Tuesday, February 27, 2024

John Turner: militia volunteer who fought in American Revolutionary War

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A LEGEND OF TEXAS | JOHN TURNER

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story of John Turner is told by Jerry R. Turner, an 11th-generation American and a sixth-generation Texan. He is a proud member of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), Texas Chapter 45, and the Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT), Chapter 47. His Turner family sailed from England, arriving in the Virginia Colony in 1650.

My fourth great-grandfather, John Turner, was a Patriot militia volunteer who fought in the American Revolutionary War against the occupying British forces.

After gaining Independence from the English King George III, John continued his life as a tobacco farmer living in Amherst County, Virginia. However, the lure of the western expansion into the frontier and the reports of cheap fertile land prompted John to decide, in 1802, to sell his property in Amherst County, Virginia and move his family to Sumner County, Tennessee. This proved to be a good decision for the family.

One of his sons, William S. Turner, (my third great-grandfather, who emigrated to Texas), born ca. 1790 in Virginia, married Elizabeth P. Smith in Sumner County, Tennessee on Jan. 13, 1813. Several months later, William S. Turner joined Gen. Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee volunteers to fight the Creek Indians, after several vicious attacks upon settlers and settlements in several of the southern states. Tennessee Gov. William Blount called for 3,500 volunteers to quell this slaughter of citizens, historically referred to as the Creek Indian Wars of 1812-1814.

In the battles of Talladega and Tallushatchee, William S. was twice injured by arrows. He also witnessed the wound suffered by Sam Houston in the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend and participated in the defeat of the great Red Stick Chief named Weatherford, who narrowly escaped by jumping from a high cliff into the river below.

BRAVERY

Based on his bravery, William S. was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of major. Following the defeat of the Indians, Gen. Andrew Jackson was again called to action to reorganize Tennessee volunteers to defeat the British troops in the Battle of New Orleans, which occurred on Jan. 8, 1815. Among these volunteers was William S. Turner.

In between the Indian battles and the Battle of New Orleans, William S. returned to his modest home in Sumner County, Tennessee where he resumed his occupation as a tobacco farmer. Some of his famous Tennessee neighbors and military associates included the families of James Winchester, Andrew Jackson, John “Jack” Coffy Hays, and William Trusdale.  These families lived reasonably close together in Sumner and Davidson Counties.

The economic depression and bank closures during the 1820s caused the families of John and William S. Turner to sell their properties in Sumner County and move to the recently established city of Memphis in Shelby County, Tennessee, in the late 1820s. The aged John Turner died in 1832 and was buried in Memphis. Family tradition says William S. was appointed sheriff of Shelby County by Andrew Jackson. Jackson was one of three men who formed and established Memphis as a Tennessee port city.  Memphis soon became an important center for commerce and travel on the Mississippi River to New Orleans and to the developing colonies in the Mexican territory of Tejas, later to become the Republic of Texas.

The William S. Turner family, consisting of wife Elizabeth, sons William R., Isaac Harding, Calvin S. and daughters Mary Mildred and Lucinda left Memphis in early 1836 bound for New Orleans in route to the Mexican territory of Tejas. They arrived in New Orleans about a month before the fall of the Alamo and were housed momentarily by a nephew named Sumpter Turner, who owned a very profitable mercantile business outfitting emigrants going to the colonies in Texas.

RAMPING UP

While staying with this family, the Battle of the Alamo occurred and the fight for Texas independence was ramping up, eventually climaxed by the decisive Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836. William S. Turner decided to postpone his family’s entry into Texas until Texas Independence was secured.

Sometime in 1837 the William S. Turner family secured steamboat passage from New Orleans to the new Republic of Texas. Upon their arrival in Quintana, a port near the mouth of the Brazos River, they moved inland again up the Brazos River on a smaller steamboat named the “Yellowstone.” They docked near the burned-out town of Washington-on-the-Brazos, the temporary capital for the infant Texas government, where the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. Here William S. requested and received a Letter of Citizenship dated Sept. 26, 1837.

From this location, the family moved overland, traveling southwest on the Camino Real de Los Tejas (Old Spanish Road). They arrived in the town of Gonzales and momentarily stayed with the John Tinsley family. John Tinsley was a nephew and a medical doctor who served under Gen. Sam Houston, Commander of the Texas Army. 

