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Mexican Federalists declare independence at Laredo convention
January 17, 1840

On this day in 1840, leaders of the Mexican Federalist party met in Laredo to declare the independence of the ill-fated Republic of the Rio Grande. Since 1835, with the ascension of Antonio López de Santa Anna to the presidency of Mexico, Federalist leaders had attempted to force a return to the Constitution of 1824. The Federalists claimed the areas of Tamaulipas and Coahuila north to the Nueces and Medina rivers, respectively, and Nuevo León, Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, and New Mexico. Antonio Canales Rosillo, commander-in-chief of the new republic's army, took the field against Centralist general Mariano Arista at Morales, Coahuila, in March 1840 and was disastrously defeated. Canales with his few remaining troops retreated to San Antonio, while the provisional government fled to Victoria, Texas. Canales then toured Texas in an effort to raise interest and aid for the continuance of his campaign. About 140 Americans joined his army under Col. Samuel W. Jordan, who led a successful expedition to capture Ciudad Victoria before being forced to retreat to Texas in October. Canales capitulated at Camargo in November 1840. He was taken into the Centralist army as an officer, and Federalism was dead for the time being.

First appearance of Popeye
January 17, 1929

On this day in 1929, Popeye, the Sailor Man, renowned comic-strip character, first appeared in print. The Victoria Advocate is credited as the first newspaper in the nation to run Elzie Crisler Segar's comic strip, originally called "Thimble Theatre," which starred the spinach-eating hero. Segar (1894-1938) was born in Chester, Illinois, and worked as a moving-picture machine operator, a house painter, and a photographer before his first cartoon effort was rejected by a St. Louis paper. Segar became a popular cartoonist in the 1920s. Popeye was probably inspired by Frank "Rocky" Feigle of Segar's hometown. By 1932 Popeye was the undisputed star of "Thimble Theatre," as evidenced in fan mail, toys, games, novelties, and jokes. Segar himself called the Victoria Advocate Popeye's "hometown." In gratitude he contributed a special cartoon for the Advocate's historic 1934 anniversary issue. Speaking to the newspaper's editor through Popeye, Segar wrote, "Please assept me hearties bes' wishes an' felitcitations on account of yer paper's 88th Anniversity....Victoria is me ol' home town on account of tha's where I got born'd at." Crystal City, Texas, also claims a special relationship to Popeye. The spinach industry credited Popeye and Segar with the 33 percent increase in spinach consumption from 1931 to 1936, and in 1937 Crystal City, the "Spinach Capital of the World," erected a statue to honor Segar and his sailor.

Barbara Jordan dies
January 17, 1996

On this day in 1996, Barbara Jordan, politician and educator, died in Austin. She was born in Houston in 1936 and grew up in that city's Fourth Ward. Jordan received a law degree from Boston University in 1959 and returned to Houston in 1960. She became involved in politics by registering black voters for the 1960 presidential campaign, and twice ran unsuccessfully for the state senate in the early 1960s. In 1967 she became the first black state senator since 1883. Eschewing a confrontational approach, Jordan quickly developed a reputation as a master of detail and an effective pragmatist and gained the respect of her thirty white male colleagues. In 1973 she successfully ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from the Eighteenth Texas District. She was the first black woman from a Southern state to serve in Congress, and, with Andrew Young, was one of the first two African Americans elected to Congress from the South in the twentieth century. She gained national prominence for her role in the 1974 Watergate hearings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Impressed with her eloquence and stature in the party, the Democratic party chose her to deliver the keynote address at the 1976 Democratic national convention; she was the first woman to do so. In 1979, after three terms in congress, Jordan retired from politics to accept the Lyndon Baines Johnson Public Service Professorship at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Among her many honors were induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1990 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.

A Connecticut Yankee in Texas
January 17, 1821

On this date in 1821, the government of New Spain granted Moses Austin a permit to settle 300 families in Texas. This momentous agreement began the process of Anglo-American colonization in the future state. The elder Austin died, however, before he could fulfill his part of the contract, and his son Stephen F. Austin was recognized as his successor. Although Mexican independence from Spain cast temporary doubt on the future of the contract, a special decree issued in April 1823 allowed S. F. Austin to begin the colonization that led eventually to the Texas Revolution and the Republic of Texas.