Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Steamboat Yellowstone

 [Editor's Note:  This is the article I wrote for Wikipedia, but expanded to include notes not appropriate for an encyclopedic article.]

The steamboat Yellowstone (sometimes Yellow Stone) was a paddle steamer (side wheeler) steamboat built in Louisville, Kentucky, for the American Fur Company for service on the Missouri River.  By design, the Yellowstone was the first powered boat to reach above Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River achieving, on her maiden voyage, Fort Tecumseh, South Dakota, on June 19, 1831.(History of South Dakota, Fourth Edition, Revised)  The Yellowstone also played an important role in the Texas Revolution of 1836, crossing the Texas Army under Sam Houston over the swollen Brazos River ahead of Antonio López de Santa Anna's pursuing Mexican Army.

Early career on the Missouri River

The achievements of the Yellowstone along the Missouri River were, at the time, heralded in the press-- garnering the attention of Europeans. The boat represents cutting-edge application of the technology of the time and in the 1830's was famous for that. More than a novelty, the success of the Yellowstone demonstrated the practical and profitable use of steam boat technology on the shallow rivers, able to haul 100 persons, 75 tons of cargo and to do so at speed had obvious economic as well socio-political advantages.

The Yellowstone was built between 1830 and 1831 in Louisville, Kentucky, for the American Fur Company to service the fur trade between Saint Louis, Missouri, and the trading camps along the Missouri River up to the mouth of the Yellowstone River in western North Dakota.  Prior to the Yellowstone, fur traders beyond Council Bluff relied on un-powered keelboats which had to be dragged up-river for supply and then floated downstream with their furs. Beginning in St. Louis, The Yellowstone made her maiden voyage on April 16, 1831 and reached Pierre, South Dakota, on June 19, 1831, six hundred miles farther than any other steamboat,(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 24) dramatically opening the way for regular travel and trade along the upper stretches of the Missouri River.  She returned, fully loaded, to Saint Louis on July 15, 1831.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 24)

The following year, 1832, the Yellowstone reached the mouth of the river for which she was named. That voyage was chronicled by George Catlin.

In 1833, German naturalist Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied, together with Swiss artist Karl Bodmer traveled the Missouri River on board the Yellowstone. That journey was also chronicled in Maximilian's Reise in das Innere Nord-Amerikas. Karl Bodmer's depiction of the Yellowstone struggling over a sand bar may be the most accurate depiction of the steamboat in existence.

Yellowstone, Missouri River steamboat,
depicted as aground on 19 April 1933,
in this 1844 print by Lucas Weber
based on a painting by Karl Bodmer.
In July 1833, the crew of the Yellowstone was overcome by cholera.  Many of the crew, including the firemen, died, and the boat was under threat of being burned by locals afraid of contagion. Leaving famed steamboat captain, then a clerk and pilot, Joseph LaBarge, to hold and protect the boat and its ailing crew, the Yellowstone's captain, Anson G. Bennett, ventured downstream to St. Louis, and soon returned with a new crew.(Chittenden, H. M. History of Early Steamboat Navigation on the Missouri River. New York: Harper., 1903. p. 32.)

From 1831 through 1833, regular runs of the steamboat took advantage of the higher river due to April snow melts and again in June and July by favor of snow melt from the Rocky Mountains. During the winters when ice prevented such travel and late summer when water levels were insufficient for the six foot draft of the vessel, the Yellowstone served the cotton and sugar cane markets along the lower Mississippi River.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 27)  After the final July 1833 run up the Missouri River, the steamboat continued the work along the Mississippi River with Captain John P. Phillips, under new ownership.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 112.)

Model of Steamboat "Yellowstone",
Museum of the Fur Trade, Nebraska, USA

In November 1835, the Yellowstone steamed to New Orleans for a significant refit,(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985, p. 115.) a second boiler was added and much of the wooden components replaced with newer wood.  Meanwhile she was sold yet again and registered by the new owners for trade runs in foreign (specifically, the then Mexican Texas) waters.

Career in Texas Revolution

The Yellowstone's part in the Texas Revolution is well known, perhaps mostly to historians, and much loved by many Texans. No account of the Texas Revolution is complete without at least mention of the role of the Yellowstone.

