© 1997-2011, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Colony Expansion: The Burkets, Kents and Zumwalts

DeWitt Colony MapArrival at Lavaca Bay. Among the arrivals in 1829-1830 which brought the total population of the DeWitt Colony to 158, 30 families and 34 single men, were the five interrelated Burket, Kent and Zumwalt families from St. Charles County, Missouri, ancestors of the author. The five families were prototypes of the majority of DeWitt Colonists who gave up the relative security of their past lives on the frontiers of the "Upper Southern States" of the United States of the north for the offer of land, local self-determination and citizenship within the United States of Mexico under the Constitution of 1824. Since many leaders involved in colonization of Texas and the empresarios Stephen F. Austin and Green DeWitt were from the state and first recruited from there, Missourians constituted the majority of the DeWitt Colonists in its beginnings. At the end of 1828, 38% of single males or heads of households in the colony were from Missouri and an even higher percentage of the families who obtained land and made the development of the colony their life's work were from the state.

Like the majority of colonists, the Burket, Kent and Zumwalt families owned no slaves and were independent small farmers with skills in cultivating land, modest dairy husbandry and small scale hog, cattle and poultry raising. They learned quickly the ranching skills of native Tejanos around them and continued small to modest scale ranching throughout the years of the colony and the Republic. The Burket, Kent and Zumwalt families arrived in Lavaca Bay by schooner from New Orleans. Second great granduncle, Nathan Boone Burkett, describes the arrival in his memoirs, Early Days in Texas:

"Hearing about the many advantages the province of Texas offered, he <father David Burket> brought his family and came with other settlers in a group that was to compose a portion of Green DeWitt's Colony. Most of the trip was made by traveling by water, coming by way of New Orleans. We landed at the mouth of the Lavaca River on the coast of South Texas on June 16, 1829. Being nine years old at the time I can distinctly remember the first persons we saw at the landing were ten or twelve friendly Indians. They came on board the schooner as if to welcome us, and to help unload our goods and supplies. 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. We were soon met at the landing by one of the few settlers living near there, who came with his ox-wagon and hauled us out to his cabin, where we stayed for four or five days. Then a wagon train of some six in number came from Gonzales to haul us and our supplies to the colony, which was about ninety miles to the northwest, this trip inland to the Gonzales settlement required four or five days, the roads being just slightly used trails, and traveling in wagons drawn by oxen was rather difficult and slow."

A cousin of Nathan Boone Burket and daughter of Adam Zumwalt, Elizabeth Zumwalt Mitchell, related a similar scene to her daughter:

"…….Adam Zumwalt's family came from Missouri to Gonzales in 1828 being a part of DeWitt's colony. They came by boat and landed in Matagorda Bay. While the men were unloading the boat, the women and children walked along the beach gathering luscious dewberries which they found under a bluff bank. They looked up and saw several Indians in war paint and feathers looking down at them. They ran to the boat, but when they got there she <Adam’s wife Nancy Elizabeth> was not with them. She had fainted and the men had to carry her to the boat."

Colony Expansion 1828-1831. Settlers were coming to the DeWitt Colony from Lavaca and Matagorda Bays by two roads from the coast which were constructed during 1829. One connected on to Austin (Austin-Indianola Road) and the other on to San Antonio. Additional routes of entry to the colony were from Gulf coast ports of Galveston and Copano Bays and some as far away as Aransas Bay near Corpus Christi. Others came overland through Louisiana crossing the Sabine River at Pendleton’s or Gaines Crossings and continuing west on the Camino Real or Old San Antonio Road that crossed Texas from Natchitoches on the Red River in Louisiana to Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila y Texas. No doubt DeWitt lost a considerable number of settlers along the way to the more thickly settled eastern colonies particularly the Austin Colony. In 1830 26 new families and 31 single men arrived increasing the total population to 377. Based on arrival dates in land records, 23 families and 9 single men arrived in the colony in the first 3.5 months of 1831 increasing the population to 531 and a total of 189 families.

