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WDYTYA Full Episode

If you missed the Travis County Archives on “Who Do You Think You Are?”, you can view the full episode here:

Who Do You Think You Are?

The Travis County Archives will be featured on an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” this weekend. Comedian Aisha Tyler, co-host of “The Talk,” visits the Archives and learns about an ancestor who, as a politician, struggled to keep his illegitimate son a secret. “Who Do You Think You Are?” airs at 8:00 PM Sunday, April 3 on TLC.


The Travis County Seal

Transparent TC Logo

The Travis County seal was designed by County Treasurer Johnny Crow and adopted in 1975. A document called “The Legend of the Official Travis County Flag and Seal” details the history of the seal:

An act of the 64th Legislature of the State of Texas in 1975 amending article 2344, enabled the counties of Texas to optionally allow an official seal to be designed depicting imagery indigenous to their respective counties.

Such a seal for Travis County was designed and submitted to Judge Mike Renfro (1971-1986) by Johnny Crow (1959-1986), County Treasurer of Travis County.

The Judge liked the design and brought the same before the Commissioner’s Court for their consideration and possible adoption.

The seal’s overall design is original, but the symmetry and dignity of the famous State seal remains; it uniquely preserves the oak and pecan tree wreath as it encircles the Texas Lone Star (which is as it should be since county government is an arm of the State). Travis County government was created out of the Mina District of the Texas Republic in 1839, thus the date is portrayed so prominently.

Things in the seal that are indigenous to Travis County are fairly obvious in silhouette form, viz: The State Capitol building, the University of Texas tower, the City of Austin skyline and two vapor trailing Bergstrom AFB jets. Other pertinent forms depicted, yet somewhat less indigenous are a hill country white-tailed deer bounding over a native cactus, a farmer plowing on the rolling east plains, a sailboat sailing on highland lakes…and lastly the perennial justice scales as they symbolize the Travis County and District Court systems.

In summary, the seal is intended to categorically symbolize through imagery the governmental, educational, industrial, military, farming, ranching and recreational factors that predominantly represent the life and economy of the citizenry of Travis County.

The seal was officially adopted and is recorded in the court minutes of June 16, 1975, volume 16 page 371. The following were the presiding officials of the adoption order:

Judge Mike Renfro

Commissioner David Samuelson, Pct. 1

Commissioner Bob Honts, Pct. 2

Commissioners Johnny Vidouris, Pct. 3

Commissioner Richard Moya, Pct. 4


One of the most noticeable aspects of the Travis County seal is 1839 date. Because Travis County was formally established by an act of the Republic of Texas Congress on January 25, 1840, the 1839 date is a curious detail.


It may be that the date came from the very first entry in the first volume of Commissioners Court minutes, which is dated February 15, 1839. This entry records a proclamation by Chief Justice James W. Smith that divided the county into four militia beats. Closer examination, however, shows that the 1839 date was likely written in error.


The next entries in the Commissioners Court minutes, which assign Justices of the Peace to patrol the militia beats, date from March, 1840. More importantly, James W. Smith was not elected by the Republic of Texas Senate as Chief Justice of Travis County until January 30, 1840, five days after Travis County was established. In fact, James W. Smith did not move to Austin until the fall of 1839. All of these clues indicate that the date should have been February 1840 rather than 1839.

That is not to say, however, that Travis County did not exist in 1839, at least in theory and in name. An election return from October 1839 records the election of a first lieutenant to patrol a militia beat in Travis County. According to this document, the name “Travis County” was already in use by some of the area’s early residents. According to the journals of the Republic of Texas House of Representatives, the name for Travis County was officially proposed and carried on December 16, 1839 (names that did not carry included Campbell, Lamar, and Wharton). So, although Travis County was not formally established until 1840, discussions about the formation of the county were well underway in 1839.

Photos of the June 1935 Flood in Travis County

One of Travis County’s largest floods occurred in 1935. On June 15, 1935, Travis County and surrounding areas were hit with 22 inches of rain in the span of three hours. The heavy rains flooded large parts of Austin, and the Colorado River crested at 50 feet. Without an effective flood-management system on the Colorado, the Congress Avenue Bridge and much of the Austin downtown area was left underwater. The flood caused 13 deaths, and between 2500 and 3000 Austin residents lost their homes. By the time the flooding had receded, much of Austin had been left in ruins.

Travis County Archives staff recently uncovered photos of the 1935 flood aftermath among early District Attorney records. Case no. 56,550, M.H. Crockett v. A.C. Knippa, et al., concerned a dispute over a South Congress Avenue building that was destroyed in the flood.


