Each year in early November, Brazoria County celebrates “Austin Town.” The Brazoria County Historical Museum sponsors this event “with the goal of giving the public an educational and entertaining experience.” “The thing that the kids [1,000 local 4th and 5th graders] get on Field Trip Day is the real thing. They can see, smell, and taste, and touch life as it was lived in Colonial Texas.” The article advertising it in Image magazine goes on to explain that people will have the opportunity to encounter cannon drills, church services, dances, children attending school, people making tortillas, butter, or soap, and a variety of other aspects of everyday life. The advertisement does not mention anything about slavery.
I decided to attend the event to see what was going on for myself. As I fully expected, this is not a celebration of the past, but rather a celebration of a highly filtered and revised version of the past that people in Texas tend to have been thoroughly indoctrinated to believe. Indeed, this event reinforced every-single-inaccurate-image people have about life in Texas in the 1800s. One historical reenactor, a woman making clothes by hand, explained that life for [white] men was just morbid “back then” (referring to Ireland in the 1600s or 1700s) because they died all the time while working.
People don’t know and don’t want to know that Stephen F. Austin was an enslaver; the families he brought to Texas were also enslavers. Stephen F. Austin is not only “the Father of Texas,” he is also the individual responsible for bringing the institution of slavery to Texas. These Texans did everything they could to develop, maintain, and perpetuate enslavement, even in the face of laws from the Mexican government forbidding it. Some made their “slaves” into “ninety-nine year indentured servants” in order to circumvent the law, for example. Indeed, the Texas Revolution was NOT about securing liberty from a repressive Mexican government, unless by liberty we mean the right to own humans and create an all-white nation. (The Republic of Texas Constitution said the only time a non-white person could reside in the state is if they were enslaved.)
I am not suggesting we demonize Austin or early Texans for being a product of their time and culture. I am suggesting we need to teach and honor history as it happened. The narrative Texans have about the state’s early history, learned in public schools and reinforced by governmental institutions, not only omits enslavement, it completely omits people of African or Indian origin – it writes them out of existence.
I will be giving an extended review of this event, as well as Lake Jackson’s Plantation Day, at Rice University in early April 2014.
Music in early Texas (above)
Gotta have guns in Texas!
Making cloths by hands and feet (above)
Perhaps a tremendous irony – the Oxen are named Liberty and Justice
Homemade Herbs (above)
Old-fashioned cooking (above)