Bush brings piece of the past to Liberty Hill Intermediate School
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Liberty Hill fifth graders got a special visitor recently to help them through a map reading lesson, someone who spends a lot of time with Texas maps, ensuring they are well preserved and remain a vital part of the state’s history.
George P. Bush, the Commissioner of the General Land Office, made Liberty Hill Intermediate School his 31st of 50 stops he has planned around the state as part of his “Year of Education” initiative.
“I have a personal interest in Texas history and it’s reflected in my prioritization of what we’re doing at the Alamo,” Bush said. “This legislative session we made a historic investment as Texans in public education and since our agency provides more than $2 billion per year for education I felt it was important that instead of just writing the check, why not actually be in the classrooms?”
The lesson included reading details of the map and listing a variety of observations as Bush – the nephew of the 43rd President and grandson of the 41st President – took the students through three phases of discovery.
“There are a lot of interesting facts to this map you will not see in the modern day,” Bush, a Republican, said to the students as they studied the map, urging them to inspect every detail.
Bush often led with questions, creating an engaging exchange as the students explored the map for clues that would lead to answers about the mystery of the nearly 200-year-old map.
Making his way to more than a dozen tables – each one surrounded by students – Bush spent time with each group, discussing with them the key features and what they learned from studying it.
“I love the kids because you can tell in their eyes that they have an imagination about history and about this state, which is completely unique,” Bush said. “My job teaching Texas history is very easy because it’s so unique and so rich. The kids have a curiosity and sometimes as we get older we lose that curiosity.”
Points of the lesson included speculation on the purpose of the map, noting the commodities shown, battle sites, settlements and handwriting added later.
“This map is taking on a lot of different issues, right?” Bush said to the students as they discussed the variety of potential uses. “It was commissioned by the Mexican government, surveyed mostly by a Mexican general, so there’s a military purpose to the map. The publisher is based in Philadelphia. Philadelphia, back in 1830, was probably the most populated city in all of America at the time. This was clearly a map trying to bring in more colonists to Mexican Texas to settle.”
As the mystery of the map was solved, he shared with the students the importance of preservation efforts, something he prioritizes as caretaker of more than 50,000 maps and the state’s historic icon – the Alamo.
“We’re seeing history deteriorate just by the effect of time and we’re definitely seeing that at the Alamo where Texas A&M conducted an archeological study that showed the long barracks is being impacted just by noise and vehicular traffic with its foundation deteriorating,” Bush said. “There’s a lot of work across the spectrum, whether it’s maps or archives or physical structures in Texas.”
He had one more special piece of history to share with the students, a surprise that made everyone light up at the end.
“One of my most important roles as land commissioner is that I’m the day-to-day manager of the most important site in Texas State history, it’s the most visited site in the state,” Bush said. “One of my first tasks as land commissioner was to excavate and preserve the church and long barracks, which are two of the original eight buildings left.”
The history he held in his hand came directly from that recent excavation.
“As part of the excavation we found over 20 canons that were used in the battle of the Alamo,” Bush said. “Those canons we took to Texas A&M and they restored all of them, and in one of those cannons they found an unfired cannon ball. We think that this cannonball was used by the Mexican troops against the Texians on that day and that the Texians took that round and inserted it back in the cannon that we then discovered more than 150 years later.”
The students were invited to come up and hold the four and a half pound iron cannonball, enjoying the rare chance to hold history in their hands.
“I love that aspect of (sharing the cannonball) because I love cheating up and telling the kids I have a surprise for them and it really is,” Bush said.