Michael Muldoon: Stephen F. Austin’s Priest

Michael Muldoon: Stephen F. Austin’s Priest

Joe Early, Jr., PhD

In 1821, Stephen F. Austin received permission from the Mexican government to settle three hundred American families in southeast Texas in an area that became known as “Austin’s Colony.” This permission, however, came with many stipulations. As Catholicism was the established religion of Mexico, one major requirement was that all colonists be or become Catholic. In order for a colonist to be an official citizen and own land one had to provide proof that he was a Catholic. This proved problematic as the majority of the settlers were either Protestant or claimed no adherence to Christianity at all. In order for the colonists to become landowners, they would have to undergo baptism and join the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Catholic Church and thus the Mexican government did not deem Protestant marriages as valid. Children from these marriages, therefore, were illegitimate. No matter how long a non-Catholic couple had been married before arriving in Texas, a Catholic priest would have to marry them again for the sake of their children’s inheritance. To make matters worse, Austin’s Colony had no priest. The absence of a priest to perform baptisms and marriages kept the majority of the colonists in a state of limbo over the ownership of their land.

As early as 1824, Austin had written Ramón Músquiz, the political chief of San Antonio, asking him to send Father Garza to administer the sacraments.[1] Neither Garza nor any other priest arrived in Austin’s Colony for another seven years. As the 1820s drew to a close, colonists who had been living in the Colony from its inception were becoming even more concerned over the status of their property.

In April 1831 Austin was in Leona Vicario attending the legislative session when he ran into an old friend, Dr. Miguel Muldoon.  Austin had first met Muldoon in Mexico City in April 1822 while petitioning the government to recognize the legitimacy of his claim to his father’s grant.  During the year-long wait, Austin’s money ran out.  Muldoon came to his rescue by lending him money and even teaching the young empresario Spanish.[2]

Muldoon had been to Texas before.  He had already been the resident priest to the San Patricio Irish Colony in 1829, but had returned to Monterrey because of its slow growth.[3] Austin told Muldoon of his Colony and asked him to serve as its curate.  General Manuel y Terán, however, feared that Muldoon had been accustomed to the more luxurious life in the royal courts and warned Austin that the priest would probably not be able to cope with the rough frontier life of Texas.[4] In spite of this potential hardships, Muldoon pressed for the position and it was granted by the Archbishop of Monterrey.  In April of 1831, seven years after Austin’s initial request, Father Michael Muldoon arrived at Austin’s Colony.

Austin was pleased with Muldoon’s appointment.  He was a liberal priest who had little penchant for imposing a rigid Catholicism on the colonists.  Perhaps more importantly, Muldoon was politically well-connected.  He was close friends with General Terán and Lucas Alamán y Escalada, the minister of foreign affairs.[5] With friends in the military, Austin could expect more protection from hostile Indians.  He may have also hoped that Muldoon would inform Terán of the colonist’s loyalty to Mexico.  In a letter to Samuel May Williams, Austin could not contain his enthusiasm about Muldoon’s imminent arrival: “His council will be of service to you and the colony, for I believe, he has the true interests of that colony very much at heart…I am very much pleased with him as a man and much better as a Padre.”[6]

Little is known of Father Muldoon’s life prior to his arrival in Texas.  Moreover, most of the information of the Padre’s life may be based on legend.  There are two versions of his childhood.  According to one account, Muldoon was born in the Diocese of Kilmore County, Cavan, Ireland, in 1780.  He was forced to leave Ireland after his father had a physical altercation with a British soldier.  Father and son moved to Seville, Spain, where Muldoon’s father forced him to train for the priesthood.[7]  In the other account, Muldoon’s family were rich landowners in Kilmore County and sent their son to Madrid to study only after he stated that he wanted to be a priest.[8]

After graduating from the Irish College at Seville, he is not again heard of until his 1812 arrival in Monterrey, Mexico, as the chaplain to Juan O’Donoju, the last Spanish viceroy of Mexico.[9]  He then became the chaplain for future President Antonio de López Santa Anna.  Muldoon described himself as Santa Anna’s “almost inseparable companion.”[10]

To prepare for the Padre’s arrival, Austin sent several letters to Williams bragging about Muldoon and making sure that he would be comfortable.  Williams was instructed to offer Muldoon “the highest considerations of the body, and to provide such conveniences for his comfort as the circumstances and situation of the place will permit.”[11]  Since Williams’ home was the best in San Felipe, Austin asked Williams to provide room and board for Muldoon until permanent quarters could be found.  Williams agreed to Austin’s wish. Austin also wanted Williams to spread the word among the colonists that Muldoon was “liberal and enlightened on religious subjects”[12] and would not be dogmatic in his enforcement of Catholicism.