William S. Turner explored the surrounding area around Gonzales, selecting the most desirable land, and established a homestead in Gonzales County (which later became part of Guadalupe County.) This homestead was a few miles east of the present-day city of Seguin.  Here they began ranching and farming along the fertile land lying along Nash Creek.

The Republic of Texas opened its patent land office in Feb. 1838. Previous colonial land grants had been issued by the Republic of Mexico, but the issuance of Mexican patents ceased on Oct. 27, 1835 by authority of the New Mexican Revolutionary Government.  Consequently, William S. and son William R. Turner had to delay their filing for land patents for 640 and 320 acres, respectively. They received unconditional ownership of their land patents in Aug. 1839, following a “mandatory 3-year residence.” Since the patent office had not been functioning in the early days of the Republic of Texas, their land patent records were somewhat “retrospectively” granted.

CHALLENGES

During the time of the Republic of Texas, living and surviving was a daily challenge. Providing for the necessities of life was one thing, but marauding bands of Indians and the invading Mexican armies, sent back into Texas by Mexican President Santa Anna for the purpose of harassment, presented a continuing threat to the lives of citizens. 

Santa Anna sent two armies into Texas in 1842. One was under the command of Gen. Rafael Vasquez, who seized San Antonio for about two days in March and then returned to Mexico. A second was under the command of Gen. Adrain Woll, who likewise seized San Antonio for two weeks in September.

The Woll campaign incurred strong resistance from Texas volunteers, precipitating numerous battles between the two forces as General Woll retreated back to Mexico. William R. Turner and two of his brothers, Isaac Harding, and Calvin S., fought in all of the ensuing battles — of which The Battle of Salado Creek was historically the most notable.

William R. Turner married Martha Ann Allen on Jan. 18, 1847. Martha was the daughter of Hugh and Matilda Allen, who were living in Comal County along Cibola Creek, which was the boundary between Bexar and Comal Counties.

BUYING LAND

William R. bought land in Bexar County near his father-in-law’s property and made his residence in Bexar County. In 1860 William R. and wife Martha purchased land in McCulloch County owned by his father-in-law, Hugh Allen, while simultaneously selling their land owned in Bexar County to his father-in-law. This was an equal swap of respectively owned land by the two families. This exchange resulted in the relocation of the William R. Turner family to McCullough County later in 1860, living along Katemcy Creek. This creek was named after a former Comanche Chief, who in earlier years had maintained a camp near the site of the Turner residence.

This site had a strong flowing spring, surrounded by large century oaks and pecan trees and a pool of water the Indians had named “Waubansee.”  The word Waubansee meant “Mirrored Water.” This spring fed water to Katemcy Creek, which flowed into the San Saba River about a mile away. It was there that William R. Turner built a stone house, barn and a spring house for preserving milk and perishable food. Each of these structures had substantial doors and gun slits instead of windows. These structures became fortifications for several nearby families when Indians were seen.

Historically, this family is recognized as having some of the very first settlers to reside in this isolated part of the county. Small groups of raiding Indians frequently visited this area at the time the Turner family lived here, verified by three encounters involving family members — two of which my second great-grandfather, Albert, narrowly escaped when being chased by Indians while riding a horse. In the first, he outran the Indians back to his home. In the other case the Indians cut him off and he was forced to ride his horse into a live oak thicket.

Fortunately he was able to shoot the leader of this group, who slumped on his horse. This distraction momentarily broke off the attack, allowing him to escape.  Later a group of men went in search of the fleeing Indians and found a body piled under some rocks near the San Saba River. The third was the killing by the Indians of a circuit preacher, riding a horse, while in route to the Turner home. He was killed and buried where he fell, about 200 yards from the Turner residence. His grave is marked by a stone cairn.

SUCCESS

The Willian R. Turner Family, consisting of four sons and four daughters, produced a successful ranching business and helped create a small community known as Camp San Saba. Its name originated from the U.S Military quartered at Fort Mason, who frequently went on Indian scouts to protect the endangered residents, scattered within surrounding counties bordering Mason County.

Col. Robert E. Lee was one of several Commanders of Fort Mason known personally by the Turner family. He resigned his commission from the Union Army, vacated Fort Mason, returned to his home state of Virginia, and joined the Confederacy just before the Civil War began.

All three of these Turner families were adventuresome, being willing to leave their parents and move into the expanding frontier, which offered few comforts of life, immense challenges and many hardships. They were willing to risk their lives with the hope of creating a better life for themselves and for their children. They laid the foundation upon which our present society prospers and enjoys life.