Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Feature Article on David Kokernot: Rogue Soldier of the Texas Revolution

David Kokernot's first home in Texas was on the shores of the San Jacinto River where it widens and enters San Jacinto Bay. His neighbors were mostly cattle ranchers sparsely scattered over the prairie between there and the Trinity River, fifteen miles away. Kokernot's abuse of those neighbors whom he considered insufficiently patriotic in the ensuing Texas Revolution left a bad taste that survives even to today. The Baytown Sun carried Wanda Orton's feature and review of the Rogue Soldier which will remind readers where that taste came from. Read the full article here (copied with permission of the Sun).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Did Caroline Kokernot's mother stay in Texas during the Battle of San Jacinto?

Kendon Clark, a descendant of William Maley, reminded me of a tradition within the Maley family that I did not write about. What I did write is that during the Texas Revolution David Kokernot rushed his family to Galveston and placed them on a New Orleans bound schooner for safety as the war threatened their home on the San Jacinto River. His mother-in-law, Juliane; wife, Caroline; two toddler daughters; and sixteen year old brother-in-law William Maley went to New Orleans. Only William's fourteen-year-old brother George remained in Texas. In New Orleans the family stayed with David's brother, Louis, who lived with their mother. There Caroline gave birth to the couple's first son, L. M., in June. The whole family returned to Texas, probably in July.

Maley family oral history holds that Juliane did not go to New Orleans, or that she returned early, and helped the war effort by nursing the wounded, feeding soldiers, or providing a wagon and oxen, depending on the account. Some accounts suggest that the two land grants she received were rewards for her service. Another suggests that William, too, remained behind in Texas. These stories are persistent and seem reliable, because they come from Maleys who heard them second hand, rather than third or fourth hand. Yet I discount them and wrote my account as I did because they contradict better evidence, and because there is another explanation for them.

David Kokernot writes about these days before and after the battle in his Reminiscences of 2 Nov 1878, which are reprinted on pages 183-188 of my book. He does not explicitely say who went to New Orleans, only that "Fortunately we found a vessel ready to sail for New Orleans, and we put our families aboard of the schooner, which conveyed them in safety to the city." His description of his subsequent activities in Texas does not mention any of his family members besides George Maley. David's Reminiscences are unreliable, but his errors always seem to be ones of self-aggrandizement or of detail, such as dates or names. Since the Juliane story would be neither, I am inclined to believe that David was saying that only he and George stayed behind.

Customs records in New Orleans are very complete and would include a passenger list showing the family members arriving there. Unfortunately, the Koscuisko, the only vessel which traveled from Texas to New Orleans in the correct time frame, evaded customs. Only the port log, published in the newspaper, documents its arrival. For the return journey to Texas, there are no port logs or customs records available for these months in the newborn Republic.

The weeks before the Battle of San Jacinto were a time of panic for civilians fleeing the approach of the Mexican Army. Some families stayed behind, but it seems logical that Juliane would want to accompany her seven-month-pregnant daughter to New Orleans to care for her until well after her son's birth on June 6. They may not have known it before their arrival in New Orleans, but David's mother was not there. She had gone to New York to marry Alexander Hart, making it less likely that Juliane would leave Caroline without either mother present for her lying-in. Protecting their Texas home or aiding the war effort would seem like insufficient motivation.

Juliane's two land grants were not rewards for service. As a widow with a family, Juliane was entitled to the same headright as a man under Mexican law--a league and a labor, that is, 4428 plus 177 acres. She received her headright league on August 19, 1835, as described on pages 58-60. It straddled Cedar Bayou near the league David received at the same time, about twenty miles from their home on the San Jacinto River. Neither of them lived on or used the land and they both sold their leagues to James Morgan less than six months later (page 62). The Republic of Texas honored the same headright obligations as Mexico and in 1838 granted Juliane a certificate for the labor she had not received earlier. In 1839 her acreage was surveyed in the Cove area and was formally patented in 1847, probably by her son William, since Juliane was already dead and George was in Gonzales County.

Another piece of evidence argues that Juliane did not stay, or return early to Texas. In 1894, Juliane's children tried to reclaim by lawsuit the league she had sold to James Morgan in 1836, arguing that Juliane had not consented to the sale, despite four witnesses to the contract. The lawsuit file (pages 243-244) contains several interesting depositions, including one by Caroline describing their flight to New Orleans. She said "My mother and me went back to New Orleans and stayed while the war was going on in Texas, and after it was over we all came back to Texas...My son L. M. Kokernot was about one month old when we came back from New Orleans" (pages 82 and 226). Additional depositions reveal other interesting, but unrelated, assertions: William and George had a brother who died in Philadelphia, and their father, George Sr., died in Philadelphia before the family left for Texas, not en route as most Maley descendants have written.

