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Brenda's Garden
by Brenda Beust Smith
Friday, October 07, 2011

"Women faced — and passed — other dramatic tests in pre-independence Texas . . . Jane Long  (was) a staunch Texas patriot who played a crucial supporting role in the region's early history."
-- "American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country" by Kay Bailey Hutchison

Jane LongI can only remember becoming truly obsessed twice.  The first time was with wildflowers when I was newly married and faced, for the first time, with the prospect of having to create and maintain a landscape that wouldn't infuriate the neighbors.

The second time, just recently, is with Jane Long.  Funny how Jane Long, the somewhat mysterious "Mother of Texas," and wildflowers have so much in common.

I'd always been interested in Jane Long, who she was, how she could in the early 1800s on Bolivar Peninsula — all alone with only two small girls for help and company.

What kind of man would go off and leave his pregnant wife to face what was reportedly the coldest reported winter with Karankawa Indians just across the bay? 

Okay, so he was going to help  fight the Spaniards and create the Republic of Texas, and certainly he played an important role.

And, maybe he didn't realize that when he told her he'd "be back to get her,"  she would steadfastly refuse to leave Bolivar long after all the remaining soldiers and settlers left.

Fort Travis wasn't the massive fortress it is today (a sight well worth seeing). 

Jane, her young daughter and another young girl lived all alone on Bolivar in the starkest of situations from 1820-1822, surviving off the plants, fish and wildlife available on the peninsula's tip near where the ferry landing is today and even tricking the Karankawas into thinking the soliders were still present. 

That, and the fact that she gave birth to a baby girl during one of the coldest winters on date is really all we know about Jane's stay during that period.

Margo Johnson, left, of the Jane Long Society, shows Helen Mooty of the Galveston County Historical Commission, the 1820s period skirt designed by Janet Leigh Davis of Bolivar Peninsula.JANE LONG FESTIVAL

In 2010, the incredible citizens of Bolivar Peninsula — in their campaign to recover from Hurricane Ike — started the Jane Long Festival and thrust the "Mother of Texas" into the limelight she so richly deserves.

Lots of things are happening:

• Highway 87 which runs the length of the peninsula is being renamed the Jane Long Highway.

• A picture of Jane Long will, for the first time, hang in the Texas State Capital in Austin.

• Funds approved for a massive restoration of Fort Travis on Bolivar's tip will include a Jane Long educational pavilion. (Unfortunately, no timetable has been set yet for this work.)

For the first time ever, Jane Long is becoming a real person to many of us.  I bought every book I could find on her (there are only a handful), with the exception of the main one, written by Mirabeau B. Lamar, a monumental figure in Texas history. Still looking for that one.

It's a story well worth telling and retelling.  Most of the monumental figures in Texas' early fight for Independence either passed through — or were integral influences in — the life of this incredible woman.  Why has there never been a movie made about her?

Jane Long may well have first coined the idea of a "Lone Star" state.  She sewed a flag with a single white "lone" star on a red  background for her husband's soldiers — among the very first American troops to set foot on Texas soil in the battle for independence.

She met (alone!) with Jean Lafitte in his enclave on Galveston Island to solicit aid for her husband's campaign.  (Didn't work.

The oft-told story — that Jane gave  birth to the first Anglo baby born on Texas soil — has long been disproved.  But that was such a minute part of her persona.

And the fact that she successfully gave birth at all during that record-cold winter, living all in a makeshift fort with only two very young girls for company, on a deserted peninsula with not-too-friendly Indians only a short boat ride away is only the beginning of her tale.

It's a story of love and dedication hard to believe today. She promised she'd wait there for him and, by golly, she did — until his death freed her from that promise.

Finally, after learning her husband had been "accidentally" killed while a prisoner in Mexico, she agreed to leave Bolivar Peninsula, establishing hotels first in Brazoria and then in Richmond, Texas. 

