John James Audubon Meets Sam Houston

The famous naturalist John Audubon came to Texas in 1837. Portions of his journal were excerpted in the Galveston Daily News on November 27, 1875, citing the San Marcos Free Press.

Audubon had made made a trip to Texas some thirty-eight years before, and had recorded his reflections in a journal. He arrived in Galveston on April 26, 1837, referring to it as “a rough village” with the majority of physical activity, manual labor, being carried out by Mexican prisoners. He then visited the Texas garrison on Galveston Island in early May, commenting on the miserable conditions of the place, and the state of more Mexican prisoners, making no mention of wildlife. Audubon then traveled by a boat called the “Yellow Stone” to Houston, commenting on a storm they endured. At Buffalo Bayou, he noted that the water level had risen some six feet, flooding some of the banks. His party walked to the President’s house (Republic of Texas President Sam Houston’s office and residence) accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy of the Republic of Texas. The Secretary of the Navy was not named in the article, but at the time, it would have been William Rhoads Fisher. Continuing on to the capital and presidential residence, Audubon noted that many structures were under construction and also commented on walking through ankle deep water. Audubon noted that the area was “destitute of timber” and of “rather poor soil.” Houston’s house was a simple log cabin with two structures, separated by what is now called a dogtrot or breezeway.

President Sam Houston was occupied when Audubon arrived, so his party was brought into the portion of the house that served as an ante-room. Audubon noted that the floor was muddy but that a large fire was burning. There he met ministers of the Cabinet and the British Minister to Mexico, who he assumed was there on some secret mission. While waiting, they took the opportunity to walk around the capital grounds and found the Capitol building itself, still under construction and having no roof. Houston sought out Audubon’s party and the naturalist remarked at Houston’s proper dress, relatively great height of over six feet and his stern and formal demeanor. After some time, Audubon’s party was brought into Houston’s private chamber and the two met. Audubon remarked that it was somewhat cleaner than the ante-room but still rustic and crude.

Audubon did not disclose the subjects of their conversation, but added that they shared “grog” and in leaving, Audubon wished Houston and his cabinet success in the new republic. After their meeting, Audubon remarked on seeing a liberty pole on which was mounted a Texas flag and noted that it had been erected on the one year anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto. Audubon added that the individual who had erected the liberty pole and banner had been personally rewarded by Houston with a town lot, a gold doubloon and the privilege of operating a ferry across Buffalo Bayou.

The location for the Houston capital had been donated by brothers Augustus and John Allen out of land they owned, as they were trying to promote the area as a town site. Previously, locations of the capital had included Columbia and Velasco. The Houston site served as the capital from about April 19, 1837 to 1839 when it was removed to Waterloo (Austin).

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Audubon was born in 1785 and became a well known ornithologist, painter and naturalist. He was the son of Lt. Jean Audubon and a woman by the name of Jeanne Rabine, a native of Saint-Domingue, now known as Haiti. His mother died when he was young and Audubon was raised as Jean-Jacques Fougére Audubon along with half siblings in Saint-Domingue and later in France. He adopted the name John James Audubon when he immigrated to the United States around 1803 at the age of eighteen. Audubon does not appear to have been formally educated as a scientist, but learned his craft after working closely with people in the fields of taxidermy and ornithology. In his long and interesting career, he traveled extensively studying birds and is well known for his book The Birds of America, first published about 1827. He died at the age of sixty-five in New York in 1851 and is buried at Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum in Upper Manhattan.

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2 thoughts on “John James Audubon Meets Sam Houston”

    1. Coming to visit only two weeks or so after the capital was established and also arriving during the rainy season may not have helped his mood much either. Still he is one of my favorite characters. I wish he could have spent more time in Texas!

      Liked by 1 person

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