez and the Mexican army Invaded Texas and captured San Antonio. By March 5, there were more than 1,000 troops camped in San Antonio. In Austin, martial law was recommended and most of the people living there evacuated. General Vasquez withdrew after a couple of days, Sam Houston may or may not have known this but on March 10, Houston ordered George Washington Hockley, Secretary of War, to move the archives to Houston. This wasn't a bad idea if the Mexican army was still invading and it probably wouldn't of drawn as much criticism as it did if Sam Houston hadn't been pushing for Houston to be the capital. His justification for this move was a quote from the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, it said, "The president and heads of departments shall keep their offices at the seat of government, unless removed by the permission of Congress, or unless, in case of emergency in time of war, the public interest may require their removal." It basically says, if the archives are threatened by war, the removal of them to a safe place is allowed. So using this evidence Houston asked Congress to move the archives. They still denied his request saying there was no immediate threat to Austin.

Sam Houstons Secret Orders

In September of 1842, General Adrian Woll led part of the Mexican army into Texas and temporarily captured San Antonio. This time Houston went and demanded that Congress support the removal of the archives. He stated "as to the propriety and necessity of the act no reasonable doubt could exist". Senator Greer got Congress to vote on a bill that would allow the removal of the Archives but it was voted against. On December 10 Sam Houston privately ordered Colonel Thomas I. Smith and Captain Eli Chandler to remove the archives from Austin and deliver them to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Houston wrote that "The importance of removing the public archives and government stores from their present dangerous situation at the City of Austin to a place of security, is becoming daily more and more imperative. While they remain where they are, no one knows the hour when they may be utterly destroyed." Colonel Smith led over 20 men and 3 wagons into Austin on December 30, 1842. They were almost finished loading the wagons when Angelina Eberly, an owner of a nearby boarding house, noticed them. Everything went downhill from there.

Angelina Eberly

Angelina Eberly was an innkeeper and a hero of the Archives War. She was born on July 2, 1798 in Tennessee. She and her second husband moved to Austin in 1839 and opened the Eberly House. She had hosted President Mirabeau Lamar and his cabinet. Sam Houston ironically stayed in her inn when in the capital because he didn't like the living space provided for him there. When Colonel Smith marched in with his men and loaded the archives into the wagons. She realized the symbols of the national government were being taken from their city. She ran to Congress Avenue, where a 6 pound Howitzer was located, and fired it into the General Land Office. Rousing the town to what they call theft.

The Battle

The men left quickly, heading northeast to avoid the men patrolling Bastrop. Their progress was slow but they made it 18 miles to Kinney's Fort along Bushy Creek where they camped for the night. Captain Mark Lewis gathered men in Austin to retrieve the archives. Most of the men had little or no weapons and no horses. They snuck up on Colonel Smith's encampment and captured them. On the morning of December 31, the men marched back to Austin and returned the archives. President Houston was harshly criticized for his actions. Austin went on to become a successful town and the Capital of Texas.
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- The Texas Senate: Republic to Civil War, 1836–1861, Volume 1 of The Texas Senate, College Station: Texas A&M University Press

-"The Texan Archive War of 1842", Southwestern Historical Quarterly