Texas Heritage, Fall 1983 Page: 7
THE LONE STAR OF TEXAS
WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
A frustrating odyssey on the sea of Texas history
by Jefferson Lewis.
In 1945, if someone had asked me who gave Texans the Lone Star, I
would have said "Johanna Troutman."
I was a fifth-grader then in Austin's Pease Elementary School and
we had been taken on a field trip across town to the State Cemetery.
There we stood in awe at the gothic shrine containing the remains
of Stephen F. Austin. We giggled at the marker bearing ,
the name "Big Foot" Wallace. But the monument we all liked
best, and where we paid our teacher the most attention was
one that honored the lady who was called the "Betsy Ross" of
Her name was Johanna Troutman and she had lived in
Crawford County, Georgia. And in the Fall of 1835, she made
a Lone Star flag for a batallion of Georgia
volunteers who came to Texas and were massacred
with Fannin at Goliad.
Understandably, I never gave the subject
of "where the Lone Star came from" another
thought until this past July when the premiere
issue of Texas Heritage was being planned. The
question happened to come up and I volunteered
to check it out, thinking that a quick flip
through the Handbook of Texas would take care of
it. Now, after nearly three months of pursuing the ma
ter, and hours of fascinating research, I still don't have
the answer. Perhaps my outlining part of what I did
learn along the way can be a platform and an incentive
for more able researchers, so that in the Letters column
of future issues we may be able to publish someone
else's definitive explanation.
In any case, the best place to begin a search for
the Lone Star's origins is in Mamie Wynne Cox's
admirable book, "The Romantic Flags of Texas."
Published in Dallas in conjunction with the Centennial
celebrations in 1936, the book relates that
although Johanna Troutman's flag was not the first
in Texas to bear a single star, she came to be
romanticized as Texas' "Betsy Ross" because her
zeal in far-off Georgia for Texan independence later
caught the imagination of Governor Oscar Colquitt
and led, in 1913, to her remains being reinterred in
Austin's State Cemetery.
Cox points out that the first recorded use of a
Lone Star to symbolize an Anglo-American Texas
was on a flag made in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1819
by Jane Wilkinson Long. That was the year her
husband, James, organized a party of local volunteers
to come with the Longs on a filibustering
expedition across the Sabine to rescue a virtually
unpopulated Texas "from colonial bondage."
The expedition was a failure and James Long
was captured and taken to Mexico City where he The statue of Jol
was later assassinated. Jane escaped from Tex- Texas' "Betsy Re
as, after bearing the first recorded child of Cemetery in Aus
Anglo-American ancestry, but soon returned
with the "Old Three Hundred" colonists and in time was called the
"Mother of Texas", if not its "Betsy Ross." Perhaps the reason Troutman's
flag has triggered such romanticism is that legend has her entrusting
it to her dashing young fiancee with an exchange of verse on the eve of
his departure and because as it flew over the Goliad encampment one
evening, its delicate silk became entangled in the halyards and was
whipped to shreds by a brisk norther, thus "prophesying" the
impending massacre of the gallant Georgians.
As the movement for Texan independence gathered steam during
1835, the Lone Star began to emerge as the almost-universal Texas
symbol. In September, Sarah Dodson constructed a long banner for
her husband's volunteer company in Harrisburg. It was the
first to feature a white star on a blue union and because it also
incorporated panels of red and white, its design was suggestive
of today's flag. Another Lone Star flag was made a
month later for a company in nearby Lynchburg. And at
Gonzales, on the eve of the struggle's first real skirmish,
a crude flag was painted with the likeness of an old cannon
which the Mexicans had vowed to repossess, with the
legend "Come and Take it" and with a Lone Star reigning
above the rest.
In December of 1835, Stephen F. Austin was enroute to
Washington, D.C., on a diplomatic mission, but from New
Orleans he sent back the design for a flag that included various
symbols - one for Anglo-Saxon blood, others for American as
well as Mexican heritage and "a white star on a blue union to
signify Texas." (This later served as the model for the battle
flag of Captain Moseley Baker's San Felipe Company.)
Although there is a disagreement as to what flag - or flags
- greeted the Mexicans as they laid seige to the Alamo,
David Crockett left behind a memorandum relating that the
defenders had unfurled an immense painted banner bearing
red and white stripes centered with a single star. (This was
essentially the same design that Jane Long had used in
1819.) Cox encapsulates the incident: "He wrote that when
they raised the flag, three cheers went up and drums and
trumpets hurled back their challenge to the foe, and when
they did so, the Mexicans flung a blood-red flag to the breeze
The following month at San Jacinto, a defeated-butunhumbled
Santa Ana taunted General Houston with the fact
that the Texans had fought under "no recognized flag" and
were thus rabble or pirates. The wounded-but-unflappable
Texas commander pointed out that this rabble had been
able to create a government and had been able to field a
victorious army and "they will probably be able to
make a flag." In fact, the Lone Star was already
flying on the ships of the Texan Navy. It had been
iti.s featured in a flag proposed for the young nation
by Lorenzo de Zavala at Washington-on-thena
Troutman, Brazos the previous month. And it would soon fly
'", at the State over Texas on the official flag adopted for the
Republic the next December. (This was a single
tiuned on page 11) I gold star on an azure field.) Finally, on January
binued on page 11)
Here’s what’s next.
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1983, periodical, Autumn 1983; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45449/m1/15/ocr/: accessed September 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.