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The Battle for Moses Austin

During the early 1900’s, the Texas State Cemetery underwent a revitalization that was led by the efforts of O. B. Colquitt. He was determined to bring the Cemetery up to its proper stature within the state community by having walls constructed around the Cemetery as well as beautifying the grounds. In addition, he had the remains of Stephen F. Austin, Joanna Troutman, and John Wharton buried here, which gave the Cemetery recognition as a true state treasure.
 
With the renewed interest in the Cemetery, Historian Louis Kemp fueled efforts to have distinguished Texans buried here in preparation for the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936. Kemp disinterred 76 individuals before the Centennial. Curiously though, no mention was given to Moses Austin, the originator of the Mexican land grant to bring the first American families to Texas.
 
Kemp believed that proper recognition should be given to the elder Austin by having his remains buried alongside his son’s in the Cemetery. In 1938, Kemp requested that Thurlow Weed, an Austin mortician, go to Potosi, Missouri and have his remains brought to Texas.   Upon Weed’s arrival in Missouri, he petitioned the state government for a permit to disinter Austin’s remains. He was told to gain permission from the county, despite having approval from all living Austin descendants. Having never run into any trouble before, Weed proceeded to hire a few locals to begin the disinterment. He tried to expedite the process so that he could be completed by San Jacinto Day. However, Weed was denied permission and work was stopped by a resolution passed by the City Council in an emergency meeting.
 
Following several verbal assaults and one confrontation from the Potosi mayor, Weed and his wife left Missouri on April 23 without Austin. The incident became well known in both Missouri and Texas. Lt. Governor Walter Woodul advised Governor James Allred to take action. After both sides threatened lawsuits, Governor Allred dispatched Secretary of State Ed Clark to Missouri to negotiate a compromise. Secretary Clark offered the town $1,000 to erect a suitable monument in exchange for Austin’s remains. Potosi City officials rejected the offer and the issue died.
 
Later, Potosi tried to have a memorial built, but was never able to raise sufficient funding. In 1949, the Potosi Lions Club proposed selling his remains to Texas for $50,000 to build a modest city hall. Even President Harry S. Truman, a Missouri native, proclaimed that Austin’s remains should be moved to Texas. However, Texas ignored the proposal. In 1961, Potosi officials had cleaned the cemetery and Austin’s tomb, which stood three foot tall and had the simple inscription “Moses Austin – Died 1820.” To this day, there is only his tomb to serve as a reminder of his pioneering accomplishments in Missouri.
 
JW