© 1997-2004, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.
Life in the DeWitt Colony-Index

DeWitt Colony Life

Future DeWitt Colony 1700-1825. Prior to colonization, the life style and economy of the area of Texas that became the DeWitt Colony was that of New Spain comprised of the rancho, the commodity was wild free ranging longhorns, the worker the vaquero, the mode of transportation the tamed mesteña (mustang) which were seeded from stock left by numerous Spanish settlement expeditions called entradas in the 17th and 18th centuries. The trade of livestock gathered from roundups was regulated and a source of tax income for the government.

Upper South Hunters and Farmers. DeWitt Colonists from the Upper South of the western frontiers of the United States at Old Station on the Lavaca found themselves originally on the coastal plains of Texas equipped with hunting skills and horticultural techniques far different than those for the ranching and livestock industry described above. Noah Smithwick in The Evolution of a State or Recollections of Old Texas Days describes the situation at Old Station where he arrived in Texas before going on to the Austin Colony.  Author James T. DeShields relates a letter from Noah Smithwick in 1899:

The venerable pioneer, Noah Smithwick who visited Witt's Colony in the summer of 1828, in a letter to the author from his last home at Santa Anna, California, a few months before his death (Oct. 21, 1899) gives the following pen picture of colonial life in that period: 

"The colonists, (DeWitt's) consisting of a dozen families, were living, if such existence could be called living, buddled together for security against the Indians. The rude log cabins, windowless and floorless, have been so often described as the abode of the pioneer, as to require no description here; sufffice it to say that save as a partial protection against rain and sun, they were absolutely devoid of comfort.........Col. DeWitt, my host, had bread, though some of the families were without. flour was $10.00 a barrel. But few people had money to buy anything more than coffee and tebacco. Money was as scarce as bread, game was plentiful the year round, so there was no need of starving. Men talked hopeful of the future; children reveled in the novelty of the present, and the women bore their part with heroic endurance. Deprived of friends and former comforts, they had not even the solace of constant employment. The spinning wheel and loom had been left behind---there was as yet no use for them ---there was nothing to spin. There was no house to keep in order; the meager fare was so sirnple as to require little time for its preparation. There was no poultry, no dairy, no garden, no books or Papers---and had there been, many of them could not read; no schools, no churches---nothing to break the dull monotony of their lives save an occasional attack frorn Indians, the howl of some wild animal or the stampede of a herd of buffalo or mustangs. The men at least had the excitement of killing game and hunting bee trees, roping mustangs, hunting buffalo, locating lands and watching for hostile Indians."

The author's second great granduncle Nathan Boone Burkett in Early Days in Texas described the scene

"the section of the coast where we landed was level prairie, and one could see for a considerable distance. We soon sighted hundreds of deer and other wild animals. That section was practically uninhabited at the time and there was game and wild life in abundance."

Deer, bear, turkey, antelope, buffalo and wild mustangs were abundant and the soil was virgin. Wild game meat, including mustangs, and wild honey provided subsistence until crops and domestic animals could be established. Smithwick, a skilled blacksmith, remarked

"Game was the sole dependence of many families and I fixed up many an old gun that I wouldn’t have picked up in the road, knowing that it was all that stood between a family and the gaunt wolf at the door, as well as the Indians."

Gonzales and surroundings is comprised largely of the Blackland Prairie area of Texas consisting of rolling plain and rich black soil mixed with white sand. The Guadalupe, San Marcos and Lavaca Rivers were fed by numerous tributaries lined with stands of hardwoods, elm, ash, black walnut and live, post and Spanish oak. Softwoods mesquite and cypress dominated the prairies and river bottoms, respectively, interspersed with some pine.

Hispanic JacalHousing. At first housing was primitive and makeshift being no more than lean-to or dugouts with minimal protection from man, beast or the elements. Dugouts were used where timbers were scarce and consisted of pits in the ground or cave-like structures in the side of a hill. The pit was covered by logs where available and then sealed off with sod. Some settlers applied modifications of the jacal structure illustrated at left adapted from native Tejanos. Jacals were structures pieced together from slender poles, often bamboo-like cane, tied tightly together and chinked with mud or clay or buttressed by whatever materials were available. The thatched roof was made from the same poles and overlayed with materials from simple grass and straw to wider bladed fronds from cactus and palmetto where available. As settlement increased and legal titles to land were issued, cooperative house-raisings among neighbors resulted in improved housing quality comprised of cedar picket houses and most commonly the log cabin. Cedar pickets were essentially more sophisticated and elaborate jacal structures formed by upright cedar poles and covered by boards shaved crudely from timbers. As described by Smithwick, "the rude log cabins, windowless and floorless, have been so often described as the abode of the pioneer, as to require no description here; sufffice it to say that save as a partial protection against rain and sun, they were absolutely devoid of comfort."