The steamboat was purchased by Thomas Toby & Brother to focus upon the cotton trade along the Brazos River in Texas, carrying bales from the growers down to Quintana, Texas, on the Gulf Coast.  Departing New Orleans on New Year's Eve, 1835, she was loaded with arms, ammunition and forty-seven volunteers of the Mobile Greys(Puryear, Pamela Ashworth and Nath Winfield Jr., Sandbars and Sternwheelers, Steam Navigation on the Brazos; Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1976.p. 46.) destined to support the Texans in their fight for Independence against Santa Anna.

In late March and early April 1836, despite three Mexican forces under Generals Antonio López de Santa Anna, Antonio Gaona, and José de Urrea all searching for the Texas army along the right bank of the Brazos River, the Yellowstone steamed upstream to continue collecting cotton from the growers. In early April, Santa Anna was camped at San Felipe de Austin, fifteen miles below the yet undiscovered Texas camp near Groce's Landing, while General Gaona was marching southward down the Brazos from the San Antonio Road, leaving the Texans caught between.

On April 2, Sam Houston sent word to the Yellowstone to remain at Groce's Landing, and prepare to assist in crossing the Texas Army.  The captain and crew complied.   On April 12, the Yellowstone began crossing the entire Texas Army, completing the crossing with multiple trips by mid afternoon the following day.   On April 14, as the Texans marched toward Battle of San Jacinto, the Yellowstone, still armored in cotton bales, began her sprint downstream to pass the Mexican camps on her way to the Gulf.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 131.)

With her bell clanging and smoke billowing, the Yellowstone sent many of the Mexican soldiers running in fear, having never known the existence of such a craft as a steamboat.(Pena, Jose Enrique de la, With Santa Anna in Texas, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1975, p.105)  One Mexican soldier is reported to have attempted to lasso her by her smoke stack as others fired on the craft heeding Santa Anna's order to capture the boat for his own crossing.  Santa Anna had already crossed to the left bank, moving toward Harrisburg and had left General Joaquín Ramírez y Sesma on the right bank to attempt capture of the boat. The bullet-ridden stacks represented the only damage the steamboat incurred as she quickly outran her pursuers.(Sowell, Andrew J. History of Fort Bend County. W. H. Coyle & 1964. p. 110.)

As she passed the San Jacinto Battleground soon after that battle. The soldiers on board saluted the place with cheers and rifle fire in honor of the near-sanctity of the place which came to be accepted of it and remains today.

Soon after the Texan's victory at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Yellowstone was waiting nearby and received the wounded Commander in Chief, Sam Houston, the new Republic's interim President David G. Burnet, the captured Santa Anna and forty-seven Mexican prisoners. She was held for a time for the purpose of returning the captive Santa Anna to Mexico, but Santa Anna's return would be delayed many months.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 135.)

Later that year and still in service (then as a packet boat along Buffalo Bayou), the Yellowstone was called upon to take the body of Texas hero, Stephen F. Austin, to burial, and then return mourners along the Brazos River afterward.(Puryear, Pamela Ashworth and Nath Winfield Jr., Sandbars and Sternwheelers, Steam Navigation on the Brazos; Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1976. p. 48.)

Final Disposition

Despite strong evidence that the steamboat had returned to her birthplace along the Ohio River in the Summer of 1837, Texans hold tight to the almost certainly spurious tale that she sank and remains at rest in Buffalo Bayou, near Houston. The machine is an anthropomorphized symbol for the Texas identity. Originating in the old pioneer west and coming to Texas to take part in the fight against the tyranny and tame a hostile land, the Yellowstone is seen as "one of us" by Texans, and to admit that her final resting place is other than within Texas is simply inappropriate, even if true. Those settlers who came to fight for Texas, stayed or died in Texas, so the regional legend will probably remain.

The ultimate fate of the Yellowstone is not recorded. Texas legend is that she sank in Buffalo Bayou in 1837; however, no record of such an end exists. A record does exist stating that a steamboat by that name passed through the Louisville and Portland Canal on the Ohio River, in the summer of 1837.(Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985. p. 147.) The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library in San Antonio, contains a brass bell purported to be that of the Yellowstone.

