August 23, 2016

John Richardson Harris

John Richardson Harris, early Harris County settler and founder of Harrisburg, the son of John and Mary (Richardson) Harris, was born in Cayuga, New York, on October 22, 1790. On May 7, 1813, he married Jane Birdsall. John and Jane Birdsall Harris settled near Waterloo, New York, where two sons, DeWitt Clinton and Lewis Birdsall Harris, were born. In 1819 they were living in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, where their daughter Mary Jane Harris Briscoe was born. A third son, John Birdsall Harris, was born in 1821. At Ste. Genevieve Harris met Moses Austin and decided to move to Texas. He came to Texas in his own vessel in 1824 and received title to 4,428 acres of land at the junction of Bray's and Buffalo bayous in what is now Harris County. He boarded with William Scott while he built a house on the peninsula between the bayous and a store and warehouse on Buffalo Bayou.

In 1826 he employed Francis W. Johnson to lay out the town of Harrisburg. With his brother David Harris, John Harris established a second trading post at Bell's Landing on the Brazos River. Their sloops and schooners plied between Texas and New Orleans. One of these vessels, The Rights of Man, carried eighty-four bales of cotton to New Orleans in 1828. Harris was building a steam sawmill-gristmill at Harrisburg in 1829, when he went to New Orleans to buy equipment and there contracted yellow fever. After his death on August 21, 1829, his sawmill and shipping enterprise were operated by his brothers David, Samuel, and William Plunkett Harris. His widow and son DeWitt moved to Texas in 1833; the other children came later. Litigation over Harris's estate prevented Harrisburg from becoming the seat of the new Texas government in 1836, when Houston was named instead.

Note
This is a cenotaph. John Harris died in New Orleans of yellow fever and was buried in a mass grave with other victims. The burial site is now lost.

GPS Coordinates
29° 43.218, -095° 16.456

Glendale Cemetery
Houston

 

August 16, 2016

Manuel Fernández Castrillón

Manuel Fernández Castrillón, major general in the Mexican army and trusted companion of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, was originally from either Cuba or Spain. His association with Santa Anna dated back to 1822, when he served as the general's agent in a campaign against a combined force of loyalist and Spanish soldiers near Veracruz. While fighting under the command of Santa Anna in 1832, Fernández was captured by government troops and imprisoned. After his release, he again served with the general and was involved in quelling various rebellions in Mexico.

During the campaign in Texas, however, Fernández frequently protested the actions of Santa Anna. He was one of the few officers who opposed an immediate assault on the Alamo; nonetheless, when the attack occurred he led a column of troops credited as the first to reach the fortress walls. As a staunch advocate for the humane and honorable treatment of prisoners, he interceded on behalf of a small group of captured Texans that may have included David Crockett. Though he pleaded for their lives, the prisoners were executed. He also protested the execution of captured Texans at Goliad.

Fernández Castrillón again found himself in opposition to Santa Anna's commands at San Jacinto, and when the battle began he was one of the few officers to stand and fight. Gen. Thomas J. Rusk of the Texas army reported that Fernández was attempting to rally his troops while standing fully exposed to enemy fire on an ammunition crate. After the panicked soldiers failed to respond, he slowly turned and walked away from the oncoming Texans. He was shot and later died on the battlefield. Santa Anna maintained that Fernández was not a hero but that his incompetence greatly contributed to the Mexican defeat at San Jacinto. Several days after the battle Lorenzo de Zavala, an old friend, recovered his body. Fernández was interred on Zavala's plantation across the bayou from the battlefield.

Note
This is a cenotaph. The Zavala family cemetery was originally located on Buffalo Bayou, directly across from the San Jacinto battlefield. It was discovered in the early 1900s that due to natural erosion the burial grounds were slowly collapsing into the water. The Zavala family decided against exhuming and relocating the bodies for religious reasons, so as a compromise the remaining headstones were transferred to the battlefield. Castrillón's headstone had already been lost by that time.

GPS Coordinates
29° 45.215, -095° 05.387

de Zavala Plaza
San Jacinto Battlefield State Historic Site
La Porte

August 9, 2016

Willard Jessie "Home Run" Brown

Willie Brown was born in Shreveport to a poor family who encouraged his interest in sports and baseball in particular. He became known in the neighborhood as an excellent hitter and joined a minor Negro League team, the Monroe Monarchs, in 1934. As he gained experience on the field, he refined his batting skills to the point that he was signed to the Kansas City Monarchs in 1936 and played professionally with them for eight years. He was the most powerful slugger in the Negro Leagues, possibly in all of baseball, but since records weren't kept consistently there is no way of knowing what his home run total is. It is known that he surpassed the legendary Josh Gibson, who was so impressed by his ability that he bestowed Willard with the nickname that would follow him for life: "Home Run" Brown.

