On this day in 1856, the American or Know-Nothing party of Texas met for the first time in open convention in Austin. The party was the political manifestation of the xenophobic, anti-Catholic secret society known as the American Order. In the summer of 1855 Texas Know-Nothing leaders launched a plan to gain political control of the state. Lieutenant Governor David C. Dickson, who had defected from the Democratic party, headed the ticket, though he and his fellow candidates steadfastly denied that they were members of the American Order. During the spirited ensuing campaign Sam Houston issued a public letter endorsing the principles of the American Order. Though incumbent Democratic governor Elisha M. Pease defeated Dickson in the August election, the American party elected Lemuel D. Evans to Congress and about a dozen members to the state legislature. Buoyed by these limited successes, the party held a November rally in Austin at which Houston spoke, and at the January convention elected delegates to the national convention and nominated candidates for several state offices. But the national movement soon split over the issue of slavery, and by 1857 the American party had virtually disappeared in Texas.
On this day in 1960, Sarita Kenedy East, co-heir to the 400,000-acre Kenedy Ranch, and two friends—a Trappist monk named Brother Leo and J. Peter Grace of New York—founded the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation. Mrs. East was the sole member of the foundation. In 1948 she had willed thousands of acres of land to the Oblate Fathers and to the Catholic Diocese of Corpus Christi. The rest of her holdings were to be divided among relatives and ranch kin. But in 1960 she executed a new will leaving the bulk of her estate to the foundation. Then, shortly before her death, she named Brother Leo sole member of the foundation. Thus, by the time of her death in 1961, the ingredients were mixed for a chaotic, twenty-one-year legal process that brought forth more than 200 people claiming to be legitimate heirs. Ultimately, Brother Leo was cut out and the foundation began operations (1984) as the largest charitable foundation in South Texas.
On this day in 1877, the Mason County courthouse burned, destroying all early county records, including those pertaining to the Mason County War. This deadly episode began as a feud over cattle rustling but grew into a conflict between the Anglo and German elements in the community. The violence began in February 1875, when a mob took five suspected cattle thieves from jail and killed three. Shortly thereafter, another suspected rustler was killed by twelve men with blackened faces, prompting his friend Scott Cooley, a former Texas Ranger, to seek revenge. Cooley and his men, including Johnny Ringo, killed at least a dozen men, whereupon Maj. John B. Jones and twenty or thirty Texas Rangers were sent to quiet the difficulties. Jones searched for Cooley and his followers without success before discovering that some of his rangers were former comrades-in-arms of Cooley. After Jones discharged them, Cooley fled into Blanco County and died a short time later. A few people were eventually arrested, but most of the cases were dismissed. After many months of violence, a strained peace returned to Mason County in the fall of 1876, but the courthouse fire ensured that many of the details of the Mason County War would remain unknown.
On this day in 1971, Sid Richardson Hall on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin was dedicated. The building, adjacent to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, was named for oilman and philanthropist Sid Richardson, born in Athens, Texas, in 1891. He became an independent oil producer in Fort Worth in 1919 and was well established as a millionaire by 1935. The public seldom knew of Richardson's business activities, and few knew what he looked like, for he rarely talked to reporters and did not like publicity. In 1947 he established the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, designed to aid churches, hospitals, and schools in Texas. Richardson was considered one of the wealthiest men in the nation; some estimates of his worth ranged up to $800 million, and he was often referred to as the "bachelor billionaire." He died in 1959. The building that bears his name houses the Center for American History, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, the Texas State Historical Association, and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.