On this day in 1836, the General Land Office was established by the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. John P. Borden, the first commissioner, opened the office in Houston on October 1, 1837. He was enjoined by law to "superintend, execute, and perform all acts touching or respecting the public lands of Texas." Much of the early business of the office consisted of translating and registering Spanish and Mexican land grants, and issuing headrights, military bounties, homestead preemptions, and veteran donations. Extensive land grants have been used to fund the public debt and education and to develop railroads. Texas is the only public-land state with complete control over its public lands and over the proceeds resulting from the administration and sale of lands.
On this day in 1982, the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin opened to the public on the seventieth birthday of former First Lady Claudia (Lady Bird) Johnson, the driving force behind its establishment. She formulated the idea of a national center to study wildflowers and native plants in response to her lifelong interest in the natural world and her concern, especially during the 1960s, about the rapid disappearance of natural areas. Mrs. Johnson envisioned the center as a nationwide clearinghouse for information about wildflowers and native plants. Through research and education, the Wildflower Center strives to bring about a fuller understanding of the ecological, economic, and aesthetic benefits of native plants. Research at the center includes studies on the propagation, cultivation, management, and reestablishment of native plants and their relationships and dependence upon other species in natural systems. A primary research objective is to provide appropriate information about native, indigenous plants so that every individual can participate in the conservation and reestablishment of our native flora at all levels--from home gardens to large natural areas.
On this day in 1943, war hero and escaped prisoner of war William Dyess resumed his flying career and was killed while attempting an emergency landing in Burbank, California. Dyess, born in Albany, Texas, in 1916, was sent to the Philippines in October 1941. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and began assaults on Bataan and Corregidor, Dyess was thrust into combat as commander of all flying squadrons on Bataan. In March 1942 he sank a Japanese ship and damaged shore installations in Subic Bay. When American forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese in April 1942, Dyess became a prisoner of war. He survived the horror of the Bataan Death March and imprisonment at camps O'Donnell and Cabanatuan and the Davao Penal Colony. In April 1943 Dyess and several other prisoners escaped from Davao and contacted Filipino guerillas, who led them to an American submarine. After evacuation to Australia and a hero's welcome in the United States, Dyess briefed the War Department on Japanese warfare and confirmed the enemy's brutality to POWs. After staying in an army hospital in Virginia to regain his health, Dyess was promoted to lieutenant colonel and resumed flying, with fatal consequences. During his life he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, and the Silver Star. He was posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal. Abilene Air Force Base was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in his honor in 1956.
On this day in 1839, in Houston, Louis Ervendberg held the first recorded church services for Texas Germans. He had held a church post in Pomerania before immigrating to America in 1836-37, and he established congregations in southern Illinois before coming to Texas. Ervendberg was invited by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels to minister to the Adelsverein immigrants, whom he accompanied from Indianola to the site of present-day New Braunfels. His later life was marked by scandal. In the mid-1850s he began an affair with an orphan under his care, which ultimately led to divorce from his wife and to his moving to Mexico. He was reportedly shot to death by robbers in 1863, though some information places him in Paris four years later.