In my first historical novel SPIRIT OF GONZALES, I introduced the members of my family who arrived in Texas “just in time for the revolution!” John Gaston was one of the family, and he wore a red newsboys’ cap. From the day Johnny’s family arrived in 1831 until 1836, Texas was in turmoil. Stephen Austin and the other empresarios were in constant conflict with the Mexican government and the Texas Indians. John Gaston did what little a teenage boy could do to maintain the peace at home. Details of his efforts are presented in my Gonzales book.
On a cold day late in February 1836 another Gonzales citizen Albert Martin rode into his home village carrying a letter. That letter was from Col. Travis, back in San Antonio, pleading for help. Travis had been assigned command of the garrison formed-up in San Antonio. Their headquarters was in the old Spanish Mission de San Antonio de Valero. This compound dated back to 1744, built by Spanish Catholics as a facility to protect the missionaries attempting to convert the indigenous people in the area. In 1836 it was simply called El Alamo. The defenders of Tejas villages were billeted there in anticipation of a Mexican assault, and Travis’ letter was a plea for help.
The letter was handed off to a village official who read it standing on the boardwalk. He was stunned. The garrison in San Antonio was imprisoned within the walls of the Alamo, surrounded and outnumbered ten-to-one by Mexican forces.
Immediately Albert Martin and his friend began to shout and plead. In a panic, they appealed to the people on the street in Gonzales to listen to the news. A crowd gathered. Johnny Gaston was in that crowd.
The letter from Travis was short and clear. He was desperate. He appealed to ANYONE in Tejas and beyond to come to his aide . . . because circumstances being what they were, Travis knew he would either have VICTORY, or he and his men would die.
There was another John in the crowd that day. His name was John Benjamin Kellogg. John Benjamin and Johnny Gaston were brothers-in-law and held great affection for each other. John Gaston must have seen his idol, John Benjamin standing in the street. I can imagine the two of them looking at each other. There must not have been a moment’s hesitation. They would certainly answer Travis’ call for help.
A relief force was formed-up. Taking only the time necessary to gather weapons and travel packs, Gonzales mustered a regiment of men and boys eager to assist Travis in his cause for VICTORY. In less than 48 hours a force of thirty-two men from Gonzales were saddled-up and on their way to San Antonio.
Johnny Gaston was seventeen years old. His sister’s husband John Benjamin was nineteen. Barely what we would now consider “adults,” these two patriots took on the role of manhood to defend their home. None of Gonzales’ Immortal Thirty-Two survived the Alamo. But their efforts bought the time, the information and the ironic opportunities that ended in the miraculous outcome, The Republic of Texas.
In my mind, Johnny Gaston left in too big a hurry to think about his red newsboys’ cap. Maybe he wore his father’s modified sombrero. Maybe his hair was wrapped in a tattered bandana when he joined the others. Maybe he left bareheaded. In any case, his red cap was left behind. And in my mind – in these BLOG installments – his red cap will be seen across Texas as his SPIRIT wanders the land he died for, seeing what has become of his treasured Texas.
In this first installment, Johnny’s SPIRIT first appears back in Gonzales. He has returned to his home village. He will be delighted to see the little town still sitting alongside the Guadalupe River. Water Street and his home address on St. Louis Street are still clearly marked.
A few things have changed over the years. Johnny’s SPIRIT will at first be drawn to a little village on the outskirts north of town. Pioneer Village was created to memorialize Johnny and his compatriots. Visitors can take a self-guided walking tour, starting at the little cabin off the main trail. There is a mini cemetery just inside the village with a headstone for John Gaston, another for John Kellogg, and a stone for each of the others who went from Gonzales to answer Travis’ call. Visitors can walk through a church and some other buildings from the early days. If you go there, check the corners and lofts for a foggy image – maybe Johnny is there.
