the capital city in tribute to Texas colonizer Stephen
F. Austin was certainly fitting, but Austin
could just as well been named Lamar in honor of a Georgia-born newspaperman
with a penchant for poetry and grandiose thinking.
Mirabeau B. Lamar came to Texas in 1835 intending to write its history,
a saga that even then trailed pretty far back. He never got around
to doing his book (though he did gather a lot of material that is
still useful to scholars today), but he certainly had a hand in making
some of Texas' history.
Lamar joined the Texian Army as a private but soon rose to colonel.
He distinguished himself in the Battle
of San Jacinto and that caught Sam
Houston's eye. When Houston ran for president, Lamar was elected
The two men, each with strong personalities but very different philosophies,
soon fell out politically. Because the new Republic
of Texas's Constitution forbade a president from serving two consecutive
terms, Lamar ran for office when Houston's term expired. Houston campaigned
against him, but Lamar got elected.
The main reason Lamar is important to Austin is that it probably would
not have been chosen as capital had it not been for him. As often
told, Lamar came on a buffalo hunt to what would become Austin. Not
only did he knock down one of the big, shaggy animals, while sitting
astride his horse on high ground overlooking the Colorado he opined,
in so many words, that the landscape before him would be the future
seat of empire.
One of Lamar's first acts as president was appointing a commission
that soon, after a careful and of course impartial review of potential
sites, agreed with the president that the area between where Shoal
and Waller Creeks flow into the Colorado would indeed make a fine
seat of empire.
As president, Lamar did everything he could think of to transform
the young republic into a nation that could have rivaled the United
States for North American dominance. Problem was, two of his bigger
ideas toward that end did not work.
He tried to solve the republic's financial woes by printing what amounted
to worthless money. And hoping to bring in real money through commerce,
he sent an armed expedition
toward Santa Fe to establish a trade route between Austin and
the old town. In reality, the move was as much about taking military
control of Santa Fe and what is now eastern New Mexico as it was improved
trade. The attempt failed spectacularly, the term "Santa
Fe expedition" forever doomed to have the descriptive "ill-fated"
in front of it.
was far from perfect (his Indian policy was particularly brutal),
he's underrated in Texas history and all but forgotten, even in
Austin. True, one of the capital city's busiest north-south thoroughfares
is named after him. But where is the Mirabeau B. Lamar Library or
even a statue erected in his honor? (There is a statue in Fort
Bend County at Richmond,
but not Austin.) There
are state office buildings named for Sam
F. Austin, Lorenzo de Zavala, William B. Travis, John
H. Reagan, Price
Daniel, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clements and others. But where
is the Mirabeau B. Lamar State Building? Lamar isn't even buried
in the State
Cemetery-his remains lie in the old city cemetery in Richmond.
Back in the early 1960s, despite the suggestion of a prominent Austinite
well familiar with Texas history, the citizens of Austin
couldn't even bring themselves to name their city lake in Lamar's
honor. It would be hard to come up with a name any more pedestrian
than they did: Town
Lake. That name didn't go away until the lake was renamed for
Lady Bird Johnson.
Statewide, there is a county
in Northeast Texas and a semi-ghost
town in Aransas
County named in Lamar's honor. A Liberty Ship constructed during
World War II
slid down the ways as the Mirabeau B. Lamar. Dallas
and Houston each have
a Lamar Street downtown and there's a golf course with its 10th
hole named in Lamar's honor. But that's about it except for public
Houston and Rosenberg
each has a Lamar High School; Austin,
Dallas, Flower Mound,
have Lamar Middle Schools and Amarillo,
Paso, San Antonio
and The Woodlands
have elementary schools named after the one-time Republic of Texas
president. Finally, there is Lamar University in Beaumont.
Lamar's name graces a lot of schools because he was an early champion
of education for Texas. It was his idea to set aside public land
to provide for school funding, a concept that helped build the University
of Texas and Texas A & M University into what they are today. For
years, in fact, Texas students in many schools (including this former
student) were required to memorize this Lamar quote: "The cultivated
mind is the guardian genius of democracy and, while guided and controlled
by virtue, the noblest attribute of man. It is the only dictator
that free men acknowledge and the only security that free men desire."
Maybe that practice ought to be re-instituted.