Angelina Eberly, who took everything frontier life threw at her and kept coming back for more, died of natural causes at the Gulf Coast port of Indianola on Aug. 15, 1860.
On her 20th birthday in 1818, Angelina Belle Peyton married her first cousin Jonathan Peyton. Her choice of grooms, something that would be frowned upon nowadays, was a common practice two centuries ago and enabled the young bride to hold onto her maiden name.
Less than a month later, the newlyweds left their native Tennessee for New Orleans, where they spent the next four years. Reconsidering their original idea of relocating to a Caribbean island, the Peytons came to Texas.
The newcomers initially lived on land adjacent to Jesse Burnam’s Colorado River trading post in Fayette County. In 1825, they put down permanent roots in San Felipe de Austin, the center of the Anglo-American colony, arriving early enough to join the ranks of the elite “Old Three Hundred” and to qualify for a grant in Matagorda County.
They did right well for themselves with Peytons Tavern, which offered good food and clean rooms at a reasonable price. William B. Travis, whose law office was within walking distance, took most of his meals at the cozy inn.
Angelina bore Jonathan three children before his unexpected death in the summer of 1834. Suddenly, the sole support of her voracious young ’uns, the widow had no choice but to run the family business all by her lonesome.
From her vantage point at San Felipe, Angelina watched the fateful events of 1836 play out in the prelude to the 13-day battle at the Alamo. Hurriedly formed companies passed through town on their way to San Antonio, and volunteers stopped at her inn for a tasty last meal.
After settling their bills and thanking Angelina for her hospitality, many of the ill-fated guests told her not to worry. She would see them again as soon as they “whipped” the Mexicans.
Of course, she never did, at least not those who broke through enemy lines and reached the mission. After word reached San Felipe of the fall of the Alamo, Angelina with the rest of the frightened residents were left to wonder what would happen to them.
By late March, no one had to notify Angelina that Sam Houston and his poor excuse for an army were in full retreat. The steady stream of dispirited Texans headed east instead of west in the direction of Santa Anna’s forces told her that.
Then on March 29, 1836, Capt. Moseley Baker informed Angelina that Gen. Houston had ordered him to destroy San Felipe to keep it out of the hands of the Mexicans. She would describe the panic-stricken flight that came to be known as the “Runaway Scrape.”
“What commotion and destruction of property followed! Much was left on the (Colorado) river banks. There were no wagons” since “they had been used for the army. Many had to cross on foot the mud up to their knees—women and children pell mell.
“I gave to the army my rice, sugar and other groceries (and) suffered them to kill my hogs and eat my bacon. I was the last to cross,” she wrote.
In the weeks and months that followed, numerous soldiers sought her out to say how they “hated to burn my house where they had eaten so many good meals.”
Never one to brood over bad breaks, no matter how serious, Angelina picked up the pieces of her shattered existence. She took her children to Columbia, where in late 1836 she met and married Jacob Eberly who too had lost a mate. The reconstituted clan lived in the first capital of the Lone Star Republic for the three months it held that distinction.
Angelina could always smell opportunity, and her uncannily accurate nose led her to the future seat of government on the western frontier. She was ready and waiting the day in October 1839 that President Mirabeau Lamar and his cabinet arrived in newly renamed Austin and served them their first dinner in the Eberly House.
However, Sam Houston stubbornly refused to accept Lamar’s pet project as a done deal. Taking office for his second term in December 1841, he set about returning the capital from what he deemed a dangerous site in Comanche territory to the town that happened to bear his name.
Once again a widow after the death of her second husband, Angelina was not about to let Houston rob her of another prosperous inn. She slept with one eye open, waiting for her nemesis to make his inevitable move.
On a dark December night in 1842, a small detachment of Rangers acting on secret presidential instructions slipped into Austin for the sole purpose of stealing the Republic archives and other irreplaceable documents. Angelina caught them in the act and alerted the sleeping townspeople with a blast of grapeshot from the community cannon used to warn of an Indian attack.
The Rangers got as far as present-day Round Rock before a posse caught up with them and took back the pilfered papers ending the so-called “Archives War.” Angelina had succeeded in saving her livelihood and the future of Austin.