Sunday, February 12, 2012

Decimus et Ultimus Barziza (1838-1882)

Portrait from the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, April 1963.

   This wonderfully named character is Decimus et Ultimus Barziza, a 19th century Texas resident who gained distinction as a soldier, author, lawyer and member of the Texas State House of Representatives. When I first stumbled across this intriguingly named figure a few years ago, there were very few resources online that mentioned him at any great length. I'm pleased to report that the above fact has now changed, and one of these newly discovered resources (an archived April 1963 edition of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly) gives an excellent overview on Barziza's short life and how he received his odd name.
   The story behind Barziza's unique name begins in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was born on September 4, 1838. He was the son of an Italian immigrant and Viscount named Filippo Ignacio Barziza and his Canadian wife, Cecilia Amanda Bellett. Decimus's father settled in Williamsburg, Virginia around 1820 and thereafter had a family that consisted of 9 children. In 1838 a tenth child was born, and after doing some celebrating with friends, Filippo realized that he had no idea what to name his newborn son. A friend who was with him humorously suggested the name of "Decimus et Ultimus" (which literally translates to "tenth and last" in Latin) and the elder Barziza decided to bestow that very name upon his son!
   Young Decimus studied at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and graduated from here in 1857. He removed to Texas with three of his brothers shortly after leaving college and once settled, began the study of law at Baylor University. He earned his law degree in 1859 and shortly thereafter removed to Owensville, Texas in the hopes of opening a law practice.
  Barziza's career as a lawyer was put on hold at the outbreak of the Civil War. Soon after the hostilities broke out, he joined up with the Confederate Army and served with the Fourth Texas Infantry. He later became a first lieutenant and served under the command of Gen. John Bell Hood. Barziza eventually became a Captain under Hood and saw action at the Battles of Manassas and Gettysburg. On July 2, 1863, he was wounded at the latter battle and was captured by the Union Army, spending the next few months as a prisoner of war in a camp hospital in Ohio. In 1864, Barziza and a number of other Confederate prisoners were being transferred by train to Point Lookout, Maryland, when he made good his escape by leaping through one of the train's windows.
  In the weeks following his escape, Barziza gradually made his way to Canada and would eventually manage to sneak back into the United States. After resettling in Texas in 1865, he published a memoir of his wartime experiences, entitled The Adventures of a Prisoner of War, and Life and Scenes in Federal Prisons: Johnson's Island, Fort Delaware and Point Lookout. One should also note that Barziza didn't publish these memoirs under his own name, but rather the pseudonym "An Escaped Prisoner of Hood's Texas Brigade".

            This 1870s portrait of Barziza appears on the Legislative Reference Library of Texas website.

   In the years following the war, Barziza established his law practice and within a few years became known as one of the premier criminal lawyers in Texas. He made his first jump into politics in 1873, winning election to the Texas State House of Representatives from Harris County. He proved to be busy as a first-term legislator, being named to the committees on Asylums, Commerce and Manufactures, Congressional Districts,  Constitutional Amendments, Education, Internal Improvements, Judicial Districts, State Affairs and the Texas Central Railroad. He would also chair the committee on Public Lands and Land Office. Barziza was reelected to the legislature in 1876 and served until August 2nd of that year when he resigned his seat due to a clash with the House's majority party over a piece of legislation. 
  Barziza continued with his very lucrative law practice in the years following his stint in the legislature, and was also one of the founders (and later Chairman) of the Houston Land and Trust Company. In 1878 he name was boosted by the Houston Age as a potential candidate for Lieutenant Governor, but nothing came of it. He died of an undisclosed illness in Houston, Texas on January 30, 1882, at age 44, and was subsequently buried in the Glendale Cemetery in Houston.
    This Ripley's Believe It Or Not write up on Barziza was published in 1965 in the Albuquerque Journal.

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