February 9, 2016

Blind Willie Johnson

“Blind Willie” Johnson, known as the “Sightless Visionary” and bluesman and virtuoso of the "bottleneck" or slide guitar, was born near Brenham, Texas, on January 22, 1897 (according to his death certificate). He was the son of Willie and Mary (Fields) Johnson. The family moved to Marlin when he was a small child. Reportedly his mother died, and his father remarried. According to one legend, young Johnson was blinded when his stepmother threw lye at his father and some of it got in Willie’s eyes. Johnson had aspirations to be a preacher. His father made for him a cigar box guitar, and he taught himself to play. He performed at Baptist Association meetings and churches around Marlin and nearby Hearne, Texas.

At some point Johnson moved to Dallas. He may have married Willie B. Harris, though no marriage certificate has been found. They had one daughter. Willie B. Harris sang accompaniment with Johnson on some of his recordings for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. A second woman, Angeline (listed as Anna in the 1920 census), sister of blues guitarist L.C. "Good Rockin” Robinson, claimed to have married Johnson in 1927. According to Johnson’s daughter, her father lived with the family in Marlin, Texas, until the late 1930s. Eventually he settled in Beaumont.

Blind Willie made his professional debut as a gospel artist. It total, he made thirty recordings for Columbia during four sessions. He was known to his followers as a performer "capable of making religious songs sound like the blues" and of endowing his secular songs with "religious feeling." Johnson's unique voice and his original compositions influenced musicians throughout the South, especially Texas bluesmen. He sang in a "rasping false bass," and played bottleneck guitar with "uncanny left handed strength, accuracy and agility." So forceful was his voice that legend has it he was once arrested for inciting a riot simply by standing in front of the New Orleans Customs House singing If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down, a chant-and-response number that stimulated great audience enthusiasm.

Johnson's celebrity career ended with the Great Depression, after which he continued to perform as a street singer but did no further recording. A 1944 Beaumont city directory listed him as operating the House of Prayer in that city. He died in Beaumont on September 18, 1945, and was buried in Blanchette Cemetery in that city. Anna Johnson was listed as his widow in a 1947 Beaumont directory. Johnson left behind a legacy of musical masterpieces, some of which have been rerecorded on Yazoo Records. His work includes such classics as Nobody's Fault but Mine, God Don't Never Change, Mother's Children Have a Hard Time, Bye and Bye I'm Going to See the King, God Moves on the Water, Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, and I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.

His recording Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground was among the musical selections placed on board Voyager 1 in 1977 as a representative sampling of music on Earth. Johnson’s recordings were released by Sony/Legacy in 1993 on a double CD titled The Complete Blind Willie Johnson. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Johnson was dedicated at Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church (the site of Johnson’s residence and House of Prayer during the 1940s) on December 15, 2010. Johnson was also recognized as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. Texas State Historical Association

Note: This is a cenotaph. Although Willie Johnson is known to be buried in this cemetery, the exact location has been lost over time due to poor record keeping.

GPS Coordinates
30° 03.062,  094° 06.206

Blanchette Cemetery

February 2, 2016

Juan Nepomuceno Seguin

Juan Seguín, political and military figure of the Texas Revolution and Republic of Texas, was born in San Antonio on October 27, 1806, the elder of two sons of Juan José María Erasmo Seguín and María Josefa Becerra. Although he had little formal schooling, Juan was encouraged by his father to read and write, and he appears to have taken some interest in music. At age nineteen he married María Gertrudis Flores de Abrego, a member of one of San Antonio's most important ranching families. They had ten children, among whom Santiago was a mayor of Nuevo Laredo and Juan, Jr., was an officer in the Mexican military in the 1860s and 1870s. Seguín began his long career of public service at an early age. He helped his mother run his father's post office while the latter served in Congress in 1823-24. Seguín's election as alderman in December 1828 demonstrated his great potential. He subsequently served on various electoral boards before being elected alcalde in December 1833. He acted for most of 1834 as political chief of the Department of Bexar, after the previous chief became ill and retired.

Seguín's military career began in 1835. In the spring he responded to the Federalist state governor's call for support against the Centralist opposition by leading a militia company to Monclova. After the battle of Gonzales in October 1835, Stephen F. Austin granted a captain's commission to Seguín, who raised a company of thirty-seven. His company was involved in the fall of 1835 in scouting and supply operations for the revolutionary army, and on December 5 it participated in the assault on Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos's army at San Antonio. Seguín entered the Alamo with the other Texan military when Antonio López de Santa Anna's army arrived, but was sent out as a courier. Upon reaching Gonzales he organized a company that functioned as the rear guard of Sam Houston's army, was the only Tejano unit to fight at the battle of San Jacinto, and afterward observed the Mexican army's retreat. Seguín accepted the Mexican surrender of San Antonio on June 4, 1836, and served as the city's military commander through the fall of 1837; during this time he directed burial services for the remains of the Alamo dead. He resigned his commission upon election to the Texas Senate at the end of the year.

