Zoned GO 6,500 Sq.. Ft Steve F Austin 555=8480 BOOKS & THE CULTURE Acquiring Texas Stephen F. Austin, First in Real Estate BY PAUL JENNINGS STEPHEN F. AUSTIN: Empresario of Texas. By Gregg Cantrell. Yale University Press. 448 pages. $29.95. The historical record clearly suggests that among those gathered inside the walls of the Alamo on that fateful March morning in 1836, doctors and lawyers out numbered farmers. But it has never been politic for a Texas writer to characterize these freedom fighters as a collection of rifletoting entrepreneurs, whose eagerness to get in on the biggest land grab in American history foreshortened their military planning skills to the point of extinction. And even if one accepts the notion that the Texas Revolution was largely the work of armed real estate developers, Stephen F. Austin continues to occupy an ambiguous position in the Revolution’s pantheon of heroes. Unversed in the manly arts of trailblazing, Indian fighting, and Mexican shooting, Austin actually performed most of his heavy lifting on behalf of the Lone Star while hobnobbing with legislators at the elegant Washington Hotel in downtown Mexico City. And he never really looked the part. Unlike Austin’s portrayal in the Elizabeth Ney sculpture now in the Capitol Rotunda fully armed and outfitted in buckskin activewear contemporary portraits depict a delicately featured man dressed in expensive business suits, carefully sizing up the observer. Austin may not have been much of a frontiersman, but he was, by all accounts, one hell of a lobbyist. For more than seventy years the only generally available biography of Austin has been Eugene Barker’s 1926 Life of Stephen F. Austin. Subtitled A Chapter in the Westward Movement of the AngloAmerican People, Barker’s Life depicts Austin as a self-sacrificing agent of Manifest Destiny, committed to the simultaneous advancement of civilization, rising property values, and the territorial impera A Texas’ original real estate baron tives of white people. Fortunately, Gregg Cantrell’s Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas provides a long overdue update to the Austin legend. Cantrell, a professor of history at Abilene’s Hardin-Simmons University, takes his readers on an enthusiastic plunge through Texas history, and serves up an engaging tale that combines frontier adventure, political intrigue, and personal financial planning of the highest order. The son of a Connecticut businessman who made and lost a fortune in a slave-operated Missouri lead mine, Stephen F. came to Texas in 1821 to take charge of a colonization scheme that his father had arranged with Spanish authorities shortly before his death. Heavily in debt thanks to series of unsuccessful land speculations in Arkansas, Austin was initially skeptical of his father’s plans to 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 14, 2000 4/7
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