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Handbook of Texas Online

The History of Austin

The Texas State Historical Association assembled at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin on March 2–4 for its 110th annual meeting. Austin is the capital of Texas, the county seat of Travis County, and the home of the University of Texas at Austin. It is considered one of the most attractive locations in which to live in Texas, offering a favorable climate, a beautiful setting along the Colorado River, extensive live music, and a concentration of high technology enterprises.

Austin was established by the Republic of Texas in 1839 to serve as its permanent capital, and was named after Stephen F. Austin, a principal founder of Anglo-American Texas, who had died only three years earlier.  Located on what was then the outer frontier of Texas, the city had a difficult but fascinating early history. As we prepare for this year’s TSHA annual meeting, it seems fitting to focus our 15th Texas History Quiz on the history of Austin and its important role in the development of Texas.

As with our prior fourteen TSHA contests, this is an open-book quiz, and we encourage you to consult the Handbook of Texas Online, which has now received well over 75 million information requests since it was launched in 1999. We hope you also enjoy traveling through our updated TSHA Digital Gateway to Texas History, which is responding to over 4 million requests per month from over 150 countries. We plan to continue to expand the Digital Gateway over the next several years.

This quiz marks something of a departure from our usual practice: rather than making entrants wait several weeks before returning to our site to view the correct answers, we’ve decided to forego the contest aspect of this quiz in favor of providing instant feedback. Thus, while we won’t be offering a prize this time, you will be able to find out immediately whether or not your answers are correct. We hope this will increase the usefulness and fun of the quiz, but rest assured that this is just an experiment; if the “old way” seems better, we’ll return to it next time!

Mary Ludwig was the first to enter a perfect score in our most recent quiz, on Indians of Texas, for which we had more than 120 entries. Pierre Lagayette was also a winner, as his name was drawn at random from all those submitting perfect scores. Congratulations to both!

We hope that you enjoy this quiz and that you will attend our annual meeting as well as the TSHA Gala and Auction of the Century on the evening of March 4, with the proceeds going principally to fund the next phase of our Digital Gateway. The evening will honor five noted Texas history-makers of the last decade: Laura Bush, Roger Clemens, Horton Foote, Bill Hobby, and Clayton Williams.

The Questions

Question 1 :

Site Selection. A site selection commission for the permanent capital of the Republic of Texas was established in 1839 by the then-president of the Republic, who had visited the area and was promoting westward expansion. In 1839 this president also helped pass a law that set aside public lands to fund public schools and state universities, and became known as the “Father of Texas Education.” Who was this early Texas leader?

">Samuel Houston
">Anson Jones
">Mirabeau B. Lamar
">David G. Burnet
">James W. Robinson

Question 2 :

Original Name. When the five-man commission visited the area in 1839, they found a small settlement of four families near a stockade. The commission gave a name to the community, although that original name was soon changed to Austin by an act of the Congress of the Republic. What was the original name of the city of Austin?


Question 3 :

The Archive War. Austin quickly flourished, growing to almost 1,000 inhabitants by 1840. Presbyterians established the town’s first church and the City Gazette newspaper was established. In 1842, however, Austin entered its most difficult period. Sam Houston had returned as president, after Lamar, and Mexican troops captured San Antonio on March 5. President Houston ordered that the national archives be transferred to Houston for safekeeping, but Austinites refused to cooperate. When Houston sent a contingent of armed men to seize the General Land Office records in December, they were foiled by the local citizens in an incident that became known as the Archive War. The records remained in Austin, even though the capital was temporarily moved. An Austin woman helped to rally the citizens when she fired a six-pound cannon. Who was this heroic woman?

">Angelina Eberly
">Susanna Dickinson
">Elisabet Ney
">Patricia de la Garza De León
">Francita Alavez

Question 4 :

The Governor’s Mansion. Between 1842 and 1845, while the capital was temporarily moved to Houston and Washington-on-the-Brazos, Austin’s population dropped below 200. During the summer of 1845, however, a constitutional convention approved the annexation of Texas by the United States and named Austin the capital until 1850, at which time there would be a referendum. In 1850 the voters of Texas decisively supported keeping the capital in Austin.

The 1850s were a booming period for the young city. A number of important buildings were constructed during that period, including the Governor’s Mansion in 1856. Which governor helped oversee the construction and became the first governor to occupy the mansion?

