Tag Archives: Collections Highlights

A Story of Freedom on Texas Beyond History, by Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino

Laura Cruzada, Lee Reissig, and Marisol Espino are guest authors from the Texas Department of Transportation’s public archeology outreach program. This article is part of TARL’s June 2017 newsletter.


On June 19th, 1865, the news that slaves were free finally reached Texas. Every year, communities gather to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in Texas. This Juneteenth, we highlight an exceptional story of freedom that is featured on Texas Beyond History.

Through archeological investigations, you can read about Duval, the once thriving community of freed African-American slaves. This community was located in what is now the interchange of Loop 1 and Parmer Lane in north Austin. When a highway extension was planned near the interchange in the 1980s, TxDOT archeologists utilized old maps, records, and an aerial photo from 1937 to identify the location of a historic farmstead.

 

Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock, residents of the Duval community. Photo copyright Texas Beyond History.

In Duval, freed slaves Rubin and Elizabeth Hancock purchased farmland where they raised their five children. Elizabeth and Rubin Hancock were both born into slavery in the 1840s in Tennessee and Alabama, respectively. Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Hancocks, along with Rubin’s three brothers, all belonged to Judge John Hancock, a unionist who fiercely opposed secession despite his reliance on slave labor. Judge Hancock was even removed from office after being elected to the state legislature in 1860 for refusing to pledge allegiance to the Confederacy.

At the end of the Civil War in 1865, Rubin and his three brothers bought land north of Austin, possibly with the help of Judge Hancock. It was here that Elizabeth and Rubin established a productive community of African-American farmers complete with a church and school for their children. According to family members, Elizabeth and Rubin’s home was made of lumber, with two rooms under the main roof and a separate addition which contained the kitchen. Rubin’s granddaughter, Mable Walker Newton, remembers the two main rooms having large glass windows and wooden shutters. Water was hauled in from a well, cooking was done on a cast iron stove, and kerosene lanterns illuminated the log cabin. The family raised cows and pigs, grew cotton, and harvested a large garden. With the help of the A&NW railroad, beginning in 1881, surplus was transported and sold to local store owners in Austin.

The addition of the A&NW railroad also brought new families. The growing community came together at St. Stephen’s Missionary Baptist Church, where in addition to worship and other social gatherings, classes were taught. In the evenings, large social gatherings with neighbors, friends, and relatives could be expected. The children would find entertainment with marbles, baseball, and homemade cardboard dominoes. All of this was confirmed through intensive investigations and research, now available to the public on Texas Beyond History. The families of Duval achieved a level of success that most people of their time – African-American and Whites alike – did not. The Hancock brothers in particular were landowners and each worked their own farms. The brothers were all registered to vote, and each married and raised a family. While Elizabeth Hancock passed away in 1899, Rubin continued live and work on the farm into his sixties until his death in 1916. The Hancocks’ descendants continue to live in the Austin area today. Rubin’s three surviving children kept the farm until 1942 when the house was removed from the site.

By the time that TxDOT archeologists arrived to investigate the area, all that remained on the surface was a well, a chimney hearth, and sections of a fence and stone wall. Excavations at the farmstead revealed possible stone piers of the house, trash areas, along with scatters of artifacts. The 9,000+ artifacts provided archeologists with an idea of the farmstead layout and an insight in to day-to-day life on the farm. Excavated marbles show what sorts of games children enjoyed playing. Recovered items such as combs and buttons provide a visual of the local trends. A canine burial even lets it be known that people in Duval loved their furry companions just as much as modern Austinites. In addition to cultural remains, oral histories and archival information was gathered to better visualize the Hancock family and farm.

As TxDOT continues to work and build a safe and reliable transportation system, the Cultural Resources Management (CRM) program considers the impact of projects on archeological resources and historic properties like the Rubin Hancock Farmstead– resources we know can be important to communities across the state.

Learn more about the Rubin-Hancock Site:

www.texasbeyondhistory.org/rubin

Sex, Politics, and Archeology in Downtown Austin

by Susan Dial

History frequently repeats itself, often with an ironic twist or two.  Currently there is a minor furor brewing over a proposed “strip club” just blocks from Austin’s City Hall.  As reported in a February 13, 2015, article in the Austin American-Statesman, several members of a downtown Austin alliance are protesting the plan, arguing that this sort of business is not part of the vision held for that area. But 125 years ago, this sort of business was not only a “vision” for downtown Austin, it was the norm.

