Maybe it was the rainy weather, or it might have been the recent events in the news, but I was in a somber mood. You’d think that a walk in a cemetery on a dreary day would just add to the sense of gloom, but I found inspiration in this resting place of many early Texas pioneers.
Next to the monument for Mirabeau Lamar, second President of the Republic of Texas, I found a gravestone inscribed, “Mrs. Jane H. Long, The Mother of Texas.” It’s not often that you find tributes to women, or mothers in particular, so I wanted to learn more.
I returned home and did some research about this remarkable woman who was orphaned at 14, married at 16, a mother at 18 and widowed by the time she was 23. When her husband James left on an expedition and her neighbors fled because of diminishing supplies, Long braved bitter cold and near-starvation while pregnant and accompanied by only her maid and her daughter at Bolivar Point. She also kept tribal neighbors away by hoisting her petticoat as a makeshift flag and firing a cannon on occasion to make it seem that the fort was still fully occupied and well-defended. Before her death in 1880, Jane went on to become a successful business woman and plantation manager and a central figure in this new frontier that became its own republic. As I read about the pioneering woman who would earn the title “Mother of Texas” through her courage, tenacity and independent spirit, I wondered what she would think about the issues that face us today.
So I decided to ask.
Interviewer: Mrs. Long, how do you feel about the Internet?
Jane: To be honest, Facebook or Skype would have been handy when I was pregnant and literally holding down the fort on my own. And GPS would have helped – but I’m not sure I would trust Apple maps.
I: I hear you’ve had quite a few famous “leading men.” Pray tell.
J: It’s true – Ben Milam, Sam Houston, and Mirabeau Lamar have all tried to court me without success. Sometimes I feel like Diane Keaton.
I: Are you concerned about the fiscal cliff?
J: I came all the way to Texas from Maryland – I’m sure one more cliff won’t be the end of the world. As for the fiscal part – no one, including the government, should spend more than they bring in.
I: Speaking of the end of the world – did you stock up?
J: I wish I had. James went off on one of his expeditions and my neighbors all left when the supplies ran out. I was left pregnant and alone, save my young maid and small daughter, and we were desperate for food. We were even hacking frozen fish and ducks out of the bay. Talk about inconvenient. Now I say, “be prepared.”
I: Do you feel that women can be as successful as men in the business world?
J: After I was widowed, I owned and operated two inns, bought and sold land, managed a staff and more than 2000 acres, raised cattle and sheep and grown cotton. So what was the question again?
I: Ok, point taken. What management philosophy do you follow?
J: It’s simple. If you don’t work, you don’t eat.
I: What do you think about the women’s healthcare issue in Texas?
J: I think all women should have access to good healthcare. I gave birth to one daughter in an ice-covered tent in the dead of winter and lost two children when they were small. No one should have to go through what I have endured. We’ve got to take care of each other.
I: How do you feel about the “buy local” movement?
J: I wholeheartedly agree – in fact, I take it a step further. I refuse to buy anything that the Yankees up north have for sale and will only wear clothes made from cotton grown on my plantation. And it’s organic cotton as well.
I: About the recent election – would you have voted for President Obama?
J: As I am a dyed-in-the-wool Confederate, I believe you know the answer to that question.
I: How do you feel about pirating?
J: I dined with that smuggler Jean Lafitte in Galveston and my husband tried to gain his cooperation, but I don’t trust the man.
While Jane and I wouldn’t see eye to eye about the Confederacy and slavery, I do admire her determination and think she earned the right to be called the Mother of Texas even if she wasn’t really the first Anglo woman to give birth in the state. And as I look around and see all of us floundering through difficult times, I think the world could use a few more Janes. And I wonder what she would think of us.