View of 19th Century West Campus

West Walk / Guadalupe Street circa 1900

West Walk / Guadalupe Street / View from Old Main circa 1895
Collection of the author.

When I first saw this photograph I didn’t recognize the location in spite of having walked through the area innumerable times over the years.  The wide path across the field, originally known as the West Walk, is now long gone, paved and landscaped.  It is now the West Mall at the University of Texas; one of the busiest places on campus with thousands of students and pedestrians walking through it every day.  The particular stretch of Guadalupe Street seen in the photo is now commonly known as The Drag and its history as the epicenter of celebrations, performances, protests, demonstrations and even tragedy, is intertwined with the history of the Univeristy and its students.

Old Main Building circa 1898

Old Main – University of Texas
Cactus Yearbook 1898

The photograph was taken from one of the upper windows on the west side of the Old Main Building.  For whatever reason the photographer decided to capture what was at the time an unremarkable view — a few footpaths crisscross the walk leading toward Guadalupe Street and the residential area just west of the University.

Guadalupe Street Austin 1895

Guadalupe Street Austin 1895

A moonlight tower (still standing at 22nd & Nueces) is visible on the left.  A few residences on Guadalupe are visible; R.V. Dixon & Co., a feed and grain dealer is on the right near the corner of 23rd Street, which is just visible through the trees.  The Wesleyan Presbyterian Church on San Antonio Street is visible in the background and in the distance, the hills west of the city are on the horizon.  The Vance/Washington murders happened two block to the north on the same street.

Guadalupe Street Austin 1910

Guadalupe Street
Cactus Yearbook 1910

The above photograph from the 1910 Cactus Yearbook shows the same location with significantly more construction and traffic on Guadalupe Street.  Battle Hall was constructed a year later in 1911, Goldsmith Hall followed in 1932, and the Student Union in 1933.

Old Main, arched, spired, and grandiose in the grass lasted until 1934 when it was demolished to make way for a new library.  Meredith Posey, an English instructor, memorialized the end of Old Main with a poem that could have applied to much of 19th Century Austin:

Lone Goth, stalwart, crowded, towering, still in mellow strength undaunted,
Giant of earlier days, strong in thew and sinew,
Age creeps on you, ivy-tendrilled,
Age your headsman’s axe.
Dust of ages long ago clings about you now at last.
You have marched thus far with time, but-
Death awaits you!

Tall-spired buildings snatched from a fire-doomed fall,
Silent–no bells ring, wires are dumb, the steam is off, the rooms are cold,
not a window blinks with light.
You were not made for pavements, patches, and parterres.
Vastness and bluebonnet vista were yours.
The past you served, your vision ever forward.
You die and serve the future so; your death —
A birth and a memory!

Killers come to you with bars and hammers;
They pry, loosen, and throw.
Soon half will be gone, soon all.
Do you hear them changing their Greek and Latin lore?
Are you mourners only the ghosts of ages gone?
That steam shovel shrieking and grunting is digging your grave —
Proudly descend! *


West Mall UT

West Mall UT
Google Maps


Note on dating the photograph: A  label adhered to the back identifies the original photograph as “Austin”.   The moonlight towers were erected in 1895 so the photograph could not be dated earlier than that.  The original photographic print is consistent with those produced by cameras at the turn of the century.  The buildings in the photograph correspond to the 1900 Sanborn map drawings of the same location.  The names of the residences are derived from the 1900 Austin City Directory.

*The Destruction of Old Main


The Austin Axe Man — Chloroform

Once there was a killer in nearby Austin who was still at large.  He had chloroformed his victim (rather humanely, I thought) before chopping her head off with an axe.  Fear that ‘dat debblish axe-man’ might strike again, in only the Lord knew whose house, resulted in some extraordinary precautions.  From the morning Pinkie heard about the axe-man’s method of operation until the day that he was finally trapped — a period of three weeks — she and Annie (her mother) kept full tubs of water inside their front and back doors and in front of the fireplace.  The water, Pinkie explained, would absorb the chloroform in the event the axe-man shot it squirt-gun fashion through the keyholes or down the chimney.  Just to be on the safe side, though, Pinkie confided, ‘Annie, she sets up half de night, and me, I sets up tother.’ (1)

This account of the servant girl murders was told to Edna Turley Carpenter (1872-1965) by her friend Pinkie Sorrel Bonner (1881-1940), probably before 1900, and re-told by Mrs. Carpenter in her memoirs some 60 years later.

The Austin Axe Man made strong impression on young Pinkie even though she was only a small child in 1885.  Although her childhood memories of the events might have been hazy, the account is remarkable for a couple of reasons:  the description of the elaborate safeguards taken against a perpetrator believed to be using chloroform; and the belief that the killer had eventually been caught.

If in Pinkie’s memory — the memory of a young black woman from the end of the 19th century — the Austin Axe Man had been caught, it is likely that it was a memory shared among the African-American community at the time.  Austin’s black population — which had been significantly impacted by the servant girl murders — more so than the white population — might have been more keenly attuned to the possible identity of the perpetrator, whereas in the white community and in the Austin press, the murders were still described as a mystery years afterwards.

Chloroform had been mentioned as possibly being used in the Vance/Washington murders but was never confirmed by the authorities.  I had previously thought the use of chloroform was a far-fetched idea, but I have subsequently come across a number of accounts of its use in crimes, especially robberies, during the 19th century.  It was frequently used to disable victims and allow the perpetrator to escape without being detected, or that was the intent, sometimes it didn’t work as planned.  Chloroform was hard to administer correctly — it was easy to knock someone out but they often regained consciousness if the dose was not sufficient.

Gainesville Chloroform Robbery

Austin Daily Statesman. December 6, 1888.

The following account from 1888 took place in Gainesville, Texas (2) where two men entered a house in an attempted robbery and tried to use chloroform to subdue a sleeping woman whose residence they had cased earlier in the day.  The woman, “felt a cold hand applied to her face and realized, though partially stupefied, that she was being chloroformed. With an effort she struck out with her hand and hit a man.”(3)  This story is typical, the victims were frequently female, the perpetrators were usually seeking an easy target and an easy escape rather than a violent confrontation.  In this instance they were chased off and later apprehended.


(1)  Carpenter, Edna.  Tales from the Manchaca Hills.  New Orleans : Hauser Press, 1960.  p.186

(2)  A double axe-murder was committed in Gainesville, Texas in July 1887 that was so similar to the Austin murders many were convinced it was the work of the same perpetrator.

(3)  6 December 1888.  Austin Daily Statesman.