What has now become Austin’s trendy warehouse district, the headquarters of the City Council, and high-rise offices of Computer Sciences Corporation was once known as “Guytown,” an infamous red-light district peopled with prostitutes and sprinkled with bars and saloons catering to city and state leaders, among other visitors. Extending roughly from Colorado and San Antonio Streets on the east and west, and 1st and 3rd Streets on the south and north, the area originally had been a genteel neighborhood in Austin’s core; by the 1870’s it had begun its descent into a notorious red light district.

 

Prostitutes, such as these in Caldwell County south of Austin, operated from a variety of venues during Guy Town's heyday in Austin. While some women lived in comfortable, two-story bordellos, many more operated from run-down, one-room shacks such as the one pictured here. Photo courtesy of Texas Beyond History.
Prostitutes, such as these in Caldwell County south of Austin, operated from a variety of venues during Guy Town’s heyday in Austin. While some women lived in comfortable, two-story bordellos, many more operated from run-down, one-room shacks such as the one pictured here. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones and Texas Beyond History.

 

In 1876, the Austin Daily Statesman reported that two women arrested for keeping a brothel threatened to expose several of their high-powered clients, among them city council members, legislators and businessmen whose patronage tacitly supported the operations.  Although the area was a tinderbox for violence and drunken sprees, many other stories played out among those at the opposite end of the economic scale—the laundresses, blacksmiths, porters, maids, and others who lived and worked in Guy Town. Unlike today, affordable housing was not an issue; there were no restrictions on the size or upkeep of the wooden shanties and alley cribs in which many made their homes.

The growth of businesses such as Calcasieu Lumber Company, a gradual rise in industrial development, and a change in the city’s master plan in 1928 gradually changed the area and brought about the demise of Guytown.  Seventy years later, another city plan, styled as a “smart growth initiative,” was to bring about a wholescale and radically upscale change in character for the district.

In advance of the new construction, archeological and archival research investigations were conducted by Hicks & Company over a five-city block area, including the lot that now holds the modern, copper-clad City Hall building. Prior to excavations, most of the extant buildings were razed from their lots, including the iconic Liberty Lunch. Spared from the wrecking ball was Schneider’s Store, now home to an upscale barbecue restaurant.  Archeologists conducted only minor tests around the perimeter of that building, unlike the massive excavations on the other blocks.

TARL Associate Director Jonathan Jarvis and I were part of the project.  I ran the mobile laboratory headquartered on one of the blocks, while Jonathan worked on the complex series of excavations, which moved from block to block as each was completed.  It was a massive undertaking led by Project Archeologist Rachel Feit and Principal Investigator James Karbula.  I was amazed at the variety of artifacts that flowed daily into our small trailer lab—and the provocative and often poignant activities the items reflected.  Along with the remains of champagne and beer bottles, gaming tokens, bullets, and “hygiene” equipment for the prostitutes came pieces of china dolls and children’s toys.

Thousands of artifacts were recovered, quickly classified, counted, and logged into our mobile laboratory computer. The great majority—sherds of glass, rusted metal bits, and other unidentifiable materials that clearly had been mass produced and held no diagnostic value, were buried on the site, as part of a policy arrangement with the Texas Historical Commission. The most significant (or diagnostic) artifacts are now curated in TARL Collections, along with the maps, records, and photos accruing from the investigations.  It is a collection that holds enormous potential for researchers and students interested in urban archeology and demographic change.

 

This small sample of the thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in Austin’s 19th-century Guytown district reflects the area’s notorious past. Shown in clockwise order are a stoneware ale bottle, blue and white spittoon, an amber snuff jar, cartridge casings, a vaginal syringe (perhaps belonging to one of the area’s prostitutes), a bone handle of a makeup brush, a ceramic pipe bowl with anchor motif, and fragments of a fancy glass mug and goblet. TARL Collections; photo by Kerri Wilhelm.
This small sample of the thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in Austin’s 19th-century Guytown district reflects the area’s notorious past. Shown in clockwise order are a stoneware ale bottle, blue and white spittoon, an amber snuff jar, cartridge casings, a vaginal syringe (perhaps belonging to one of the area’s prostitutes), a bone handle of a makeup brush, a ceramic pipe bowl with anchor motif, and fragments of a fancy glass mug and goblet. TARL Collections; photo by Kerri Wilhelm.