Muldoon made his own announcement three weeks prior to his arrival in San Felipe.  In the May 26, 1831, edition of the Mexican Citizen, the newspaper of San Felipe, Muldoon, in his characteristically pompous manner, proclaimed that he was “Parish Priest of Austin and Vicar General of all the Foreign Colonies of Texas, already existing, or that be hereafter established, invested with Pleni potententiary Papal and Episcopal Powers.”[13]  Muldoon spoke prematurely; he had not yet received confirmation of these titles.  In fact, there is no record that he ever did.  Colonist Henry Smith took umbrage at the self-aggrandizing announcement.  Smith stated, “He purported to be a man of great consequence if titles could make him so, for it took up half a column of a newspaper to contain them all.”[14]

In the same announcement Muldoon declared that he would perform a slave wedding at no charge and, if necessary, without the permission of their master.  This statement would certainly raise eyebrows among the colonists, since slaves were not permitted to wed or do anything without the approval of their owners.

Because of Austin’s spadework, the colonists were excited to meet Muldoon.  He was greeted by a welcoming committee of Williams, R. M. Williamson, and Luke Lesassier.  Muldoon, who became known as “Paddy” to many of the residents, made friends easily and soon the colonists’ concerns abated.  Henry Smith, who later became one of Muldoon’s greatest detractors and an interim governor of Texas, said initially that he was no beast or papal animal as some feared, but just a man: “He looked like a man, talked like one and concluded that he was nothing after all but a common man and Irishman at that.”[15]

Muldoon’s first few months at San Felipe were marked by a warm welcome from the colonists, which pleased Austin.  He realized that if Muldoon stayed in the Colony, many of the problems concerning inheritance rights, baptism, and the legality of marriages would be solved.  He wanted Muldoon to be happy.  Austin informed Williams that he believed in Muldoon’s dedication to Texas and hoped that he would remain permanently:  “I think he is sincere, for he has obtained a large piece of land from the governor and looks to Texas, as his home and final resting place.”[16]

The warm welcome notwithstanding, Muldoon did not receive a stipend from either Austin or the Mexican government.  Moreover, in an attempt to attract more immigrants, the colonists were exempt from tithing for the first six years in Texas and then paid a tithe for the next six years.[17]  As payment for his future services and incentive to remain, Austin gave Muldoon prime properties in present-day Wharton, Fayette, Lavaca, and Galveston counties.  Most of this land is in modern Fayette County where the small town of Muldoon was named in his honor.

Land was an important commodity in Austin’s Colony, but it was difficult to liquidate.  In order to have an income, Muldoon was forced to make money on his own.  Since he was the only person in the Colony qualified to administer the sacraments of marriage and baptism, he survived on aranceles,[18] a fee charged for these baptisms, marriages, and the other sacraments.  His rates were twenty-five cents for a wedding and two dollars for a baptism.[19]

Many times, ten or twelve couples were married in a single ceremony and baptisms were performed in a sort of assembly line.  On one occasion Muldoon traveled from San Felipe to Brazoria to perform the sacraments and attend a barbeque.  He was met by Henry Smith, comisario of the precinct of Victoria, who informed him that not many of the colonists believed that their acceptance of these sacraments was important since they had been baptized before coming to Texas.  Smith noted that in the colonists “prejudices deep rested by education rose up in strong opposition, and with many the idea of being baptized by a Roman Catholic Priest carried with it an everlasting stigma and disgrace.[20]

