Texas Revolution Quarantine House: Let Us Laugh and Learn from Home

by Bryan McAuley, Site Manager, San Felipe de Austin and Fannin Battleground State Historic Sites 

As we begin to reopen our Texas Historical Commission State Historic Sites, we reflect on some of the fun, educational activities we developed while everyone was self-isolating.  

Many historic sites and museums quickly pivoted to an online, distance-learning model during this trying public health crisis.  

As such, the staff at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site worked hard to keep Texans and history lovers inspired and engaged. Our staff, supporters, and stakeholders really enjoyed our version of the online game “Quarantine House,” to which we naturally added a Texas Revolution flavoring.  

Our deepest thanks to those that shared, responded, and helped us find a much-needed laugh, and kept the game going. The original post to the San Felipe de Austin Facebook page reached over 10,000 people; it had almost 1,000 post-clicks and over 500 reactions, comments, and shares. 

A little back story in planning this game: Site Educator Eleanor Stoddart and Collections Manager Danielle Brissette quickly threw together a draft when they saw versions of the game popping up across Twitter.  

We developed our formula—prominent historical figures including an Anglo settler/leader, a Mexican/Tejano settler/leader (including the Mexican army leadership), a strong Texas woman, an iconic Texas weapon, and a state symbol. Tough choices had to be made—Noah Smithwick didn’t make the cut, nor did Mexican Gen. Juan Almonte.  

Planning errors were made—the most egregious being that Sam Houston (always among the most-popular of historical Texans) was placed in a house that had ZERO Mexican war leaders/enemies AND it had one of the most popular symbols, especially in the theme of quarantine—the longhorn was seen as particularly valuable by many responders.  

We received responses from a few “Texas history celebrity” contributors, including Judge Ken Wise (Wise about Texas podcast), author Stephen Harrigan, former Alamo Curator of History Dr. Bruce Winders, and The Daytripper—Chet Garner.  

Author Stephen Harrigan shared lots of great insight, but his decision NOT to go with House 4 may have been our favorite (at the expense of the second president of the Republic of Texas)—“I was tempted to choose House 4, mostly for the entertainment value Davy Crockett could provide in a world without Netflix. However, the thought of having to listen to Mirabeau B. Lamar go on and on about how he hates Indians and—even worse—to have to suffer through his interminable poetry readings led me to switch to House 2.”  

Judge Ken Wise, host of the Wise About Texas history podcast, shared a question he would put to Robert McAlpin Williamson: “Did you really put your pistol on the bench aimed at a litigant who pulled a knife? If so, you are my judicial hero.”  

Dr. Bruce Winders offered the following insight about the Twin Sisters cannons: “A cannon is certainly an effective means of defense for your quarantine supplies."  

Host of PBS’s The Daytripper, Chet Garner shared this classic insight regarding the Texas symbol in House 5—“Every time I’m bored, I’ll scoop up the horny toad, rub his belly, and remember the good times of my childhood before I was stuck in a house with a bunch of dead people.”  

A couple of colleagues from Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site saw an exchange end with this when one recognized a stir-the-pot effort at selecting House 6: “Just means you can hang out with a South Carolinian, converse with Juan Seguin, knife Santa Anna, and cook a delicious bass with Mrs. Harris…a lovely evening.” 

Our colleagues at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site made their case for the home team: “As the San Jacinto Battleground, we have to go with House 2. Not only does it include our main man Sam Houston, but de Zavala’s house was just across the bayou from the site.”  

Director of Presidio La Bahia Scott McMahon channeled Ben Milam, fake-quoting: “I need to be quarantined in a house with Santa Anna like I need a hole in my head.”  

Many followers commented on genealogical connections to some of the house guests as a reason for their selection. And we were pleased so many participants found the symbols (and weapons) an important part of their selection—the lightning whelk is WAY popular (or that no one would care about the presence of a Monarch butterfly). Some speculated on which house might have had the best cook—our vote would be for San Felipe resident Celia Allen in House 3.  

One player wished he might be a medic, thereby having a reason to visit each of the houses; so, he seemed to struggle among all good options. We enjoyed the “Is this Big Brother: 1836?” query. Several commented on the damage a longhorn might do to your home. And many folks noted that Santa Anna would have a tough time in House 6 (or any house we might have stationed him in, for that matter).  

We also enjoyed these insightful comments: “House 5 because wherever Jane Long is present—that’s where the party’s at!”; “I really want to visit with the crackpot inventor of the ‘Terraqueous Machine’” (Gail Borden in House 3—look it up!); and “House 5 is out…Bowie might have TB.”  

One participant concocted his own House 7, including: Edward Burleson, Placido Benavides, Ben McCullough, Albert Sidney Johnston, a Kentucky long rifle, and a black bear.  

We like the spirit of the contribution, though Johnston didn’t get to Texas until after the Battle of San Jacinto and we’re disappointed the black bear would fail our Texas symbols construction. 

As our Quarantine House comes to a close, we presumed we might have to offer up a solid defense of House 1, residence of our site namesake, Stephen F. Austin.  

Thankfully, Dr. Winders did an admirable job of presenting the strengths of this choice—we agree with him completely (including his reflections on how complicated Stephen F. Austin was as a leader). And we also have more than a passing interest in getting Fannin’s side of the story at Goliad. 

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