On this day in 1541, the Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, in a letter to the king of Spain, became the first man to describe the vast Llano Estacado. The Llano Estacado (Staked Plains), the southern extension of the High Plains of North America, is a high mesa lying south of the Canadian River in northwest Texas and northeast New Mexico. Coronado had been appointed in 1540 to lead an expedition to the Seven Cities of Cíbola, wondrous tales of which had been brought to Mexico by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Coronado found no gold at Cíbola, in western New Mexico, but he was led on by stories of Quivira, a region far to the east. It was during his search for Quivira that Coronado came upon the Llano Estacado, which he described thus: "I reached some plains so vast, that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for more than 300 leagues ... with no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea .... [T]here was not a stone, nor bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by." Future explorers echoed his impressions of the region, and development did not begin until the 1870s, though it proceeded rapidly thereafter. Indeed, the Llano witnessed the most rapid development of any section of the state, progressing from an economy based on unfenced public grazing land to a modern industrial economy within half a century. The region's population in 1880 was only 1,081; a century later it was more than 900,000.
On this day in 1874 Susanna O'Docharty, pioneer woman and community leader, asked a priest to prepare her for death. Although she was ill, the padre saw no signs of death. "This is why I sent for you, I die tonight," she told him curtly, which she did. The Indiana native, born in 1804, moved with her husband to Texas sometime before 1831 to join the McMullen-McGloin colony, where they helped establish the town of San Patricio. Susanna helped establish a meeting between the people of Matamoros and the San Patricio colonists in 1832 at Banquete Creek. This grew into an annual festive occasion called El Lugar del Banquete. Mrs. O'Docharty became a leader of a group of San Patricio residents loyal to the Centralist Mexican government and influenced several other families to move with her family to Matamoros, where they lived until 1845, when Gen. Zachary Taylor's army brought a semblance of law and order back to the old city of San Patricio. Upon her family's return, she returned to her role of community leader and began teaching in her home when the community school closed. She gave her two sons a basic law background that enabled them to become respected lawyers and judges in San Patricio and Nueces counties. Tales of her strong character still exist, including that of how she retrieved her infant daughter's remains from Mexico. About a year after returning to Texas, she enlisted the aid of twelve-year-old Hubert Timon, and the two disappeared early one morning riding south. Two weeks later they reappeared with Susanna balancing a small coffin on her saddle horn.
On this day in 1807, the treason trial of Aaron Burr, former vice president of the United States and a minor player in Texas history, came to a characteristically ambiguous ending. After leaving the vice presidency in 1804, Burr made a tour of the western states and became leader of a conspiracy supposed to have been aimed toward an invasion of Texas. He was arrested for treason and, after a prolonged trial, Justice John Marshall ruled that while Burr was not guilty of treason, he was guilty of contemplating an invasion of Spanish territory. Burr's exact intentions have never been ascertained, but they probably included crossing the Sabine River and marching across Texas.