The Bell

The bell mentioned as being generally accepted as that of the Yellowstone is in the collection of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library on the grounds of the Alamo has a legend attached to it mentioned in Jackson's book. The top of the bell is broken and missing pieces. The folklore is that the missing piece was sent to Philadelphia in hopes that the metal might be used to repair the Liberty Bell.  There is no source for that folklore.  However, that the bell is accepted, without evidence, by Texans as belonging to the Yellowstone, that her final resting place, also without evidence, is held by Texans to be near San Jacinto, and that folklore declares a kinship with the Liberty Bell -- all indicate the affection and therefore prominence of this boat's history for many.

Photo Credit: Ernesto Rodriguez, III,
Assistant Curator, The Alamo


Displacement: 144 tons
Length: 120 ft (37 m) or 130 ft (40 m)
Beam: 20 ft (6.1 m) or 19 ft (5.8 m)
Depth: 6 ft (1.8 m) or 5.5 ft (1.7 m)
Decks: Three: Hold, Main Deck and Boiler Deck.
Installed power: 1 boiler, as built; refitted with two boilers in 1835.
Propulsion: Two 18 ft (5.5 m) paddlewheels
Capacity: 75 tons, 72 passengers, and 22 crew.
Crew: 22

Several web sites indicate the Yellowstone to have been 130 feet in length-- but there is no source which I have been able to discover to support that dimension. It is for that reason, that the sourcing is doubled-- Jackson's transcription of the original order on page 160, being the most sound evidence of the correctness of the 120 foot dimension.

Puryear gives 122 feet, which is likely the main deck rather than the hull. The deck was to extend 18" beyond the superstructure (sides and rear, by examination of images), and it may be that the rear extension was beyond the hull, and the remaining 6" perhaps at the bow where the keel rises to the main deck.

Further reading

* Jackson, Donald, Voyages of the Steamboat Yellow Stone, New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1985.
* Chappell, P. E., A History of the Missouri River, Kansas State Historical Society Pub. Vol. IX, p. 282
* Cushing S. W., Wild Oats Sowing, Daniel Fanshaw, New York 1857.
* Puryear, Pamela Ashworth and Nath Winfield Jr., Sandbars and Sternwheelers, Steam Navigation on the Brazos; Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 1976.
* Moore, Stephen L. Eighteen Minutes the Battle of San Jacinto and the Texas Independence Campaign. Dallas: Republic of Texas, Distributed by National Book Network, 2004.

External links

* Steamboat Times - Steamboats 1830-1839
* Riverboat Dave's - The 1830 Yellowstone
* Riverboat Dave's - Alphabetical listing with notes
* Riverboat Dave's hosted article by Robert L. Dyer, A Brief History of Steamboating on the Missouri River
* HistoryNet's Steam Boat Yellow Stone Aided General Sam Houston and the Texas Revolution
* Ken Stach's article on the Yellowstone
*'s This Day In History - March 26, 1832
* Roots Web hosted article, Captain Joseph LaBarge
* Handbook of Texas Online article Yellowstone
* Phillip E. Chappell's Listing of Steamboats Operating on the Missouri River
* Texas Almanac's article, The Yellow Stone
* Celtic Cowboy's Texas Revolution pages
* Iowa History Project's Steamer Yellowstone Ascends Big Muddy in 1831
* Ronald Howard Livingston's The Steamboat Yellow Stone" The Lil' Steamer That Could
* Texas A & M University's Short Memoirs & Sketches from Old Texians

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gaona's Mexican Brigade from Bastrop to San Felipe

According to Wikipedia's Timeline of the Texas Revolution...

April 15 (1836): General Antonio Gaona is ordered to abandon his occupation of Mina and reinforce Santa Anna. 

That cannot be.