Timber was cut by axe and transported by oxen, or dragged by manpower for short distances. Timbers were flattened on four sides by hand with an instrument with a hoe-like blade between two handles called a foot adze. Cabin dimensions varied dependent on available timbers, but usually were one room or in exceptional cases two of about 20 by 20 feet in dimensions with a foot square opening or two for windows. The "log pen" cabin sometimes consisted of unmodified or debarked logs notched at each end to form minimal space between them and chinked with clay and with either clay or crude plank floors if they could be cut. The author's 2nd great granduncle Nathan Boone Burkett says in his memoirs Early Days in Texas:

"Practically every one lived in log cabins with adobe or packed earth floors, and slept in home-made beds which were built into the corner of the rooms and fastened to two walls. Most cabins were constructed with fireplaces which were used for all the cooking, in addition to heating, molding bullets, etc. Those who had no fireplace had to do their cooking outdoors in regular campfire style."

Ranger Captain William Banta in his memoirs Twenty-seven Years on the Texas Frontier describes the blockhouse style home in the 1840's in east Texas:

In building houses it was common to build of logs, and from fourteen to sixteen feet square; the first six logs were fourteen feet in length, the next four rounds sixteen feet long; thus the rouse had the appearance of a big house set on a smaller one, forming what was then called a "block" house. The top was done up with logs three-foot boards were split out and placed on the rib poles, and then weighted down with what were called weight poles. The doors were made of split and hewed puncheons pinned together with an auger, and hung to the log wall with wooden hinges. On the inside of the house. they were fastened by heavy wooden bars in: such a manner that it was impossible for and one to get into the house from the outside. The cracks of the house were stopped with pieces of timber split for the purpose and driven in with an axe, then pinned fast with wooden pins, leaving two or three holes in each side and end between the chinking, called port holes, used for the purpose of shooting outside in case of an attack from without.  The object of the projecting wall above was to be able to shoot straight down from the upper floor; and in fact this position commanded any approach from the outside. Dirt floors were common, but some of those who were considered wealthy made their floors of puncheons, split and hewed and pinned down to the sleepers with an auger and wooden pins. The chimney was built of rough stone or heavy timber. Everything was constructed of strong material, and in such a way as to make it the next thing to impossible to force an entrance from without.


Eggleston House-GonzalesAs settlement progressed, the more elaborate and comfortable "dog-run" house which was built from sawed planks, initially by hand and later by water-driven mills. The simplest dog-run home usually consisted of two rooms connected by a long hall with a long porch on the front. The design was expanded to include more rooms and even a second story over time. This design provided an efficient cooling system from breezes running the length or length and width of the house. The Horace Eggleston House, thought to be one of the finest and most authentic restored dog-run style house in Texas and was the first to receive a medallion for such in the state. It is currently on display in Gonzales and furnished with items of the period by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It was first built by Eggleston with help of Jesse K. Davis, friends and servants after the return from the Runaway Scrape and is believed to be the oldest surviving structure in Gonzales. According to Glenn Cherry, descendant of Albert A. Cherry, his ancestor purchased the land and the cabin in 1869 from William P. Eggleston:

"The cabin used to be near the Guadalupe River and I remember the story about two of my great uncles who created an early day 'slip and slide' by splashing water up on the river bank, then sliding down into the water. What they didn't anticipate was that this wore out the seat of their trousers, then when they got home their dad wore out their seats to go with their trousers."

A dog-run house, built in the 1840's by Prince Carl in New Braunfels, in its natural state and probably more the average is illustrated below from a reunion of early settlers of New Braunfels in 1878. It is these type of structures that were destroyed quickly when torched during the evacuation of Gonzales town in 1836 after the Alamo defeat.

