Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kokernot's Reminiscences November 2, 1878

David Kokernot's Reminiscences were published in the Gonzales Weekly Inquirer as five letters to the editor in 1878. Some were published again by the Inquirer in 1923, and the text of the first four is available online. Since these memoirs are the source of much misinformation propagated about Kokernot--information that my biography corrects--I am including their text as an appendix in that biography. The fifth installment was difficult to find. That issue of the Inquirer is missing from the collection at UT's Center for American History and is not included in any of the online transcriptions that I have seen. I found the November 2, 1878, issue on microfilm at the Gonzales City Library and include the transcription here. So far as I know, this is the first time it has been published since 1878.

November 2, 1878

During the time our command under Gen. Sherman lay at DeVese’s ford, we found a large lot of fine cotton bagging, which we gave to destitute families for tents. We also gave them bacon, corn and other provisions, as they were destitute of almost everything. On the morning of March 20, Gen. Sherman told me that on the previous night he had received orders from Gen. Houston to destroy all provisions in the rear, and to meet him in the edge of the timber on the Colorado—which order was promptly obeyed. On the following morning we started on the retreat to the Brazos. After a toilsome march over the worst of roads, we reached San Phillipi [San Felipe] on the west side of the river, on the next day. Many times during that march Gen. Houston dismounted to help get the wagons out of the bog. Taking the lead he would remark: “Gentlemen, get down and put your shoulders to the wheel.” Although it continued to rain in torrents, on the next day we took up the line of march for Mill Creek. On account of the rain, which continued to pour down in torrents during the day and night, we could cook nothing, so, tired and hungry, I took off my saddle and sat on it all night, having covered my head with my blanket. No tongue can tell, or pen describe, the sufferings which the poor women and children were called to endure on this retreat.

On the thirty-first the little army moved forward to Gross’s ferry [Groce’s Ferry], and camped at the edge of the river timber. On the following morning I met my old friend, Capt. Ross, of the steamboat Yellow Stone, then loading with cotton at the landing. Here we lost one of our brave companions, named Moore, which was the first death that had occurred on the campaign. Gen. Houston ordered the army to move into the Brazos bottom, with the view of securing a safe encampment. The bottom was thickly matted with cane, briars and grape vines, and it required the whole army to go to work to clean off a place for our camp. I had a very fine, broad, two-edged, Turkish sword, with which I went to cutting down cane and briars. I came to a large grape vine, which I struck a pretty heavy blow, but the sword being very sharp and heavy, went through the vine and flew out of my hand into my leg, inflicting a severe and painful wound. That was the only wound I received during the entire war of the revolution.

A courtmartial in the bottom.

A young man named Gardener, becoming anxious to know what had become of his mother and the rest of his family, deserted and started in search of them, but was soon captured, brought back and tried by courtmartial, and condemned to death. On the day after the trial, he was marched out to be shot. It was a melancholy sight, to see a fine looking young man kneeling on his coffin beside the opened grave, while twelve men stood ready with their rifles to fire at the word of command. He was blindfolded, and the officer gave the command, “Shoulder arms! Present arms! Make ready! Take aim!” Just at this moment Gen. Houston raised his white handkerchief in token of pardon. Then the officer went up to the condemned man and told him that the general had pardoned him. “Well,” said he, in a loud voice accompanied with an oath, “I was never so much disappointed in my life!” The young man afterwards made a faithful soldier, fought at San Jacinto, and his name now stands on the roll of honor.

A general order was read, forbidding any man to fire a gun under the penalty of being courtmartialed. Our arms being in very bad order, owing to exposure to the heavy rains, few of them would have fired in case the enemy had made an attack. A man by the name of Donman said he would set his head to work to fall upon some device by which to get our guns cleaned and put in order for use. At that time the river had risen so high that the water surrounded our encampment. Donman went walking along by the side of the water, carrying his trusty rifle, when presently he espied a very large alligator swimming near the edge of the land, and walking up to Gen. Houston, he said: “General, look at that fellow yonder!” The general obeyed the orders of his shrewd private, and seeing the huge monster, under the excitement of the moment, exclaimed, “Give me your gun!” The order was obeyed instanter, when the general blazed away at the eye of the alligator with effect. In five minutes afterwards the woods resounded with the reports of fire arms. Donman’s device had accomplished its purpose, greatly to the gratification and amusement of the whole army.

Gen. M. B. Lamar fell in love with my Turkish sword, and offered to purchase it, but I refused to sell it, and then presented it to him. With this sword the general fought in the battle of San Jacinto. It is probably preserved as a memento in the Lamar family.

