AUSTIN — Alonso de Pineda's 1517 expedition to Texas comes to life in 9-year-old Madeleine Smith's winning fourth-grade entry in the 2011 Save Texas History Texas Travels Essay Contest.
"I jumped into the surf, drew out my sword, and slashed the waves with my sword and claimed the land for the King of Spain," Smith wrote in the imagined perspective of the Spanish explorer who first mapped the Gulf of Mexico.
Madeleine attends John Cooper School in The Woodlands, where she had Lynn Morrison as her fourth-grade teacher.
Madeleine's winning essay earns her four Southwest Airlines round-trip tickets to San Antonio from any destination in Texas, hotel accommodations for two nights and tickets for additional attractions provided by the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said Madeleine's essay included interesting details that taught him something new about the familiar story of the Spanish cartographer's trip, such as the fact that torn sails and barnacles on the hull of de Pineda's ship slowed them down. "Like any great historian, Madeleine included both important and interesting facts to tell de Pineda's story in a lively narrative," Patterson said. "Texas history is exciting, and so was this essay."
Patterson announced the top winners for the statewide essay contest today. Cedar Park's Elena Ivanova, 12, took top honors in the seventh-grade division with her vivid retelling of how 18 Texians stood down an army of 100 Mexican soldiers at the Battle of Gonzales in 1835.
Twenty finalists also won Save Texas History backpacks, a Certificate of Appreciation signed by Commissioner Patterson and a historical map replica from the Land Office Archives Collection.
The Texas Travels Essay Contest is sponsored by the General Land Office Save Texas History program and Southwest Airlines. The contest fulfills the educational mission of the Save Texas History program to promote the study of Texas history and to serve as a teaching resource.
Seventh-graders were asked to write the story of their favorite Texas city, big or small.
Students described the historical significance of the place they chose and gave reasons why it was important to the development of Texas. Fourth-graders were asked to write from the perspective of a well-known explorer.
While all Texas fourth- and seventh-grade students study Texas history, Patterson hopes that asking students to write about the history of places close to their hearts will bring the stories to life. All public, private and home-schooled students of appropriate age for the fourth grade or seventh grade were eligible to participate. Essays for the annual contest were judged on originality of idea, cohesiveness of thought and organization. Proper grammar, spelling and punctuation counted.
The Texas General Land Office Save Texas HistoryTM program is a statewide initiative to rally public support and private funding for the preservation and promotion of more than 35 million historic maps and documents. With the twin goals of preservation and education, the Save Texas History program seeks to conserve these documents for future generations and educate Texans about the rich heritage found in these vital records. For more details, visit www.SaveTexasHistory.org.