Bracket Buster Stephen F. Austin: BORN IN WYTHE COUNTY

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WYTHEVILLE, Va. – According to ESPN, 91.2% of all NCAA Tournament brackets had the West Virginia Mountaineers beating Stephen F. Austin State University in the first round of NCAA championship playoffs.

The Mountaineers, who were runner-ups in the Big XII Conference, came into the first round heavily favored over the Southland Conference’s SFA Lumberjacks.

Unfortunately for WVU Coach Bob Huggins’ “Press Virginia” squad, the Lumberjacks of Nacogdoches, Texas, forced the Mountaineers to turn the ball over 22 times, advancing to round two of the NCAA Tournament by a decisive 70-56 victory over the Mountain State’s flagship university.

As the nation’s basketball fans find themselves asking the question, “Who is Stephen F. Austin?” tourism leaders in Wythe County, Virginia, are eager to step up and offer an answer!

Stephen F. Austin was born on the banks of the New River in November 1793, in the Wythe County community of Austinville, Virginia.

The son of early pioneers, Austin’s family eventually moved to Missouri before relocating in the largely unsettled expanse of Texas.

Stephen’s father had hopes of colonizing the region in the days ahead, however, he died in 1821 having never realized his dream of settling the vast territory known as “Tejas.”

Persuaded by a letter from his mother, Wythe County native, Stephen F. Austin set out to fulfill his father’s dream. Under Austin’s leadership, the Texas colony grew from three-hundred to over 11,000 by 1832.

Soon the colonists found themselves in a state of war with the Mexican government, the same nation that had originally encouraged them to settle the land. Austin briefly commanded Texan forces in late 1835. Under his leadership, colonists secured a decisive victory near modern-day San Antonio, during the Siege of Bexar.

In the spring of 1836, Texas’ sovereignty was officially recognized and the war for Texas independence was over.

Austin was appointed to serve as the independent nation’s first secretary of state. Tragically, Austin would serve only two months in this position before dying unexpectedly – after catching a severe cold in December 1836. The Wythe County native’s last words were, “The independence of Texas is recognized!” Upon hearing of Austin’s death, President Houston ordered an official statement proclaiming: “The Father of Texas is no more; the first pioneer of the wilderness has departed.”

Nearly two decades ago, local citizens in Wythe County, with help from donors in Texas, erected a marble monument on the banks of the New River in Austinville, Virginia, recognizing the Father of Texas’ birthplace.

“The monument is truly one of the most beautiful sites in all of Southwest Virginia,” said Wythe County Tourism Director Jeremy Farley. According to Farley, many of the original caretakers of the private-monument are aging and no longer capable of maintaining the memorial. “Earlier this year, we issued a call to a new generation of county residents to take the lead on keeping the site up – the response has been overwhelming.”

The State of Texas recently donated a Texas flag to the monument that flew over the Texas Statehouse and Farley said Congressman Morgan Griffith’s office has donated an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol Building; Delegate Jeff Campbell has secured a Virginia flag as well.

“The Stephen F. Austin Memorial is just one of many historic Wythe County gems – the Fincastle Resolutions were signed just a handful of miles from the monument: a document that is said to have been an inspiration for the Declaration of Independence,” concluded the county’s tourism director.

Individuals interested in learning more about restoration efforts of the Stephen F. Austin Birthplace Memorial in Wythe County are encouraged to contact Jeremy Farley (276-223-4522 or wythepio@wytheco.org).

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