As administering sacraments was Muldoon’s primary source of income, he instructed Smith to go back and find more people.  When Smith asked Muldoon what he should tell the reluctant colonists, Smith recalled, “He requested me to go and tell his good parishioners, that they need not consider a second baptism necessary provided they had evidences that they had been baptized in the true faith.” Smith asked, “Well Padra there are so many different faiths now in the world that I am entirely at a loss to know which one is the true faith?  You will excuse me for the enquiry, what do you call the true faith?”  Muldoon replied, “the true faith is the Roman Catholic Apostolate, all other is heresy.”[21]  Smith returned with twelve people who agreed to be baptized.  Muldoon said this was still not enough, so he sent Smith back for even more.  When Smith returned this time, forty more names were on the list.  Muldoon was pleased, he was paid, the sacraments were given, and a barbeque followed.[22]

The few staunch Catholics in Austin’s Colony did not care for Muldoon’s liberal distribution of the sacraments.  He often issued certificates to the colonists affirming that they had been Catholic before they were baptized, so that they could own land.  There is no evidence that Muldoon questioned the colonists’ motives for joining the Catholic Church.  For this reason, those he baptized became known as “Muldoon Catholics.”  His parishioners were Catholic in name, but certainly not in practice.[23]

Henry Smith remembered Muldoon’s mass marriages and assembly-line baptisms with disdain.  Smith saw no reason for couples who had been married for more than twenty years and had children to be married by Muldoon:

The baptism commenced first, as heretics could not be lawfully joined in matrimony until they were baptized in the true faith.  Next commenced a kind of liturgy that finished, the marriage ceremony, which was short and a mere conjoining in lawful wedlock closed the scene…The scene, take it all in all, was truly ludicrous in the extreme.  Most of them had children and some five or six.  To see brides on the floor, and whiled the marriage rites are performing, with bosoms open and children sucking the breast, and others in a situation really too delicate to mention, appeared to me more like a burlesque on marriage than a marriage in fact.[24]

Muldoon was known for his love of food and drink.  Colonist Noah Smithwick observed that Muldoon “had an unlimited capacity for drink.”[25]  Smithwick’s statement gains merit when one examines the priest’s thirty-four dollar liquor bill at J.C. Peyton’s Dry Goods store.[26]  It is impossible to tell if this bill was for a week, month, or a year, but it was a great deal of money for this era.  His love of drink and food was often commented upon at the feast that followed a baptism or marriage ceremony.  Muldoon himself reports on such a gathering in May 26, 1831, edition of the Mexican Citizen.  As the home of Mr. Abner Kuykendall, “there were upwards of one hundred persons baptized and four couples married, all of whom after the marriage ceremony, sat down to an abundant and splendid feast.”[27]  Muldoon wrote a poem about it.

To see whole steers on spit’s a turning!

The dropping grease on embers burning!

The whizzing stews, the broiling sound!

The air perfumed all around,-

No, no such feast was seen in Spain!

Where he could cut and come again,-

Where everyone could gorge and swill!

The Governor might his belly fill.

The fiddle plays, all dancing go!

Upon the light fantastic toe.

Vermillion checks, and many faces,

Seemed angels dancing with the graces.

The wrestling waltz with arms entwining

And heart and soul to love inclining

No stop, no pause the long lived night!

Til Phoebus put the stars to flight;

When cheeks from red to white as snow,

Vicissitudes of beauty show.[28]

 

When performing the rites of the Roman Catholic Church, Muldoon made an effort to make the colonies as comfortable with them as possible.  As anonymous visitor to San Felipe wrote,

One day during my stay at San Felipe, I witnessed a ceremony which would have been regarded as a very extraordinary thing in our own country.  A Roman Catholic priest had arrived there, on a tour of visitation through the colony, and offered to perform baptismal and marriage ceremonies for all who might wish to receive them.  Having been invited where he was to receive applications and administer, at a particular house in the village, I attended with two or three friends, to see what would be done.  Several settlers from the United States, who I knew had no inclination in favor of Roman Catholicism, and though they had received a Protestant education, presented themselves for baptism.  These, as I had reason to believe, acted merely on a wish to recommend themselves to the favor of the government.  Several afterwards came with their wives, and were married again, lest the legality of the Protestant ceremony should not be acknowledged, and stand as a bar between their descendants and their estates…The priest stated that he had married about five and twenty in one evening in some place in the country, where many colonists had assembled on a timely notice being given of his visit.  He was a jolly looking old man, with very little of that sedate, venerable or even intelligent aspect which we associate with an aged minister in our country.  He showed some inclination to jest on the occasion. One of the young men who was standing ready for baptism caught my eye, and smiled. “You must not laugh,” said the old man, “if you do you will always afterwards be laughing Christians: if you are sober now you will be sober Christians all your lives.[29]