Some notes:
  • March 25, 1836 : The orders from Santa Anna for Gaona to head to San Felipe (instead of Nacogdoches) were issued from San Antonio de Bexar, and before Santa Anna had left Bexar, but several days after Gaona had traveled up the SAR toward Bastrop. 
  • March 28 :  Approximate date Gaona crossed the Colorado into Bastrop/Mina (from Noah Smithwick's account).  This is a likely date for the new orders to have reached Gaona.
  • April 5 : Approximate date Gaona and his Brigade departed Mina, since we read that Gaona was "delayed eight days" in Mina/Bastrop (Urrea's diary).  This is also the same day that Santa Anna crossed the Colorado far below-- and coordinated crossings of the three columns (Gaona, Ramirez y Sesma, and Urrea) seems to have been intended.
  • Between (about) April 5 and April 17, we have Santa Anna's comments that Gaona was "lost in the desert" between Bastrop/Mina and San Felipe. 
  • April 17 : We know that Gaona and his Brigade arrived in San Felipe de Austin (Filisola's diary). 

A Brigade carrying cannon and 40 days supply, as the First Infantry was, is expected to march 12 miles each day-- not including becoming lost -- and requires suitable military roads to accomplish that (which Gaona did not have once he left the SAR).

Assuming Gaona followed the San Antonio Road from Mina/Bastrop to the Brazos and then picked his route down river to San Felipe and losing at least two scouts to the Rangers in the effort (Rusk and Houston to Major Williamson dispatch), the twelve day journey (April 5 to 17) is reasonable-- even probable.

Another possible route was Gotier's Trace from Bastrop to San Felipe.  Two reasons this is not likely:

1) Given the wet weather that Spring, Cummins Creek would have forced the army to detour considerably north, perhaps to Giddings, before finding suitable crossing; and thus to the La Bahia Road which then headed northeast to Washington on the Brazos.

2) That two of Gaona's scouts were captured by the Ranger unit based out of Washington on the Brazos, on April 6th, and given that the Rangers would have stayed between Houston's Army encamped below and the Mexican Army, then Gaona must have been north of Washington on the Brazos-- giving credence to the assumption that Gaona's Brigade remained on the SAR until reaching the Brazos and them followed the river to San Felipe.

It is to speculate that Gaona may not have been so much lost as he was hesitant. If two or more of his forward scouts never returned, Gaona may well have assumed that was due to contact with the enemy.  It was-- a detachment of Tumlinson's Rangers (under Major Williamson at the time), but for all Gaona knew, that enemy contact may have been the main Texas forces.  Furthermore, the ranger's capture of the Mexican scouts indicates that the ranger company knew exactly where Gaona's army was.

There is more drama in the troop movements of Gaona's Brigade then most realize.  Of the three Mexican columns pursing Houston's Army, Gaona's was, unknowingly, the only column to march straight for the Texans hidden on the banks of the Brazos.  Had the steamboat Yellowstone not been available to Houston to cross, the two armies may have met there on the Brazos, as Gaona passed the Texan camp only about two days after it had been abandoned.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bastrop County Headright Maps

These are three maps of Bastrop County, Texas, head-right surveys which are presented in digital format:

  • Von Rosenberg Map of Bastrop, 1881
  • F.M. Douglas' 1899 Survey of Bastrop County
  • County sponsored Map of Bastrop Count of 1929

The maps are in multiple sections and Google Earth overlays (in .kmz format) for each map may be downloaded at the links provided in the accompanying descriptions.

Please note:  Most of the images are very large.  The .kmz files which will open Google Earth are small.  However, when a map section is selected in Google Earth, it will download each large image and overlay it in its proper location.  If this presents a problem let me know and I may be able to supply lower resolution images for you to download.

Von Rosenberg Map of Bastrop, 1881

Von Rosenberg's map is quite beautiful, and shows headright boundaries, creeks and the river; all of which are named.  Headrights of the Austin Colony are outlined in blue.

