In a letter from James Clark to Stephen Austin, Thomas Christian was described as follows: “…in steadiness and habits of integrity and honor he yields to no citizen of our country. His circumstances are easy though not affluent and he seeks in your Country under a climate more congenial an asylum from the cold of the North.”
The family stayed in Bastrop for the following year, as Bastrop was a fairly secure place to live while preparations were made for moving to outlying farms and while lots were surveyed. Many of the townsfolk lived in temporary camps; Christian built the 5th structure in Bastrop on a lot selected along the river bank.
Due to a lack of cleared cultivable lands on their lot, the Christian family moved in the summer of 1833 to Mr. Webber’s location and secured a crop of corn. John F. Webber, an Anglo who had settled in the area early in 1827 with his African American wife and children, sought to find a place where he and his family could escape the discrimination of the antebellum South. This is likely why they took up land on the very edge of the frontier. According to Noah Smithwick, who personally knew the family, Webber’s wife, ‘Puss’, was “ever ready to render assistance, without money and without price,” to anyone in the neighborhood who needed help. Smithwick tells of several unfortunates to whom the Webbers gave a temporary home. The Christians appear to have been among the families that benefited from her generosity.
Mary became the sole provider and protector of her young family of six when her husband, Thomas Christian, was scalped and killed in the famous Wilbarger Massacre in August of 1833. He had ventured west to scout for land further up the Colorado River near present day Walnut Creek with Josiah Wilbarger. At Pecan Springs, now in East Austin, the party was involved in a shootout with a group of Indians. Christian was one of the two men killed at the scene. The two surviving men brought news to the Webber’s neighbors. Ruben Hornsby, reporting the death of their three companions, stated that they “saw Wilbarger fall with about fifty Indians around him, and knew he was dead”. Ruben Hornsby brought Mary Christian and her six young children to his settlement where he prepared a simple cabin for them, where they lived temporarily. Mary is said have left Ruben Hornsby’s for Bastrop as “the wild, rich valley soil had lost its luster for her” after the death of Christian.
Drawing strength from her faith, in the spring of 1835 Mary was one of an eleven member charter (which included Cecilie, a slave of the Samuel Craft family) to organize what is believed to be the second oldest Methodist congregation in Texas. This was risky business. Under Spanish rule, the law permitted only Catholic congregations. This society met at an unfinished Bastrop store where a barrel served as the pulpit and seats were planks supported by boxes.
It is very likely that Mary, along with other Methodists in Bastrop at the time, supported the abolition of slavery. Only a few years later, Bastrop area Methodists passed a local resolution making it unacceptable for a bishop to be connected in any way with slavery.
In 1835, Mary wed the patriarch of the prominent Burleson family, James Burleson Sr. During their short marriage, her husband fought at the first major campaign of the Texas Revolution under command of his son, Gen. Edward Burleson, commander at the siege of Bexar (San Antonio). He was named a hero for leading a decisive charge in the Grass Fight. Mary became the step-mother of James Sr.’s many adult sons, who become well known characters in the battles with the Mexican Government and Indian groups, as well as important leaders in the Republic and during early Statehood.
Mary’s stepson Edward Burleson would go on to become Commander and Chief of the Texas Army and Vice President of the Republic of Texas 1841-44, receiving just over 6,000 votes in the election. Burleson’s death in 1851 was said to have produced a profound sensation throughout the country, in which “his name had become as familiar as a household word”.
Mary was widowed a second time when Burleson Sr. became ill and died after being discharged from battle in January of 1836. In March of the same year, Mary and her family became participants in the drama of the Texas Revolution. After the fall of the Alamo, Col. Edward Burleson relieved his brother Jonathan and a young 13-year-old volunteer soldier John H. Jenkins from their stations to help Mary as she and her seven children joined area settlers seeking refuge from Mexican soldiers in the “Runaway Scrape”.
Soon afterwards, Mary and her family participated in Second Runaway Scrape, this time to Washington-on-the-Brazos where Mary was forced to swim across the flooded Brazos River with her baby, Betty Burleson, on her back. The other children walked barefoot, leaving blood in their tracks, from Bastrop to Parker’s Fort, a 200 mile trek.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836, Mary came back to Bastrop from Parker’s Fort, three weeks before the Fort Parker massacre in which members of the pioneer Parker family were killed in a raid by Comanches.
In 1838, Mary again supported the fledgling Methodist community as one of the 15 member charter, which under the flags of the Republic officially organized a Methodist church building in Bastrop. A bell for the church was shipped by way of the Colorado River on the riverboat “The Moccasin”, built by Sherman Reynolds, stepson of Mary, husband of Martha A. Christian Reynolds, Mary’s eldest daughter.
In a courageous move in 1840, Mary with her 7 young children, built a small log cabin and established the first homestead on the northernmost portion of Austin’s Little Colony, which was an unsettled frontier notorious for Indian raids. The cabin no longer stands but likely sat near the historic New Century Club near Main Street. Portions of this first cabin were reused in the 1847 home we are working to preserve today.
To say they were living on the frontier is a gross understatement, as Mary’s settlement was at the time by far the westernmost settlement in Texas. The family’s nearest neighbors were the Mike Young family, of Perryville (Hogeye) three miles south of her homestead. All of Elgin north of Avenue C has been built on part of Mary’s league of land.
Mary left her small homestead and went to Bastrop after a Comanche raid, but returned to her league in 1847 to build a home on the edge of the prairie: the homestead we are seeking to preserve today and the oldest home still standing in Elgin. The home is of a Vernacular style, a style and age rare in the country, retaining early sawmilled lumber, juniper cedar poles, field stones, waney lath, wooden pegs, and square cut nails.