In 1944, Willard enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II and served until the following year when victory was declared. He returned to baseball playing in Puerto Rico, where he played during the Negro League off-season; he had lost none of his talent during his wartime service, reaching averages of .410 at one point. In 1947 he played briefly for the St Louis Browns but the overall lack of talent on his team and the foreign atmosphere of racism affected his hitting; he left the team after only twenty-one games, but not before becoming the first black player to hit a home run in the American League. Returning to Puerto Rico, his averages shot back up and he achieved his greatest season ever, attaining .432, twenty-seven home runs and eighty-six RBI in just sixty games, winning the Triple Crown - a feat he would achieve again in the 1949-1950 season. In 1948 he returned to the Monarchs and remained with them until his retirement in 1950, although he would occasionally suit up for minor league teams in the Texas League until 1956.

After quitting the game for good, he moved to Houston where he lived a quiet life until he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1989; he underwent treatment which helped retard the progression of the disease until it finally claimed him. The greatest home run hitter of the Negro Leagues, and quite possibly all of baseball, passed away on August 4, 1996. Ten years later on February 2006, Willard "Home Run" Brown was elected unanimously into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

GPS Coordinates
29° 55.745, -095° 26.850

Section G-2
Houston National Cemetery
Houston

June 21, 2016

Leroy Daniels

Wilbert LeRoy Daniel, professionally known as Leroy Daniels, was born on November 28, 1928, in Oklahoma. Popular, funny and usually the center of attention, Leroy had a natural charisma that drew people to him, so he decided his fortunes lied in the entertainment industry. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, Leroy moved to California. While working at the Los Angeles train station, a songwriter named Harry Stone noticed the rhythmic technique Leroy used to shine shoes. His unique slapping beat inspired Stone to write "Chattanoogie Shoe-Shine Boy" a song that soon became a bonafide hit for country musician Red Foley. A natural comedian, Leroy started performing on the Chitlin Circuit in the 1940s and 50s through the eastern, southern, and upper mid-west areas of the United States. After some success, he tried to get the attention of Hollywood, but only received small, usually uncredited parts; the most notable being his performance as a shoeshine boy who dances with Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon (1953).


Leroy and Astaire, The Bandwagon (1953)

Somewhat disappointed in the lack of interest, Leroy returned to the Chitlin Circuit in the 1960s. Shortly thereafter, he met Ernest "Skillet" Mayhand, and the two started a successful run as the comedy duo "Leroy and Skillet". Leroy and Skillet were signed by LaFF Records and made several very popular, very risque albums, mostly comprised of recorded-live performances of their stage routines. They appeared together in the comedy Handle with Care (1964) and other low budget films until the 1970s, when they were asked to be guests on the television series Sanford and Son. The two blended in so well with the cast - Redd Foxx, Slappy White, and LaWanda Page were all longtime friends of Skillet and Leroy - that they became semi-regulars on the show. Leroy's newfound exposure earned him a few more acting roles in Petey Wheatstraw (1977), Disco Godfather (1979) and a few other minor blaxploitation flicks.

Feeling his age and having saved his money, Leroy decided to retire from show business after his final film role in the revenge B-movie Avenging Angel (1985). He spent his remaining days visiting and reminiscing with his friends, and often set up shop at the local watering hole where he entertained the customers with his stories. Leroy died in Los Angeles on December 11, 1993, and for some reason was buried in San Antonio at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
29° 28.608, -098° 25.349

Section 25
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

May 24, 2016

John Hillery Osteen

John Osteen, founder and first pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, was born in Paris, Texas, August 21, 1921. He earned his bachelor's degree from John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and his master's degree from Northern Baptist Seminary; he also held a Doctorate of Divinity degree from Oral Roberts University. He did not begin thinking seriously about God or religion until 1939, after leaving a nightclub he frequented. Within a couple of months, he began preaching in Paris, Texas and was apparently ordained to the gospel ministry shortly before his 18th birthday by a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

He served as an Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church in San Diego after completing his studies at NBTS and by the late 1940s as a minister at First Baptist Church, Hamlin, Texas. John left Hamlin in 1948 to become an itinerant preacher, but within a year he became pastor of Central Baptist Church, Baytown, Texas. During his pastorate of Central Baptist Church, Osteen and his first wife, Emma, began to experience marital unrest and subsequently divorced. He married Dolores "Dodie" Pilgrim on September 17, 1954, and the following year resigned his pastorate. Before long, Osteen again entered pastoral ministry at Hibbard Memorial Baptist Church, Houston, Texas, but left in 1958.

That same year, John and Dodie's first daughter Lisa was born with severe health issues. As he wrestled with her circumstance, his theological beliefs began to shift and he had ecstatic religious experiences that he called "the baptism of the Holy Ghost". A year later, on Mother's Day, May 10, 1959, he and Dodie started Lakewood Baptist Church in an abandoned feed store in northeast Houston as a church for charismatic Baptists. The church soon dropped "Baptist" from its name and became independent and nondenominational. Lakewood developed into a body of approximately 15,000 members with active ministries in televangelism, conferences, missionary support, and food distribution. He hosted the weekly John Osteen television program for 16 years, reaching millions in the U.S. and in many other countries. On January 23, 1999, he died after a heart attack at the age of 77.

GPS Coordinates
30° 05.433, -095° 34.335

Chapel Mausoleum
Klein Memorial Park
Tomball