First Lithograph Political Cartoon Created in Texas
Sam Houston Pilloried
227. [HOUSTON, SAMUEL]. T[HIELEPAPE], W[ilhelm Carl August]. Sam Recruiting, after the injunction of secrecy had been removed | [pointing finger] These are his Principles [lower center] San Antonio, July 1855 [lower right] W.T. Lith. San Antonio, Texas. Lithograph on heavy paper. Image area: 49 x 41 cm; sheet size: 61 x 48.1 cm. Creased where formerly folded, small holes in blank corners and margins where previously tacked up, 3.5 x 2 cm void and 3 cm split on right edge (affecting a couple of letters), several other splits, chips, and small holes (mainly confined to blank margins, but a few affecting image), overall browning. Professionally washed, backed, and infilled. Very good condition. Exceedingly rare, especially given the brittle, poor quality paper on which it is printed.
First lithographed political cartoon created in Texas. This highly unusual print is part of a group of three lithographs, all the work of Thielepape, which are considered by some to be the first three lithographs created in Texas. In his unpublished manuscript on nineteenth-century Texas lithographs, in the section entitled “Introduction of Lithography in Texas,” Ron Tyler comments: “The first lithographs that can be documented as having been made in Texas appeared in San Antonio, the result of efforts by Adolf Douai, the editor of the San Antonio Zeitung, J. Martin Reidner, his partner, and Wilhelm C.A. Thielepape.” (The other possible candidate for first Texas lithograph is an early view of Austin in A.B. Lawrence’s Texas in 1840, which was published in New York in 1840 but credited Joshua Lowe of Galveston as the image’s lithographer; however, some believe this image may in fact be an engraving.) The three documented Thielepape lithographs pulled in Texas in 1855 are: (1) the present image of Sam Houston, dated in July 1855; (2) a letter sheet with a view of Alamo Plaza, undated but believed to be from 1855 (see Sloan Auction 21, Lot 242); and an undated map of San Antonio exhibited in the fall of 1855. Winkler, Check List of Texas Imprints 1846-1860 531 (incorrectly transcribing lithographer’s name as W.J. Leth.). The print and its makers are not mentioned by Peters, America on Stone. Ron Tyler locates copies at the Center for American History at the University of Texas and the Dallas Historical Society, and comments in his unpublished research:
Trained artists who produced pre-Civil War lithographs of Texas were usually the immigrants who settled in San Antonio or among the German and French villages in the Hill Country. Wilhelm C.A. Thielepape, a trained surveyor and recent immigrant with no printing experience, pulled the first lithograph from a Texas press in 1855. It was a crude map of San Antonio. He printed at least two other images, this caricature of Sam Houston and the other a view of the San Antonio plaza, before finally abandoning the badly worn lithographic equipment and closing his shop.
Probably the first lithographs that can be documented as having been made in Texas appeared in San Antonio, the result of efforts by Adolf Douai, the editor of the San Antonio Zeitung, J. Martin Reidner, his partner, and Wilhelm C.A. Thielepape. After Thielepape and his partner Martin Reidner exhibited a lithographic map of San Antonio and several smaller works at the Agricultural Exhibition of Bexar County held in the fall of 1855, Douai published this account of their endeavor:
"One must know about the history of the beginning of the local lithographic establishment in order to value the achievements and merit of Mr. Thielepape. The establishment was founded by Douai & Reidner, by which the latter deluded his partner into thinking that he completely understood the lithographic process and was able to prepare by himself or with the help of a draftsman all the work orders needed in San Antonio. We gave up the rest of our small savings to this project and warned him that by our unfamiliarity with lithography he took upon himself the responsibility of our ruin and that of our families. He brought a lithographic press from New Orleans and soon it became apparent that he understood very little about lithography…. Then several weeks later it also became apparent that all of the material that he had bought was more or less unusable. Meanwhile Mr. Thielepape had come into partnership with us, but he originally knew nothing about lithography, but was instead a capable architect and surveyor. After months of study, numerous attempts (with the advice of a man who only understood how to draw on the stones) and with great effort and at considerable expense, he discovered the problems with the press and with the materials and improved them so well as to allow for the modest means available in San Antonio for orders. He practically re-invented the art of lithography, and was able to develop it to the point that now, six months after he started, he produces capable work in this field. Truly, only a German could do this, and for that reason, we find it just and reasonable that he did not receive a prize at a native exhibition. Then is there nowhere in America a suitable place for this man?"
Douai & Riedner advertised in January, 1855, that they were accepting orders for lithographic printing. Two months later they had dissolved their partnership and by July Thielepape was advertising his caricature of Sam Houston, which attacked the Senator for his presidential ambitions and increasing association with the Know-Nothing movement. Thielepape depicted Houston as a drunkard carrying a bottle of whiskey—’Not the Battle of Brandywine, but the bottle’—walking on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence. He wears a ‘transparent political coat’ that reveals all his Know-Nothing leanings and carries a long-handled net over his shoulder, to which are attached his “logic or reasoning powers” (a knife and a pistol), hero’s medals (for churches burnt or destroyed and riots in various places), his diseased American heart, and ‘Mask of Washington.’ In case the points were not clear enough in the caricature, Thielepape listed them at the right-hand side, adding comments such as, ‘Lexington—not the battle, but the horse—lost $50.’ He also taunted Houston for his several marriages with a pamphlet ‘From Brigham Young about wives’ and ‘Marriage Certificate No. 34’ attached to the end of the pole. The Bible sticking out of his rear pocket is, no doubt, a reference to Houston’s recent adoption of the Baptist faith, which many saw as leading to his embracement of Know-Nothingism. What Thielepape’s caricature lacked in draftsmanship it made up for in political complexity and bluntness.
A nineteenth-century Renaissance man, Thielepape (1814-1904), engineer, surveyor, and mayor of San Antonio, was born in Germany, where he studied and practiced engineering before settling in Indianola, Texas, in 1850. He later relocated to San Antonio in 1854, then spent his later years in Chicago in the building boom that followed the Great Fire. In addition to his surveying, engineering, and political work, Thielepape’s myriad activities spanned the fields of music, architecture (buildings he designed include the San Antonio Casino and Comal County Courthouse), teaching, photography, lithography, and journalism (he served as editor of an abolitionist newspaper). He was also the artist-engineer behind a traveling attraction called “Stereomonoscopic Dissolving Views & Polaroscopic Fire Works” (Indianola Courier, January 5, 1861, page 2, column 1).
A Union sympathizer, Thielepape helped raise the Union flag over the Alamo on July 21, 1865, served as Reconstruction mayor of San Antonio beginning November 8, 1867, and is thought to have spent part of the Civil War in Eagle Pass and Mexico. Houston’s politics clearly provoked bitter irritation in the German-born Thielepape, particularly his affiliation with the Know-Nothing Party, which discriminated against immigrants, advocating that foreign-born persons not be allowed to hold office and petitioning for requirements that would grant citizenship only once immigrants had lived in the United States for twenty-one years and had passed an intelligence test.
This lithograph appeared at a time when Sam Houston’s political career was in shambles. Shortly after this, Houston failed in his reelection bid for the U.S. Senate and in a run for the Texas governor’s office. The present caustic, derogatory image of Sam Houston is a world away from the customary heroic Houston to which we are accustomed and a prime example of acerbic German humor.
Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009