On this day in 1862, Mexican general Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French expeditionary forces at Puebla, Mexico. This event is celebrated annually as El Cinco de Mayo. Along with El Diez y Seis de Septiembre (September 16), on which is commemorated Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's 1810 call for the end of Spanish rule in Mexico, El Cinco de Mayo is one of the Fiestas Patrias, annual celebrations of Mexican national holidays and of the ethnic heritage of Mexican-Americans.
On this day in 1939, the telescope of the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory was dedicated. The observatory, located on Mount Locke near Fort Davis, owes its foundation to the unexpected legacy of William Johnson McDonald, bachelor banker of Paris, Texas, who died in 1926 and left the university $850,000 for the establishment of an astronomical observatory. The university, having no astronomy faculty, signed a thirty-year collaborative agreement with the University of Chicago in 1932, whereby Texas financed the telescope and Chicago provided the astronomers. World War II severely restricted astronomical research in many parts of the world, but McDonald gained the services of several refugee European astronomers. At the end of the war McDonald astronomers received many awards from American and European astronomical societies. Construction of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope on Mount Fowlkes, adjacent to Mount Locke, began in 1994, and it became operational in 1999.
On this day in 1862, Texas native Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza led a Mexican army in its resounding defeat of a French invasion. Zaragoza was born on March 24, 1829, at Bahía del Espíritu Santo in the state of Coahuila and Texas, near present Goliad, Texas. With Mexico's defeat in the Texas Revolution, his father moved the family from Goliad to Matamoros. Zaragoza eventually entered the Mexican army and served in many campaigns. When the French invaded Mexico in 1862 he was entrusted with the defense of Puebla. French forces attacked the town in a battle that lasted the entire day of May 5, 1862, the now-famed Cinco de Mayo. Zaragoza's well-armed, well-trained men forced the withdrawal of the French troops. The number of French reported killed ranged from 476 to 1,000. Mexican losses were reported to be approximately eighty-six. Although the French captured Mexico City the next summer, the costly delay at Puebla is believed to have shortened the French intervention in Mexico and changed its outcome. Zaragoza became a national hero, but died from typhoid fever the following September. Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican national holiday, is celebrated in Texas and the Southwest as well.