On April 13 some of our spies came in and reported that the Mexican cavalry were crossing the river at Fort Bend. At 10 o’clock that night Gen. Houston sent for me. I went without delay. The general asked me if my horse was at hand; I answered he is. He then told that he wished me to saddle up in double quick and report. I received my orders and an express to President David Burnet, who, with his Cabinet, was then at Harrisburg. I was ordered to travel with all possible speed, as the preservation of the archives of the government depended upon my speed—the enemy’s cavalry being then on the way to Harrisburg. In the night at half past 10 o’clock I crossed the river at Gross’s ferry and rode on till 3 o’clock a. m., when I met Col. W. T. Austin and Capt. Smith with two small pieces of cannon, known as the Twin Sisters, taking them to the army. I told Col. Austin of the whereabouts of the Mexican cavalry, and that as my horse was about to give out, he must let me have the best horse he had. He ordered one of his men to bring up the black horse. When the horse came I threw my saddle on him and was off in a trice, traveling at the rate of ten miles per hour. At half past nine o’clock a. m. I delivered my dispatches to the president at Harrisburg—having traveled between 80 and 90 miles in twelve hours. The president ordered the captain of the little steamer Cayuga to raise steam, and get all the women and children, together with the government, aboard of the boat as soon as possible. Before the president left he gave me a furlow for four days, to go and visit my family, which was 15 miles below Harrisburg.

I will now tell your readers how Santa Anna got hold of the famous black horse called Quicksilver. When Capt. Smith went on with the Twin Sisters he pressed this horse, which was the property of Allen Vince, into service. About five miles below Harrisburg is Vince’s bridge, the same which Gen. Houston ordered to be burned before the battle. When I reached the bridge Vince came out and demanded his horse. I told him I must have the horse to ride home; but he said he could not let me keep him, but would furnish one in his place. Just then a black boy belonging to Gen. Houston rode up, leading two horses for the general. I told him he could not go any farther, as the Mexicans were not far off, and he must go back with me. I threw my saddle on one of those horses, and left Mr. Vince for home. But in less than an hour the enemy came down upon Mr. Vince, and captured him and horse and all on the place.

When I got to Lynchburg, at the mouth of the San Jacinto, I found the place alive with women and children seeking to cross the river on the east side. I reached home after dark, and there found our vice president, Gen. Lorenzo de Zavalla, and family. I told him to make himself comfortable, as there was no danger where he was—the advance guard of the enemy being behind us on the opposite side of the river, and that I had good boats. On the next morning I went to work to put my boats in good order for sailing at a moment’s warning. I also had a skiff put on a large slide, so that in case we could not get down the bay we might retreat by land, and launch our skiff into the first river or bay we could reach. On April 17, at day light, Mr. Lynch came to my house and told us that the enemy was crossing the river at Lynchburg, and that his family had all gone into the salt marsh, and he wanted help to get them out. He was badly scared, and his report alarmed my family and the vice president’s. I then went to work and got the general and his family aboard of one boat, and my own aboard of the other. Mr. John Imes took charge of the first boat, while two youths, brothers-in-law of mine, took charge of the other. I ordered them to take the boats around to the mouth of Goose Creek and await my coming, while I should go and spy out the enemy.

After having gone all the way to Lynchburg, I found that some of the enemy had crossed the river; but I saw some twenty or thirty white men on Tory Hill, and knowing that they were enemies, I went no further. After the battle a list was found with Santa Anna of all the names of this gang. I then returned to Goose Creek, and took charge of the boats. The enemy had reached New Washington, about a mile and a half across the bay. We could see them riding to and fro. We ran out into the bay, and at about 3 o’clock the steamer Cayuga came in sight, and in a very short time we ran out and put all our passengers on board, telling the captain that the Mexicans were then on the point. He turned and went back to Galveston Island. 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.

In company with my brother-in-law, George Maley, I returned to Buffalo Bayou. This was on the morning of the twenty-first of April. Going out to see what had become of the enemy, to my surprise I fell into the encampment of our own army, and reported at once to Gen. Houston. In the afternoon the enemy was drawn up into line of battle. Our regiment, under the command of Gen. Sidney Sherman, was stationed on the left. Gen. Houston made a short talk to the men, as did Gen. Thomas J. Rusk, our secretary of war. Then came the order, “forward, march!” We advanced to within about two hundred yards of the enemy’s breastworks. At this juncture Deaf Smith rode up to the general and informed him that the bridge was burned; and the word was passed around to the entire army. By this time the enemy opened fire upon us with their scopets and cannon. Then the word was given, “Charge!” and such a charge has seldom if ever been made—without bayonets! As the brave and desperate Texans rushed like enraged tigers upon the foe, the welkin rang with the sound of the watchwords, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” In about twenty minutes the enemy fled in every direction, and the victorious little army of the Lone Star Republic was in full possession of the field. From that time till dark our men continued to pursue the Mexicans and slay them without mercy. Between 700 and 900 were killed, and about as many prisoners taken, while only seven men were killed on our side.