Sophienburg House-New Braunfels


Bradford Cabin MatagordaGlass was initially not available and windows were covered with wooden shutters with deer or cowhides for curtains. Iron was scarce, but used when available to bar windows and to reinforce doors. The Bradford home in Matagorda (left) built prior to 1836 is an example of the use of glass on the lookouts from the loft which was less likely to get broken. Roofs were made of sod or wooden shakes which were crude shingles split off in two to three feet lengths and the width of a log. Skilled carpenters provided precision materials as attested by a contract written (spelling unaltered) by the author’s 4th great granduncle Andrew Kent:

"For value received I promis and cose to be paid unto Richard Heath or barer three thousand five hundred shingles to be from three to five inches in wedth and eighteen in length & the edges to be straiteneed to about the quarter of an inch with the drawing knife to be delivered at the tree and to be reddy by the first day of December next." July the 3rd 1834

The meager estate of Andrew Kent recovered after return of his widow and children to their homeplace on the lower Lavaca River from East Texas after the Runaway Scrape reflects the basic tools of the DeWitt Colonists, many of whom were skilled carpenters in addition to farmers and ranchers. Again the observations of Mexican Army Lt. José Enrique de la Peña as the army moved through the abandoned Gonzales area on the way to San Felipe de Austin and San Jacinto in 1836:

"All along the road we found dwellings of frame construction, some well built.…..Everything we found in them was unequivocal testimony to the industry and diligence of the unfortunate families who had abandoned them. Some miles above Gonzales two sawmills were found…….The construction of corrals for the stock and the fences around arable lands seemed astonishing to our eyes….Some of the wood was cylindrical in shape and driven perpendicularly into the ground, but most of them were triangular or rectangular prisms placed horizontally and forming a line which in fortification construction we designate as saw tooths, an example of the union of symmetry with solidity."

Farming. Traditional Spanish philosophy that landowners should share an equal quantity of the area's water was applied in distribution of land in the colony. Consequently tracts fronted on one bank of a river or tributary which avoided monopoly of streams by any one landowner by riparian right which many of the colonists from the east were familiar (see Land Grant maps and Dewitt Colony Rivers). Colonization law provided that settlers were required to occupy or improve land grants within six years of title or the land would revert to the government.

Although wild game and honey was often the basic diet upon arrival, corn production, the grain staple of the colony, was abundant even from the most simple horticultural technique of sticking seeds into the fertile ground with a stick. A substantial corn crop was planted among the cane breaks at Old Station in 1827 which made the colonists reluctant to leave it upon order to relocate to Gonzales. Other grains as wheat, barley and rye were raised in almost insignificant amounts throughout he life of the colony. Flour was at a premium and yeast for leavening even more scarce as described by the author's uncle Nate Burkett:

"Some of the boys came out from the cabin and gave each of the campers a biscuit, as if treating them to something now. These were hardtack biscuits, and were described as being about as hard as a terrapin. This was when flour was twenty dollars a barrel, and extremely hard to get at any price."

Because of the largely Upper South background of the majority population and the lack of transport routes for export, plantation scale cotton farming from establishment of the colony through statehood was not of significant economic consequence. Although the Lavaca, Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers linked the colony to the coast, they were shallow, dotted with sandbars and plagued by blockade with debris with little potential for shipping. However, cotton production on local farms was substantial enough to support multiple gins in the colony and noted by Lt. José Enrique de la Peña as he moved with the Mexican Army toward San Jacinto through the abandoned colony after their victory over the Texans at the Alamo in San Antonio in spring 1836:

"….there were several barns full of cotton, a great deal of it already ginned and carded; spinning wheels for weaving and coffee grinders were found in most of these houses." He went on to describe how their soldiers destroyed cotton bales to use for fresh bedding daily. The women who followed the army spread cotton on the banks of the river to avoid dirtying their feet after bathing. He noted while camped outside San Felipe de Austin "it is impossible to estimate the value of the cotton that we have seen between Gonzales and here, both baled and stored unginned, but even less that still found in the fields."

Lt. de la Peña estimated the total abandoned corn and cotton stores around Gonzales at more than forty thousand arrobas (one arroba equals about 25 pounds).