The colonists appreciated Muldoon’s amiable personality and liberal enforcement of Catholicism.  The Padre must have known that those he baptized were becoming Catholics in name only so that they could own land.  Muldoon also must have known that he was solving a political problem, not a religious one.  In turn, most of the colonists appreciated what he was doing for them.  Abner Kuykendall spoke highly of the priest: “The padre was a hale old gentleman of fifty-five, intelligent, good-humored and liberal minded, and therefore considering the character of his flock, the right man in the right place.  His reception by the colonists was very cordial and he was as much pleased with his parishioners.”[30]

Austin was frequently asked to send Muldoon to some corner of the Colony to perform the sacraments so that people would be in good standing with the Mexican government.  A member of the Old 300 and future signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Thomas Barnett, wrote, “I have recently understood that yourself and Padre Muldoon will shortly pay a visit to the Fort Settlement, where the neighborhood will assemble for the purpose of Marriages and Christening.  Owing to the extreme indisposition of myself and the helpless situation of my family it will be inconvenient for me to attend.  I have therefore to request you, and through you to the Rev’d. Father Muldoon to call at my house on your way down, to the end that the marriage contract betwixt myself and my wife be consummated and my children christened.”[31]

The colonists may have been eager for Muldoon to arrive and perform the sacraments, but there is no evidence that their requests were ever rooted in their spiritual or religious interests.  The feast was held after the sacrament because Muldoon expected it and because there were many people in attendance.  Many of the colonists did not have neighbors for miles and life on the frontier afforded little time for visiting.  Most of the colonists saw Catholic marriage and baptism as necessary evils, but the party that followed would have been the social event of the year.  Muldoon made these burdensome ceremonies at least bearable and sometimes even enjoyable.  He earned the trust of many of the colonists, and their fear of religious persecution waned.

Muldoon’s liberalism did not extend to granting Protestant ministers safe haven. Muldoon mentions two altercations with Protestant ministers.  While at the home of a Mr. Edwards, Muldoon met an uneducated, itinerant minister named Lessassier Walker.  After speaking with Muldoon for a few minutes, Walker “produced a solar system, printed, he said, by himself, even though he had never learned to write!”  Muldoon then recalled that he preached a private sermon on the truths of Roman Catholicism, and Walker “threw himself on my fatherly protection for direction of himself and his family.”[32]  Muldoon continued by claiming that after listening to his fatherly advice, Walker became a devout Catholic.  The encounter with Walker and his instantaneous conversion to the Roman Catholic Faith once again moved Muldoon to poetry:

‘My friend,’said I, ‘receive in traffic

For your hymn – a Hel-Li-O-Gra-Fic

Sermon on your solar plan!

All silent – then I thus began:

“These planets, stars, this brilliant whole

Conglomerated words do roll,

Their magnitude and distance too,

Are points of course; quite clear to you,

With Mercury I first begun

Thro’ Venus, Mars and Earth I run,

Jove, Saturn, and the great Herschell,

Their days, their moons, do you know well?

Or why the earth’s one satellite

Is dark by day, in darkness bright?

Pray what reason can be given,

That Saturn’s Satellites are seven,

What other reasons can you give

Who in these wondrous orbs do live?

In which is Heav’n? do you repute?

Or do they about Sects dispute?

That’s too sublime for me to know,’

He said – and bowed profoundly low,

How dare you then presume to scan

The Author of this mighty plan!!![33]

 

Muldoon also met a man claiming to be a minister (who might have been a Presbyterian minister named Sumner Bacon) who provided a “recital of all his ecclesiastical and missionary denominations, with a catalogue of some very respectable names, mostly from the northern United States, but yet not qualified to confer a jurisdiction to preach in this colony.”  After a few more minutes of conversation, Muldoon realized that this minister owned property in the Colony even though he clearly had not proven his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church.  Muldoon was irate and accused the man of pretending to be “a preacher of veracity,” even though he “deliberately omitted all reference to his religious beliefs in applying for a league of land.”[34]  For Muldoon, this man was both a heretic and a hypocrite.  If this minister was Sumner Bacon, then a letter written by Bacon to Stephen Austin explaining that he had never wronged Father Muldoon would make sense.