">James Pinckney Henderson
">George Thomas Wood
">Peter Hansborough Bell
">James Wilson Henderson
">Elisha Marshall Pease

Question 5 :

The Civil War Period. By 1860 the population of Austin had grown to more than 3,500, which included about 1,000 slaves and 12 free blacks. In February 1861 Austin and Travis County residents voted against the secession ordinance 704 to 450, but Unionist sentiment waned once the Civil War began. By April 1862 about 600 local men had joined some twelve volunteer companies serving the Confederacy. The Austin-based Tom Green Rifles served with Hood’s Texas Brigade.

Although the town was never threatened, it suffered economically. A new era began on Christmas Day in 1871, when the first railroad came to town. By becoming the westernmost railroad terminus in Texas and the only railroad town for scores of miles, Austin was transformed into a trading center. Which railroad was it?

">Henderson and Burkville Railroad Company
">Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company
">Houston and Texas Central Railway
">International and Great Northern
">Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad

Question 6 :

The Birth of a University. The University of Texas was contemplated by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1839, although construction did not actually begin until November 1882. Texas A&M College actually began construction prior to the University of Texas, being established in 1871.

At the laying of the cornerstone of the first building of the University of Texas in 1882, the first president of the board of regents stated, “Smite the rocks with the rod of knowledge, and fountains of unstinted wealth will gush forth.” This turned out to be amazingly prophetic, as oil was discovered in 1923 on the large blocks of public lands allocated to the Permanent University Fund, which have helped make the university one of the best-endowed public universities in the nation today.

The following are five members of the Board of Regents who have served the university. Who was the first president of the Board of Regents?

">Frank Erwin
">Thomas S. Henderson
">John Robert Peace
">Ed Clark
">Ashbel Smith

Question 7 :

Taming the Colorado River. In 1888 civic leader Alexander P. Wooldridge proposed that Austin construct a dam across the Colorado River and use water power to attract manufacturing. Proponents of the dam won political control of Austin in 1889. Empowered by a new city charter in 1891 that more than tripled Austin's corporate area, from 4½ to 16½ square miles, the city fathers implemented a plan to build a municipal water and electric system, construct a dam for power, and lease most of the waterpower to manufacturers. By 1893 the sixty-foot-high dam was completed, impounding Lake McDonald behind it. In 1895 dam-generated electricity began powering the four-year-old electric streetcar line and the city's new water and light systems. Thirty-one new 150-foot-high "moonlight towers," many of which still stand today, illuminated Austin at night.

This first dam was one of many that were ultimately built to tame and harness the energy of the Colorado River, five of which are listed below. Which was the first dam built in 1893?

">Austin Dam
">Tom Miller Dam
">Mansfield Dam
">Longhorn Crossing Dam
">Buchanan Dam

Question 8 :

The Texas Capitol Building. The current Texas Capitol building was completed in 1888, after six years of construction. The building commission held a design competition in 1880. Eight architects entered a total of 11 different designs in the competition, and the design of Elijah E. Myers of Detroit was chosen. The building is constructed of Texas red granite from Granite Mountain, in the Marble Falls area.

One of the more unusual aspects of the Capitol building is how it was financed. The Texas legislature set aside a large tract of land in the Texas Panhandle, in order to solicit the capital for the construction from investors. How many acres were allocated for this purpose?

">3,000 acres
">30,000 acres
">300,000 acres
">3,000,000 acres
">30,000,000 acres

Question 9 :

The Founding of the Texas State Historical Association. Another significant event in the history of Austin was the founding of the Texas State Historical Association in 1897. The first meeting of its founders was held on the campus of the University of Texas on February 13, 1897. The first formal meeting was held in the Texas Capitol on March 2, 1897.

The first meeting was conducted by the light of two lanterns, since the lighting system failed. As a result, lanterns “lighting the path of historical discovery” have been the symbols of the association ever since.

One of the many accomplishments of the Association has been the 110 years of publishing of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, which is the oldest continuously published journal in the state. What was this journal originally called?

">Southern Historical Journal
">The Cactus
">Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association
">Texas Historian
">The Handbook of Texas

Question 10 :

Austin Music. Austin is known for its climate, its University of Texas national championship football and baseball teams, its high technology companies, its diverse restaurants, and its annual film festival.  One of its best-known attributes, however, may be its progressive country music.

Helping to promote the music of Austin is a Public Broadcasting System show that began in 1976 and is now in its 31st season. This show has featured performers such as Jimmy Buffett, Rosanne Cash, Ray Charles, Leonard Cohen, B. B. King, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, George Strait, Johnnie Cash, and Tanya Tucker. Each of the following was considered as a name for the show. Which was ultimately chosen?

">Hill Country Rain
">Austin Space
">River City Country
">Travis County Line
">Austin City Limits