Red and Charline McCombs Campus Center

Discover the McCombs Collection at Southwestern

Extensive, unique, free… and unknown to many local history buffs, the Red and Charline McCombs Collection of Frontier Americana quietly awaits discovery on the mezzanine of the McCombs Campus Center at Southwestern University. Hundreds of artifacts span nearly four centuries, mute testimony to exploration, combat, and survival. Mr. McCombs, longtime Texas businessman, philanthropist, and civic leader, gathered the collection throughout his adult life, combining his love of state and country with commitment to education. He comments that “all pieces in my collection… hold a very personal meaning. I look at them and imagine who was using them … and from where they originated.”

Weaponry forms much of the SU collection. Most of the pieces once belonged to strong, rough men who forged lives on this continent, lives that depended on using their weapons effectively. Who first utilized the fifteenth-century Oriental “hand-cannon,” a diminutive oddity, and where? Did European matchlock muskets create sixteenth-century “shock and awe?” What thoughts pushed Spanish conquistadors, protected by flared Morion helmets and wielding swords of Toledo steel, onward in their trek across uncharted plains and mountains? Why was a three-pounder cannon from 1723 hidden in a New Mexico cave until 1946? Did a gentleman surprise an adversary with his English pocket pistol and its wicked little pop-out bayonet? In some cases, only those long gone could answer, yet today’s visitors can look at the artifacts and conjure up imaginary stories:

Red and Charline McCombs' "Collection of Frontier Americana"

Red and Charline McCombs’ “Collection of Frontier Americana”

In the Allegheny Mountains during the American Revolution, an officer gives a patriot soldier furlough papers because he survived a scalping and can now return home. Around the drafty lean-to, light muskets (fusils) and early, well-crafted Pennsylvania flintlocks are neatly stacked. A pair of Prussian pistols taken from a dead Hessian lies atop a wooden box containing Dutch gin. A snub-nosed bronze grenade mortar sits just outside.

Or, eighty years later, somewhere on the northern plains…

Kiowa braves gather tomahawks, axes, and arrows after attacking a wagon train. Fire consumes a wrecked Conestoga, and an errant cinder threatens to light a huge family Bible but dies out. Wind soughs down the ravine as a wizened medicine man chants rhythmically and shakes a buffalo-horn war club.

In addition to implements of war and survival, precious papers record paths to peace. An original manuscript from 1719 formalizes a land grant to native tribesmen in northern Massachusetts. The Treaty of Greenville, 1795, outlines the first official accord between the new republic and natives. Flowing calligraphy penned by a young girl pays tribute to Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. In addition, there’s a copy of Sam Houston’s 1843 treaty with the Caddo tribe.

And there are ubiquitous powder horns, as indispensable in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century life as keys and cell phones are today. Huge, curving supply horns, more than two feet long, were carried by infantry units. Individual horns often showcased the owners’ creativity, scrimshawed (carved) with scenery, maps, details of battles, and names. One inscribed with “George Washington” also names the owner, almost certainly one of Washington’s troops during “Bloody ’77.” Another horn lays out a map of the Hudson River. Another came from the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto.

These treasures and many more are at Southwestern for anyone’s enjoyment, thanks to the McCombs’ generosity. Other artifacts from their collection are displayed in San Antonio at the Institute of Texan Cultures, Bexar County Courthouse, and McCombs Plaza. One special piece, a siege cannon used at the Battle of the Alamo, is now part of the new Briscoe Western Art Museum.


The Campus Center is open throughout the day and evening when Southwestern is in session. Parking is available on the north side of the building.

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