If an adamant Protestant colonist refused to become a Muldoon Catholic, the Padre would not sign the papers that made the colonist eligible to receive land.  Future Republic of Texas President David Burnett was a prime example.  Burnett was a Presbyterian with Puritan inclinations who had grown up in New England.  When Muldoon offered to remarry the Burnets and baptize their infant children, Burnet refused.  Muldoon saw to it that he did not receive any land.[35]  The only property he received came from friends through whom he repurchased it.

Anglos in Texas were always viewed with suspicion by the Mexican government.  The government feared civil disobedience, rebellion, and suspected that the colonists wanted Texas to become part of the United States.  In the eyes of the Mexican government, any rejection of the national religion or its representatives would confirm their suspicions.  As curate, Muldoon quelled these insurrectionist rumors.  Muldoon told the governmental authorities, “With these two slight and impotent exceptions, I have been agreeably surprised to find such order, to receive so much personal respect, and to discover such a general and voluntary adhesion to the Catholic religion…I answer for their religious allegiance.”[36]  The two exceptions were most likely Walker and Bacon.

Realizing that many of the colonists were unhappy under the Mexican yoke, Muldoon did what he could to ease their tensions.  In the spring of 1832 General Terán, the provincial general of Texas, placed an arrogant American soldier of fortune named John David Bradburn in charge of the village of Anahuac.  Bradburn immediately imposed heavy tariffs on the colonists and declared martial law.  Several colonists, including William Barrett Travis, were thrown into jail because of their refusal to obey Bradburn’s dicta.  John Austin and colonists from Brazoria decided to free the men and, after securing two cannons, marched on Anahuac.  To avoid bloodshed, Muldoon offered himself as hostage if Travis and the others were freed.  Austin appreciated the padre’s courage, but declined the offer and violence between the Mexican government and Anglo Texans erupted.[37]

Muldoon may have won over many of the colonists, but he did not charm all of them.  Henry Smith, believed that Muldoon was worthless:  “He was an Irishman by birth, and had frequently licked the blarney stone before he left the emerald isle…He wore a wig, or was white-headed from age…grave, gentlemanly, and prepossessing in his appearance and manners at first interview, but proved to be vain, vulgar, and a very scamp as ever disgraced the colony.”[38]  Smith described a fight between Muldoon and a colonist in Frank Adam’s grocery store.  Adams had offered to buy Smith and Muldoon a drink, but the Padre arrogantly declined, stating that he drank only with gentlemen.  Insulted, “Adams promptly drew back and dealt the Padre a blow between the eyes which had the effect of considerably modifying his idea of gentility…Muldoon, who was no fool, seeing that he had few friends, apologized for his offensive language and accepted the proffered drink to assist him in swallowing his medicine.”[39]

Muldoon was accustomed to being pampered.  He soon learned that in Austin’s Colony, the bare necessities of life took precedence over comfort.  After residing in Sam William’s home for several months, Muldoon began to complain.  He informed Austin he had no servants, inadequate ecclesiastical and personal supplies, and that since he did not have his own home or money to pay for one if availability should arise, he was being made a pauper in his own parish.[40]  Austin was unable to help the Padre with any of his requests.

Muldoon left Texas in March 1832, and did not return until Texas was an independent republic.  His first destination was Mexico City, where he arrived in the spring of 1832 in the hope of reversing the Colonization Law of April 6, 1830.  To elevate his stature, Muldoon masqueraded as commissioner of Austin’s Colony to Governor Jose Antonio Mexía.  The governor saw through Muldoon’s ruse at once, and sent Austin a letter stating that he did not “believe indeed, that you have commissioned him for anything.”[41]  Muldoon probably had no malicious intent, and most likely believed that he was helping the colonists.