It's been 186 years since Johnny last walked the streets of Gonzales. He’ll be familiar with Water Street, and probably swoop back into town by that road along the river. He’ll turn onto St. Louis Street to find the concrete marker that memorializes his family homestead. George Davis was Johnny’s adopted father. The marker in the middle of the second block on St. Louis Street, coming in from Water St. will tell the story of George’s contribution to the peace efforts in early Gonzales. Ancestors of the family tend the peach trees now growing around the marker as a reminder of the events. George Davis buried the town cannon under his peach trees on September 29, 1835. The defense of that cannon is celebrated every first weekend in October with a town festival. Johnny will be gratified to see his old home place, and then he’ll move on to the next block toward town.
Continuing down St. Louis Street toward the courthouse, Johnny will find a full block dedicated to him and his compatriots. TEXAS HEROES SQUARE is just across the street, one block east of the George Davis memorial. A concrete base supporting the image of a citizen soldier carrying a long rifle stands as a reminder of the Texas Heroes from Gonzales. I think Johnny will feel honored by all the memorials he finds in Gonzales. And he’ll continue around the town as he chooses.
If you wish to continue your own tour of the town, look at the map below. I’ve noted the places I recommend. There are many more interesting places to see in Gonzales, but too many to list in this installment. You might visit the city website gonzalestexas.com or the Chamber of Commerce at 304 St. Louis Street for a longer list.
The Gonzales Memorial Museum
414 Smith Street
(Easily accessible from St. Louis Street at the sidewalk.)
Open 10:00 - noon Mon. – Saturday
1:00 - 5:00 on Sundays
This museum holds George Davis’s original journal from which I learned about my family. There are clothing and other remnants from the earliest days of Gonzales. A reflection pool stands in front of the tall monument (facing Smith Street) listing the names of the Immortal Thirty-two.
Just a short distance from the museum you will find THE EGGLESTON HOUSE, a preserved nineteenth century typical dog-trot cabin built by an early Gonzales family. The Eggleston House - 1303 St. Louis St.
This original home has been in need of repair, and MAY/MAY NOT have tour hours, but you can see the grounds and get a glimpse of life in the 1840s-1850s. It is worth a visit, if only to stand on the porch and feel yourself taken back in time.
If you return west on St. Louis Street to the downtown area, you’ll find Confederate Square
between St. Joseph and St. Paul Streets. This is the center of the original town, is a great place to park your car and a great reference point for other interesting places.
In the middle of the block south of Confederate Square – across from the fire station you will find
The nineteenth Century Historic Jail
Open 10:30 – 3:30 Wed. – Saturday
1:00 – 4:00 Sundays (closed Mon/Tues)
This historic jail is cared-for by descendants of the 1851 sheriff and his family who LIVED in the jail for eighteen years. They will provide you with very personal insight to its history.
414 St. Lawrence St. (830) 263-4663
Ready for lunch? Across the street from the Confederate Square to the East is the fabulous
Running M Bar & Grill, open M-Sat 11:00 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. (closed Sunday). If you love “old,” you’ll love Running M!! It’s a very popular place, usually crowded during lunch hour.
If you have roots in early Gonzales soil, you may want to visit the Randle-Rather Building (427 St. George Street) on the corner across the north side of the Confederate Square. The Archives Library is housed in the basement of this building, and you will find a team of ladies willing and able to help you. The Archives library can be reached by entering Randle-Rather Bldg. from the St. George Street entrance. USE THE DOOR FARTHEST TO THE LEFT and go down the elevator to the BASEMENT. If you are interested in a family from the Gonzales area, just ask for the family file, and they will help you. You will find library tables where you can work with your own paper and pen to take home notes of times gone by.
We leave Johnny now to decide where he will visit next. He has been curious about the men in Goliad and wondered why they never arrived to help out at the Alamo. Maybe we’ll find him there in late February or early March. I hope you will enjoy each installment as we follow his Spirit across Texas.
Disclaimer: This BLOG contains the free-speech opinions of the author, protected by law. Any travel or other activities prompted by these opinions are the responsibility of the reader.