GRAINS FROM THE SANDBAR
In recent Sandbar columns there has been reference to several different Republic of Texas Capitals. They have included Groce’s Retreat in Grimes County for two days after the abandonment of the March 1836 founding convention.
As General Sam Houston of the newly created Republic of Texas’s Army seemingly retreated from the advance of General Santa Anna’s Mexican Army, the newly named officers of the Republic were also retreating.
In early April 1836, David Burnet, ad interim president of the new Republic of Texas, requisitioned the small sidewheeler steamer Cayuga as a “floating capital.” The steamer was plying the Brazos River. The ship first transported provisions to the Texas army. Next it was rescuing officials and citizens fleeing the advancing Mexican armies.
On April 15, captain William P. Harris, in command of the steamer, evacuated Harrisburg just ahead of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and his troops. The refugees included President Burnet, his cabinet and all the inhabitants of the town. They all scrambled aboard the Cayuga just before Santa Anna burned the town to the ground.
After stopping at Lynch’s Ferry and New Washington, the Cayuga proceeded to Anahuac and Galveston, where the passengers disembarked. The cabinet members remained aboard, and April 19 were rejoined by Bur-net, who had left the steamer at Lynch’s Ferry to get his family and had narrowly escaped being captured by the Mexicans at New Washington. The business of the Republic was conducted through April 26 on the Cayuga until a few days following the capture of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto.
During this time the Republic purchased the steamer for $5,000 from captain Harris. The Republic of Texas spent $300 for repairs on the Cayuga and by the end of the year authorized the Secretary of the Navy to sell it. The steamer sold at auction December 15, 1836, at Lynch’s Ferry, but at a price seemingly not historically recorded. The new owners refitted the vessel and renamed her the Branch T. Archer.
The history of the Cayuga began in 1832, an eighty-eight-ton side-wheeler, built in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. She was 96’11” long, 17’4” wide, and 5’4” deep. The Cayuga had one deck, two boilers, a high-compression engine, a cabin on deck, a plain head and a pointed stern. Its first owners were Pennsylvanians who sold her first to Mississippi interests, who then sold the steamer to J. F. Aisles of New Orleans. Texas entrepreneurs William P. Harris and Robert Wilson purchased the Cayuga in 1834 from Aisles.
The purchase was financed with “secured pledges” from Texas investors for 5,000 acres of land and $800 cash. In the fall of 1834, the Cayuga is said to have ascended the Brazos as high as Washington-on-the Brazos. (It previously has been claimed the Mustang was the first steamer to reach that far.)
The last mention of the Cayuga was in a Liberty County sheriff’s sale of Sept. 4, 1839, advertising all the right, title and interest in a steamboat now called the Pioneer, late the Branch T. Archer, with all tackle and furniture on board.