Though he had been shunned by Mexía, Muldoon decided to remain in Mexico City and answer questions about religious affairs in the Colony.  In an attempt to defend the colonists, Muldoon affirmed that “All the colonists in Texas are Christians, and like their brothers in the North, very zealous in the spread of Christianity.  Among my parishioners the knowledge of the Bible is universal…Some preached the moral teachings of our Christian faith to their families and neighbors, preferable, no doubt, to living like atheists…The prominent settlers and their large families are Catholics…Empressario Austin, Williams, Lessier, and John Austin have been my inseparable companions and have stood as sponsors for hundreds.”[42]  Muldoon had made his point.  If the Mexican government needed to pretext to clamp down on Texas, Muldoon would not let a lack of conformity to the Catholic faith be the reason.  Moreover, he would have no chance for ecclesiastical advancement if he had not excelled in his priestly duties in Texas. For this reason, he most certainly stretched the truth to place the colonists, and himself, in a more favorable light.

Muldoon gave no reason for his departure from Texas, but he stated that he left to congratulate the newly commissioned Bishop of Monterrey and to thank him for allowing him to administer the sacrament of confirmation on the citizens of Austin’s Colony.[43]  He also wanted the Bishop to know that he was making the colonists into loyal Catholics and citizens.

In reality, Muldoon may have found living in Texas more difficult than he had been led to expect, and it certainly did not pay well.  He later appeared in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in January 1833 to ask for six hundred dollars to aid his Texas ministry.  A year later, after the request was passed all the way up to the new Bishop of Monterrey, the stipend was denied and Muldoon did not return to the Colony.[44]

The Monterrey citizens believed that Protestants had chased Muldoon out.  In no uncertain terms, he let them know that this was not true.  The problems in the Colony, Muldoon noted, were not based on religion.  Instead of returning to Texas, he decided to relocate to Mexico City.

Muldoon’s most important role in Austin’s colony had nothing to do with religion.  Because of the ever-increasing number of immigrants from the United States, the Mexican government began to fear that the colonists might rebel and try to become a part of the United States.  To stop American immigration, the government passed the Colonization Law of April 6, 1830, which prohibited further immigration into Texas by United States citizens.  The citizens of Austin’s Colony were incensed by the law and held a consultative conference to discuss the matter.  In an attempt to appease the Mexican government, Austin insisted that he did not want to press the matter.  He was able to calm the participants in the first meeting in October 1832, but he had no such luck at the second meeting on April 1, 1833.   The majority of those present wanted their rights voiced in Mexico City.  Austin was selected as their delegate and left San Felipe for Mexico City on April 6.  He arrived in the capital in July and succeeded in having the law overturned.  He was unsuccessful, however, in securing more autonomy for the colonists.  President Antonio de López Santa Anna was too suspicious of the American settlers to entrust them with any additional self-governing privileges.

On his way home from Mexico City in December, Austin was arrested on charges of inciting insurrection against Mexico.  The evidence appeared in a letter Austin had sent to the ayuntamiento of Bejar, informing the members to prepare to take the lead in the insurrection if relations with Mexico became hostile.[45]  Austin was transferred from prison to prison and was permitted very few visitors or counsel.  He was eventually placed in solitary confinement in a cell that received only a few hours of daylight.  Because he was a priest, Muldoon was able to visit him.  He brought him news of the Colony, of the situation with Mexico, and writing materials so that he could compose and send letters.  Muldoon also provided two hundred dollars so Austin could purchase more nutritious food.  Because of his friendship with Santa Anna, Muldoon was able to get Austin moved from solitary confinement and later helped to secure his amnesty from Acordada Prison in July 1835.

After rendering such vital assistance to Austin, nothing more is heard from Muldoon until after the Texas Revolution in 1837.  William H. Wharton, the Texas Ambassador to the United States, was captured by the Mexican navy at the mouth of the Brazos River and incarcerated in the prison at Matamoras, Mexico.  Muldoon came to visit Wharton and gave him a set of clerical robes that he could wear as a disguise.  The ruse worked, and Wharton made it safely back to Texas.[46]

A story about Muldoon’s heroism appeared in the March 8, 1895, edition of the Galveston News.  The story was told in a letter from Sam Houston to Muldoon.   Muldoon was also believed to have rescued a woman named Juergens from Indians who had taken her and two small boys captive.  The Indians sold the two boys for two hundred dollars at a trading post. Muldoon managed to track down Mrs. Juergens and return her to her husband, but the boys were never found.[47]

Muldoon returned to Texas in 1836, 1839, and 1841.  On his first trip, he sold his property in Washington County to Gail Borden, who then resold it to Peter Grayson for the same amount of money.  In 1830 he was in Houston to perform a wedding.  While in Houston, Anson Jones delivered a letter to Muldoon from President Houston thanking him for his service in Austin’s Colony.  Upon his return to Mexico, Santa Anna, upset with Muldoon for his role in the Wharton escape, had him imprisoned.  As Muldoon had been traveling with Bernard Bee, a Texas diplomatic agent to Mexico, he certainly appeared to be a traitor.  In 1841 he was reported to have spent time with President Sam Houston working on a plan to keep the peace with Mexico.[48]  Elisha Pease, future Governor of Texas, claimed to have seen Muldoon in Texas on an unspecified date, but no one corroborated his report.

