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Secessionist fire-eater dies
February 18, 1874

On this day in 1874, secessionist leader Louis T. Wigfall died in Galveston. The South Carolina native arrived in Texas in 1846 and settled in Nacogdoches, where he was a law partner of Thomas J. Jennings and William B. Ochiltree. Soon Wigfall opened his own law office in Marshall. He was active in Texas politics from the month he arrived, "alerting" Texans to the dangers of abolition and growing influence of non-slave states in the United States Congress. After serving in the Texas legislature Wigfall was elected to the U.S. senate in 1858, where he earned a reputation for eloquence, acerbic debate, and readiness for encounter. In the forefront of southern "fire-eaters," Wigfall continued his fight for slavery and states' rights and against expanding the power of national government. He played an important role in the formation of the Confederacy, and served in the Confederate congress. After the Civil War, Wigfall traveled to England, where he tried to foment war between Britain and the United States, hoping to give the South an opportunity to rise again. He returned to the United States in 1872, lived in Baltimore, and moved back to Texas shortly before his death.

Heroic Texas woman graduates from flight-nurse school
February 18, 1943

On this day in 1943, Dolly Shea graduated with the first flight-nurse class of the United States Army Air Forces at Bowman Field, Kentucky. The San Benito, Texas, native served in the European Theater during World War II. She was killed on April 14, 1945, when her evacuation plane, ferrying wounded Americans to hospitals behind the front line, was shot down over Germany. She was one of three women in the Army Nurse Corps known to have been killed by direct enemy action and the only one from Texas. Her awards include the Air Medal, the Red Cross Medal, a Special Citation from President Harry Truman, and a posthumous Purple Heart.

Frenchman flies first plane in Texas
February 18, 1910

On this day in 1910, a Frenchman, Louis Paulhan, made the first recorded airplane flight in Texas. The first people in the state to fly, in the 1860s, were air-show balloonists and their passengers, although several inventors were also busy with plans for winged flying machines. The alleged flight of Jacob F. Brodbeck in 1865 has become a Texas legend. After the Wright brothers' controlled airplane flights in 1903, aeronautical progress generally was slow until 1909-10, when European aviation made rapid strides and the United States government acquired its first aircraft. Aerial demonstrations proliferated at sites across America, including Houston, where Paulhan made his flight. Military aviation developed at the same time. Lt. Benjamin Foulois, a colorful pioneer pilot, arrived at Fort Sam Houston in February 1910, assembled the army's recently purchased Wright biplane, and took to the air on March 2, 1910. Almost a hundred years later, Texas continues to be a leader in civil and military aviation.