From her hotels in these towns, Jane Long:

• Assisted Stephen F. Austin by entertaining Mexican officials, representatives of Spain (which then controlled much of Texas)

• Organized a ball when Stephen F. Austin was freed from a Mexican prison. At this ball, Austin gave his first speech calling for Texas Independence from Mexico, setting off the Texas Revolution.

• Was said to have been courted by many of the revolutionaries, including Travis, Austin, Ben Milam,  Sam Houston and, particularly, Mirabeau B Lamar. 

(She never remarried, perhaps because her love for James Long was so great.)

• Saved the papers of Mirabeau B. Lamar (later the second President of the Republic of Texas) — including his original history of Texas. 

• Saved personal effects of other notable Texas fighters when she left Brazoria and fled back to Bolivar just ahead of the Mexican Army during the famous “Runaway Scape.”

Hopefully, the folks on Bolivar Peninsula are going to make Jane more of a household word. 

Margo Johnson and other Bolivar Jane Long supporters credit the late author A. Pat Daniels for helping to spark such active interest in this historic woman.  The Doyle family is responsible for getting Highway 87 renamed.  And the Doyle Foundation has donated generously to the Bolivar campaign organized by the Jane Long Society.  

The second annual free Jane Long Festival will be Saturday, Oct. 8, at Fort Travis State Park.  A highlight will be the delightful period play "Pistols and Petticoats," written and directed by Linda Ellisalde.

Everyone is encouraged to dress in "Early Texas" costume and prizes will be awarded for the best in several categories.

Many of the costumes you'll see were created by Janet Leigh Davis of Bolivar.  It's too late now to order one, but remember this name if you are able to attend next year.

Details on the day-long, family-oriented festival are available at  Or search for "Jane Long Festival" on Facebook.

Note: Fort Travis is located at the tip of Bolivar, right where the ferry lands.

If you’re coming from Houston, you might want to call 409-795-2230 first & check the wait line on the Galveston side at the ferry.

You can also take I-10 east from Houston or other points north.  Turn right at Winnie (Hwy. 124).  When 124 deadends at the Gulf of Mexico (at High Island), go right on Hwy. 87 through Gilchrist and through Crystal Beach all the way to the Bolivar tip.

Hwy. 87 parallels the Gulf so close you can almost reach out and touch it.  It’s a great drive now that Ike has wiped out all the dunes. 

The rumor is that plans tentatively call for raising that highway so surges can flow underneath. Hope so. 

In the meantime, it’s worth a drive just to see it as it is now.

Hope to see you at the festival!  I'll be in a black Mexican peasant woman costume, a toast to my own heritage. 

I'll be honoring the brave Mexican women who fought with the "Texians" against Spain.  (Or maybe Mary Clark Campbell, who was supposedly a woman of shall-we-say "dubious repute" in the Long camp before everyone left Jane all alone!  I'll never tell.)

I recently gave a talk on Native and Other “Lazy Gardener” Plants of Bolivar Peninsula as part of the lecture series in advance of the festival.  (Tickets are sold out now, but be sure to make a note on your 2012 calendar to make reservations early.)

To view some of the flowers shown in my presentation, click here:

"Wildflowers of Bolivar Peninsula" placemat/posters are one of the fundraiser items that will be auctioned off at the 2nd annual Jane Long Festival Oct. 8 at Fort Travis State Park.  See below for ordering information.These are among the pictures used on the fundraiser Bolivar Wildlife placemats (pictured at top).  They will  be available as auction items at the festival.  They are also available by mail ($10 each + pph at this time). To order by mail, email me at These are laminated and suitable for hanging as well. 

(I knew I'd been photographing Bolivar wildflowers for all these years for some good reason.  This is it!)

*  *  *
Available on CD — Brenda’s sold-out book, “Lazy Gardener’s Guide” — a monthly gardening guide for the Greater Houston area based on her 40+-year Chronicle column.  Mail checks ($20) payable to Brenda Beust Smith to Lazy Gardener’s Guide on CD, 14011 Greenranch Dr., Houston, TX 77039.

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