ELEANOR RUSSELL, Revolutionary Heroine

AMONG THE MORE NOTABLE WOMEN buried in Pioneer Memorial Park in present downtown Dallas is Eleanor Heady Russell, a native of Kentucky, who was born in 1813 and died in 1890. Mrs. Russell was Dallas’s most signal—and, perhaps, only—living link with the Texas Revolution. An acknowledged heroine of that struggle, she spent her declining years in the town started by John Neely Bryan five years after Texas won its independence at San Jacinto. This “venerable and loved lady” was credited in her youth with having molded “the first bullet fired by an American colonist against the soldiers of Mexico.” It was actually fired by her husband of less than two months, Capt. William Jarvis Russell, the commander of a company of Stephen F. Austin’s colonists from Brazoria who took part in the “disturbances” at Anahuac in May, 1832, Texas historian John Henry Brown, whose father commanded another company in the same operation, said this first shot was fired “at a Mexican soldier on picket duty” at the Mexican customs house which had been established at Anahuac at the mouth of the Trinity River. This was the show of force by aroused colonists that freed William B. Travis ( a young attorney then living at Anahuac) and others from imprisonment by the local Mexican commander.

Eleanor Heady Russell

Eleanor Heady Russell

Mrs. Russell was born in Taylorsville, Spencer County, Kentucky, the daughter of Stillwell Heady, for twenty-eight years a member of the Kentucky legislature. She and her first husband Nathan Guthrie emigrated to Texas in 1830 as members of Austin’s colony. Guthrie died soon after they arrived in Brazoria. The young widow met her future second husband through Robert Mills, the leading merchant in Brazoria, who had known her as a child in Kentucky. He was also a close friend of Russell’s, a sea captain by profession. Eleanor and Russell were married on March 22, 1832, only weeks before strife first flared between the colonists and Mexican authorities. Mrs. Russell molded a quantity of lead bullets for Captain Russell before he set out for Anahuac. A more serious engagement between colonial and Mexican forces occurred the next month at Velasco not far from Brazon a. In an eleven-hour attack by land and sea on June 26, the Mexican fort was captured with the surrender of its garrison.

Captain Russell, again armed with bullets molded by his wife, commanded the schooner Brazoria in this amphibious attack. Seven Texans were killed and fourteen were wounded, three later dying of their wounds. Of the Mexicans, five were killed and sixteen wounded in what has been called the first instance of bloodshed in the relations of Texas and Mexico. On their triumphant return to Brazoria, the victors were acclaimed by Mrs. Russell and other women of the town, who also helped tend the wounded and dying. Another historian, the late Mrs. George F. Carlisle of Dallas, an official of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, also cited Mrs. Russell in two connections with the Battle of San Jacinto. She wrote that Mrs. Russell also molded bullets fired by the Texans there and that she helped nurse Gen. Sam Houston as he lay wounded after the battle.

It was not until the last decade of her life that Mrs. Russell became a citizen of Dallas. After the establishment of the Republic, she and Captain Russell moved to Fayette County, where he long served as county judge. They subsequently lived in Austin, then in San Antonio, where he died in 1883. It was then that Mrs. Russell moved to Dallas and made her home with a son, Stillwell H. Russell, a prominent attorney of the city. The town’s best-known chronicler of the great and near-great, John Henry Brown, was asked to write her obituary, which appeared in the Dallas News on the day of her funeral, March 23, 1890. He said he had written it with “emotion akin to reverence.” He emphasized that she had been “a devoted Christian woman for 50 years, her life abounding in acts of charity, loved by all who knew her.” She was the mother of twelve children, all reared “in the precepts of the Methodist church.”

In the same issue of the newspaper, Mrs. Russell’s pastor, the Reverend John R. Allen of the First Methodist Church, published a poem paying tribute to the part she played in shaping “the first fleet bullet” that was fired “in Freedom’s glorious name” by her hero husband. Referring to “the fearless throng” of Texas revolutionary patriots, the poet added that “this fair young wife fore’er shall stand/As chronicled with that great band.”

Courtesy Dallas Yesterday by Sam Acheson. Photo courtesy Find a Grave.