On this day in 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas passed two important pieces of legislation: a homestead act and an act setting aside land for public schools and two universities. The homestead act, patterned somewhat after legislation of Coahuila and Texas, was designed to encourage home ownership. It guaranteed every citizen or head of family in the republic "fifty acres of land or one town lot, including his or her homestead, and improvements not exceeding five hundred dollars in value." The education act was inspired by President Mirabeau Lamar's determination to establish a system of education endowed by public lands, but failed to produce the desired results immediately because land prices were too low for this endowment to provide revenue. There was also some popular indifference on the county level to the establishment of schools, as evidenced by the fact that by 1855 thirty-eight counties had made no effort even to survey their school land. Nevertheless, Lamar's advocacy of the program earned for him the nickname "Father of Texas Education."
On this day in 1945, Audie Murphy, the most-decorated soldier in United States history, earned the Medal of Honor by single-handedly repelling a German attack. The Texas native enlisted in the United States Army in June 1942. During World War II he received thirty-three awards, citations, and decorations. After the war he starred in numerous movies, wrote country-and-western songs, and pursued other business interests. Murphy was killed in an airplane crash in 1971 and was buried near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.
On this day in 1893, Robert L. Williams produced the first piece of ware in the new McDade Pottery plant. The plant was the successor to a "jug shop" begun in 1853 in the vicinity of what is now Bastrop State Park. It was moved to McDade in the late 1870s, and Williams, who was experienced in ceramic processes and recognized the potential for McDade clay, bought the business in 1890. He built a new plant that covered three acres, complete with two brick beehive kilns, clay-grinding equipment, and a railroad siding. He continued the potter's-wheel turning of specialty items and the production of food-storage vessels and housewares, but also added new products. Williams invented an extrusion press with assorted sizes of dies for the rapid production of flowerpots and other hollowware. The pottery business sold to nurseries and florists throughout Texas and also in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. In the beginning Williams had to accept produce in barter for the ceramics, and he began the McDade Mercantile Company to provide a market for bartered goods and to serve the McDade townspeople. The advent of electric and gas-flame heating and of cast-plastic substitutes for heavy ceramics reduced the demand for pottery products. The greatest blow to the business was the loss of the aggressive management of Williams, who died in 1923. The business was continued on a reduced scale by his son, Albert Payne Williams Sr., until World War II.
On this day in 1839, the Republic of Texas chartered the Houston and Brazos Rail Road, one of four lines chartered by the Republic. The company was granted the right to build railroads and turnpikes from Houston to the Brazos River. Michel B. Menard, Augustus C. Allen, James Love, Moseley Baker, and William A. Pettus were among the company's directors. The ceremony marking the beginning of construction was set to coincide with the fourth anniversary observance of the Odd Fellows in Texas. On the morning of July 25, 1840, the celebration began at the Presbyterian church in Houston with an address commemorating the Odd Fellows anniversary. From the church a procession of volunteer companies, members of the bar, medical faculty, army and naval officers, citizens, county officers, mayor and aldermen, Odd Fellows, Masons, the president and directors of the railroad company, the committee of arrangements, orator, and officiating clergyman formed and marched to the terminus of the railroad. Mayor Charles Bigelow broke ground with a spade, Holland Lodge No. 1 laid "a neat slab with fitting inscriptions," and the Milam Guards fired a salute. The procession then proceeded to Corri's Theater for more speeches. Despite these beginnings, however, the company was unable to construct its railroad and soon lost its charter privileges.