Archive for the 'collection highlights' Category

Herón Martínez Mendoza exhibit in the Hall of Goverment

In Hall of Government at 700 Lavaca Street is the latest exhibit from the Austin Friends of Folk Art collection at the Travis County Archives. This exhibit features the work of Herón Martínez Mendoza, a celebrated potter from Acatlán de Osorio, Puebla, Mexico.

Photo by Chuck Snyder – 1982

On display are numerous pieces by Martínez, both large and small. Following in his family’s footsteps as a potter, Martinez began his work with utilitarian pieces; one of his early designs, a container to carry water that prevented the handles from breaking, was so successful that people lined up to buy them.

This success moved him into making pots and planters, and over time, these became more and more creative as he changed their forms to represent animals, fish and various types of birds. As interest in his work grew and folk art stores sought to collect it, he let his burgeoning creativity loose to make different types of much more complex and sophisticated pieces. There are many collectors of Martínez’s work, that ranges from unique trees of life to whimsical zoomorphic pieces (animales fantasticos and animales grotéscos), pots, churches, masks, wall plaques and more.

Martínez died in November 1990.  In an interview given in the 1970s, Martínez said that he wanted his legacy to be that he had produced “a great seed for the pueblo, and he wanted the art not to perish.” His legacy survives:  Mexican potters still emulate him, his work graces the pages of almost every book on Mexican folk art, museums hold exhibitions dedicated to his art, and aficionados from many countries rejoice in adding new examples of his work to their collections.

Be sure to stop by to view several magnificent Martínez pieces from local Austin collectors in the Hall of Government.


Property research in Austin & Travis County

Interested in researching your property in Travis County? The Austin History Center has produced a handy guide about the variety of resources available to assist in your research.

Property records in the Travis County Archives include Tax Rolls and County Surveyor Records.


Tax rolls at the Travis County Archives

Tax records provide the names of property owners and the tax assessed for each property. A significant increase in taxable value is usually an indicator of an improvement to a piece of land and can be an indicator of building construction.

Travis County tax rolls date from 1861-1933 (with some dates missing). The tax rolls are arranged in alphabetical order by owner name and include such information as abstract, certificate and survey numbers, original grantee, acreage, and value. For property in the city, lot and block numbers and divisions are included.

1861 Tax roll


1861 Tax roll


Travis County surveyor records primarily date from 1838 to 1930 and deal with land, not structures. More recent surveys are not normally recorded by the county and are best obtained directly from the surveyor.

Surveys determine the exact locations and boundaries of a particular piece of property. Surveyor’s field notes are the basis for legal descriptions of property. The earliest records, 1838-1839, date prior to the formal establishment of Travis County, and are therefore referred to as Bastrop County records. Earlier records also include counties outside Travis but within the Travis Land District. Volumes overlap in date, as several volumes were recorded in concurrently.


early Travis County survey books


1841 survey record

Austin Friends of Folk Art Collection

The Travis County Archives is pleased to announce a partnership between Travis County and the Austin Friends of Folk Art, to store AFFA’s collection of artifacts, photographs, materials and objects at the Travis County Archives. We look forward to making these items available to the public through exhibits and displays throughout county buildings.

Burnished pot from Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Priscilla Murr New Mexican Collection, Travis County Archives

Burnished pot from Mata Ortiz, Chihuahua, Priscilla Murr New Mexican Collection, Travis County Archives

Polychrome clay tree of life candelabra with owls from Izucar de Matamoros, Mexico, Jean Mikeska collection, Travis County Archives

Polychrome clay tree of life candelabra with owls from Izucar de Matamoros, Mexico, Jean Mikeska collection, Travis County Archives

Media Services photograph collection

From the 1980s until the 2000s, Travis County Media Services, a division of Travis County Records Management and Communication Resources, photographed a variety of subjects, including the work and activities of Travis County elected officials and employees, county parks and natural areas, and local elections. The Travis County Archives recently added photographs, negatives and slides from the Media Services Department to its photographs collection.

Hamilton Pool, 1993

Hamilton Pool, 1993

Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire and Commissioners Bruce Todd and Pam Reed at the opening of the Southwest Parkway, 1987

Travis County Judge Bill Aleshire and Commissioners Bruce Todd and Pam Reed at the opening of Southwest Parkway, 1987

Instructions for using a punchcard voting machine, undated

Instructions for using a punchcard voting machine, undated


Extension Service Reports from the 1950s

The Archives recently uncovered 3 partial reports from Travis County Extension agents to the Commissioners Court, dating from the 1950s. These items would have been great additions to Travis County History Day 2014, the theme of which was 100 Years of Extension Services in Travis County. Click the links to view the reports, which include photographs of various home economics, 4-H, and agriculture activities from the time period.

