Why don’t you write a book?
July 28, 2013
Dr. Jeff Kerr
“This should be the seat of future empire!” So proclaimed Republic of Texas Vice President Mirabeau Lamar in 1838 from atop a hill overlooking the tiny hamlet of Waterloo. Earlier in the day Lamar had participated in a buffalo hunt in which he shot the biggest buffalo ever seen by him or his companions. The unfortunate animal perished at what became the intersection of Eighth Street and Congress Avenue in the Texas capital city of Austin.
I first learned of this event in 2003. Curious, I drove to the scene of Lamar’s successful hunt and tried to picture the landscape that inspired his hilltop proclamation. As traffic sped past me amid the steel and concrete of our modern metropolis I realized that the camera had been invented around the time that Lamar shot his trophy buffalo. “Are there photographs of Austin in its log cabin days?” I asked myself.
The question led me to the Austin History Center. There I discovered a vast treasure trove of photographs detailing the city’s history. No, I didn’t find any from the founding years but did come across several taken not long thereafter. Photocopies of these images in hand, I began visiting some of the sites depicted, and shot pictures of my own. Around the supper table I began telling my family what I regarded as fascinating stories of old Austin. You can imagine the fascinated faces of my teenage children! Finally, one evening my then fourteen-year-old son interrupted me by saying, “Dad, enough! Why don’t you write a book?
Up until that moment I hadn’t intended to write a book; I was merely satisfying my own curiosity. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my son was right, I should write a book. What was the point of discovering these old stories if I didn’t share them? The result was Austin, Texas-Then and Now, self-published in 2004, which Austin history buffs have so far purchased over 7,000 copies.
The success of Austin, Texas-Then and Now spurred me on to continue digging into Austin’s past. I learned that Austin’s founding as the seat of government triggered one of the first major political battles in Republic of Texas history. I also encountered a number of fascinating anecdotes involving frontier violence, personal courage, political shenanigans, and more that I published in my second book The Republic of Austin (Waterloo Press, 2010). Not long thereafter I completed the manuscript for Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas (Texas Tech University Press, 2013), which tells the story of the capital city’s tumultuous beginnings. I am now working on a historical novel that brings to life those early days through the eyes of Mirabeau Lamar’s private secretary Edward Fontaine, and Fontaine’s slave Jacob.
Why is Austin’s story so compelling? Recall that Mirabeau Lamar strove to found the city as his “seat of future empire.” But Lamar’s greatest enemy, the towering political giant Sam Houston, once wrote, “This [Austin] is the most unfortunate site upon earth for the Seat of Government.” Lamar’s Texas presidency was sandwiched between the two presidential terms of Houston. Unofficial political parties coalesced around the two men, each of whom hated the other. The result was political warfare as nasty as any in the modern landscape. I believe that not only Texans, but all Americans benefit from knowledge of events that shape us today.
My aim is to present that information in a readable and entertaining form.
Dr. Jeff Kerr’s first book was a Finalist for the Writers’ League of Texas Book Award in 2005. A pediatric neurologist, Jeff lives in Austin with his wife, Sharon. Visit Jeff at www.jeffreyskerr.com
True West magazine called the book “…the most thorough history of the dynamic personalities, political intrigue and powerful self-interests of empire, nation building and manifest destiny that led to the birth of the Texas capital.”
Please click the book cover to read more about Seat of Power on Amazon.