Travis County Courthouse (Austin, TX)
Soon after Mirabeau Lamar became president of the Republic of Texas, the capital was moved from Houston to a small town in central Texas formerly known as Waterloo. The new capital was renamed Austin after the “Father of Texas”, Stephen F. Austin. Austin was the first successful empresario of Texas, in charge of stabilizing the area (then a part of Mexico) by colonizing it with hard working families from the United States. The first 300 families Austin brought to Texas are known as “The Old Three Hundred”. They received land, became Mexican citizens, promised to practice Catholicism and became the seeds of a future nation that would fight for and win independence ten years later.
When Sam Houston was re-elected president he attempted to move the capital back to Houston, and the seat of government was temporarily relocated to Washington-on-the-Brazos. Attempts to move the archives were met with fierce opposition from the citizens of Austin. Known as the Archives War, their resistance ensured that once Anson Jones became president the capital was returned to Austin where it still is today.
A few days after Austin was chosen as the new capital, Travis County was created, named for William Barret Travis. Travis was an attorney in Alabama and a member of the Alabama Militia, but in 1831 he abandoned his pregnant wife and one year old son and left for Texas. Legend says, although it is unproven, that he left after killing a man he believed was the father of his wife’s unborn child. Once in Texas, Travis once again began to practice law, first in Anahuac where he was arrested and then released under pressure from local citizens who had assembled a small force. The incident sparked the Anahuac Disturbances that led to small fights against the Mexican government and became some of the earliest signs of a future revolution. Travis moved his law practice to San Felipe and was elected to office there, but events would soon bring him back to Anahuac. By this time the revolution was near the boiling point and Antonio López de Santa Anna established a customhouse and military garrison in Anahuac. Travis led a group of men, assaulted and captured the Mexican soldiers there and was branded as an outlaw by the Mexican government and even a few Texans branded him a “hot head”. Events quickly escalated and Travis was swept away with them. He went to Gonzales with hundreds of others to help protect the “come and take it” cannon and assisted in the assault on San Antonio in late 1835. He became lieutenant colonel of a cavalry and was charged with recruiting men to help reinforce Colonel James Neill in San Antonio. By the time he arrived at the San Antonio de Valero Mission he found himself in command of fifty men and a hundred more volunteers brought by James Bowie. Neill took leave and left Tavis and Bowie in command of the small mission, known as the Alamo. In what is regarded as one of the masterpieces of American patriotism, Travis wrote a letter from inside the Alamo addressed “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World”, where he requested reinforcement, described answering a demand for surrender with a cannon shot and ended with the promise of “VICTORY OR DEATH”. And the rest is history.
The Travis County courthouse was built in 1930 in the moderne style of that time. In 2005 the building was named in honor of Heman Marion Sweatt, who was denied admission into the University of Texas Law School in 1946 because he was black. He sued the school and although he was represented by Thurgood Marshall, a future Supreme Court Justice, the court ruled against him. In 1950 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision and he was admitted into the school, becoming the first black student at the University of Texas.