Elmo Cook Report, 1950

Agriculture Report, 1953

Opal Washington Report, 1953


The Servant Girl Murders

In Austin in late 1884-1885, 8 individuals were murdered by what was known as the “Servant Girl Killer.” The victims included Mollie Smith, Eliza Shelley, Irene Cross, Mary Ramey, Orange Washingon, Gracie Vance, Susan Hancock, and Eula Phillips.


The Servant Girl Murders were a series of crimes, including eight murders, carried out by an elusive killer who subjected the city of Austin, Texas to an unprecedented reign of terror during the course of the year 1885.

The victims of the crimes were “servant girls” – usually young, African-American women who at that time were commonly employed as domestic servants in many Austin households.  The epithet “servant girl murders” is perhaps something of a misnomer – one of the victims was male, the boyfriend of one of the slain women; one victim was a child, the daughter of a servant who was herself attacked but not killed; and the last two victims were married white women, neither of them servants.

Many theories were put forward and as the crimes continued without resolution, speculations about the perpetrators and their elusive abilities grew more fantastic.  The crime scenes were consistent – a bloody axe or other implement was often left behind, sometimes footprints were found and bloodhounds were used to track suspects.  The police arrested several suspects, but responsibility for the crimes could not be proven conclusively.

Over time, public outrage grew and the police force was frequently declared ineffectual and incompetent… After the murder of two white women on Christmas Eve, the city was on the verge of chaos.  The public demanded action regardless of the consequences and mob violence was a real possibility. All the efforts to stop the crimes had failed and a confounded city awaited the next outrage, but after December there were no further mysterious murders.  Officially the crimes remained unsolved.

The Travis County Archives staff recently uncovered 4 documents relating to the servant girl murders: an autopsy and inquest for victim Susan Hancock, and records for the criminal cases against Moses Hancock and James Phillips, who were charged for the murders of their respective wives. These documents are part of the District Clerk collection at the Archives, but they are not included in the criminal case records microfilm at the office of the District Clerk.

Click on the links to view PDFs of the documents; please contact the Archives to view in person.

Susan Hancock Autopsy 1885

Susan Hancock Inquest 1885

State v. Jas. O. Phillips, No. 7856, 1886

State v. Moses Hancock, No. 7898, 1886 (please note: first 4 pages are missing)

Autopsy of Susan Hancock, 1885

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 a

Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 b Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 c Hancock, Susan Autopsy 1885 d


Travis County Officials in 1840

Travis County was established on January 25, 1840, by an act of the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas, days after the community of Waterloo had been renamed Austin and approved as the capital city.   The county was in operation as early as 1839, prior to its official establishment.  The first election for county officials was held in February of 1840, at which time the population was reported to be 856.
County officials in the year 1840 included:
Chief Justice (later called the County Judge): James W. Smith
Commissioners Court: Martin Humpff, Jno. D. McLeod, B.F. Johnson, A.C. Hyde, W.Y. Woods, David Laughlin, A.I. Adkison, Thos. A. Duggan, S.J. Whatley
Constables: Reuben Towers, Beat No. 1; Moses Woods, Beat No. 2; Matthew Moss, Beat No. 4
County Clerk: M.C. Hamilton, Pro Tem; James C. Harrelson, Pro Tem; Muhlenberg H. Beaty
County Sheriff: Wayne Barton
County Surveyor: William A. Force
County Treasurer: William H.H. Johnston
District Clerk: B.D. Bassford
District Judge: John T. Mills, 3rd District Court
When officials are elected or appointed to office, official bonds and oaths of office are filed with the County Clerk.  Official bonds guarantee the honest and faithful performance of the official’s duties as prescribed by law, including the honest account of all monies entrusted to the official while in office.  Oaths of office are formal affirmations taken by individuals prior to undertaking the duties of an office.  The oaths bind them to perform their duties conscientiously and in good faith.

Official Bond of B.D. Bassford as Clerk of the District Court, 1840

Oath of Office of James W. Smith as Chief Justice, 1840

Official Bond and Oath of Reuben Towers as Constable, Beat No. 1, 1840

The Travis County Archives has a number of Travis County official bonds and oaths of office in its collections, many of which date back to the Republic of Texas days.  For more information, view the County Clerk collection finding aid.

Flickr Photos

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