the rambling boy
A redneck rock impresario and history buff
By LONN TAYLOR
Eddie Wilson has been famous as a music entrepreneur in Austin since 1970, when he turned an old National Guard armory into the Armadillo World Headquarters and invited Willie Nelson to perform there, and as a restaurateur since 1981, when he bought Kenneth Threadgill’s old beer joint on North Lamar Boulevard and turned it into a restaurant called Threadgill’s.
What most people do not know about Eddie Wilson is that he is an enthusiastic Texas history buff. He revealed a clue to this interest in 1996, when he published a beautifully-designed book called Threadgill’s: The Cook Book (Atlanta: Longstreet Press), which is far more than a cookbook because it included a comic-strip history of the Austin music scene of the 1960s and early 70s drawn by Jack Jackson which is one of the best things in print on this subject. Jackson was an artist-scholar who wrote several fine books on Spanish Texas and once produced an underground comic book called The Adventures of Jesus, but that is another story.
(photo courtesy Capital Area Statues)
Angelina Eberly firing the cannon.
Eddie has turned Threadgill’s into a museum of Texas music, but his interest in Texas history reaches far beyond the 1960s. He recently sent me a transcript of a clipping from the Hartford, Connecticut Courant of December 14, 1844, describing an incident in Austin that has become known as the Archive War. In his note to me, Eddie called the Courant narrative “one of the most definitive, shoot ‘em up, galloping westerns I have ever read.” It certainly has a lot of blood and thunder in it for a 2,200-word newspaper article.
The Archive War, according to the Handbook of Texas, was an aspect of the rivalry between Mirabeau Lamar and Sam Houston. When Lamar succeeded Houston as president of the Republic of Texas he moved the republic’s capital from Houston to the new city of Austin as part of his vision of a republic stretching westward to the Pacific Ocean. At that time Austin was on the Comanche frontier, west of the line of settlement. In March 1842, during Houston’s second administration, an invading Mexican army occupied San Antonio and threatened Austin. Houston called a special session of the republic’s congress into session, not in Austin but at Washington-on-the-Brazos, and ordered a company of Texas Rangers to go the Austin and remove the state papers to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Mexicans. The citizens of Austin, fearing that Houston intended to move the capital back to Houston, formed a vigilante committee under a Captain Mark Lewis to keep the Rangers from taking the archives. In the ensuing action an Austin hotelkeeper named Mrs. Angelina Eberly fired a cannon loaded with grapeshot at the Rangers but no one was killed or even injured. Her deed has been immortalized in bronze by sculptor Pat Oliphant at the corner of 6th and Congress in downtown Austin.
In spite of Mrs. Eberly, the Rangers managed to get the archives loaded onto wagons in broad daylight and started out of town with them. However, when they stopped for the night they were surrounded by the vigilantes and, after an all-night negotiation, agreed to return the archives to Austin, where they have remained ever since.
The unknown author of the Courant article was one of the vigilantes. While the Archive War itself was bloodless, the tale that he tells about its aftermath, which did not find its way into the Handbook of Texas, is indeed, as Eddie Wilson says, a true shoot ‘em up.
The trouble started as the vigilantes were gathering in the streets of Austin to pursue the Rangers. A Dr. Marsden was called on to loan his horse to the effort and declined. As the Courant author says, “high words passed between him and John Noland (one of the vigilantes), who clinched a rifle and, leveling it, ordered Marsden to dismount . . . his fingers trembled nervously around the trigger of his gun, but Captain Lewis wrenched it from him, and Marsden made his escape.”
After this incident, according to the Courant author, “there existed a rancorous hostility between John Noland and Captain Lewis.” A few months later they met on the street and both fired pistols at each other. Both missed. As the Courant author tells the story, “Noland then grasped his Bowie knife but the handle separated from the blade; at the same instant his body received the contents of his adversary’s second pistol and his soul took its flight to seek associates in eternity.”
The killing did not stop there. Lewis turned himself in to the sheriff and surrendered his pistols but the next day two friends of Noland’s, George Barrett and Lewis Cook, caught Lewis unarmed and killed him and a man named Alexander Peyton who tried to intervene in the fray.
Cook and Barrett were both indicted for the murders, and the Courant author describes Cook’s trial in Judge R.E.B. Baylor’s court in Bastrop. He says that the case had been presented to the jury and they had retired from the courtroom “when the friends of Cook’s shouted for war – knives were drawn, pistols were cocked, the judge was hurried from the bench, glad to escape with his life . . . Cook implored his friends to desist from their purpose, knowing, as he said, that if a drop of blood were shed his should be sacrificed on the spot. No verdict was rendered, and before the succeeding term of the court Cook made his escape.”
According to the Courant author, Cook, “who had twice been elected to the House of Representatives in the Texas Congress and had been Secretary of the Navy in Lamar’s administration, was obliged to seek refuge at Corpus Christi, where a band of men resided whose character it is needless to designate. They reported that he was killed by Comanches while crossing or shortly after crossing a swollen stream, etc. I never believed the story.”
The Courant author was quite right not to believe that story. The Handbook of Texas says that Cook went on to serve in the Mexican War and died in a cholera epidemic in Brownsville in 1849.
The Courant author attributed the violence in Austin to political factionalism, “men being divided into parties and cliques.” There are still plenty of parties and cliques in Austin, and some of them are carrying guns, but at least they are not shooting at each other on the streets – yet.
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Lonn Taylor is a historian and writer who lives in Fort Davis. He can be reached at email@example.com.