Holding History in Your Hand

The Texas Story Project.

Jew's Harp and other artifacts discovered at the site of Fort Tenoxtitlán
Jew's Harp and other artifacts discovered at the site of Fort Tenoxtitlán

I think history makes more sense when you can hold it in your hand! In 2003, I started researching Fort Tenoxtitlán, a Mexican military garrison in what is now Burleson County, and its surrounding settlement. An often-forgotten facet of Texas's history, this Mexican fort was commanded by Colonel Jose Francisco Ruiz from 1830 to 1832 and was intended to help suppress Anglo American immigration from the United States into Mexico. The fort was also intended to become the new capitol of an independent Tejas. Located north of the Camino Real, the fort changed the route of that historic trail for a time.

While researching the fort, I came across a letter by Mr. Smith, who ran a trading post onsite. He wrote to merchants in Brazoria in 1832, ordering supplies such as nails, dishes, ax handles, and tobacco. Also, listed in the order were "jews harps," which were used for trading to American Indians for animal skins.

In the 2000s, I visited the site several times with archeologist Dan Potter, who was conducting a field survey for the Texas Historical Commission. During one trip, we met with the landowner who brought out a bucketful of artifacts he'd picked up over the years. Most items were modern and not too significant. Dan was sifting through the items when he turned to me and dropped something into my hand. It was the rusty remains of a Jew's harp! Here was concrete evidence that validated the trading post, the letter, and the settlement. Research and reality suddenly meshed, and I knew we had connected the dots between the past and present.

Tammy Kubecka is a steward with the Texas Archeological Stewardship Network and a member of the Burleson County Historical Commission.

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