Austin's First National and the Errant Teller
MARILYN McADAMS SIBLEY*
FROM FIRST TO LAST THE FIRST NATIONAL OF AUSTIN SUFFERED ALL
the ills that plagued banks of its time and place, plus a few distinc-
tive ones of its own. It received its charter in 1873 just before the
panic of that year sent hundreds of banks floundering toward bank-
ruptcy; the following year it lost 1,ooo dollars in gold when stage-
coach robbers held up its president; the collapse of the cattle boom
in the mid-188o's found it with a dangerous amount of its capital
tied up in livestock loans, and about the same time a bookkeeper
embezzled thousands of dollars. All in all, it suffered from mismanage-
ment so gross that a series of examiners concluded that George W.
Brackenridge, the major stockholder, held on to it only to give his
brothers jobs. When the bank finally went into receivership and dis-
appeared into limbo early in the twentieth century, its chief claim to
distinction was that a young teller named William Sydney Porter had
served a prison term for embezzling from it.
William Sydney Porter, later famous under the pseudonym O.
Henry, was always sensitive about the prison chapter of his life, pre-
ferring not to talk about it. His friends and biographers were equally
embarrassed by it. Thus, rumors circulated during his lifetime and
appeared in print after his death that he had been the victim of
circumstances, that there had been a "miscarriage of justice," that the
government had "made an example" of him, or that he had taken "the
rap" for someone else.'
The general attitude toward him in Austin confirmed the impres-
sion that injustice had been done, for among the townspeople there
was little censure and much compassion for him. The town divided
into two camps, one holding him innocent and the other guilty. But
*Marilyn McAdams Sibley, professor of history at Houston Baptist College has pub-
lished widely in the field of Texas history and is the author of a forthcoming biography
of George W. Brackenridge. Research for this paper was done under a grant from the
Brackenridge Foundation of San Antonio.
1See C. Alphonso Smith, O. Henry Biography (New York, 1916), 136-146; Robert
H. Davis and Arthur B. Maurice, The Caliph of Bagdad: Being Arabian Nights Flashes
of the Life, Letters, and Work of O. Henry, William Sydney Porter (New York, 1931),
11o-118; Lollie Cave Wilson, Hard to Forget: The Young O. Henry (Los Angeles,
1939), 137-145, 192-195, 229.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101200/. Accessed March 7, 2014.