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American History

Jane Long

Earlier I posted about Jane Long, the woman shown here, and mentioned that her story is one of overcoming incredible hardship.  That prompted me to read a lengthy article about Jane Long that Anne A. Brindley published in the October 1952 Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Goodness gracious, Hollywood needs to make a movie about her life.  The screenplay, starting with her smoking her pipe on her porch in Richmond, Texas in the last year of her life (1880) and reflecting on her adventures writes itself.

Jane was born in Maryland in 1798, moved to Mississippi in 1811, married James Long in 1815, moved to Texas in 1819, and ended up on the Bolivar Peninsula in 1821. That was adventure enough but then things got tough for Jane.

In late 1821, Jane’s husband, Dr. James Long, decided that he and a band of about 50 men were going to wrest Texas from Mexican rule, leaving Jane in a small stone fort on Bolivar Point at the entrance to Galveston Bay. Winter was coming, the nearest people were a hostile band of Karankawas living across the bay, and Jane was pregnant. James promised to return in three weeks. He left Jane, their 6-year old daughter Ann, and Kian, a 12-year old servant girl, in the company of a few soldiers at the fort. Three weeks came and went, supplies began to run low, and the soldiers left, a few at a time. Jane was 23 years old.

Winter blew in and it may have been the most brutal winter in Texas history. Galveston Bay froze over. Jane moved into a small makeshift tent in the middle of the fort, but snow collapsed the walls.

On December 21, Jane delivered her as Kian, the servant, laid delirious with fever. Jane christened the newborn baby “Mary James,” and the next day went out to collect fish that had frozen in the ice. There were so many fish that Jane, who had been on the verge of starvation, was able to store and salt away so many that she was able to pull her and her little family through. The day after Christmas, some men showed up with a message from James, her husband: he had been captured and was imprisoned in Mexico City, but was well.

Across the bay, on Galveston Island, the Karankawas were waiting. Their fires burned at night. One morning, Kian went outside and spotted several canoes loaded with warriors approaching the fort. Jane and Kian turned their one, old, aging cannon on the Karankawas, applied tinder, and blasted away. She didn’t hit anything, but the tremendous roar turned the Indians away. Finally, on March 22, Jane agreed to leave the fort and travel with James Smith to San Jacinto. Several months passed and she received a letter that informed her that her husband had died in Mexico City. An accident, Mexican authorities claimed.

Courageous, Jane opened a boarding house in Brazoria and, over time, refused marriage proposals from Mirabeau Lamar, Sam Houston, and Ben Milam, among others.

For a long time, Jane’s daughter Mary James was thought to be the first Anglo child born in Texas, which is why Jane was called “the Mother of Texas,” though it has now been confirmed that Mary James was NOT the first Anglo child born in Texas. Nevertheless, Jane’s amazing struggle and perseverance during that awful winter of 1821 remains a testament to the human capacity to endure, and I have often felt it would make the basis of an excellent Hollywood screenplay.

P.S. It got so cold that winter that Jane saw a large black bear walk across the frozen bay from the mainland to Galveston Island. A black bear can weigh some 350-400 .lbs, so the ice must have been 5 inches thick, minimum.

Photo of Jane Long courtesy of the fantabulous Rosenberg Library in Galveston.

By Peace Truth

Life is like a bunch of roses. Some sparkle like raindrops. Some fade when there's no sun. Some just fade away in time. Some dance in many colors. Some drop with hanging wings. Some make you fall in love. The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Life you can be sure of, you will not get out ALIVE.(sorry about that)