I purchased a full sized print of this historic map from the Texas General Land Office and then scanned it, using software to knit it together into a single unit and then break it back down into nine pieces in a 3 by 3 grid for use as a .kmz file (a Google Earth overlay which you may download here).  As follows:

Top row, left to right (northwest to northeast):
north central
Middle row, left to right (middle west to middle east):
middle western
middle central
middle eastern
Bottom row, left to right (Bottom west to bottom east):
south central
south eastern

F.M. Douglas' 1899 Survey of Bastrop County

The 1899 Survey Map of Bastrop County, Texas, shows headrights, creeks, the river, elevation, and then existing roads and railways, but does not include the southern-most portion of Bastrop County.  Additionally, like a fire map, structures are indicated.  Due to the rectangular section format, it includes detailed coverage of parts of Travis, Williamson and Lee Counties.  Gotier Trace (a.k.a., Gocher Trace, and other variants, which was also then referred to locally as "the stage road") and the San Antonio Road are of particular note.

It is, like the map above, laid out in a 3 by 3 grid, and available as a .kmz (Google Earth overlay, which you may download here) as follows:

 Top Row:
Bastrop 1A

Bastrop 1B

Bastrop 1C
Middle Row:
Bastrop 2A

Bastrop 2B

Bastrop 2C
Lower Row:
Bastrop 3A

Bastrop 3B

Bastrop 3C

 County sponsored Map of Bastrop Count of 1929

An inverse blueprint map commissioned by the county dated 1929, indicating headrights, roads, railways, streams and the river.  The survey includes greater detail in names, sub-divisions, and acreage than the other maps.  The original image was taken from a composite of skewed camera angles, but has been digitally flattened for a more uniform presentation.  The sections are in 5 unequal rows totaling 20 images.  This too, is available as a .kmz (Google Earth overlay, which you may download here).

First row in four sections:




Second row in five sections:





Third row in five sections:




Fourth row in five sections:




Fifth row in a single section: 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Second Lieutenant George M. Petty - another view.

George M. Petty was elected Second Lieutenant to the first detachment of Texas Ranger Corps from Mina (Bastrop) Texas, (a.k.a., "Tumlinson's Rangers") by the Provisional Government of the Republic of Texas.  His commission date is reported by various sources as 28-Nov-1835, but the minutes of the proceedings of the Laws of Texas give the date of the vote as 1-Dec-1835.

When the Runaway Scrape began, Captain Tumlinson and the 1st Lieutenant Rogers, with several other men of the unit provided protection for the families fleeing the advancing Mexican Army, beginning at Bastrop. This left Lt. Petty, essentially a supply clerk, in command of the remaining combat unit.

Said unit consisted of spies, or "scouts" in the modern parlance, probing the advancing Mexicans while guarding the rear of Houston's still retreating Texan Army. Their orders were to form with other units behind the main Texan Army.   From correspondence between Sam Houston and Robert McAlpin Williamson (a.k.a., "three-legged-Willie"), Major, commanding the Ranger units, we know that Petty was commanding the unit just before San Jacinto, that his Rangers had captured Mexican soldiers and the unit was keeping a half-dozen of the men out on constant patrol.

(See original, transcribed below:)

April 7th, 1836
To General Houston,
Since writing this morning by Major [Robert] Barr, I realized that I omitted stating to you that one of our spies, Daniel Gray, returned last night. He gives information of a chase given him by a party of mounted men, in number eight, supposed by him to be Mexicans. I think he is mistaken. Five men are still out in the same direction and well mounted and have had time to report. I take them to be a party of your spies that have given chase. In a few hours we will know the truth.
Yours ably,
R M Williamson, Maj .
P.S. Write me [immediately?] upon receipt of this. A Mr. Henry* told me you wished me to come down [to see?] you. I have no acquaintance with this Henry and think you would have written me to that effect if [imploring?]. Williamson 

The dispatch sent from Sam Houston and Thomas Rusk earlier that day and alluded to at the beginning of the one quoted above, indicates for us Sam Houston's rage that some of the prisoners brought in by the unit's spies had been killed in the camp at night by members of the same unit who had gotten drunk (a fact which is, suspiciously, not mentioned by self-promoting unit member Noah Smithwick in his chronicle of those days "Evolution of a State").

Williamson is summonsed to join Houston, which Major Williamson does, and uses as his "excuse" for staying with the Texan Army up through the Battle of San Jacinto in which he fought as a private.  Williamson's reply to Houston includes mention of one unit member, Daniel Gray, as the unit scouts probe the approaching Mexican Army.