 

 

  • A two-volume report of the project was published by Hicks and Company in 2003: Boarding Houses, Bar Rooms and Brothels: Life in a Vice-District by Rachel Feit, et al (Hicks & Company Series #104).

 

  • To learn more about the currently proposed “adult” business, see Austin American-Statesman Feb. 13, 2015: “Downtown strip club plan receiving early opposition” by Gary Dinges.

 

 

Ancient Rock Art: TARL’s Trove of Historic Paintings and the Online Tools for Viewing Them

by Susan Dial

Above image: Forrest Kirkland’s watercolor depiction of the art at Rattlesnake Canyon in the Lower Pecos is one of the dozens  in TARL’s collections that have been scanned for viewing online on Texas Beyond History.

In 1933, artists Forrest and Lula Kirkland began a study of the extraordinary rock art of Texas. Working chiefly on weekend camping trips, the couple’s interest developed into a mission that was to span 10 years. Their epic journeys took them across much of the state, from the mountains of the Trans Pecos, to rocky bluffs along the clear streams of the Edwards Plateau, to the rugged canyonlands of the Lower Pecos.  Wherever prehistoric peoples had found a stone canvas for their expression, the Kirklands traveled to examine and document the artwork.  Early on, the two perfected the recording techniques that allowed them to capture the ancient pictographs and petroglyphs on canvas: Forrest carefully measured and sketched the art to scale in pencil, then adding water color to match the paintings on rock.  Lula, meanwhile, drove, scouted for sites, photographed the art, and performed many camp chores.

The dozens of watercolor paintings that emerged from this near-Herculean effort are preserved at TARL for researchers to examine and compare to the ancient art today. Because of the careful documentation techniques the Kirklands employed, these paintings—now over 80 years old—constitute a critical record of the ancient art and are treasures in themselves.  Much of the rock art observed and painted by Forrest Kirkland has since been damaged if not destroyed by natural forces and human vandals. Small details and even whole sections of paintings copied in the Kirkland watercolors no longer exist today.

The great majority of the Kirkland watercolor collection have been digitally scanned and is available for viewing on TARL’s website, Texas Beyond History, along with substantive discussion about the prehistoric and historic period painters and their cultures. Galleries of Kirkland’s renderings of the monumentally scaled Lower Pecos rock art can be viewed in detail at  http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/trail.html;  that of the surprisingly diminutive works at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos can be seen at http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/hueco/gallery.html.  Further discussion is provided in a section on artistic expression of the Trans Pecos: http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/trans-p/artistic/index.html and Lower Pecos http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/artistic/index.html. Spanning at least 4,500 years, Texas’ ancient rock art paintings are a window into the spiritual beliefs and cultural traditions of the past.  At the other end of the spectrum, we can view through native artist’s  eyes the  coming of early Spanish explorers and priest and mull the cultural upheaval that lay in store at that long ago time.

Hueco
Online galleries on Texas Beyond History enable viewers to view small details of Kirkland’s watercolor paintings, such as the tiny mask paintings at Hueco Tanks in the Trans Pecos region.

 

Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell  County  includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.
Kirkland’s rendering of the 100-foot long panel at Myers Springs in far western Terrell County includes numerous details which have since been obliterated. The paintings include expressions in early Pecos River style to depictions at the time of contact with Europeans.

 

Did You Know?

The first paintings done by Forrest Kirkland were of Paint Rock in central Texas.  Not knowing who to consult about them, the artist sent J. E. Pearce, then chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, black and white photographs of the paintings. Pearce was enthusiastic about Kirkland’s work and invited the Kirklands to visit him in Austin before archeologist A. T. Jackson left for a summer in the field. Jackson was then collecting data for his work on The Picture-Writing of Texas Indians and Pearce thought a meeting of the two men should be profitable for both.   Lula Kirkland wrote:

“We went down and showed him the original paintings and enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them. Mr. Jackson considered getting Forrest to go with him on field trips as an artist, to paint the pictographs. But we preferred to go out on our own during our vacations.”

From The Rock Art of Texas Indians by Forrest Kirkland and W. W. Newcomb, Jr. (University of Texas Press, reprinted edition 1999).