Seguín, the only Mexican Texan in the Senate of the republic, served in the Second, Third, and Fourth Congress. He served on the Committee of Claims and Accounts and, despite his lack of English, was chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. Among his legislative initiatives were efforts to have the laws of the new republic printed in Spanish. In the spring of 1840 he resigned his Senate seat to assist Gen. Antonio Canales, a Federalist, in an abortive campaign against the Centralists, but upon his return to San Antonio at the end of the year he found himself selected mayor. In this office Seguín became embroiled in growing hostilities between Anglos and Mexican Texans. He faced personal problems as well. He had gained the enmity of some residents by speculating in land. He financed his expedition in support of Canales by mortgaging property and undertook a smuggling venture in order to pay off the debt. Although upon his return from Mexico he came under suspicion of having betrayed the failed Texan Santa Fe expedition, he still managed to be reelected mayor at the end of 1841. His continuing conflicts with Anglo squatters on city property, combined with his business correspondence with Mexico, incriminated him in Gen. Rafael Vásquez's invasion of San Antonio in March 1842. In fear for his safety, Seguín resigned as mayor on April 18, 1842, and shortly thereafter fled to Mexico with his family.

He spent six years in Mexico and then attempted to reestablish himself in Texas. While living in Mexico he participated, according to him under duress, in Gen. Adrián Woll's invasion of Texas in September 1842. Afterward his company served as a frontier defense unit, protecting the Rio Grande crossings and fighting Indians. During the Mexican War his company saw action against United States forces. At the end of the war he decided to return to Texas despite the consequences. He settled on land adjacent to his father's ranch in what is now Wilson County. During the 1850s he became involved in local politics and served as a Bexar County constable and an election-precinct chairman. His business dealings took him back to Mexico on occasion, and at the end of the 1860s, after a brief tenure as Wilson county judge, Seguín retired to Nuevo Laredo, where his son Santiago had established himself. He died there on August 27, 1890. His remains were returned to Texas in 1974 and buried at Seguin, the town named in his honor, during ceremonies on July 4, 1976.

GPS Coordinates
29° 33.704, -097° 58.251

Juan N. Seguin Memorial Plaza

January 26, 2016

George Krause Kitchen

George K. Kitchen, Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, on October 5, 1844, son of George Kitchen. Both of his parents were born in England. Kitchen married a woman named Annie, who died in 1915, and later a second wife named Emma. Sgt. George K. Kitchen was in Texas with Company H, Sixth United States Cavalry, on the upper Washita River on September 9, 1874, with Lyman's wagon train, attempting to reach Gen. Nelson A. Miles's forces on the Washita River, when the company was attacked by a large force of Indians. They engaged the enemy from September 9 to 14 under very difficult conditions. Kitchen was awarded the Medal of Honor for "gallantry in action." After leaving the army he lived in San Antonio for seventeen years and worked in the United States Post Office there. He died at Kelly Field No. 2 on November 22, 1922, and is buried in St. Mary's Cemetery, San Antonio.

Gallantry in action.

GPS Coordinates
29° 25.016, -098° 27.832

St. Mary's Cemetery
San Antonio

January 19, 2016

Lera Thomas

Lera Millard Thomas
Aug. 3, 1900 - Nacogdoches, Texas
July 23, 1993 - Nacogdoches, Texas

United States Congresswoman (1966-1967)

GPS Coordinates
31° 36.265, -094° 38.909

Oak Grove Cemetery

January 12, 2016

Samuel Augustus Maverick

Samuel Augustus Maverick, land baron and legislator, was born at Pendleton, South Carolina, on July 23, 1803, the son of Samuel and Elizabeth (Anderson) Maverick. He spent his earliest years primarily in Charleston, but in 1810 the family moved to Pendleton, where Maverick's father established a plantation and devoted much of his energy to buying land in South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. Maverick was educated at home until age eighteen, when he left South Carolina and spent a summer studying under a tutor at Ripton, Connecticut, in preparation for entry to Yale University. He entered the sophomore class at Yale in September 1822 and graduated in 1825. He returned to Pendleton, started handling some of his father's business affairs, and developed an eye for land and a careful business sense. In 1828 he traveled to Winchester, Virginia, and studied law under noted jurist Henry St. George Tucker. Maverick received his Virginia law license on March 26, 1829. He returned to Pendleton in 1829 and opened a law office. He ran for the South Carolina legislature in 1830, but his anti-secession and anti-nullification views contributed to his defeat and led him to leave the state in 1833. He settled temporarily in Georgia, then on a plantation in Lauderdale County, Alabama, before moving to Texas in March 1835.

