On this day in 1844, Republic of Texas president Sam Houston granted an empresario contract to Charles Fenton Mercer. Mercer was born in Virginia in 1778. After winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1816, he was a strong advocate of developing the American West and colonizing "free people of color" through emigration to Africa. He resigned his seat in 1839, citing the drain on his personal finances caused by his long career in public service and philanthropy, and began work as a bank cashier in Florida. Two years later, he became interested in bringing settlers to a projected colony in northern Texas. He organized the Texas Association and by the end of the year had attracted more than 100 families to his enterprise. Political opinion in the republic had swung away from the empresario system, however, and Mercer's well-known abolitionist sentiments made the colony an issue in the abolition and annexation controversy. Land disputes and the resulting court cases were an additional drain on Mercer's time and finances. In 1852 he assigned his interest in the contract to other members of the Texas Association in return for a $2,000 annuity. Mercer died in Virginia in 1858.
On this day in 1881, a company of Texas Rangers ambushed a group of fugitive Guadalupe Apaches at Hueco Tanks, thirty miles east of El Paso. Hueco, Spanish for "hollow," refers to the hollows in the rocks that collect rainwater, which has long been one of the chief attractions in this arid land; around 1860 the tanks were capable of holding a year's supply of water. Until about 1910 they furnished virtually the only water between the Pecos River and El Paso, and thus were a popular camping spot for Mescalero and Lipan Apache, Kiowa, Tigua, and various other Indians. An estimated 5,000 pictographs and a few petroglyphs are scattered in more than fifty sites throughout what is now Hueco Tanks State Historic Site.
On this day in 1908, Alton Stricklin, County Music Hall of Fame musician, was born in Antioch, Texas. He joined Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys in 1935, after Bob heard him play piano at the Cinderella Roof in Fort Worth. Stricklin was a jazz pianist whose idioms were basic to dance music. For him, Wills's dance music was like the jazz he was familiar with. He set the piano style for all the swing bands that followed and the style for all of Wills's other piano players. Stricklin played with the Wills band in its the first recording for Columbia Records and in all the other recordings Wills made through 1941, a total of more than 200. Capitol Records encouraged the musicians to form a group called Bob Wills' Original Texas Playboys, which had nearly ten years of remarkable success. Stricklin became the chronicler of his music when, in 1976, he published his memoirs, My years with Bob Wills. He died in Johnson County, Texas, in 1986.
On this day in 1861, the Secession Convention of the state of Texas voted overwhelmingly to secede from the United States. South Carolina had seceded in December 1860. The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln precipitated the fall of the Southern dominoes. Fearful of Northern encroachment on traditional freedoms, and acutely aware of the South's economic dependence upon slavery, the Southern states voted one by one to withdraw from the Union. A Texas referendum to settle the legality of the move was held on February 23, 1861. The results for the state as a whole were 46,153 for secession and 14,747 against. The stage was set for Texans to fight and lose a bloody civil war.