A Matter of Character: Stephen E Austin and the
"Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas"
THE QUESTION OF CHARACTER HAS ALWAYS BEEN A MATTER OF CENTRAL
importance to those who would judge leaders. In the case of histori-
cal figures, the leader who accomplished great things but who is per-
ceived as having significant character flaws never quite achieves the
reputation of a figure whose character is viewed as beyond reproach.
This article revisits the character question as it relates to one of the cen-
tral figures of early Texas history: Stephen F. Austin. Generations of
Texas school children have been taught to revere Austin as the Father of
Texas, a modest, soft-spoken, peace-loving man who dedicated his life, as
he himself phrased it, to the goal of "redeeming Texas from its wilderness
state" and securing the blessings of liberty and prosperity to its citizens.
This image of Austin might never have become so firmly fixed in the
hearts and minds of Texans were it not for the work of Eugene C. Barker.
The renowned University of Texas scholar devoted the best years of his
career to editing the Austin Papers and writing the definitive biography
of the famed empresario. The result was a masterfully researched work
which portrayed Austin in a highly favorable, if not heroic, light. Austin,
according to Barker, was "a successful leader with none of the tricks of
the demagogue," whose authority "rested on the solid basis of recog-
nized knowledge, wisdom, and character. He was judicial and honest
and fair, and the colonists knew that he was."'
Barker's uncritical rendering of Austin stood largely unchallenged un-
til the 197os, when Malcolm D. McLean, then a professor of Spanish at
Texas Christian University, began publishing Papers Concerning Robertson's
Colony in Texas (hereafter referred to as PCRCT). The series eventually
* Gregg Cantrell is associate professor of history at the University of North Texas. He is the
author of Stephen F. Austin, Empresano of Texas (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).
' Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austzn (1925; rept ed., Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1969), 449. All citations to Barker's work are from the 1969 edition.
VOL. CIV, NO. 2 SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY OCTOBER, 2000
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/. Accessed April 21, 2015.