From western forts to Victorian mansions and pivotal battlegrounds, the Texas Historical Commission's 20 state historic sites exemplify a breadth of Texas history. Come explore the real stories at the real places.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

100 People Brave 100 Degrees for Archeology Fair

By José Zapata, Landmark Inn site manager

Despite the hot weather, Landmark Inn State Historic Site in Castroville hosted an Archeology Fair on August 20 that was attended by more than 100 area residents. Landmark Inn staff made the rounds to ensure visitors and guests stayed cool and hydrated.

The fair, organized by the Southern Texas Archaeological Association, featured staff from the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) instructing children on the basics of archeological investigation with a mock excavation. Staff also instructed visitors on how to use an atlatl (spear-thrower) and a Native American pump drill.

The day-long event included flint knapping demonstrations and artifact identifications. Visitors witnessed how arrowheads and other stone tools are made, and a few brought artifacts for identification.

The fair also featured presentations by two highly regarded archeologists. The morning presentation featured Dr. Steve Tomka, whose talk focused on recent excavations at St. Mary’s Hall and Brackenridge Park in San Antonio. Dr. Tomka is the director of the Center for Archaeological Research at UTSA. The afternoon presentation featured Dr. Tom Hester, who discussed the archeological record of South Texas with a focus on the Medina River Valley. Dr. Hester is an internationally recognized expert on stone tool technology.

Landmark Inn State Historic Site is located in Castroville, approximately 20 miles west of San Antonio, in the Texas Hill Country Trail Region.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Maxey Swords Undergo Conservation

By Caitlin Ammon and Lynn Deal, Sam Bell Maxey House State Historic Site

Sam Bell Maxey House has conserved a number of artifacts this past year. Since the house has been closed to the public for tours due to the current construction on the exterior preservation project, this was the perfect time to send artifacts to professionals for treatment. Two of the objects recently conserved were the Maxey House swords. They are usually on display in the room we call the library.

The more delicate of these two swords is actually a Mexican Army Officer’s dress sword. The scabbard is made of silver and plated in gold, while the sword itself is ornately decorated. The blade is engraved with a series of flowers and shields, and mother of pearl is inlaid on the handle.

You might wonder how Sam Bell Maxey came to own a Mexican dress sword. After graduating from West Point in 1846, Maxey began his career in the U.S. Army by fighting in the Mexican-American War.  After the U.S. captured Mexico City, Maxey was one of five captains assigned to oversee the City Guard.  As a captain, he lived with the mayor, or alcade, of Mexico City. As thanks for his service and protection, the alcalde presented Maxey with this dress sword.

The second sword that was recently conserved contrasts sharply with Maxey’s delicate, beautiful dress sword. This type of battle sword is commonly referred to as an “old wrist-breaker” because it was so heavy. Soldiers thought that if the sword was not used correctly, the weight of the sword could break a man’s wrist during a fight. Thus, this sword was designed to be battle attire rather than dress attire. As such, the battle sword looks very utilitarian when compared to the dress sword and is larger and heavier in order to be an effective battle weapon.

However, Maxey was a general during the Civil War, so he would not have carried this particular type of saber. The story that has been handed down is that Maxey was given the saber and scabbard from a soldier who served in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April 6, 1862. As it was common practice for both the Union and Confederate Armies to take weapons from fallen enemies during the Civil War as battle prizes, it is probable that a Confederate soldier would not want his sword to fall into Union hands and so he gave it to Maxey for safe keeping. Another interesting note about this sword is that the saber is of U.S. Army issue, while the scabbard is of Confederate issue.

The Sam Bell Maxey House is located in Paris at the corner of Church and Washington streets in the Texas Lakes Trail Region.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dancing with the Caddo Culture Club

By Jennifer L. Price, Caddo Mounds site manager

Each year, the Caddo Culture Club of Caddo Nation conducts an annual dance at the Caddo Nation Complex in Binger, Oklahoma to include other ally tribes such as the Cheyenne, Delaware, Kiowa, and Wichita. These tribes come together to conduct ceremonial, ancestral, and competition dances.

The songs and dances performed by the Caddo today date to ancient times. Some of the dances performed include the Straight Dance, Caddo Two-Step, Swing Dance, Fish Dance, and Alligator Dance. These dances are all performed to the beat of drums.

The Straight Dance is usually conducted as a competition dance with each individual’s colorful and well-designed regalia. The Straight Dance defines a story of hunting on a trail, or war party searching for the enemy. 

The Caddo Two-Step is a fun, social dance for couples. The Swing Dance was also considered a social dance, in which a male would guide two women around in a circle. Traditionally, this dance was women’s choice, and if the man declined, it was considered an insult and bad luck for the man. The Fish Dance is predominately women shuffling in a circle, representing propagation or flirting.

The Alligator Dance represents a serpentine line of alternating men and women, ending in a coil-like counter-clockwise turn around the drum, representing the beginning and continuous flow of life.

Caddo Mounds State Historic Site is located outside Alto, Texas, 26 miles west of Nacogdoches. The site is part of the lush Pineywoods landscape of the Texas Forest Trail Region.