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Happy Birthday, Columbus!

The Texas spring was cold and rainy in 2023, reminiscent of 1836. The spirit of John Gaston sat idle for those weeks. In March ten inches of rain fell in San Antonio. In April the rain continued toward the east, like tears from heaven. The Gaston spirit clung to the pleasantness of the Angel of Goliad for a while. And then, in May the rain subsided, and he moved on.

He drifted among the clouds, looking down at a Creek. It was the Coleta, the site of the last stand of Fannin’s men before General Urrea’s men closed in on them. It held no appeal for John Gaston. The souls taken there were conveyed back to Ft. Defiance, and John Gaston already dealt with that. He drifted to the northeast, across the Guadalupe, and on toward the Colorado.

As he continued, the beauty of the coastal plains stirred a warm remembrance in him. The oak savannas in spring were fetching. Green dominated the view as far as he could see - - - until suddenly the green was complimented by red, white, and blue. Squares of color appeared among the irregular canopy of the ancient trees. Something man-made interrupted nature. He located a stand of magnolias and settled in.

Music was in the air! Trails of people walked among market tents clustered around a courthouse. It was a happy occasion, and he welcomed the joy of it.

John Gaston’s spirit landed amid a birthday celebration for the community of Columbus. This little town had existed since the 1820s when Austin brought his first 300 immigrants to settle in what was then Mexico. The community suffered through the Texas Revolution, the Runaway Scrape and the Civil War. After every crisis the citizens returned and started again. And now, two hundred years later, she was thriving!

In the ancient days before white men occupied the rich loam along the Colorado River, an Aztec named Montezuma established a village there. For decades the area was known by his name, and today Montezuma Street gives access to several neighborhoods. Columbus is that way, giving respect to the past. A visit to Columbus offers a festival of relics held over from the last two hundred years.

The courthouse sits on the square designated for those hallowed halls back in 1846. It has been rebuilt several times, but the message is the same as it’s always been; law is respected here. Through the organization of the Texas Rangers and the difficult days of local family feuds Columbus respected the law. The first documented legal case was in 1837, concerning the theft of farm stock. The absence of a courthouse building that year didn’t stop justice. The accused was tried (and found guilty) under an oak tree that stood in the vicinity of the town square.

While taking a stroll around the courthouse square one can visit various shops housed in reclaimed structures from the past. Dress shops, antique collections, and a meat market are there. A barber shop, an appliance store, and an insurance agent are available along the street. To the south a beautiful opera theatre houses the chamber of commerce and offers meeting rooms for the various civic organizations.

At the southwest corner of the courthouse square stands the water tower that refused to go away. It looks like the frontage of a medieval castle - - - but there is no castle! This tower was built in 1883 to retain rainwater. The water was designated to douse any fires occurring in the downtown businesses. When the town developed its public water system, the city fathers tried to destroy the tower with explosives, but the structure was so sound, it would not fall. The tower has been standing for 140 years, most recently maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as a war museum.

The magnolia tree where John Gaston’s spirit is perched stands next to the old Water-Tower-Turned-War-Museum. He enjoyed the pleasant nature of the community celebrating her old self. The green canopy is a fitting place to absorb the joy as the crowds below make merry. It’s good therapy, if spirits experience such things. The magnolias of Columbus will cradle him until John Gaston decides to move on.


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