This photo, looking southward with St. Edwards University in the background, shows the destruction caused by the flood on South Congress Avenue.


This photo shows the damage to South Congress Avenue and a Gulf Oil gas station.


The day after the flood, many Austin residents came to survey the damage caused by the flooding of the Colorado River. This photo looks northward on South Congress Avenue with the Capitol building in the background.


Austin residents and State Troopers survey the damage to South Congress Avenue after the flood.



Travis County History Day 2012

The fifth annual Travis County History Day was a success! Thanks to all of you who were able to make it to the event. Held on October 26, 2012, the event celebrated Travis County: Then and Now, by looking at the ways the county has changed over its history. The event took place at 700 Lavaca in the Commissioners Courtroom, with historical displays presented in the Hall of Government. History Day was preceded by a building dedication for 700 Lavaca led by Judge Samuel T. Biscoe, with remarks by Commissioners Margaret Gómez and Karen Huber. We would like to thank Commissioner Margaret Gómez for acting as the Master of Ceremonies for History Day and our two speakers, R.G. Ratcliffe and Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr. Both Mr. Ratcliffe and Dr. Kerr presented riveting stories of early Travis County history.

This year’s historical displays compared Travis County past and present through photos and descriptions focused on the changes of the county and its government through time. The displays included past and present comparisons of Travis County programs and services, courtrooms and buildings, communities, populations and roads. Photos for the displays came from both the Travis County Archives and the Austin History Center. Also featured were display cases of historical records and photographs documenting Travis County’s history and development. Guest speaker R.G. Ratcliffe provided an interesting account of the rise of William H. Holland, Travis County’s first African American commissioner. For many years, Jimmy Snell, elected Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 1 in 1981, was believed to be Travis County’s first African American commissioner. Mr. Ratcliffe’s research reveals that William H. Holland was elected county commissioner of Precinct 1 more than a hundred years before Mr. Snell in 1878 and served until 1884. Additionally, Mr. Holland was an Austin school teacher and a Texas State legislator who sponsored the creation of The Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Institute for Colored Youth in Austin. Thanks to Mr. Ratcliffe’s research and presentation on Mr. Holland, the impact and legacy of African Americans in early Travis County is better known.  Guest speaker Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr provided a fascinating tale of the scalping of early Travis County settler Josiah Wilbarger by Comanche Indians in 1833.

Special thanks and recognition go out to the sponsors of Travis County History Day: the Austin Bar Association, the Austin History Center, the Travis County Archives, and the Travis County Historical Commission. The support of these organizations has been instrumental in the success of Travis County History Day.

Next year’s Travis County History Day will focus on the history of Travis County Law Enforcement. Please follow the blog for more information on next year’s History Day.

Below are a few photos from the event.


Display Cases at History Day







Display boards at History Day

Display boards at History Day

Guest Speaker R.G. Ratclifffe

Guest Speaker R.G. Ratclifffe

Guest Speaker Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr

Guest Speaker Dr. Jeffrey S. Kerr


5th Annual Travis County History Day

The fifth annual Travis County History Day will be held on Friday, October 26, 2012, from 10:00 am until 12:00 pm, at 700 Lavaca Street in downtown Austin, in the new Hall of Government located on the first floor.  The theme for this year’s event is Travis County: Then and Now.

Travis County History Day has proven to be a wonderful opportunity to learn about and to celebrate our rich history.  Formally established in 1840, Travis County as we know it today hardly resembles the sparsely populated rural frontier it once was.  Now with a population of over one million, Travis County has transformed into a rapidly growing and continually changing metropolis.  Come learn about and see some of the ways in which Travis County and its government have changed over the years.

A short program will begin at 10:30, followed by a reception.  Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez will serve as Master of Ceremonies.  R.G. Ratcliffe, journalist and freelance writer, and Dr. Jeffrey Kerr, author of Austin, Texas – Then and Now, will be the featured speakers at the event.

Historical photographs, documents and artifacts will be on display, including photographs from the collections of the Austin History Center.

All county officials, employees and the public are welcome to attend this special occasion.  Travis County History Day is sponsored by the Austin Bar Association, Austin History Center, Travis County Archives, and the Travis County Historical Commission.


 Check back soon for more details!  Click here to like us on Facebook.

About the Archives

This video, produced in January of 2010, summarizes the operations of the Archives program since its establishment at the beginning of 2009.

Flickr Photos

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