The date and circumstance of Muldoon’s death are a mystery, but as with his childhood, two versions exist.  According to one, he was murdered by Santa Anna’s assassins for having helped the Texans.[49]  The other claims that he was on board a ship bound for Spain that sank off the Texas coast and drowned.[50]

Father Michael Muldoon’s legacy is ambiguous.  He was easy-going, gregarious, liberal, capitalistic, political, and a champion of the colonists’ cause to the Mexican authorities.  Nineteenth-century Texas historian Henderson Yoakum believed that the Padre did all he could do for the colonists, describing Muldoon as “a man of warm heart, social and generous spirit, who will be held long in grateful remembrance by the old settlers of Texas.”[51] Many of Muldoon’s contemporaries liked him and enjoyed his company.  Others, however, believed he was nothing more than a money-grubbing opportunist.  His life provided ample evidence for both arguments.

As far as spiritual matters were concerned, most of the Muldoon Catholics submitted to the sacraments only to secure their property and inheritance rights. It also appears that Muldoon’s primary reason for performing baptism and marriage ceremonies was to charge for his ecclesiastical services.  Moreover, there is no evidence that Muldoon ever said Mass in Austin’s Colony.  Since Mass is the central element of Roman Catholic worship, it appears that worship was not at the top of Muldoon’s agenda.  Henry Smith claimed “he never troubled them with a church service, but confined his duties to baptism and marriage ceremonies.  This was a snug little money-making business.”[52]  Noah Smithwick agreed with Smith’s assessment of Muldoon’s sacramental business.  “The father made a tour of the colonies occasionally when in need of funds, tying the nuptial knot and pocketing the fees therefore; 25 cents being the modest sum demanded for his services.”[53]

Muldoon did little if anything to advance Roman Catholic spiritual or moral values in Austin’s Colony.  Eminent Roman Catholic scholar, Carlos E. Castañeda, author of Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, stated “many of his expressions revealed a philosophy of life which would lead one to doubt he was even a Catholic, much less a priest.”[54]  Castañeda is correct in his appraisal of Muldoon’s lack of religious insignificance, but his importance to
Austin’s Colony was apparent nonetheless.  Muldoon and Austin had a symbiotic relationship.  On the one hand, Austin needed a priest to legalize marriages which would entitle the settlers to become legal landowners.  The priest, therefore, supplied Austin with a service without which could have meant failure for the Colony.  On the other hand, Muldoon charged fees for his services that enabled him to make a decent living.  At first glance, this makes Muldoon out to be something of a mercenary, but this assumption would be incorrect.  Though the cost of his services appears to be exorbitant, he still supplied the colonists with an avenue that allowed them to become land owners and legitimize their children in the eyes of the Mexican government.  Muldoon seemed to have recognized his dependency on Austin when he helped Austin during his imprisonment.  Muldoon also offered himself as a hostage in the Bradburn confrontation, and argued the colonists’ case to the Mexican government.  Thus, Muldoon’s role was critical to the success of Austin’s dream and provided the basis for the future development of the Colony.

[1] Stephen F. Austin to Ramón Músquiz , June 20, 1824. Nacogdoches Archives.

[2] Joe Tom Davis, Legendary Texians, Vol III (Austin: Eakin Press, 1986), 3.

[3] Linda Trigg, “Father Michael Muldoon: The Story of an Early Pioneer Priest” (San Antonio: Master of Arts Thesis, St. Mary’s University, 1940). 8.

[4] Manuel y Terán to Stephen Austin, April 3, 1831. Cited in Eugene C. Barker, The Austin Papers in the Annual Report of the American Historical Association 3. Vols. (Washington: 1928), II: B: 585. The Austin Papers are categorized into Vol. I, and Vol. II which has two volumes. In this paper, the first Volume of Volume II will be cited as II: A and the second volume as II: B.