In that book, Smithwick also pleads it was circumstance, but not a lacking in personal desire which kept him from action. However, he recollects no instance of one of his brothers in arms' combat death against the Mexicans two days before Smithwick mustered out.

From Gray Joshua

 Joshua Gray was the son of the Daniel Gray mentioned in the Williamson to Houston dispatch, above.  Still, Smithwick is quite disparaging of  Lt. Petty, recounting how Petty tore up his commission in response to a certain private chiding him about how officers would be treated by Mexican forces if captured:

There was an old fellow, John Williams, in our squad, who had been through several revolutions, from which he had derived a holy horror of Spanish methods of warfare, and he so worked upon the natural timidity of our commanding officer, that, he saw a Mexican soldier in every bush. He actually tore up his commission, lest it be found on him, and condemn him to certain death. I cursed him for a coward then; but, looking back at it now and remembering that Houston was bitterly denounced as a coward for pursuing the only course that could have saved Texas, I am fain to confess that what we hotheads sneered at as cowardice in Lieutenant Petty, was really commendable caution. Had Grant and Ward and King been of the same temperament, the lives of themselves and their followers would not have been so uselessly sacrificed. Ignorant of the whereabouts of either friend or foe, knowing that Gaona was behind us, and surmising that Santa Anna was between us and Houston, we had good reason to feel timid.

After the Battle of San Jacinto, George Petty is next seen at San Jacinto auditing and appraising the claim of Moses Davis' shotgun which that solider lost during the battle two days before (audited claim #4293).  Two months later, Petty is still shown in public record as commanding the Ranger Corps, in the absence of the Captain and the 1st Lieutenant.  In July while awaiting the approval of his resignation eventually back-dated to March (Republic audited claim #904 concerning Henry Redfield). One assumes that the intentionally torn commission papers resulted in discipline and thus a "resignation" in March even though he continued to lead the troops up to and beyond San Jacinto.

In August, as Assisting Quartermaster, he is at Cayce's Crossing (likely, "Canes Crossing") on the Colorado near Matagorda (claim #1202).

In October, he is present in Columbia under the same posting of Assisting Quartermaster, when Sam Houston was inaugurated as the President of the Republic (#876).   In December of 1836, perhaps still as assisting quartermaster, George Petty is found in Matagorda appraising damages done to a ship on behalf of R. R. Royall (a man who had been, essentially, the Republic's procurement officer).

At present, I have found no further record of the young Lieutenant.

* Williams probably is referring to either Charles M. Henry or Robert Henry.  Both of those men were present with the Texan Army then with Houston.  Colonel Henry Raguet is another possibility.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Web Research for the Republic of Texas

Here are some of the best sites for web research.  Y9ou can find family or get lost for hours reading whatever you may stumble across:

  • Texas State Library and Archives Commission - Search for documents, images and more here.
  • Texas Republic Claims - This is where you can find documents related to a specific name.
  • TSHA Online - Texas History Online, the entrance page with lots of good links
  • Handbook of Texas Online -  Part of the above, but the search page for the encyclopedia-like handbook.
  • Texas History Links - to primary source documents.
  • Portal to Texas History - It is huge!  The University of North Texas' archive ranging from the big basic stuff to minutia that nobody will ever bother to look for!  They have it. 
  • General Land Office - These records give the survey documents for First-Headright land grants, Bounties, and Donations-- the "keys to the kingdom" regarding being a son or daughter of the Republic.  SAVE THIS LINK!  You will use it often in research and the GLO site makes it very difficult to find.
  • Texas Historical Commission -  Very useful search engine on topics which the Historical Commission has a hand in.  These are the folks who do the bronze markers of historical sites.  The search engine and mapping system is archaic for web standards, but the detail of the date is worth often better here than elsewhere.  For example, the THC will pinpoint historic locations that otherwise are only known by the public as in a general area.

