On this day in 1837, the Philosophical Society of Texas was founded by twenty-six prominent Texans who met in the capitol of the Republic of Texas at Houston. The purpose of the organization was stated as "the collection and diffusion of correct information regarding the moral and social condition of our country; its finances, statistics and political and military history; its climate, soil and productions ... animals ... aboriginal tribes ... natural curiosities ... mines ... and the thousand other topics of interest which our new and rising republic unfolds to the philosopher, the scholar, and the man of the world." Charter member Mirabeau B. Lamar was elected the society's first president and occasional meetings were held during the annual sessions of the Congress of the Republic of Texas, but the society became inactive before 1845. In 1935 the organization was revived by a group that included George Waverly Briggs, James Quayle Dealey, Herbert P. Gambrell, Samuel Wood Geiser, Umphrey Lee, Charles Shirley Potts, and Ira Kendrick Stephens. Membership was by invitation and was limited to persons who were born within or had resided in the geographical boundaries of the Republic of Texas and who had contributed to the achievement of the original aims of the society. The Philosophical Society had its office in Dallas upon its reorganization, but by the 1990s was headquartered in Austin.
On this day in 1791, Fray José Francisco Garza found the Karankawa crossing to Matagorda Island, where the natives had kept horses stolen from the Spanish. Garza’s discovery marked the high point in the “peace offensive” launched by Garza and fellow Franciscan priest Manuel Julio de Silva. For decades the Spanish had attempted to missionize the Karankawas in order to subdue the hostile group and gain a foothold on the Texas Coast. Garza’s access to Matagorda Island, then known as Toboso Island, which the Indians had used as a refuge, led to renewed interest in establishing a mission in the area. His associate Silva proposed the construction of a complex for the Karankawas at the mouth of the Guadalupe River as part of an ambitious plan to convert all Indians between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande. Construction began on Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission, but ultimately the region proved to be unhealthful, and the mission site was relocated twice to settle eventually near the present town of Refugio. The Karankawas maintained their nomadic and hostile ways until American colonization and warfare rendered the tribe virtually extinct in the mid-nineteenth century.
On this day in 1870, black rodeo cowboy Bill Pickett was born in the Jenks-Branch community in Travis County. After observing dogs subduing huge steers by biting their upper lips, the young Pickett found he could do the same thing. In 1888 he performed at the first fair in Taylor, his family's new hometown. As the "Dusky Deamon," Pickett performed at rodeos and fairs throughout Texas and the West. Capitalizing on his fame, he contracted in 1905 to perform at the 101 Ranch in Oklahoma. By 1907 he had become a full-time employee of the ranch, where he worked as a cowboy and performed with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show. He entertained millions in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and England, and was featured in several motion pictures, the first black cowboy star. Pickett died in 1932 after being kicked in the head by a horse. His friend Will Rogers commented on his radio show: "Bill Pickett never had an enemy, even the steers wouldn't hurt old Bill." In 1972 Pickett became the first black honoree in the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. In 1994 the United States Post Office issued a stamp in his honor, though the stamp accidentally showed one of Pickett's brothers.
On this day in 1835, the Texas revolutionary army began its assault on the Mexican garrison at San Antonio de Béxar. Ben Milam and William Gordon Cooke gathered more than 300 volunteers to attack the town in two columns, while Edward Burleson and another 400 men forced Mexican general Martín Perfecto de Cos to keep his 570 men divided between the town and the Alamo. The battle ended with the surrender of the Mexican army on December 9. Texas casualties numbered 30 to 35, while Mexican losses totaled about 150; the difference reflected in part the greater accuracy of the Texans' rifles. Most of the Texas volunteers went home after the battle, which left San Antonio and all of Texas under their control.