images| speak

by Deborah Burkett Cherokee County Historical Commission

Appreciation goes to Martin Swanson, owner of the Texas Basket Company in Jacksonville for sharing the following story and allowing access to family photographs and documents. During my interviews with the Swanson family, I learned not only about the history of basket making but also about the early days of Texas.

This column will focus on Swanson’s ancestor, William Physick Zuber, who at 16 began keeping a diary and would continue to do so throughout his life even though he had a setback once -- when at the Battle of San Jacinto he accidently spilled all his ink.

Born 1820 in Georgia, William Physick Zuber, moved west with his parents, Abraham and Mary, and as they did so, would relocate several times. In 1833, the family established a permanent residence, when the Austin Colony granted Abraham a headright of a league of land in what is now Grimes County.

At only 15 when the Texas Revolution began, William wanted to serve but his parents vehemently objected. William argued that he wanted to “win honor” just as his grandfather had “in the old revolutionary war…”

After months of debate his parents finally relented and accompanied him to Captain Joseph Bennett’s location. His mother, weeping, went from one man to another begging them to keep her son out of danger.
Zuber would serve in the Texas Army, 4th Company, 2nd Regiment, Texas Volunteers, from March 1 to June 1, 1836. During this time Zuber began keeping a diary. Self-educated and with “a zest for learning,” Zuber recorded the victories, as well as defeats, during the Texas Revolution.

In March 1836, things were not going well for Sam Houston’s army. Having declared independence from the official Mexican government, and after the fall of the Alamo and the Goliad massacre, there were decisions to be made and quickly.

During the Battle of Jacinto, because of his age and the fact he possessed a worthless gun, “that old polk stalk,” as it was called -- Zuber was made a member of the rear guard. He was so mortified that involuntary tears were shed, leading some to good naturedly call him, “the boy who cried to go into battle.” He, along with others, was stationed on the north bank of Buffalo Bayou opposite Harrisburg and was to secure the Texas army’s baggage and attend to their sick and wounded.

According to Houston’s official report, “…630 Mexicans were killed and 730 surrendered; while only nine Texians were killed and 30 wounded…” including Houston, who was shot in the ankle.

Santa Anna was found the next day hiding in the grass, dressed as a common foot soldier.

Eighteen minutes was all it took for Houston’s troops to take control of the Mexican camp. The significance of this short battle cannot be overestimated.
During his lifetime, Zuber would continue to write and keep a diary. He recorded experiences in major events and in some cases would be a driving force in terms of initiating policy. These included the Civil War and politics of Reconstruction, the veteran’s pension and the founding of the Texas’ Veteran’s Association.

In 1864, after he returned home to Grimes County, Zuber would resume farming and teaching. From 1876 to 1878 he served as county commissioner. During his later years, Zuber wrote articles on early Texas military conflicts and biographical sketches of Texas veterans, many of which were published by newspapers and historical groups around the state.
As a charter member of the Texas State Historical Association, Zuber was made an honorary life member because of his participation in the Texas Revolution. In 1906, he moved to Austin and was employed as a guide in the Senate chamber of the Capitol, where among other oil paintings, one of him was displayed.
At the age of 90, Zuber began the task of transcribing his diaries and his memories for publication. After his death, the handwritten manuscript was placed in the Texas State Archives, where it was used as a reference source by students and scholars of Texas history. Then in 1971, over 50 years after Zuber’s death, Janis Boyle Mayfield saw to it that Zuber’s work was published, entitled, “My Eighty Years in Texas.”
In 1909, William Physick Zuber was honored by the Texas Legislature as the last surviving veteran of the Army of San Jacinto. He died Sept. 22, 1913, and was buried with Masonic honors in the State Cemetery.

Oh, by the way, Martin Swanson has another ancestor who actively participated in the early days of Texas. Martin Palmer was at Washington-on-the Brazos and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.

If you have a story to share, contact Deborah Burkett, or at 903-752-7850.