Take a stroll up Congress Avenue and you’ve no doubt run across a larger-than-life statue depicting a frantic woman firing a cannon across Texas’ Main Street. This public art memorializes a fascinating time in Texas history aptly called the Archive Wars, when the preservation of Austin as the capital of the republic was at stake!
Pitted on both sides of this battle were the young country’s first two presidents, Sam Houston and Mirabeau B. Lamar. Houston, serving as the current president, wanted the capital of Texas to be moved to the city of his namesake. Lamar, who established Austin as the capital, along with the Texas congress, disapproved of the move.
After many failed attempts at a legal transfer of capitals, Sam Houston secretly sent a team of more than 20 men under the cover of darkness to remove the republic’s archives from Austin and bring them to the city of Houston. Because they were seen as symbols of the national government, Houston believed this would expedite the transfer of the capital from one city to the other. What Houston didn’t anticipate was the resolve of some Austinites, most notably Mrs. Angelina Eberly, to preserve their burgeoning small town on the edge of the western frontier as the seat of national government.
Born in 1798 in Tennessee, Angelina moved to Texas in 1839 with her husband where they ran the Eberly House. Ironically, Sam Houston chose to reside there instead of the presidential mansion when he was in Austin.
In the early morning of December 30, 1842 while the town slept, the raiding party rode down Congress Avenue with three wagons pulled by oxen and began to steal the archives out of the General Land Office. Their activity roused Mrs. Eberly whose boarding house was nearby. Realizing the magnitude of what was happening she ran to Congress Avenue where a six-pound howitzer cannon was situated, pointed it towards the office and fired. No real damage occurred nor were there any injuries but it scared the men off and served as an alarm for others to begin pursuit.
The raiding party was eventually caught and the archives returned. Sam Houston abandoned his quest to move the capital out of Austin and Angelina Eberly became a local legend. Austin’s status as a capital city has been absolutely crucial to its growth into one of the most vibrant, economically healthy and coveted cities to call home in the nation. There is little doubt that without Mrs. Eberly’s intervention this gleaming gem of a metropolis might never have been more than a sleepy little town deep in the heart of Texas.