Stock Raising. Although largely hunters, woodsmen and farmers from the southern frontiers of the growing United States, the colonists with some lag time adopted the techniques of cattle care and Mexican horsemanship of native Tejanos which they had learned from their Spanish forebears.  Expansive ranch lands managed by rancheros and their vaqueros from Bexar to Goliad on the west and the DeLeon Colony to the south influenced the colonists and some extended into the DeWitt empresa.  Nine tracts from 1 to 6 leagues were deeded to native Tejanos, although it is unclear to what extent these tracts were developed.  Like their Irish counterparts to the south, they learned to use the villa de campo (the Western saddle), the lazo and the reata for roping, the "cutting out" an animal from the herd for branding, the roundup, and the drive (how to watch for signs of a stampede, how to keep the cattle calm and to watch for anything that might upset them). They were taught how to break, train and handle the cow pony from vaqueros.  From Tejanos they learned how to battle the droughts and to gather and singe the prickly pear (cactus) for the cattle to eat. These skills were equally useful for defense in respect to raids of aborigines from the northwest and south, as well as later against the despotism of their own adopted government.

Like wild game and mustangs, in the late 1820's wild cattle were abundant from stock left by the early Spanish inspection expeditions or entradas.  John J. Linn in his Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas relates that when Captain Felipe Roque de la Portilla, father-in-law of empresario James Power, abandoned his ranch eight miles above current Gonzales in 1812: the Indians became intolerable. In removing his cattle he left some which he failed to find, and these had multiplied to such a degree that when the Anglo-American settlers penetrated that country in 1832-5 [probably 1823] they found the section stocked with wild cattle free of all marks or other indices of ownership. But so wild were they that only the most expert hunters might hope to come up with them.

Stockraising consisted of cattle for both market and home consumption and hogs mostly for home consumption. Both were allowed to range freely and flourished without feed on the land. Brands were apparently registered with the ayuntamiento at about the same time as land titles began to be issued.

Dairy stock and their milk products were not as prevalent, but substantial and in great demand. Lt. de la Peña remarked as Santa Anna’s army crossed the Guadalupe River into Gonzales on the way to San Jacinto in 1836: "In Gonzales and its surroundings there were hundreds of heads of cattle……He [Colonel Gonzalez Pavon] had corralled about three hundred dairy cows…." From what the author’s 3rd great grandmother Mary Ann Zumwalt Burket related to a granddaughter who related it to a niece by letter in 1927 about events on their homeplace in 1838 after return from the Runaway Scrape, milk production could be substantial on one farm:

"did not have any trouble with the Indians, I mean serious trouble. There was once a tribe of 300 camped on the other side of spring branch from the house….let them have 40 gallons. By they were nice and would give fresh wild meat and honey that they had taken from the trees by the bucketful. They always seemed anxious to pay for what they got….now here is something to laugh about. We had Rangers in those days. One night there were 60 camped near the old branch. They did not get there and get settled until late. They wanted milk but thought they would steal it, so they came over to the house to hunt it. The dairy was down in the yard under the shade of one of those big trees. It was built high on four strong posts with three shelves in it. We skimmed the milk in the evening and put the cream in a two-gallon pail and it was nearly full. Will Allen’s father was in the bunch. He found the cream. It was sitting on top of the shelf. When he turned it down to drink out of it, it slipped and turned upside down over his head. He made such a racket the boys began to run and I did too. He fell down and I caught him. I called him ‘Cream Pot Allen.’ Since then everyone knew him by that name."

As indicated by the livestock count in the government census of 1828, hog raising was extensive among the upper south immigrants in the colony from the onset. In 1828, the colony had 276 hogs distributed among 14 owners out of a total population of 110 persons enumerated. Lt. de la Peña in spring 1836 fourteen miles outside Gonzales where the army camped on Tejocote Creek on the author’s 3rd great grandfather David Burket’s league wrote:

"the pigs found at this place were as big as a five or six month’s calf. All the road was woody with red and white oak trees except close to the creek…..there were other trees about which I shall speak again because of their beauty……we passed through some prairies so beautiful that I lack words to describe them. It was all a field of lilies and poppies…..the soul expanded, and it is difficult to explain the joy that I felt."

Coming back to reality of his situation as head a Mexican sapper unit headed for San Jacinto, Lt. de la Peña described his fantasy of being shot on the site and being buried in such a beautiful vast garden.

