JESUS F. DE LA TEJA, Editor
Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas. By Gregg Cantrell. (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1999. Pp. xiii+493. Acknowledgments, epilogue, appendix,
notes, essay on sources, index. ISBN 0-300-07683-5. $29.95, cloth.)
Stephen F. Austin has at last found a biographer who rescues him from the
status of heroe de bronce, the rigid unidimensional bronze hero, whom Luis
Gonzilez complained populated much of history. Gregg Cantrell has written an
extensively researched, nuanced, sympathetic, and lively biography of the so-
called "Father of Texas." Three of the book's chapters examine Austin's early
years, while eleven concentrate on his last fifteen years, the time he was involved
with Texas. Mindful of contemporary historiographical debates, Cantrell ques-
tions not only Eugene C. Barker's Frontier Thesis approach, but also the New
Western History revisionism. As he notes, the Texas settled by Austin and the
Americans had more in common with the slaveowning society of the South than
the arid Southwest.
Cantrell's portrait of Austin "is that of an ambitious, almost obsessively driven
man, who constantly fought an internal battle between his own personal inter-
ests and his feelings of obligation toward others" (p. 4). The author considers
Austin an extraordinary man and his achievements great contributions, at least
to the United States. "With effort and cunning, diplomacy and deception, ideal-
ism and pragmatism, he would play a central role in shaping the events that led
to the Texas Revolution and the establishment of the Lone Star Republic.
Within a generation, as a result largely of forces that he helped set in motion,
Mexico would endure the humiliating loss of nearly half its national territory,
and the United States would complete its drive for mastery over the North
American continent" (p. 2).
Stephen F. Austin's involvement in Texas began in 1821 upon the death of his
father, Moses, who had obtained approval for a colonizing project from Spanish
authorities. The governor of Texas transferred his father's concession to Stephen
Austin. Shortly thereafter Mexico declared independence. Austin traveled to
Mexico City the following year to have his contract ratified by the new govern-
ment. He succeeded in March 1823 and returned to Texas to establish colonies.
Because Austin devoted himself completely to the success of the new settle-
ments, his biography is intrinsically linked with the history of the Anglo Texan
colonization and to Mexico's loss of that territory. Cantrell is at his best portray-
ing Austin's efforts to create a new society on the frontier. He is less successful at
understanding Mexico's complex and conflictive process of state formation.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 103, July 1999 - April, 2000. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101220/. Accessed October 13, 2015.