On 6 Apr 1830, Article 11 the Bustamente Decree went into effect:

In accordance with the right reserved by the general congress in the seventh article of the law of, August 18, 1824, it is prohibited that emigrants, from nations bordering on this republic shall settle in the states or territory adjacent to their own nation. Consequently, all contracts not already completed and not in harmony with this law are suspended.

The law provided that no change would be made in the colonies of Austin and DeWitt, but it was unclear whether this applied to settlers already in the colony, on the way to the colony or that colonization would continue until goals of the empresario contracts were met. Families continued to arrive bound for the DeWitt Colony including at least fifty-four on record who landed at Lavaca Bay after 6 Apr 1830 and were source of communication and decision between Goliad alcalde Jose Miguel Aldrete who reported arrival of the colonists and Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz in Bexar and Governor Viesca in Saltillo. The latter two concurred with Aldrete's suggestion to allow their entry saying on the basis that they embarked under legal contract at great personal expense. After a consultation between Gov. Viesca and General Terán, Terán informed James W. Breedlove at the US consulate in New Orleans to deny all North Americans passports to Texas except those on the way to the Austin and DeWitt Colonies.

Overall there is no evidence that the Bustamente Decree and attempts at enforcement by Gen. Terán directly prevented entrance of any north Americans into Texas. As pointed out by The Bexar 7 in spring 1833

....the law prohibiting the immigration of North Americans to Texas. This absurd law could not be enforced for want of troops, and its only effect had been to prevent the immigration of the wealthier and better classes of Americans, while those who had nothing to lose were not deterred by it from coming.

Much more effective in halting the end of immigration to the colony was the expiration of DeWitt’s contract on 15 Apr 1831. Through denial of renewal of empresario DeWitt's contract, no legal land titles could be issued to settlers who arrived after the expiration date and vacant lands reverted to the government as provided by law. DeWitt immediately applied to authorities for renewal, but was promptly denied. On 28 Apr 1832, a new colonization law offering contracts to empresarios and aid and protection for colonists, except those prohibited by the Bustamente Decree of 6 Apr 1830 (those from the United States), was passed by the Mexican government.

Issue of Land Grant Titles. Although DeWitt colonists were in possession of granted lands prior to 1831, the national and state Colonization Law provided that no titles could be issued until the contractual minimum of 100 families were in the colony. By January 1831, this target had been achieved and José Antonio Navarro was appointed land commissioner for the colony. Navarro in turn appointed Byrd Lockhart surveyor-general for the colony. The procedure was for land grantees to petition the land commissioner for title with proof of character and oath of allegiance to Mexico (David Burket's Land Grant). After approval by empresario Green DeWitt, the land was surveyed and title granted with a payment schedule for the land and transfer fees. The total price for title to a 4428 acre league of land was $61 or 1.4 cents per acre and $46 for a quarter league (4.2 cents/acre) in the case of unmarried men. Public land in the United States to the east was going for $1.25 an acre or more. With the issuance of land titles, DeWitt Colonists became citizens of Mexico with all rights of the native born and were free of all taxes on agricultural and industry indefinitely and general taxes for a period of ten years. A total of 705 square miles of land comprising 451,656 acres or 82 leagues and 80 quarter leagues was deeded to DeWitt Colonists (DeWitt Colony Land Grants). However, nearly 2,000,000 acres or 3,000 square miles of the DeWitt grant reverted to the Mexican government upon expiration of the contract. Green DeWitt fell short of his goal of settlement of a colony of 400 families with vision of the economic activity and culture that would bring its accompanying wealth to the empresario. Although the DeWitt Colony was a distant second in magnitude compared to the Austin Colony and other empresario contracts brought some settlers to Texas, DeWitt and Austin were the only two considered to have fulfilled their contracts with the Mexican government. A total of 28 grants and contracts were made to empresarios by the Mexican government between 1825 and 1832. Over thirteen failed to meet any terms of their contracts. The Guadalupe, San Marcos, Lavaca and Navidad Rivers were populated with landed, industrious and independent Mexican citizens, the goal of both Spanish and Mexican governments since 1700.

© 1997-2011, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.