Audubon’s 1837 Visit to Houston

Mockingbirds
[Audubon print of Mockingbirds]

The great naturalist John James Audubon visited the Republic of Texas, including Houston, in 1837.  The Texas State Historical Association reports that “important parts of John James Audubon’s journal, including information on his 1837 Texas trip, were lost.”  Some portions of his journal writings on Houston appear to have survived, however, as they have been reproduced in various sources.  In 1875, the Galveston newspaper, excerpting from a piece in the San Marcos newspaper, reproduced Audubon’s account of his visit to Houston as follows:

May 15. We landed at Houston, the capital of Texas, drenched to the skin, and were kindly received on board the steamer Yellow Stone, Captain West, who gave us his state-room to change our clothes, and furnished us refreshments and dinner.  The Buffalo bayou had risen about six feet, and the neighboring prairies were partly covered with water; there was a wild and desolate look cast on the surrounding scenery. We had already passed two little girls encamped on the bank of the bayou, under the cover of a few clapboards, cooking a scanty meal; shanties, cargoes of hogsheads, barrels, etc., were spread about the landing; and Indians drunk and hallooing were stumbling about in the mud in every direction. These poor beings had come here to enter into a treaty proposed by the whites; many of them were young and well looking, and with far less decorations than I have seen before on such occasions. The chief of the tribe is an old and corpulent man.

We walked towards the President’s house, accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy, and as soon as we rose above the bank we saw before us a level of far-extending prairie, destitute of timber and of rather poor soil. Houses, half finished, and most of them without roofs, tents and a liberty pole, with the capitol, were all exhibited to our view at once.  We approached the President’s mansion, however, wading through water above our ankles. This abode of President Houston is a small log house, consisting of two rooms, and a passage through after, the Southern fashion. The moment we stepped over the threshold, on the right hand of the passage we found ourselves ushered into what in other countries would be called the ante-chamber; the ground floor, however, was muddy and filthy, a large fire was burning, a small table covered with paper and writing materials was in the center, camp-beds, trunks and different materials were strewed around the room. We were at once presented to several members of the Cabinet, some of whom bore the stamp of men of intellectual ability, simple though bold, in their general appearance.  Here we were presented to Mr. Crawford, an agent of the British Minister to Mexico, who has come here on some secret mission.

The President was engaged in the opposite room on national business, and we could not see him for some time. Meanwhile we amused ourselves by walking to the capitol, which was yet without a roof, arid the floors, benches, and tables of both houses of Congress were as well saturated with water as our clothes had been in the morning. Being invited by one of the great men of the place to enter a booth to take a drink of grog with whim, we did so; but I was rather surprised that he offered his name, instead of the cash to the bar-keeper.

We first caught sight of President Houston as he walked from one of the grog-shops, where he had been to prevent the sale of ardent spirits. He was on his way to his house, and wore a large coarse gray hat; and the bulk of his figure reminded me of the appearance of Gen. Hopkins, of Virginia, for, like him, he is upward of six feet high, and strong in proportion. But I observed a scowl in the expression of his eyes that was forbidding and disagreeable.  We reached his abode before him, but he soon came, and we were presented to his Excellency. He was dressed in a fancy velvetcoat, and trowsers trimmed with broad gold lace; around his neck was tied a cravat somewhat in the style of seventy-six. He received us kindly, was desirous of retaining us for a while, and offered us every facility within his power. He at once removed us from the ante-room to his private chamber, which, by the way was not much cleaner than the former. We were severally introduced by him to the different members of his cabinet and staff, and at once asked to drink grog with him, which we did, wishing success to his new republic. Our talk was short, but the impression which was made on my mind at the time by himself, his officers, and his place of abode, can never be forgotten.

We returned to our boat through a melee of Indians and blackguards of all sorts. In giving a last glance back we once more noticed a number of horses rambling about the grounds, or tied beneath the few trees that have been spared by the axe. We also saw a liberty pole, erected on the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto, on the 21st of last April, and were informed that a brave tar, who rigged the Texan flag on that occasion, had been personally rewarded by President Houston with a town lot, a doubloon and the privilege of keeping a ferry across the Buffalo bayou at the town, where the bayou forks diverge in opposite directions.

More information:

TSHA, Handbook of Texas Online, “Audubon, John James”

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2 responses to “Audubon’s 1837 Visit to Houston

  1. that’s a pretty good artwork

  2. Pingback: Time Travel on the Prairie, Part 1 | Watershed Texas

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