There is some evidence of application of goat ranching techniques for predominantly milk product production which was more prevalent in the Bexar-Goliad corridor, the DeLeon Colony and further south toward the Mexican interior.

The Daily Fare. The colonists normal meals consisted of corn bread, pork, beef and wild game with honey with some milk or milk products as a luxury. Fresh corn on the cob, Indian and soft white Mexican variety, was boiled and roasted and stored shelled in large kettles of "lye hominy" for use in the winter. Being from the Upper South, the colonists most likely also dried the hominy, made meal of it and used it to make Georgia "ice cream" or Texas "yoghurt", e.g. white corn hominy grits.  There is no doubt that some colonists adopted the applications of corn, dried hominy, beans, onions, garlic and even chili from the native Tejanos they encountered, either locally or on the trail.

Vegetable and poultry farming was probably minimal in the colony and limited to small flocks and plots for home use. Although Lt. de la Peña noted in abandoned Gonzales in 1836 "there was a great abundance of pigs and chickens, which the soldiers went after hungrily," wild turkey was pro bably as common a source of poultry product as domestic fowls as illustrated by the author's 3rd great grandma Mary Ann Zumwalt Burket's description recorded by her granddaughter:

"We settled on the old homeplace on spring branch and built a log hut. The first dinner ever eaten on that old homestead, General Henry McCullough called. He was on a big white horse. Your grandfather killed a wild turkey in the bottom close to the river. I cooked it on the campfire. I said ‘We have no table yet, sir.’ So we turned a washtub upside down and sat the oven in the middle of the tub and went to work. The General said that was the best dinner he had ever eaten."

James Ramsay in his description of life during the Battle of Salado comments on the daily fare under those conditions:

....Cooking a few Corn Dodgers (happy were they that had corn and a Steel Mill in those days) dried Beef & good water in our Gourds was not always on Beef alone & no Salt.....the women and children moulding Bullets and those who had corn were Rich to have a few Poons of Corn Bread in there Wallets with the Texas never failing Dried Beef.....

Noah Smithwick in Evolution of a State (reprinted in Bolton and Barker, With the Makers of Texas) described the scene at mealtime on a visit to a typical colonist's home:

Another type of the old colonists, and one that played an important part in development of the country, was Thomas B. Bell, who lived up on the San Bernard above McNeal's. I took quite a fancy to him, and gladly accepted an invitation to visit him. I found him living in a little pole cabin in the midst of a small clearing upon which was a crop of corn. His wife welcomed me with as much cordiality as if she were mistress of a mansion. There were two young children and they, too, showed in their every manner the effects of gentle training. The whole family were dressed in buckskin, and when supper was announced, we sat on stools around a clapboard table, upon which were arranged wooden platters.  Beside each platter lay a fork made of a joint of cane. The knives were of various patterns, ranging from butcher knives to pocket knives; and for cups, we had little wild cymlings, scraped and scoured until they looked as white and clean as earthenware. The milk with which the cups were filled was as pure and sweet as mortal ever tasted. The repast was of the simplest, but was served with as much grace as if it had been a feast, which, indeed, it became, seasoned with the kindly manner and pleasant conversation of those two entertainers. Not a word of apology was uttered during my stay of a day and night, and when I left them I did so with a hearty invitation to repeat my visit.  It so happened that I never was at their place again, but I was told that in the course of time the pole cabin gave place to a handsome brick house, and that the rude furnishings were replaced by the best the country boasted; but I'll venture to say that the host and hostess still retained their old hospitality unchanged by change of fortune.

Ranger Captain William Banta in his memoirs Twenty-seven Years on the Texas Frontier describes the priorities and life in east Texas in the early 1840's:

The next thing of importance for convenience was a hand mill, to grind corn for bread. This mill was fastened to a post; had two cranks, and the hopper was in the shape of a funnel, and would hold about one peck of corn. We had to grind the corn coarse, and then tighten the mill and grind it over again before it could be baked into bread. Some were not able to buy a mill of this kind, and had to beat their corn in a mortar, which was made as follows: A block three feet long was sawed from a large tree and set up on one end and a hole mortised in the upper end in the shape of a funnel, which would hold a half gallon of corn; the pestle was hung at the end of a long limber pole, which would spring. The corn was then soaked in water until it became soft, and was then put in the mortar; by the use of the pestle it was pounded into meal. Others made graters of tin, and boiled the corn in the ear, and when it became soft it was grated into meal. The first corn mill constructed in Fannin county was put up on Dullard's creek by a man named Anderson, and the corn had to be run through twice to make meal. The next mill put up in Fannin county was near Bonham, built by a man by the name of Gilbert. This mill made meal by one grinding, which was a great improvement in the mill business. But most of the corn was ground at home on hand mills or beat in mortars, in order to save toll. One fourth was taken by these mills, and sometimes it seemed like they had taken half, from the looks of the sack. One man sent Anderson word that he would quit his mill until it was spindled, as he knew it was bound to suck itself.

