Texas Tales: Lost letter describes pre-statehood Texas

This map, part of the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, shows an 1835 map of Texas, 10 years before it would become a state.

By Mike Cox, author of the Texas Tales columns

Newspapers receive a lot of mail, much of it deservedly destined for the trash can. Fortunately, whoever opened the letter from New York that came to the Austin Statesman sometime in January 1920 had the good sense to realize it contained something worthy of attention.

The letter came from Scott Farley, a 60-year-old news editor for the Buffalo Commercial. He had enclosed a letter written in Austin on April 20, 1840 by his father and sent to one of his uncles in New York. Its inked script faded brown by time, the letter captured issues and sentiments of the day.

Horace H. Farley, then 27, was replying to a letter he had received from his brother, a missive he noted had taken three months and 13 days to get from the Empire State to the capital city of the Republic of Texas.

Farley started off by telling his brother that he was just getting over a case of the fever, “brought on by my own carelessness in exposing myself to the inclemency of the weather.”

The “hello, how are you?” formalities out of the way, Farley said he had been planning to take a trip home that summer, but could not afford it on account of the low value of Texas currency. Reckoning it would take “nigh up a cord” of Texas money to fund a three-month journey to the United States, Farley pointed out that Texas dollars were worth about a quarter each in New Orleans.

Texas would quit printing its own money when it joined the Union in 1845, but some things don’t change, particularly Austin’s climate.

“We have had a very mild winter,” Farley wrote, “not a particle of snow has been seen, and but little of the cold rains which are common in the winter here. On the contrary, it has been what one would call beautiful spring weather all the winter season.”

The weather in Central Texas may have been mild that year, but not the Indians.

“We are in the immediate vicinity of Indians and they are constantly on the lookout for some person wandering from the settlements alone,” Farley wrote. “They have also come within the limits of our corporation [city] at several different times, stolen our horses and murdered two or three of our citizens.”

Texas had proclaimed its independence from Mexico four years earlier and fought and won a revolution to achieve it, but as far as Mexico was concerned, Texas was still one of its provinces.“

Rumor says that the Mexican government now has an invading army on the march for this little republic…but the report is not generally believed,” Farley continued. Mexico was busy trying to put down other sectional rebellions and was not likely to try to retake Texas any time soon. (Two years later, Mexico did make a mild slap at it, but after briefly occupying San Antonio, a modest invading force retreated back across the Rio Grande.)

“So much for Indians and war!” Farley said, turning to the prospect for a fine agricultural crop that year. Corn was high and cotton coming right along, he said.

Farley, who must have been older than his brother, offered a mild lecture on the importance of education and urged him to “be a little more careful about making mistakes, blotting your paper, spelling words wrong and making capital letters in the wrong place, etc.”

The Austin daily published the letter, omitting only a number of messages to Farley’s parents, relatives and friends.

The New Yorker did not leave particularly deep tracks in Texas, at least that have come to light.

It is known that Farley took part in the ill-fated Santa Fe expedition a year after he wrote the letter to his brother. Three hundred twenty men left Austin in June 1841 to assert Texas’s claimed control of much of New Mexico and more important, to establish trade between the republic and Santa Fe. But the effort was badly planned and even more poorly executed. Those who survived attacks by Kiowas ended up being captured by the Mexican army and marched 2,000 miles to prison in Mexico City.

Thanks largely to diplomatic efforts on the part of the United States, the Mexican government freed the Texans in April 1842. At some point, Farley returned to New York where he was a school superintendent for many years. He died in Union Springs, N.Y. in a railroad accident in 1885. The one-time Texas resident is buried in Union Springs’ Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

Who knows what the Austin newspaper did with the original letter? Surely someone had the foresight to give it to the University of Texas library or some other institution. But at least the newspaper published it, saving its contents for posterity.

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