We are so used to the magnificence of our granite capitol in Austin, and of seeing Texas heroes depicted in marble, that it's easy to forget the privation faced by the founders.
An artist's eye for detail would be a good remedy for that. Especially if that eye belonged to an artists as skilled at observing the world as John James Audubon.
Audubon and his party visited Houston, the new Texian capital, in May of 1837. The town, if you could call it that, was not even five months old. It had no mayor or city council and would not even be incorporated until the following month.
Though Audubon did not sketch the capital or it's inhabitants, he left us the next best thing...a word painting of what he saw.
Here is a excerpt from the diary of Mr. Audubon:
"We walked toward the President's house, accompanied by the secretary of the navy, and as soon as we rose above the bank, we saw before us a level of far-extending prairie, destitute of timber, and of rather poor soil.
Houses half finished, and most of them without roofs, tents, and a liberty pole, with the capitol, were all exhibited to our view at once. We approached the President's mansion, however, wading through water above our ankles.
This abode of President Houston is a small log-house, consisting of two rooms, and a passage through, after the southern fashion. The moment we stepped over the threshold, on the right hand of the passage, we found ourselves ushered into what in other countries would be called the ante-chamber; the floor, however, was muddy and filthy, a large fire was burning, a small table, covered with paper and writing materials, was in the center; camp-beds, trunks, and different materials were strewed around the room.
The "Executive Mansion" of the republic of Texas was still standing in 1916
We were at once presented to several members of the cabinet, some of whom bore the stamp of men of intellectual ability, simple, though bold, in their general appearance. Here we were presented to Mr. Crawford, an agent of the British Minister to Mexico, who has come here on some secret mission. The President was engaged in the opposite room on national business, and we could not see him for some time.
Meanwhile we amused ourselves by walking to the capitol, which was yet without a roof, and the floors, benches, and tables of both houses of Congress were as well saturated with water as our clothes had been in the morning. Being invited by one of the great men of the place to enter a booth to take a drink of grog with him, we did so; but I was rather surprised that he offered his name instead of the cash to the bar-keeper.
We first caught sight of President Houston as he walked from one of the grog-shops, where he had been to prevent the sale of ardent spirits. He was on his way to his house, and wore a large, gray, coarse hat; and the bulk of his figure reminded me of the appearance of General Hopkins of Virginia, for like him he is upwards of six feet high, and strong in proportion. But I observed a scowl in the expression of his eyes that was forbidding and disagreeable.
We reached his abode before him, but he soon came, and we were presented to his Excellency. He was dressed in a fancy velvet coat, and trousers trimmed with broad gold lace; around his neck was tied a cravat somewhat in the style of seventy-six. He received us kindly, was desirous of retaining us for a while, and offered us every facility within his power.
He at once removed us from the ante-room to his private chamber, which, by the way, was not much cleaner than the former. We were severally introduced by him to the different members of his cabinet and staff, and at once asked to drink grog with him, which we did, wishing success to his new republic.
Our talk was short; but the impression which was made on my mind at the time by himself, his officers, and his place of abode can never be forgotten."