The next object was to protect our bodies from cold as well as heat. The men and boys dressed buckskin and made pants, hunting shirts, and moccasins; hats or caps were made of fur skins, and these with a home spun shirt, composed the everyday wear; and the only difference on Sunday was, they put on a clean shirt, provided they had two, which was sometimes the case. As to store bought clothes, there were few able to wear them. Women and children wore homespun clothing. The cotton cloth I saw made, the cotton seed was picked out by hand, the cotton carded by hand, and spun on a spinning wheel, and then woven on a hand loom. It was coarse, but lasted well. In making woolen fabric the wool was carded and spun in like manner. Home tanned leather and home made shoes or moccasins were in common use.

In attending church the man would hitch up the team, belt on his knife and pistols, and shoulder his gun; now all aboard were off to church. On arriving the guns were stacked in the corner of the house, and the side arms retained on the person of the owner. After breaching was over they returned home in the same manner. At parties men went armed the same a s at other places, dancing in moccasins and buckskin pants with hunting shirts made of the same material; the girls wore homespun dresses, and sometimes shoes and sometimes moccasins, and looked well at that. I have often seen families move on their land in the spring with seed corn, and not eat bread at home until they raised it.. But they lived well with the exception of bread.

Game of all kinds was plentiful, and wild honey in abundance, with plenty of milk and butter and home made cheese. Wild fruit, such as strawberries, dewberries, plums, and grapes, were plentiful in summer, as were nuts of all kinds in fall and winter. We often put up bear meat like pork; using the oil instead of lard for frying wild meat such as deer, turkeys, and fish, which were plentiful and but little trouble to get. We used spicewood and sassafras tea in place of coffee, and honey in place of sugar. Our groceries were bought with hides, hams, bear's oil, beeswax, and honey. Coffee sold for 25 cents per pound; tobacco $1 per plug; salt $12 per sack; calico 25 cents per yard; jeans $1 per yard; a common wool hat $2; shoes $2.50 per pair; boots from $5 to $10; a cloth suit from $40 to $50.

While living in Fannin County our nearest, market was Shreveport, some 200 miles from home. We only made one trip each year. Our farming tools were of a rude kind; wooden mould boards and home made stocks to plows; reap hooks for cutting grain; flails to beat out grain; the chaff winded out. When scythes and cradles were introduced we thought we had arrived at the end of perfection. Our teams consisted of one or more yoke of oxen. The Indians kept us from owning horse teams; they would drive them off as fast as we could raise or buy them. Our wagons were of the old style, with wooden axles, without spring seats, having to use chairs or planks across the top for seats; this was our best conveyance for our families when going to church.

Condiments and Luxuries. Coffee, tobacco and spirits were present in the colony, in great demand and a necessity or luxury dependent on point of view. All three were largely imported although tobacco and production of spirits was also somewhat a local industry. Colonization law allowed colonists to import most goods duty free for their own use, however, the demand for these commodities and profits to be made from marketing them from onset of the colony caused political troubles for Green DeWitt and the early colonists because of the contraband problem. Imports to the colony came largely from the Gulf Coast, primarily Matagorda Bay, up the Indianola-Austin Road. The premium put on coffee was illustrated by the fact that Lt. George C. Kimbell requisitioned and carried with him 52 pounds of coffee as part of the supplies carried by the Gonzales Rangers as they departed Gonzales on 27 Feb 1836 to relieve the besieged Alamo garrison at San Antonio de Bexar. Another example of the value of coffee in the days after independence in The Republic was expressed by James Ramsay at the Battle of Salado:

....we reached the River up comes Miles [Bennet] with something in his saddlebags---mark the saddlebags---something of Civiliseation in Texas but the contents Mr Editor was it Rot-Gut Monghelia or Glen-livet---no sir---nothing short of the material that Old Texian Love so well cheers Strenthens and Breaks the Studies as old W Tennie used to say, two lbs Coffee......some one smelt Miles Saddle Bags and the Coffee was minus....