Let me know your favorites, please?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Texas Ranger Gear, circa 1836

Jim Gray provides this fine piece concerning the typical gear carried by the Texas Ranger Corps, circa 1836:

Possibles Bag:
To the upper left is a "possibles bag," a hunting pouch common to black powder shooters.  The bags carried such items as:
  • Balls, 
  • Patches, 
  • Small flask of oil, 
  • Caps/flints, 
  • Ball-starter and Patch knife,
  • Vent pick and sweep. 
Bullet Board:
Beside the Possibles Bag you will see a "bullet board" which hung around one's neck and which held pre-lubed and patched bullets. These were the frontier version of a "speed loader."

Powder-Horn and Powder Measure:
The claw-like object to the right of the bag and beside the powder horn, would be a home-made powder measure for the right amount of powder charge for a given gun. 

Ammo Bag:
Rangers would also carry bullet bags of extra ammo as well as additional ammunition and items in saddlle bags including rag to keep the guns clean.  Black powder guns had to be kept very clean because of the corresivenes and built up residue of the powder.

This is a example of a period artillery sword, a sample of this copy was found at San Jacinto.  Based of Republic of Texas Claims records, Captain J.J. Tumlinson, Jr., is known to have carried a sword while leading the 1st Detachment of the Texas Ranger Corps.

Top Rifle:  
A Kentucky Long Rifle-- an example of early American technology which exceeded that available to the Mexican army.  The Kentucky long rifle, because of the rifled barrel, had a tremendous advantage over smooth bore rifles in both accuracy and distance. American Marksmanship was a valued and prized quality amongst folks on the frontier-- necesary for
defense and for hunting.

Lower Rifle:
The Hawkins Mountain rifle was the next step in technology.  Shortly after the Revolution the Percussion cap ordinance made its way to Texas.  The rife is a little shorter than the Kentucky Long Rife, but was rifled.  The percussion cap technology offered not only the advantage of speed and precision, but also a much more reliable firing.  Gunsmiths did a good business, beginning around 1840, converting flintlocks guns to accept percussion caps.

Shotgun, Double-barreled. 
This model uses a percussion cap, but Flintlocks were used too. Buck Travis, a Calvery Officer at the Alamo, was known for carrying such a gun. Shotguns of the period were muzzle-loaders. Almost every frontiersman had one for hunting, but in the hands of a miltary organization it was a devistating short-range weapon. The shotgun was a favorite weapon of calvary troops (and Rangers) for fighting from horseback beginning with the War of 1812 and continuing through the Civil War.

While most associate the Colt Revolver with the Texas Rangers, that weapon did not come on the scene until after 1842.   These early Rangers supplied their own weapons and those who carried pistols carried single-shot muzzel-loaders  Samples of the flintlock and percussion cap types are shown.

Obviously a short range weapon, the Texas Rangers often carried more than one pistol on their person and / or on their horse.  Edward Burelson was known to have "horse holsters" for his pistols in front of his sadlle.  Pistols during the Revolution were fairly rare.  After the Battle of San Jacinto, captured pistols were prized by the Rangers and orders for more from the states began.  Eventually, pistols became regular issue to both Rangers and Army units.

Tomahawks and Hatchets:
These were often carried by the Ranger. Used for close-quarter fighting, they were well known to the Americans from their previous experience with Indians fights.  Sam Houston placed an order for tomahawks to be supplied to his Texas Army.

Bowie knives, hunting knives, and butcher knives-- any one would do.  Like hatchets, they were both tools and weapons and were most frequently designed and made by local smiths.  Most of these were carried, sheathed in leather at the rear of the belt.  The Bowie Knife can be distinguished by its second edge, short and curved, opposite the main blade.  Many Texans note the irony that Bowie Knives are now illegal in the Lone Star State.

- - - - - - -

James D. Gray, is a Son of the Republic of Texas, US Navy veteran, author and enthusiastic researcher of Texas History (in particular, the 1st Detachment of the Texas Ranger Corps known as Tumlinson's Rangers and of Robert McAlpin Williamson-- "Three Legged Willie--" Major and Commander of the Revolution period Texas Rangers)A third cousin to this blogger, we both share a great-great grandfather, Thomas Gray, and his father, Daniel Gray, as an ancestor.  Daniel, Thomas and Thomas younger brother, Joshua all served in the Tumlinson's Rangers.  Joshua Gray fell, in combat, six days after the Battle of San Jacinto.

