Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas

Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas

Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas

Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas

Synopsis

The Texas State Historical Association is pleased to offer areprint edition of "Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas," Gregg Cantrell's path-breaking biography of the founder of Anglo Texas. Cantrell's portrait goes beyond the traditional interpretation of Austin as the man who spearheaded American Manifest Destiny. Cantrell portrays Austin as a borderlands figure who could navigate the complex cultural landscape of 1820s Texas, then a portion of Mexico. His command of the Spanish language, respect for the Mexican people, and ability to navigate the shoals of Mexican politics made him the perfect advocate for his colonists and often for all of Texas. Yet when conflicts between Anglo colonists and Mexican authorities turned violent, Austin's accomodationist stance became outdated. Overshadowed by the military hero Sam Houston, he died at the age of forty-three, just six months after Texas independence. Decades after his death, Austin's reputation was resurrected and he became known as the Father of Texas. More than just an icon, Stephen F. Austin emerges from these pages as a shrewd, complicated, and sometimes conflicted figure."

Excerpt

In 1951 the University of Texas historian Joe B. Frantz published a biography of Gail Borden, an associate of Stephen F. Austin who went on to found the nation’s most successful dairy company. Hailed as the “definitive” work on its subject, Gail Borden: Dairyman to a Nation helped launch Frantz’s distinguished career, a career that included stints as executive director of the Texas State Historical Association and as a historical consultant to the Lyndon B. Johnson White House. Several years after the book’s publication, however, Frantz tracked down a cache of some 30,000 pages of previously undiscovered Borden correspondence in a shed in Upstate New York. Telling the story in the pages of the Texas Review, Frantz jocularly informed readers that the sources now existed to produce “a new ‘definitive’ biography to replace the old ‘definitive’ biography” he had written.

Frantz’s experience seems especially relevant to me today. When Stephen F. Austin, Empresario of Texas was first published in 1999, the reception was gratifying—mostly. Of course no book meets with universal approval, and no book should. One critic, a dear friend, took me to task for not utilizing Spanish-language sources to the extent that I should have. He was right about this, although he knew quite well that I was not trained as a Latin Americanist and that my Spanish skills were, to say the least, deficient. Another reviewer and close friend (for the Texas history community is a fairly incestuous group) singled out the jacket illustration for criticism, taking me to task for not giving the history and provenance of the picture. I remember being particularly apprehensive when I learned that the T. R. Fehrenbach was going to be reviewing the book for the Sunday San Antonio Express. The conservative Fehrenbach was . . .

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