If Juliane was in New Orleans just before and after the Battle of San Jacinto, what is the source for the stories of her aiding soldiers? As it turns out, she did aid the war effort after her return. A German mining engineer, Eduard Harkort, was assigned by James Morgan the task of fortifying the Galveston waterfront against an expected Mexican attack after San Jacinto. Harkort was scouring the countryside for timber to haul to Galveston. His diary has been published, but it ends abruptly on July 17 while he was searching and mapping Galveston Bay in the vicinity of Edwards Point. He had taken ill and died of yellow fever three weeks later, on August 11, at the Kokernots' home nearby. He had doubtless been nursed in his final days by Juliane Maley. Harkort came from Westphalia, only a hundred miles from Juliane's birthplace in Hesse Kassel in today's Germany. Imagine the comfort Juliane provided Harkort, a fellow countryman who spoke the same German dialect as she. Imagine also, the stories Juliane told her children and grandchildren about nursing the sick victim, Eduard Harkort.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Kokernot Cattle Brands

Cattle brands almost always tell a story, and the Kokernots' brands are no exception. Within a couple of weeks of the family's 1853 arrival in Gonzales County, David Kokernot registered his cattle brands at the courthouse. For his own brand, he chose his wife's initials, "CK." She, in turn, chose his initials, "LK." Why?

All the cattle they brought from Colorado County carried the "CK" brand. Caroline claimed them as her separate property--an inheritance from her mother--and thus beyond the reach of David's creditors. Perhaps because he had no creditors yet in Gonzales County, David registered them in his own name. The "LK" brand was newly available because P. L. Kessler had claimed it in 1848 and failed to renew the registration. At that time, one person could only register a single brand, so Caroline Kokernot grabbed the "LK" brand.

Their seventeen-year-old son L. M. had registered his brand in Colorado County at age fifteen and doubtless brought a few head to Gonzales. "LK" would be a natural choice for him, so he registered it, but with the "L" reversed, as shown above. Over the decades, that brand would appear on the rumps of hundreds of thousands of cattle all over Texas, Indian Territory, Kansas, and Wyoming.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

David Kokernot Now Available!

Finally. A whole pallet-load of David Kokernot: Rogue Soldier of the Texas Revolution arrived at the publisher, Kullyspel Press, and the first shipment has been sent to the wholesaler, Ingram Books. They are beautiful. The dust jacket has a smooth matte finish with a coating that resists scuffing in shipment. The hardback cover is cloth in a deep burgundy with gold lettering. The paper is smooth and just yellow enough to be easy on the eyes but close enough to white to not dilute the tonal range of the grayscale images. Because the printing was done by offset press--not print-on-demand digital press--the photographs reproduced very well. I am pleased.

The major retailers, including Amazon, will not ship orders until June 15 or July 1 to allow time for the supply pipeline to fill and for the pre-publication reviewers to do their thing, if they choose to. Barnes and Noble is taking pre-orders at $18.18, which is a very good price, since full retail is $26.95. Your favorite book retailer should be able to order you a copy, too, since most have an account at Ingram. If you want immediate shipment I am selling copies at the publisher website for the Barnes and Noble price. You'll need an Amazon account and shipment will be by USPS Priority mail.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What do Theodore Clapp, Congo Square, and galjoots have in common?

They're all persons, places, or things found in the index to David Kokernot: Rogue Soldier of the Texas Revolution. So, too, are "grand larceny," "O6," and "Old Igo" among the 1007 entries in the index.

Indexing is surprisingly difficult. The indexer must place himself in the mind of the reader to imagine the information he would seek and the terms he would use to find it. The author is probably the least able to do this, especially if he has worked a decade writing the book. I tried it, quickly gave up, and hired a professional indexer, Melody Englund, to do it. Take a look. I'm sure you will agree she did an excellent job.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Yesterday I mailed a box to McNaughton & Gunn, my printer. It contained a paperback version of David Kokernot and rolled-up proofs of its dust jacket and endsheets, each with my approval signature across the front. In six weeks or so, finished books will arrive at Kullyspel Press's loading dock (aka my garage).

I have always been fascinated by the process of publishing books--their editing, design, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. This is the manufacturing step. The book is being printed on an offset press, which has very high setup costs but also high quality in the final product. It is not practical to print proofs on an offset press, so the interior of the book was proofed on a digital press (like a large laser printer with binding capability) and the jacket and endsheets on a large inkjet printer tuned to mimic the colors of the offset press. My signature on the interior proof signified there were no formatting or assembly errors and on the inkjet prints that the colors were what I wanted.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Real soon now...

It is a humbling experience. The first time an editor returns an author's precious words to him with a few suggestions and comments, and he finds the first page covered in red blood. Fortunately for me, this was not my first time. Defensive instincts still rise, but when you have a good editor like I do--Kathy Carter--it's easy to overcome them and dig in, searching for solutions to the problems posed by the editor. With my first draft, shown here, those problems were pretty massive. Their solutions required rearranging chapters, chopping much text, and writing new text (preceded by new research).

The second draft, offered after a year of rewriting, came back with less red blood, and the third had even less. Only after three passes of editing did I engage a book designer (Fiona Raven) to create the shape of the book itself--the fonts, the page layouts, the positioning and appearance of photos and maps--and the crucial front cover. As of today, the book has been typeset to Fiona's specifications and a second editor is proofreading it (Kathy and I have both seen it so many times we're blind to any remaining errors). After proofreading a professional indexer will do his magic. Then, finally, printing. Expect the final product in June.