Some of Jim's published research can be found online:
From the Handbook of Texas Online: Daniel Gray
From the Ranger Dispatch Magazine: Robert McAlpin Williamson and
the book: Maritime Terror

Editor's notes:
Not pictured, but one major piece of equipment which had to be supplied by any Ranger was his own horse.

In 1836, Texas Rangers with prior military service had that training through Indian fighting, or from the War of 1812.  In either case, the combination of a Kentucky Long Rifle and a horse was a proven successful use of men who had learned to live on the frontier and the Ranger Corps was specifically designed to employ mounted sharpshooters as scouts (spies), trackers and skirmishers.

In units of about thirty, these men regularly engaged the enemy being vastly outnumbered.  Bravery, tenacity and purpose were typical character traits--common traits of family men living on the frontier-- common out of necessity.

-- WCG

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Google Earth Overlay Files (kmz) for Republic of Texas

Here are some overlays for Google Earth.
If you are not familiar with overlays, download and open any (.kmz) files below in Google Earth. The object contained within the overlay will be superimposed over the satellite image in the proper location on the globe.

Bastrop Von Rosenberg Map - Von Rosenberg's 1881 Bastrop County Headright Map Overlay in 9 sections. This is a scan from my own full size print (22,309 KB).

A copy of this map is available at the Texas General Land Office.

Bastrop County Land Survey Headrights -This folder and contents are from a 1929 Map, showing original land grants as well as property owners at the time the map was produced. Source from in 22 sections (31,266 KB).

Travis County 1861 Land Survey - A low-resolution image (only 553 KB) of the head-rights of the early settlers in Travis County which is present day Austin. I enjoy noting that the visible-from-anywhere-in-Austin "antenna farm" near the Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360) and Lake Austin was on the land originally granted to my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Gray. He immediately traded that headright. It is perfect country club gold course property now, but back in his day, it was worthless for farming and far too remote for a residence (553 KB).

Republic of Texas - Places and Landmarks - Locations of landmarks and places in the Republic of Texas found mentioned in Smithwick, Jenkins, Filisoloa, Urrea, and other period accounts. (8,907 KB)

Cottle Fort Location - a 60' square land feature-- either the remains of the fort or at the very least, very near to the site. (1 KB)

Gotier's Trace - In 1831 James Gotier marked off a trail from the absolute-western-most-frontier town of Bastrop to San Felipe. This "path" overlay indicates the original route of the trace through Bastrop County as of 1899. At that time, the trace was known, locally as "the stage road." The original trace is very near the current roads now in existence. (1 KB).

NOTE: In this part of Texas, there are two principle natural paths. First and most obvious from overhead views such as satellites, are water courses, whether creeks or rivers. Second, and not obvious at all unless one is actually in the terrain, are the flat high-ground deer trails between the water courses. In each case, the underlining limestone is the cause. The limestone is the skeletal remains of ancient coral reefs which were mostly flat. In the case of water courses, these have cut through the limestone leaving canyons consummate in size and proportionate to the water flow. A trail following a water course would typically be a few feet above the water, following the easy grade.

As to the high ground between the water courses-- and many springs exist in the Bastrop area-- the limestone's natural flatness provides a hard surface with little topsoil at the highest points. The great "Comanche Trail" through this part of Texas followed the Colorado River along the cliffs.

The "usual Indian trail" mentioned by Noah Smithwick can be identified by the route of the nearest significant stream from his reference point of Reuben Hornsby's Place. In that case, it is Walnut Creek where it empties into the Colorado River. To confirm this, one can follow Walnut Creek upstream to its headwaters and, in doing so, will find it arrives at the very place where the Texas Rangers in Bastrop had traveled to build a fort (Tumlinson's Fort) to detect Indian movements threatening Bastrop. Over a Century later, US Interstate 35 would be constructed very nearly parallel to this ancient trail. Likewise, the Missouri Pacific Railroad would also follow this feature, just a bit further west.