Plentiful wild honey substituted for refined sugar although sugar cane was easy to grow in the area as a letter from Mrs. Catherine Barton Lockhart, wife of surveyor Charles Lockhart related to relatives back in Ohio in 1830. Salt came from sea water works on the Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Brazos River.

A letter home by recent arrivals to the McMullen/McGloin colony in San Patricio in 1835 gives insight into the optimism and the needs of colonists in the days prior to subversion of development of the colonies by dictatorship in 1836.

Business and Commerce. Businesses in Gonzales town prior to 1836 were limited to two General Stores, two or three saddle/blacksmith/mechanic’s shops, a hat factory, two hotels, a boarding house/restaurant, a smoke house and a grogshop or pub. According to letters of Sam Houston and others, there must have been considerable whiskey stores in the town which someone had spiked with arsenic in case the advancing Mexican Army from San Antonio after the Battle of the Alamo was tempted to consume. The whiskey stores were thought to have been part, in addition to gun powder kegs, of the explosions heard by departing settlers when Houston’s army burned the town in front of the advancing Mexican Army from San Antonio. There was at least three gins, sawmills or gristmills, the Martin mill on the southern town border and two north of Gonzales noted by Lt. de la Peña. The latter may have been enterprises began between Green DeWitt and Joseph Clements in 1830. More formal service establishments as banks, pharmacies, specialty stores and professional services were notably absent from Gonzales and the DeWitt Colony until into the 1850’s. These were carried out by the general activities of the retail and wholesale merchants, mill owners and individuals by barter. Individual goods and services were more prevalent as the medium of exchange than script, however, the extensive records of dollar values put on estates at auction, ferry services and government fees indicates the presence of at least a growing monetary system of exchange. The minutes of the Gonzales Ayuntamientos of 1833 and sketches in the Texas Archives and other literature through 1836 indicate a growing economic activity requiring maintenance of roads, ferries, licensing of merchants, regulation of credit procedures and interest rates and public disturbances.

Religious Life.

De Facto Religious Tolerance on the Frontier by Don Guillermo

Social Life. "They were a social people these old Three Hundred, though no one seems to have noted the evidence of it" says Noah Smithwick in Early Days in Texas.   Personal accounts of the early days in Texas indicate that opportunities for social interaction and gatherings were particularly valued and effort made to attend and participate over great distances.  "The colonists had their amusements of balls and parties, neighborhood gatherings for athletic exercises, fishing, picnics, horse-racing, rifle-shooting, mustang-catching, story-tellings of their trading, surveying, hunting, and Indian expeditions" relates Guy M. Bryan (nephew of Stephen F. Austin) in Mode of Living, Customs, and Perils of the Early Settlers of Texas.  Bazil Durbin, John and Betsey Oliver and Jack, a black servant of James Kerr, were on their way from the first Kerr Creek settlement at Gonzales to a fourth of July celebration at Burnhams on the Colorado River when the infant village was attacked, looted and destroyed by Indian vandals in 1826.

Social equality prevailed with participation by black indentures.   Smithwick relates a specific wedding party he attended (McNutt to Cartwright) in the Austin Colony which was dependent on black indentures for fiddle music and other improvisions:

"....when we were all assembled and ready to begin business [of dancing] it was found that Mose, the only fiddler around [a servant of Jesse Thompson], had failed to come on time, so we called in an old darky belonging to Colonel Zeno Phillips, who performed on a clevis as an accompaniment to his singing, while another negro scraped on a cotton hoe with a case knife. The favorite chorus was: 

O git up gals in de mawnin'
O git up gals in de mawnin'
O git up gals in de mawnin'
Jes at de break ob day.

at the conclusion of which the performer gave an extra blow to the clevis while the dancers responded with a series of dexterous rat-tat-tats with heel and toe."

There is evidence the colonists especially enjoyed and participated in, perhaps adapted the style, of the fandangoes of their Hispanic neighbors when opportunity arose.  

© 1997-2004, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.