On this day in 1860, a series of mysterious fires broke out in North Texas, devastating several communities and leading to the Texas slave panic of 1860. The most serious fire destroyed most of the downtown section of the small town of Dallas. In addition, about half of the town square in Denton burned, and fire razed a store in Pilot Point. At first, the leaders of the affected communities attributed the fires to a combination of the exceedingly hot summer (it was reportedly as hot as 110 degrees in Dallas on the afternoon of the fire) and the introduction into the stores of the new and volatile phosphorous matches. Indeed, subsequent experience with "prairie matches" in Denton satisfied the citizens of that town that spontaneous combustion was the probable cause of the fire there. In Dallas, however, certain white leaders detected a more sinister origin to the area's fires.Charles R. Pryor of the Dallas Herald blamed the assault on an abolitionist plot "to devastate, with fire and assassination, the whole of Northern Texas...." By the end of July, communities and counties throughout North and East Texas had established vigilance committees to root out and punish the alleged conspirators. By the time the panic subsided in September, between thirty and 100 blacks and whites had been killed by the vigilance committees. Often called "the Texas Troubles" by the press, the Texas panic of 1860 helped prepare Texans and other Southerners to leave the Union.
On this day in 1911, San Jacinto veteran Alfonso Steele died. In November 1835 the Kentucky native had joined Captain Daggett's company of volunteers bound for Texas to aid in the revolution. The company disbanded shortly after arriving at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Steele worked in a hotel and gristmill until the Declaration of Independence, then joined a company intending to go to the aid of Travis at the Alamo. Learning that the Alamo had fallen, they joined Houston's army. Steele was a private in Sydney Sherman's regiment at the battle of San Jacinto (April 21, 1836). He was severely wounded in one of the first volleys of the battle, but continued to fight until it ended. After recuperation he went to Montgomery County, where he farmed and raised cattle. He married Mary Ann Powell in 1838 and moved to Robertson County. In 1909 the Thirty-first Texas Legislature honored Steele as one of the last two living survivors of the battle of San Jacinto. He is buried at Mexia.
On this day in 1868, Titus H. Mundine shocked the Constitutional Convention of 1868-69 by proposing to enfranchise women and African Americans. Mundine, a strong Unionist, was born in Alabama in 1826 and came to Texas in 1845; he represented Burleson County at the convention. His resolution read: "Every person, without distinction of sex, who shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years . . . shall be deemed a qualified elector." After a good deal of what one reporter called "squabbling and fun," a motion to reject was defeated, and the resolution was sent to the Committee on State Affairs. It was never reported out of the committee, although according to newspapers Mundine continued to champion his "favorite measure." Mundine may have been the first man in a position of power to propose woman suffrage in Texas. He died in 1872.
On this day in 1955, the University of Texas Board of Regents voted to permit Texas Western College (now the University of Texas at El Paso) to admit black students. This decision came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court had issued a supplementary ruling confirming its decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which abolished segregation in public education. On the local scene in El Paso, a black student, Thelma Joyce White, had been denied admission to TWC for the 1954-55 school year and had brought suit in federal court. Her attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall, continued to press her suit, with the result that, on July 18, Judge Robert E. Thomason issued a declaratory judgment permanently enjoining the UT system from denying, on the basis of race, any African-American student the right to study at Texas Western. The plaintiff in this important case decided, however, to continue her studies at New Mexico A&M, though her children attended UTEP. She died in 1985. An academic support network for black students was founded at UTEP in 1993 and named for her.