On this day in 1936, the organizational meeting of the Texas Institute of Letters convened in the lecture room of the Hall of State on the grounds of the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. The idea for the organization came from William H. Vann, a professor of English at what is now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton. He and others had been inspired by the celebration of the Texas Centennial to form an organization to promote interest in Texas literature and to recognize literary and cultural achievement. The institute, whose official address varies according to residence of the secretary-treasurer, meets each spring to present awards and transact business. The members are novelists, poets, essayists, historians, journalists, playwrights, and other writers. The requirement for membership has always been quality writing.
On this day in 1872, Oblate missionary Pierre Yves Kéralum set out from Brownsville on what would be his last tour. The pioneer Catholic missionary had made many circuits ministering to people throughout the lower Rio Grande. Kéralum, a Frenchman born in 1817, had worked as a carpenter and architect before his calling to the priesthood and ultimate acceptance into the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He sailed to Galveston in 1852 and helped establish the first college-level Catholic seminary there before he was transferred to Brownsville. His architectural knowledge served well a number of building projects in the Valley, including the design and construction of churches in Roma, Brownsville, and Laredo. On that fateful mission in the fall of 1872, Kéralum, known as El Santo Padre Pedrito to the Mexican people, never arrived at his scheduled destination. Though foul play was suspected, his fate remained unknown for ten years until cowhands discovered his remains. His death is still shrouded in mystery.
On this day in 1801, Gail Borden, Jr., inventor, publisher, surveyor, and founder of the Borden Company, was born in Norwich, New York. He came to Texas in 1829 and became surveyor for Austin's Colony in 1830. In 1835-37 the ubiquitous Borden published the Telegraph and Texas Register, prepared the first topographical map of Texas, and helped lay out the site of Houston. In the middle 1840s he began inventing. He is supposed to have experimented with large-scale refrigeration as a means of preventing yellow fever and with a terraqueous machine, a sort of prairie schooner that would go on land or water. In 1849 he perfected a meat biscuit, made of dehydrated meat compounded with flour, which he tried to market on a worldwide scale in partnership with Ashbel Smith. In 1853 he sought a patent for his most famous invention, a process for condensing milk in vacuum. After several unsuccessful attempts, he opened a condensed milk factory in Connecticut in 1858. When the Civil War brought intensified demand for condensed milk, sales grew so much that Borden's success was assured. After the war he returned to Texas and founded the community of Borden, where he established a meat-packing plant. He died in Borden on January 11, 1874.