On the twenty-fourth Gen. Houston sent for me to come to his tent, which order was forthwith obeyed. I found him lying on a pallet in his tent, wounded by a shot from the enemy in the battle. As I walked in he told me he wanted me to take fifty men and go to the other side of the San Jacinto and on to the Trinity, and capture John A. Williams and a party of Tories. I told the general that I preferred that he would send somebody else, as that was in my neighborhood, those men were my neighbors, and if I should capture them it would cause them [to harbor] feelings of hatred and reven[ge agains]t myself and family. He repl[ied, “You m]ust go,” and as an officer in [the regular] army I was bound to obey. [He gave] me a list of their names, [which had] been found with Santa Anna [...] This list is now on record in [the office of] the adjutant general at A[ustin. I ca]led for volunteers, and in [...] I had as many as I needed. [...] brave men have passed the [...] save the following: My old friend C. A. Ogsbury, of the Cuero Bulletin, John Imes, of the City of Houston; George Maley, of Refugio county; and Mr. McAlister, of San Francisco, California. On the twenty-fifth I crossed the river to execute my orders. In less than ten days I drove every Tory out of Texas into Louisiana, save a few captives who were sent to headquarters. We had no little sport in that expedition, chasing the cowards over the prairies.

On the night of the twenty-eighth I stopped at Rector’s, on old river of the Trinity, my headquarters being at Solomon Barrer’s on the bay shore. At daylight I started back to headquarters, and at the head of Cotton Bayou I saw one of the gang who was mounted on a very fine horse, and well armed. I was mounted on my celebrated Tory horse. I immediately gave chase, the man being some five hundred yards ahead of me. We had an exciting chase for six miles, till he struck the timber of Cedar Bayou, when I gave up as I did not wish to follow him into the timber. He was the same Tory whom I had captured in ’32, carrying provisions to the enemy at Anahuac. The reason I do not mention the names of these men is on account of their children, who still live in Texas, and are good citizens.

I now received orders to take all the property belonging to the Tories, such as horses, cattle and negroes, as it had been confiscated.

About this time Gen. Houston left for New Orleans, and our Tory work was about finished for the present. The seat of government having been moved to Velasco, at the mouth of the Brazos river, I was ordered to report to the secretary of the navy, which I did. I was ordered to go on the schooner Terrible, Capt. Allen, as captain of marines, which was to start on a cruise down the coast of Mexico, with the view of capturing all Mexican vessels. Time and space at present do not allow me to give all the particulars of this expedition; let it suffice that we captured two vessels as prizes, and sent them to Galveston Island, and after a two month’s cruise we returned to Velasco.

Providence permitting, I shall resume these reminiscences at an early day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Major Editing to Kokernot Book and Book Site

Whoopee! As a result of the developmental advice of my editor, Kathy Carter, I have completed a major edit of David Kokernot's biography. By "major," I mean huge sections cut, others added, others relegated to appendices. I turned in the last of those rewrites to Kathy a couple of weeks ago. She has responded with many good suggestions for improvements, but they're not of the "delete this chapter" type. I have edited the book site, which includes chapter summaries, to match the new book structure. Take a look. I'm talking to book designers now and hope to publish in early 2012.

One item I would like to include as an appendix, but do not yet have, is David Kokernot's Reminiscences, published as five letters to the editor of the Gonzales Weekly Inquirer in 1878. Some of these were republished in 1923, but I want the 1878 versions, carefully checked against microfilms of the newspaper, and in MS Word format. If you have such a thing, or know where I can get it, so I don't have to transcribe from the originals, please let me know.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why Are New Orleans Burials Above Ground?

The search for burial places of Kokernot kin in New Orleans a few years ago brought me to Dispersed of Judah Cemetery on Canal Street, about three miles from the French Quarter. David Kokernot's brother, Louis, has a tombstone there. Louis's wife, Nancy; their children George Washington and Miriam Virginia; and Nancy's brother Benjamin all share the single tombstone shown in the photo. New Orleans is a wonderful place to explore old cemeteries because the residents seemed to be very extravagant in their tombstones, or rather their crypts, which are almost all above ground.

But look at this photo. Jews believe in "dust to dust" and insist on burying their dead. Look at the Christian cemetery in the background, with its tombs above ground. I've been told the reason is the high water table in New Orleans, which would cause a buried coffin to float to the surface and even be carried away in a flood. Really? I observed no floating bodies in the Jewish cemetery, even shortly after Katrina. In fact, I don't see why a coffin should float if it isn't water tight.

Could it be that people don't like the idea of their bodies immersed in water? Dirt's ok, but water's not? Or could it be that an above-ground vault allows more opportunity for creative extravagance?