Texas Frontier Gallery

In the Texas Frontier Gallery, Anglo-American influence in Texas gets an in-depth look, with displays covering Mexican rule, Texan independence, and American statehood. Learn about 19th-century Mexico's problems with American illegal immigrants and the dinnerware inspired by the Mexican-American War.

The History

Portrait of Stephen F. Austin, J. Parroll (c. 1820)
Portrait of Stephen F. Austin,
J. Parroll (c. 1820)

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, there were several attempts made to invade Texas for the purpose of creating an independent territory. These invaders were called "filibusters," and they included Ellis Bean, Xavier Mina, and James Long, among others. All failed in their illegal attempts to occupy Texas, but their movements and ideas of independence were part of a larger, looming historical event.

Around the beginning of the 19th century, Spanish officials allowed individuals to apply for "empresario grants," large chunks of land in Texas on which the empresario or entrepreneur would work to settle colonists. Moses Austin, Stephen F. Austin's father, acquired his empresario contract in 1819, just prior to his death. When Moses died, Stephen took over the contract and sought the approval of first the Spanish government and, following the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), the Mexican government. He successfully brought legal colonists to Texas and, over the next decade and a half, received more empresario grants.

Map of Texas with Adjoining Parts of the United States, Henry S. Tanner (1833)
Map of Texas with Adjoining Parts of
the United States
, Henry S. Tanner (1833)
Santa Anna's Smoking Cap, Courtesy of the Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas (c. 1836)
Stephen F. Austin's Cattle Horn Powder Flask (1800s)

Other men sought such grants, and while some were successful in recruiting families to move to their land, many were not. Some empresarios, in hopes of being successful, organized land companies to advertise and sell their land as well as transport colonists, typically from New York, to Texas.

The Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company is the best example, combining the land of three empresarios under one company. Land companies were also known for their dubious legality in Texas.

When Antonio López de Santa Anna came to power in Mexico, he threw out the Constitution of 1824. This upset many of the colonists in Texas. Combined with other grievances, many became determined to create an independent Texas. In 1835, the Consultation, a provisional Texas government, formed and declared independence. Santa Anna marched a large Mexican Army across the Rio Grande into Texas. He annihilated the Texians at the Alamo, ordered the entire captured army at Goliad to be executed, and pursued Sam Houston's Texian army, prompting the "Runaway Scrape" across Texas to safety along the Louisiana border. Santa Anna's army caught up with Houston, and on April 21, 1836, Houston defeated the Mexican army at the Battle of San Jacinto, securing Texas's independence from Mexico.

Joel Robison's U.S. Army Pattern 1832 Foot Artillery Short Sword ('The Sword That Captured Santa Anna'), N.P. Ames Co. (c. 1832)
Joel Robison's U.S. Army Pattern 1832 Foot Artillery Short Sword ("The Sword That Captured Santa Anna"), N.P. Ames Co. (c. 1832)

Over the next decade, the Republic of Texas operated as a sovereign nation. Houston was elected the first president, and the basics of a nation were created: a postal system, a standing army, a navy, money, legislatures, etc. The Republic allowed colonization to continue, prompting a group of German nobles to purchase a large area of land and settle families near present-day Fredericksburg, Texas. The Republic was annexed by the United States in 1845.

Mexico never recognized Texas's independence, and when the United States annexed Texas, the two countries fought from 1846-48, called the Mexican-American War. U.S. troops entered Mexico City, prompting an end to hostilities. Mexico yielded all of present-day Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California, as well as parts of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.