Take a Look Inside a Visual Record of 19th-Century Texas

The famous American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon visited Texas with his son, John Woodhouse Audubon, in 1837 as he was finishing his majestic The Birds of America (1827–39). John Woodhouse drew this now-famous portrait of the Texas jackrabbit for Audubon’s second large book The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1845–46). Members of the Republic of Texas Congress nominated Audubon as an honorary citizen of the Republic, but the nomination hit a snag in committee.

In the winter of 1882–83, 27-year-old Charlie Siringo found himself on a lonely ranch in the northern part of Indian Territory with eight other cowboys. He was a literate Matagorda County fellow who had attended public school through age 15 and proposed that, to help pass the time, they pool their money by paying a fine for every curse word they uttered or if they were “caught picking grey backs off and throwing them on the floor without first killing them” and put it toward subscribing to some “choice literature—something that would have a tendency to raise us above the average cow-puncher.” Everyone agreed, and within 24 hours they had collected enough money for a subscription. But Siringo was surprised when the group, including two illiterate young Texans, voted for the Police Gazette, the sex/crime, girly/pinup magazine of the day. Why would you want to buy that “wicked Sheet,” he asked them. “’Cause we can read the pictures,” the cowboys shouted in unison, testifying to the impact that mass production of images had in 19th-century America, when Texas came of age.  

The Police Gazette was but one of a number of pictorial magazines, newspapers, books, and separately issued prints that increasingly made pictures inescapable as the 19th century became known as the age of the illustrated press. Images of the American West poured from the government and other publishers as part of the effort to publicize and settle the newly acquired and explored territory. One correspondent noted in a widely published essay that the pictorial press provided “a series of truthful representations of various points … which afford, probably, a better idea of the lay of the land, the general appearance and characteristic of the country, than is to be had from the most elaborate written description. These will, doubtless, soon adorn the table of every farmer in the land, and exert an important influence in giving direction to many who are looking to the West for their future home.”  

And an unnamed commentator for The Churchman concluded that, “It is no disparagement to their brilliant literary quality to suggest that the publishers find their account rather in the burin of the engravers than in the brains of their contributors.” Currier & Ives were in their prime, Boston lithographer Louis Prang returned from research into new lithographic techniques in Europe to introduce the Christmas card to America in 1874, and tobacco and coffee companies blanketed the country with various collectible full-color cards, from baseball players to policemen to cowboys.  

The “ubiquitous chromo” became so common and cheap that the prim and influential editor of The Nation, E. L. Godkin, confronted with the high-profile society scandals of the day, condemned the age as a “chromo-civilization.” And Texas was no exception. In 1865, offended because the state was “deluged with worthless pictorial publications from the North,” a Galveston Daily News editor urged that parents shield their children from “the imperfect wood-cut or the colored lithograph.” But the pictures continued to come, many of them of Texas itself. Today, they offer a gateway to the history of the Lone Star State in its most formative period. The images reprinted here offer just a glimpse at the vast collection that is Texas Lithographs, and help paint a composite image of the state that emerged as lithography, a new method of printing discovered at the onset of the 19th century, became one of the dominant processes for printing pictures.   

The first cowboy autobiography, Charles Siringo, A Texas Cowboy (1855). Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
The Parisian artist Horace Vernet drew the first lithograph relating to Texas, an imaginary view of a Napoleonic veteran in the East Texas wilds along the Trinity River near present-day Liberty. The refugee settlement, which lasted only six months, was called Champ d’Asile (Field of Asylum or Refuge) and became a cause célèbre among anti-monarchists in Paris. Courtesy Special Collections, University of North Texas Library, Denton.
This is the first separately published map of Texas, taken from one of Stephen F. Austin’s maps submitted to the Mexican government. Courtesy Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
No artists were present to document the Texas Revolution in 1836, but caricaturists interpreted the events for an interested public. Courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
Artist Conrad Caspar Rordorf drew this panorama of the village of New Braunfels as German immigration to Texas increased in the 1840s. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
Edward Williams Clay focused on slavery as an issue as Texas, depicted here as a vile ruffian sitting on the back of a slave, was being considered as the 28th state in the Union in 1845. There were approximately 30,000 slaves in Texas in 1846, and 182,566 by 1860. Courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.
John W. J. Niles brought a lithographic press to Texas in 1837 in an effort to win a printing contract from the republic government. No lithograph is known to have been printed from the press, and Niles retired to running a coffee house in Houston. From the National Banner (Houston), April 25, 1838.
One of the earliest views of a Texas city is this 1840 view of Austin, by Edward Hall, the republic’s purchasing agent, consul, and speculator in New Orleans. The Colorado River is in the foreground, and the bare spot at the north end of Congress Avenue in the left center of the image is Capitol Hill. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
The first lithographer to produce a print in Texas was Wilhelm Thielepape, a German immigrant who, with a used press and an instruction book, “practically reinvented the art of lithography.” His first print was this caricature of Senator Sam Houston, who at that time embraced the Know-Nothing Party, which opposed immigration, something that the German community in Texas favored. After a few months, Thielepape gave up on his used press. Courtesy Dorothy Sloan Rare Books.
Texas admission into the Union brought about the war with Mexico in 1846. Artist Karl Nebel depicted the Battle of Palo-Alto, the first battle of the war, which was printed and hand-colored in Paris to illustrate George Wilkins Kendall’s book, The War Between the United States and Mexico, Illustrated (1851). Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
Another German immigrant, Hermann Lungkwitz, produced this pastoral landscape of Fredericksburg in an effort to earn his living as an artist. His view was distributed to would-be immigrants in Europe. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
Texas had a lawless reputation following the Civil War, and an unknown artist personified that character in this image of a young cowboy, which soon came to be the unofficial representative of the state. His large sword is “for Reconstruction.” Courtesy the New York Historical Society.
Artists accompanied the federal surveyors and engineers who crisscrossed Texas following statehood. Augustus de Vaudricourt, who accompanied the team surveying the new boundary between the United States and Mexico, painted this picture of The Plaza and church of El Paso (today Ciudad Juárez), 1857. Courtesy private collection.
This grotesque view of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 closed the 19th century and the hey-day of color lithography. Courtesy Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth.
At the same time, a number of itinerant artists were traveling about the state selling bird’s-eye views of the various cities. Herman Brosius drew this view of Dallas in 1872, and Joseph M. McCoy, a young attorney who had recently arrived from Indiana, sent copies of the view to his parents and his fiancée. “If Texas is going to be what all say it is, I expect I can do better here than any place else,” he wrote. Courtesy Dallas Historical Society.
Miles Strickland established his stationer and bookbinding business in Galveston in 1858. He finally introduced lithography to Texas in 1868. Clarke & Courts of Galveston acquired the Strickland business and went on to become the largest litho-graphic shop in the South, doing business as far west as New Mexico and into Mexico and the Caribbean. The Clarke & Courts building has been renovated into condominiums today.
Entrepreneurs soon established lithographic shops in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi. This unsigned view of the Garden of Eden with Hell below is the frontispiece to William W. Dunn, Evolution and True Light (1889).
Strickland’s map of Galveston is one of the early Texas city maps to include illustrations, probably the first such map printed in Texas. Courtesy Dorothy Sloan Rare Books.

No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment