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settle three hundred Anglo-American families in Mexican territory. But a closer look at the numbers convinced Austin that the Texas deal had legs. For starters, the proposed colony encompassed roughly 7 million acres, including some of the most productive agricultural lands in Texas. Although the Mexican government was offering the land for free to settlers, Austin intended to charge a peracre fee of twelve-and-a-half cents to survey the land and secure the title. For cashstrapped families who could not afford the fee, Austin would waive in charge in return for half the settler’s allotment. In addition to these management fees, the empresario was allowed to pick out more than 88,000 acres of prime lands for himself, and to award large grants of land to settlers who rendered special services to the colony. These grantees invariably turned out to be either members of Austin’s own family, or his close business associates, such as his personal secretary, Samuel May Williams. Another 44,000 acres were set aside for Jared Groce, a wealthy slave owner whose daughter may have briefly appeared on Austin’s list of matrimonial prospects. Of course the owners of these vast grants could not hope to actually cultivate more than a fraction of their holdings the chance for a real killing came through the operations of the wildly speculative market for Texas lands back East. There, throngs of city dwellers were eagerly outbidding each other for the opportunity to own the Jacksonian era’s equivalent to stocks, often unaware that they were snatching up properties in areas where the most effective military force belonged to the Comanches. All of this largesse depended on smooth relations with the Mexican government, and Austin spared no expense in keeping the pump primed. No sooner had he staked out the proposed boundaries of his colony than he headed for Mexico City to grease the legislative machinery. Austin quickly acquired a wide range of contacts both inside and outside the government, often cementing his relationships with leading players by offering them shares in his various business ventures. Even General Manual de Mier y Teran, an implacable foe to Anglo-American immigration to Texas, was invited to join the club. “I wish the wrote a friend concerning one particularly shaky land deal. “If he will, all is safe.” Back in Texas, Austin worked closely with the local Tejano elite based in San Antonio, as well as wealthy expatriates from the States, including the former slave trader Jim Bowie, who had married into a prominent Hispanic San Antonio family. As proof of his loyalty to his adopted country, Austin accepted a commission as lieutenant colonel in the Mexican militia, and participated in the suppression of the Fredonian rebellion that broke out among Anglo-American settlers in the Nacogdoches area in 1827. “I do say that the North Americans are the most obstinate and difficult people to manage that live on the earth,” Austin wrote in 1830, sounding for all the world like a beleaguered Mexican bureaucrat. Unencumbered by Eugene Barker’s view of Austin as representative of a conquering race, Cantrell emphasizes the speed with which the novice empresario assimilated himself into Mexican society. Austin had acquired a working fluency in Spanish within weeks of his arrival in Mexico City, and wasted no time in applying for citizenship and converting to Roman Catholicism. Despite the occasional grumbling of his fellow colonists, Austin remained loyal to the Mexican government as long as it allowed his business ventures to continue more or less undisturbed. Cantrell continually reminds us that Austin, “well-educated, articulate, clever, and possessed of polished manners,” came to Texas to make money, not rebellion. Cantrell sees Austin as defying the popular image of the “rugged, selfreliant, innocent, democratically inclined frontier leader. He was neither Davy Crockett nor John Wayne.” With or without the coonskin cap, Austin’s methods got results. Four subsequent empresario contracts doubled the size of Austin’s original colony, and Austin’s personal accounts benefited from his insider status as well. After the passage of a law that allowed well-connected Mexican officials to claim huge amounts of Texas lands and resell them to foreigners, Austin snatched up grants totaling 146,000 more acres, for a mere $1,000 cash. This transaction was actually fairly modest, when compared to the 780,000 acres Jim Bowie added to his personal portfolio as a result of the same law. Austin’s talents at legislative legerdemain also came in handy in dealing with the nettlesome question of slavery. The 1824 Mexican Constitution had explicitly outlawed slavery in the Republic, but the ban was openly flouted in Texas, where land was cheap but labor expensive. Moreover, most of the colonists came from slave-owning areas in the States, and much of their personal wealth was tied up in slaves. Cantrell notes that Austin, like many other political liberals of his time, privately worried about the corrosive effects of the Peculiar Institution upon democratic institutions, and on several occasions even suggested that his colonists experiment with other systems of forced labor that did not rely on the concept of chattel slavery. But any personal ambivalence on the issue did not prevent him from repeatedly derailing any attempts by Mexican officials to abolish or even curtail slavery in Texas. “Texas must be a slave country,” Austin wrote in 1833, a truth that must have seemed self-evident to anyone who could read a bottom line. Austin also repeatedly haggled with Mexican authorities about paying the expenses of military campaigns against the indigenous tribes in the area. Austin occasionally found it cost-effective to negotiate with rather than fight the highly mobile Plains tribes further west, a tactic that resulted in his later reputation as a moderate when it came to dealing with Native Americans. But no such latitude was visible in his policy towards the Karankawan people, who originally populated the area along the Gulf Coast now occupied by his colonies. Calling them “the universal enemies of man,” Austin instructed his militia to kill any Karankawan on sight, stating “there will be no way of subduing them but extermination.” In fact, the chief threat to Austin’s enterprises came less from Mexican authorities or raiding Comanches than from his own colonists, who resented his high management fees and generous land grants to members of his inner circle. In 1825, Austin arrested one particularly vocal critic on charges of sedition, but the unrest continued. Much of it was orchestrated by rival empresarios, including a group of prominent Nashville businessmen who had APRIL 14, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31