When Anna J. Hardwicke Pennybacker died in 1938, her name had been a household word in Texas for over forty years.
She was a teacher to her core, a member of the first graduating class of Sam Houston Normal Institute (now Sam Houston State University) in 1880.
Over the next fourteen years she taught both grammar school and high school, first in Tyler, where she married Percy V. Pennybacker, and later in Palestine.
But teaching, no matter how excellent the teacher, seldom leads to fame.
Her notoriety grew from a project she began in 1887.
Texas history was then a required course of study in Texas public schools from the third grade through graduation. Unfortunately there was no text that presented the subject in a form fit for both younger and older students.
Mrs. Pennybacker set out to remedy that.
Her goal was:
"to picture the principal events in our history in a style easy and natural, yet vivid... written from the standpoint of a teacher, who believes that success in teaching history demands not only a live instructor, but also a live text-book."
When A New History of Texas was published in 1888, the teachers of Texas were quick to put it to use in the classroom. Over the next seven years, Mrs. Pennybacker kept up a cyclone of correspondence with teachers and scholars about how to improve the book.
The revised edition of 1895 added much to the text, as well as maps and illustrations. Two years later, the the State of Texas adopted it as the first official Texas History textbook. It remained the official text for the next forty years.
More than any other person of her time, Mrs. Pennybacker was responsible for how Texans understood their unique heritage.
She wrote in the preface of the revised edition:
"No occasion should be lost to cultivate true patriotism; this means not the blind egotism that asserts our State to be without blemish, but the wise love that sees all faults, and seeing, resolves to correct the same. March 2d and April 21st should never pass without some exercise that tends to make youth revere and honor the men who made those day immortal."
And her influence is alive and well today, though few realize it or even know her name. A New History of Texas introduced many historical events to the public consciousness of Texas.
One of those events was first reported in the Texas Almanac of 1873, but Almanacs are ephemeral, and when the year was out, many found service in the privy.
Mrs. Pennybacker included that event in her book and now, after being taught to Texas children for five generations, it's sure to live in the Texan psyche as long as there are Texans.
Here's how she wrote it:
"When Travis had finished, the silence of the grave reigned over all. Drawing his sword, he drew a line in front of his men and cried: "Those who wish to die like heroes and patriots, come over to me." There was no hesitation. In a few minutes, every soldier save one had crossed."
From the 1873 Texas Almanac
Here is how the account of Travis' line in the sand first appeared.
It is from a letter written to the editors of the Texas Almanac by William Zuber, relating the story told to his parents by Moses Rose about escaping from the Alamo.
"Col. Travis then drew his sword, and with the point traced a line upon the ground extending from the right to the left of the file. Then resuming his position in front of the center, he said: 'I now want every man who is determined to stay here and die with me to come across that line. Who will be the first? March!'
The first respondent was Tapley Holland, who leaped the line at a bound, exclaiming, 'I am ready to die for my country!' His example was instantly followed by every man in the file, with exception of Rose, manifest enthusiasm was universal and tremendous.
Every sick man that could walk arose from his bunk, and tottered across the line. Col. Bowie, who could not leave his bed, said: 'Boys, I am not able to come to you, but I wish some of you would be so kind as to move my cot over there.' Four men instantly ran to the cot, and each lifting a corner carried it over. Then every sick man that could not walk made the same request, and had his bunk moved in the same way.
Rose was deeply affected, but differently from his companions. He stood till every man but himself had crossed the line. He sank upon the ground, covered his face, and yielded to his own reflections. A bright idea came to his relief; he spoke the Mexican dialect very fluently, and could he once get out of the fort, he might easily pass for a Mexican and effect his escape. He directed a searching glance at the cot of Col. Bowie. Col. David Crockett was leaning over the cot, conversing with its occupant in an undertone.
After a few seconds Bowie looked at Rose and said: 'You seem not to be willing to die with us, Rose.'
'No,' said Rose, 'I am not prepared to die, and shall not do so if I can avoid it.'
Then Crockett also looked at him, and said: 'You may as well conclude to die with us, old man, for escape is impossible.'
Rose made no reply, but looked at the top of the wall. 'I have often done worse than climb that wall,' thought he. Suiting the action to the thought, he sprang up, seized his wallet of unwashed clothes, and ascended the wall."