My goodness. Time surely flies.
It was 200 years ago when Eli Harris crossed the Sabine River and first set foot in East Texas. He was one of Texas’ first journalists. But Harris may have another claim to fame as the originator of Texas’ famed “Lone Star” symbol.
San Francisco has the Golden Gate. Philly the Liberty Bell. McDonald’s the Golden Arches. But Texas claims the five-pointed star.
We’re called the Lone Star State for good reason. The Texas star adorns everything from belt buckles to the Dallas Cowboys’ helmets. Eli Harris would take full credit.
He was part of the Long Expedition, a harebrained attempt by Americans to “liberate” Texas from Spanish control.
Harris had created a flag for Gen. James Long and his troops as they marched from Mississippi toward Nacogdoches.
The silk flag Harris came up with had 13 red-and-white alternating stripes (just like Old Glory) and a red canton prominently displaying a single white star.
It is thought to be the first time the “Lone Star” was specifically associated with Texas.
A North Carolina native, Harris was a printer by trade. He had worked for newspapers in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi before joining up with Long in Natchez, Mississippi.
In mid-June 1819 Harris reached Nacogdoches, where he decided to establish a newspaper he called the Texas Republican. Early accounts indicate that the front page featured a lone star near the newspaper’s name. (Apparently, no copies of the Texas Republican survive.)
Long and his 300 followers grandly declared all of Texas “a free and independent republic” and, conveniently, Long was chosen president.
The Texas Republican, mostly a political mouthpiece for Long’s independence movement, didn’t last long. The final edition apparently was published in September or October, about the time U.S. officials intercepted a supply boat bringing badly needed provisions to Long’s troops.
With their food supply dwindling, Harris and several of the troops left Nacogdoches for Galveston, where they arranged a meeting with pirate Jean Lafitte. They hoped the infamous buccaneer would join Long’s fight to free Texas from Spain, but Lafitte said no thanks.
Meanwhile, the Spanish had had enough of Long’s shenanigans. The American soldiers for fortune were forced back across the Sabine River and eventually Long was captured.
After the failed Long Expedition, Eli Harris settled in Louisiana. There he served as a parish judge and never again got involved in Texas politics.
But Harris’ 1819 “Lone Star” flag started a trend. Several Texas flags sported a single star during the 1835-1836 War for Independence. The star represented not only a wish for independence, but also the desire that one day Texas might become an American state.
In 1836, the Republic of Texas Congress created the first official Texas flag. It was blue with a large gold (you guessed it) star in the center. Three years later Texas got a new national banner … the popular red, white and blue Lone Star flag that remains in use today.
In 1841, Eli Harris wrote Texas President Mirabeau Lamar, declaring that way back in 1819 he had “established the flag which you now use. I was proud of being the man to establish the star and flag of Texas.”
Harris apparently hoped Lamar would reward him with a land grant for what he called his “service to Texas.” If Lamar ever replied to Harris, there’s no record of it.
Harris received no compensation, and very little recognition, for creating what has evolved into a true icon: the “Lone Star” of Texas.