Editor’s note: Mike Ragland is taking a bit of time off, so here is a classic Ragland to keep your “things I never knew” history cravings in check:
This is one of those columns that kept me up at night. I really don’t know how to tell this story, so I think I’ll start at the beginning.
I received an email or Facebook message from a good friend stating that he had just heard the most incredible story. The night before, at the Waters Historical District meeting in Shannon, a story was told that I needed to investigate. I listened patiently as he told me what he knew. Goosebumps on my arms started popping up way before he was through. When he hung up I just sat there in a trance.
I love history of all kinds, especially Southern history, and he had just told me a story I never heard and needed to verify. So I called my buddy Chuck King, who is from the Shannon area, and asked if he had attended the historical meeting the night before, did he hear the story and was it true? Not only was he there, but his aunt Pauline McIntyre had actually presented the program.
He set me up with an interview with Mrs. Pauline and what a day it was. I just sat quietly, and that’s hard for me, and listened to the story. It went something like this:
In November of 1835 in Knoxville, Georgia, a young, 17-year-old girl sat on her porch and reflected on what she had just overheard from her father, Hiram Troutman, a local planter who also owned an inn and tavern on the road from Macon to Columbus. Sitting upstairs and listening, Joanna Troutman could hear all the war talk coming from down below. The gathering was aghast that Andy Jackson had refused to help his friend Sam Houston dispose of the Mexican yoke over the northern province of Texas. It seems Andy said, “When you get to be a Republic I’ll recognize you.” This upset a great many of the inn’s customers and the talk was at a fever pitch.
It was said that several companies of Georgians would be passing the tavern in the next few days heading out west to fight for Texas. Men were streaming from all over the South to go and fight. Why, former Congressman Davy Crockett had already arrived in Texas with a contingent of Tennessee Volunteers, and the pirate Jim Bowie from Louisiana was living in Texas and had married a Mexican national.
But what could a 17-year-old girl do? She felt so helpless just sitting on the porch and staring up into the sky. She could see the night sky had only one star out. It was big, bright and all alone. “That must be the way those brave people in Texas feel,” she thought. “They’re all alone.”
The idea then came quick. She wasted no time getting word to a couple of girlfriends to meet her at her house the next morning. She was going to make a flag for the Georgians to take with them. She had a friend, Lt. Hugh McLeod, who had resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and was in Texas fighting now. She would have the Georgians take the flag to him. He would know what to do with it.
The next day she and her girlfriends took a white silk pettycoat and an azure blouse and made a flag. The blouse was cut into a five point star and sown in the center of the white flag. On one side she stitched “Liberty or Death” and on the other was the Latin motto Ubi Libertas Habitat, ibi noestra patria est, “Where liberty dwells, there is our country.”
Two days later, Col. William Ward received the flag as the troops streamed by the inn. They were very proud of their flag and as they camped in Montgomery, Alabama, another 12 men enlisted to march under the flag with them.
The flag was presented to Lt. McLeod upon arrival in Texas and flew for the first time at Velasquez, then at Goliad.
Colonel Ward’s troops mustered with Col. James Walker Fannin, another Georgian. They were captured and massacred at Goliad on Palm Sunday, 1836. One month later Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna at San Jacinto and Texas had its republic.
Although the Troutman flag was destroyed at Goliad, Joanna wasn’t forgotten. She was sent a silver spoon and fork from the personal tableware of Santa Anna by Texas General Rusk. This token of appreciation was given to her for the way her flag had inspired the stern, scarred patriots of the revolution.
On the meeting of the First Texas Congress the Flag of the Lone Star was adopted as the flag of the Republic and the seals of office ordered engraved with the star upon them. The public recognition of the maternity of the first flag of the Lone Star as belonging to Georgia was made by General Memmican Hunt, the first Ambassador from the Republic of Texas to the United States of America.
Isn’t that a great story? A young Georgia girl, Joanna Troutman, making a flag that would stand all these years for Texas.
All I could think about was Fess Parker, fighting to the end, going down swinging “Ole Betsy” while the music of Davy Crockett was blaring from the movie screen. Col. Travis taking his sword and drawing a line in the sand, telling the troops of the Alamo they had no help coming. A crippled Jim Bowie asking some of the men to carry him over the line, and fighting to the last with the knife he made famous. The Texas troops screaming “Remember the Alamo, Remember Goliad” as they charged the Mexican camp and won their independence at the Battle of San Jacinto. If that don’t ring your bell, then your clapper’s broke. and it ain’t over yet.
Check back next Sunday for Part 2 of The Betsy Ross of Texas.