[5] Cantrell, 238.

[6] Stephen F. Austin to Samuel Williams, Cited in Barker, Austin Papers, II: B, 603.

[7] Davis, 2.

[8] Phillip O’Connell, “A Kilgore Missionary in Texas: The Rev. Dr. Michael Muldoon, Irish Ecclesiastical Record (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, Ltd., 1937), Vol. 49, 252-271; 366-383.

[9] Davis, 2.

[10] Letter from Michael Muldoon to Sam Houston. Published in the Galveston Daily News, March 9, 1895.

[11] E. C. Barker, ed.,“Minutes of the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin, 1828-1832,” The Southwestern Historical Quarterly,” XXIII, 302-303.

[12] Stephen F. Austin to Samuel Williams, January 13, 1831. Cited In Barker, Austin Papers, II: B, 585.

[13] Mexican Citizen, May 26, 1831.

[14] Henry Smith, “Reminiscences of Henry Smith.” Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association, XXIII (July 1919-April 1920), 24.

[15] Ibid., 76.

[16] Stephen F. Austin to Samuel Williams, February 2, 1831. Cited in Barker, Austin Papers, II: B, 594.

[17] David Weber. The Mexican Frontier, 1821-1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico ( Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 75.

[18] Ibid., 76.

[19] J. H. Kuykendall Papers, Center for American History, Austin, Texas.

[20] Smith, Reminiscences, 35.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Smith, Reminiscences, 33-37.

[23] Randolph Campbell, Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 103.

[24] Smith, Reminiscences, 33-37.

[25] Noah Smithwick, The Evolution of a State, or Recollections of Old Texas Days (Austin: Gammel Book Company, 1900). 66-67.

[26] Williams Papers No. 195—Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas.

[27] Mexican Citizen, May 26, 1831.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Anonymous Traveler, 224.

[30] Abner Kuykendall Papers, Center for American History, Austin, Texas.

[31] Thomas Barnett to Stephen F. Austin, Cited in Barker, Austin Papers, II: B, 666-67.

[32] Mexican Citizen, May 26, 1831.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Mary Whatley Clarke, David G. Burnet First President of Texas (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1969), 242.

[36] Mexican Citizen, May 26, 1831.

[37] John Henry Brown, History of Texas, 1685-1892, 2 Vols. (St. Louis: L.E. Daniel Company, 1892-1893), I: 182-182.

[38] Smith, Reminiscences, 36-37.

[39] Smithwick, 66-67.

[40] Michael Muldoon to Stephen F. Austin, November 28, 1831. Cited in Barker, Austin Papers, II: B, 712.

[41] Jose Antonio Mexía to Stephen F. Austin, March 27, 1833. Cited in Austin Papers, II: B, 933.

[42] Miguel Muldoon, Cummunicado. Teja, Gaceta del Gobierno Supremo dei Estado de Coahuila y Texas., May 27, 1833, Ministierio de Fomento, Colonizacion e Indusustria, Archivo General. (West Transcripts, Vol., 759, 27-35, University of Texas).

[43] Carlos Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 7 Vols. (Austin: Von Boeckmann Jones, 1958), Vol. VI: 345.

[44] William Stuart Red, The Texas Colonists and Religion (Austin, E. L. Shettles, 1924), 58.

[45] E.Z. Rather, trans. “Explanation to the Public Concerning the Affairs of Texas” by Stephen F. Austin. Cited in Quarterly of Texas State Historical Association XIII (1904), 249.

[46] Leonre R. Weyland and Houston Wade, An Early History of Fayette County (LaGrange: LaGrange Journal, 1936), 228-29.

[47] Deeds Records, Fayette County, Texas, Book 8, 431-32.

[48] Davis, 11.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Father James Vanderholt, “Padre Miguel Muldoon: The Forgotten Man of Texas History” (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, Nov.-Dec.1993).

[51] Henderson K. Yoakum, History of Texas from its First Settlement in 1685 to its Annexation to the United States in 1846 (New York: Redfi eld, 1856),, 286.

[52] Smith, 34.

[53] Smithwick, 41.

[54] Castañeda, Vol. VI: 348.