Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and it is now called the “live music capital of the world.” But have you ever wondered about the history of this weird city? As you go to a University of Texas football game and are surrounded by fans dressed in burnt orange, have you stopped to think, “how did this city begin?” Read on as we attempt to answer this question.
Before European settlers arrived, the area was visited by nomadic Native American tribes, and there is evidence of a permanent settlement of the Tonkawa tribe specifically.
Spanish monks arrived in 1730 and established several missions, but they found the location “undesirable” and moved from the area rather quickly. Other European settlers began arriving in this section of Texas in the 1830s. Still, it wasn’t until 1837 when a village was established at the intersection of the Colorado River and Shoal Creek. This town was called Waterloo and was located in the area of present-day Austin.
Right before the establishment of the town of Waterloo, The Republic of Texas was recognized as an independent country.
While the leaders of the new country were attempting to organize the government, there were many “discussions” regarding the proper location for the nation’s capital. The President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, wanted the site to be in the western portion of the state. Other political leaders fought with Lamar over the choice, but he eventually won out, and Austin was established as the capital in 1839.
How did the previously-named town of Waterloo become to be known as Austin? Well, you have to turn to local legends to understand this decision.
Most historians say that Austin was named after Stephen S. Austin, considered to be the “father of Texas.” Austin was known for negotiating a treaty with the local Native Americans after settlers were killed. According to legend, the agreement took place at the site of a Treaty Oak, which is a live oak tree that remains today.
Even though Austin became the official name for the capital in 1839, you will still find the name Waterloo used throughout the city.
The Republic of Texas was an independent country for nine years, and during this time, there were other fights over whether or not Austin was the best location for the nation’s capital. The battle ended in 1845 when the Republic was annexed into the United States. By 1846, Austin was named the official capital of the State of Texas.
During the 1850s, the fledgling city began to grow. The population grew from 854 in 1850 to almost 3,500 in 1860. Included in that population count were many slaves.
Newly-admitted Texas left the Union to become a part of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The growth of Austin after the war was not without drama and struggles. Read more about what happened to Austin after the Civil War to learn how this small town of Waterloo became the sophisticated city that everyone loves today.
This article was originally posted at Tour Austin.