Maverick arrived in Texas eager to start building his own land empire, but the Texas Revolution was rapidly developing. He reached San Antonio shortly before the siege of Bexar began and was soon put under house arrest with John W. Smith and A.C. Holmes on the orders of Mexican general Martín Perfecto de Cos. Forbidden to leave the city, Maverick kept a diary that provides a vivid record of the siege. He and Smith were released on December 1 and quickly made their way to the besiegers' camp, where they urged an immediate attack. When an attack was finally made on December 5, Maverick guided Benjamin R. Milam's division. He remained in San Antonio after the siege and in February was elected one of two delegates from the Alamo garrison to the independence convention scheduled for March 1, 1836, at Washington-on-the-Brazos. He left the embattled garrison on March 2 and arrived at the convention on March 5. While serving there, Maverick contracted a severe attack of chills and fever. After the delegates dispersed, he made his way to Nacogdoches; then, ill and aware that he was needed on family business, he departed for Alabama about the time of Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto.

In Alabama, Maverick met Mary Ann Adams, and married her on August 4, 1836, at her widowed mother's plantation near Tuscaloosa. The couple divided their time between Alabama and Pendleton until late 1837, when with their first-born, Samuel Maverick, Jr., and a small retinue of slaves, they started for Texas. In June 1838 they established a home in San Antonio. Maverick obtained his Texas law license, engaged in West Texas land speculation, and served as the city's mayor in 1839. He followed his term as mayor with a term as treasurer and continued to serve on the city council until the Mavericks joined the "Runaway of '42," a move based on rumors of pending Mexican invasion of San Antonio. They settled temporarily near Gonzales, but Maverick returned to San Antonio for the fall term of district court and was one of the prisoners taken by Mexican general Adrián Woll. He was released from Perote Prison in April 1843 through the intervention of United States minister to Mexico Waddy Thompson. Upon his return, Maverick, who had been elected to the Seventh Congress of the Republic of Texas, served in the Eighth Congress and was a strong advocate of annexation to the United States. In late 1844 he moved his growing family to Decrows (Decros) Point on Matagorda Bay, where they lived until October 1847.

When he returned permanently to San Antonio with his family, Maverick left a small herd of cattle originally purchased in 1847 on Matagorda Peninsula with slave caretakers. It was this herd that was allowed to wander and gave rise to the term maverick, which denotes an unbranded calf. In 1854 Maverick and his two eldest sons rounded up the cattle and drove them to their Conquista Ranch near the site of present Floresville before selling them in 1856. During the years between Maverick's return to San Antonio and his death, he expanded his West Texas landholdings, which in 1851 totaled almost 140,000 acres. By 1864 they had burgeoned to more than 278,000 acres, and at his death they topped 300,000 acres. Maverick gained land primarily by buying such land certificates as headright certificates and bounty and donation certificates. In the 1850s and 1860s he was one of the two biggest investors in West Texas acreage, and Maverick County was named in his honor.

He served as a Democrat in the Fourth through Ninth state legislatures (1851–63). There he worked to ensure equal opportunity for his Mexican and German constituents, to foster fair and liberal laws for land acquisition and ownership, to develop transportation and other internal state improvements, to provide protection for the frontier, and to ensure a fair and efficient judicial system. He also worked until the outbreak of the Civil War to stem the tide of secessionism, but, seeing that a conflict was inevitable, threw his support to the Confederacy. He was one of three secession commissioners appointed by the Texas Secession Convention, and the three successfully effected the removal of federal troops and the transfer of federal stores in Texas to the state government. During the war he was elected chief justice of Bexar County and served a second term as San Antonio mayor. After the war he received a presidential pardon and was active in attempts to combat the radical Republican regime in Reconstruction Texas. He died on September 2, 1870, after a brief illness. Surviving him were his wife and five of his ten children. Maverick, an Episcopalian, was buried in San Antonio's City Cemetery Number 1. (Source: The Handbook of Texas Online)

GPS Coordinates
29° 25.222, -098° 28.034

City Cemetery #1
San Antonio