CONROE, TX — If you've ever been to the amusement park, you know there are six flags that have flown over Texas. But did you know there really are dozens and dozens of other flags that are associated with the state?
There's battle flags like one that features a gruesome severed arm. There's the iconic Come and Take It flag. Stephen F. Austin suggested green and white and red stripes, with a sort of union Jack.
But in Mongomery County this past weekend, Texans celebrated one of the most enduring symbols of the Lone Star State, the Texas state flag.
Pat Spackey, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Texas flag designer Charles Stewart, made the introduction.
”This is Charles B Stewart, and these are his descendants,” she said, pointing to an elaborately maintained display.
Stewart came to Texas from the Carolinas and documented life here in the early days.
”In his daybook,he wrote an account of how William B. Travis came through with a wagon load of supplies," said Spackey.
Stewart became more and more involved with the running of Texas which, at the time, remained a part of Mexico.
The father of seven didn't have an easy time of it during the pioneer years.
”He was doing so many things for Texas but he had all these children, and he was a widower twice over because Antonio Boyd passed away shortly after that and within six years," said his great-great-great-granddaughter.
Stewart helped lay the groundwork for the Republic of Texas and raised his family.
Meantime, the family of people who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence keeps growing as more Texans discover their ties to the founders.
Take for instance Dianne Kebodeaux and her sister, who discovered their link to Collin McKinney after a random comment their mother made.
"Our mother said, in about 1986, she said, "Have you ever heard of Collin McMcKinney?" And she said, "You know McKinney, Texas?" And I said yes. She said, "I think he's a grandfather." That's the only clue that I couldn't even think about," she said.
Her research uncovered a wealth of family history unknown to her generation, putting their family right in the middle of the Texas fight for independence from Mexico.
”We are so proud of our ancestor. If he didn't make it down to Washington on the Brazos to sign the Texas
declaration, we wouldn't be standing here today,” said Summers.
It even turned up new relatives like Kevin Hall, also a McKinney relative and president of the Greater Anna Chamber of Commerce.
As you might expect, the family of signers of the Texas declaration became a diverse one as many Mexicans had become unhappy with administration of Texas from El Zocalo.
”I am a descendant of Francisco Ruiz, he's right here. So, the Ruiz family, great to be a part and to put our history out there,” said Eugene Ramirez.
The family of signers seems to get bigger every year.
”It's heritage in its unity and it's just... it's just love,” explained Hall.
The family extends also to Native Americans, whose agreement not to side with Mexico helped assure the birth of the Republic of Texas.
Normally the Texas Independence Day celebration is held each year in Washington on the Brazos, but because of COVID-19, it had to be canceled. Rather than do that, organizers decided to move it. What better place than to McHenry County, which is the home base of Charles B Stewart, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
After all, Stewart became first to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence.
He later became the Republic's first Secretary of State, and served in three Texas Legislatures.
”That was six conventions he [Charles Stewart] attended and signed the Declaration and the Constitution, the annexation and the secession documents and only one person did that,” said Shepherd.
But many Texans put their lives and property on the line in their bid to separate from Mexico.
”In those days, that might have been kind of a risky thing to do,” said Spackey.
Each year, Spackey and Stewart join others in reenacting the signing of the Texas Declaration.
Following those on the stage, the family members get to sign a copy. After that, any interested Texan can put down their "John Hancock" on the the document that made Texas a nation.
”The Republic of Texas only lasted 10 years but it was a super great nation at that time, and to not know about things in its history, it's sinful," said Shepherd.
Since every nation needs a symbol, work got started on a Texas flag.
History teaches us Stewart designed it, but in more recent years, claims that artist Peter Craig came up with the flag have gained more traction.
Definitive proof of the flag's design came from an unusual document from the Stewart family.
”This is the original draft right here signed upside down. Before it was sketched by Peter Craig. So, this has been in my family history, and my family's trunks. So when we pulled out this trunk, we... we knew the story of the history books in the trunk," said Spackey.
It was signed upside down because Stewart passed the drawing across a table, where the person on the other side simply signed it without taking note of it's orientation.
Craig took the original drawing and made the first professional sketch of the Stewart design.
If that didn't satisfy, Texas leaders put the whole thing into law.
”Would you believe George Bush settled that? House Bill 1123 signed by George W. Bush. In 1997, he signed that and it says, "We proclaim Montgomery County as the birthplace of Texas and that Charles Stewart designed it,"” said Shepherd
Organizers say they put so much into this Independence Day celebration because it's a place like no other on earth.