Sunday, November 22, 2020

Another History Lesson about Texas Independence--A Visit to Gonzales and Surrounding Areas

Despite the torrential rain when we arrived, Dad backed us into our lot in Livingston with greater ease than usual.  This was attributable to the fact that the lot next to us was vacant.  Hence, Dad didn’t have an obstacle course to maneuver around our neighbor’s vehicle, which usually is parked haphazardly, encroaching the road and affecting Dad’s turn radius.


Greeted with sunshine, we started in early the next day with cleaning and unpacking, which included removing the motorcycles from our truck garage.  We received warm welcome home wishes from folks in the neighborhood, and we caught up on Park news.


We enjoy being in Livingston in the late fall.  The temperatures are much more tolerable (though humidity is still high).  We keep busy with hobbies like hiking at Livingston State Park, Mom taking line dancing lessons, Dad attending Lodge, and us honoring military members by participating in several motorcycle missions with the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR).

Sunset at Lake Livingston

A Patriot Guard Rider (PGR) Mission

Being back home also provides us fun, food, and fellowship with friends Lisa/Jim and Romalee/Tim.  Since arriving back, we enjoyed dining with them about a half dozen times, patronizing Shrimp Boat Manny’s, Patron’s Mexican Grill, Pueblo Viejo Mexican Restaurant, and the 1836 Steakhouse, which was my personal favorite.  My family sets high standards for steakhouses having eaten of some of the highest-rated nationwide.  So, we were pleasantly surprised with 1836.  Their 14-oz NY Strip was the proper thickness and cooked perfectly for medium rare.  Dad the non-carnivore enjoyed a plant-based burger option that was huge (equivalent to a half-pounder) and tasty, too.  Located within a home built in 1872, complete with fireplaces, wood floors, and candle sconces, the restaurant offers a quaint, historical ambiance.  We had such a positive experience, my family returned for a second terrific meal several weeks later.     


Lisa/Jim and Romalee/Tim are regular dining companions of my parents while in Livingston 

Big Boomer, our medium duty truck, had to visit the International dealer in Houston for treatment of several medical issues--new water pump, new brakes, rotors, and the 125,000-mile scheduled maintenance, which came with a price tag of $6,104!  Add to this the new “shoes” we put on him in Idaho to the tune of $3,102, and Big Boomer cost us nearly $10K in the last 6 months.    These are the types of unexpected costs that come with full-time travel and fall under the category of “it’s always something” (the prophetic words of the Roseanne Roseannadanna character on Saturday Night Live).  We are blessed to have the funds in savings readily available to resolve these issues expeditiously.


In fact, while Big Boomer was undergoing “surgery” and out of commission for a week, we rented a car, booked a hotel room, and headed to Gonzales, TX, to get another lesson in Texas history.  We took all back roads to avoid Houston morning traffic.  Traversing in the crisp, clear early morning air along the Texas Forest Trail, the Brazos Trail, and the Texas Independence Trail, we were treated to bucolic scenes like cows grazing in pastures and hay being baled.

Mamma moo cows with their calves in the pasture

We passed through Round Top, home to all things antique, reusable, and recyclable, from old gas station signs, scrap metal sculptures, and pottery to distressed furniture and reclaimed planking.   Round Top may only have a population of 90, but it is a hopping town on weekends (pre-COVID anyway).   Outside La Grange, we crossed the Colorado River.  Nope, not the one that runs through CO, UT, NV, AZ, and CA.  This Colorado is the 5th longest river in TX, with the distinction of being the only river in TX with both its mouth and source within the state.


We arrived at the historic Alcade Hotel.  Built in 1926, it was the first hotel with indoor plumbing in Gonzales.  We stayed in the same room that Elvis Presley did in 1955 when he was hired by the town’s Quarterback Club (today’s Booster Club) as a fundraiser.  Can you imagine that you could have seen the King of Rock and Roll perform for a mere $1 for adults, 50 cents for kids.  Better yet, if you bought your tickets in advance, you would get in for half price!  It was sooooo cool to see all the memorabilia:  records, autographed photos, even a full-size Elvis cutout!  Mom was quite thrilled to be sleeping with Elvis’s face nearby—if only a print on a pillow.  Dad had a lot of competition in the hunka, hunka burning love department!


Gonzales is known as the birthplace of the movement for Texas’s Independence from Mexico.  It all started in the Fall of 1835.  Worried about unrest amongst the Gonzales settlers against the government, Mexico sent 4 soldiers to collect a cannon that was given previously to the settlers as protection against Indians.  The “Old Eighteen”, as the brave settlers became known, refused to turn over the cannon.  In fact, they buried it in a peach tree orchard to keep it out of the Mexicans’ hands, taunting the Mexicans to “Come and Take It.”  This resulted in the Mexican government sending 100 dragoons to facilitate retrieval of the cannon.  Meanwhile, reinforcements were coming from other areas of Texas to assist the settlers.  It all culminated on October 2, 1835, when the settlers unburied the cannon and used it to fire the first shot of the battle for Texas independence.  Interestingly, the “Come and Take It” flag was designed by Gonzales settler Naomi DeWitt, using her own wedding dress.

Gonzales is also home to the “Immortal 32”, the only men to respond to Lt. Colonel Travis’s desperate plea for reinforcements from neighboring towns during the battle of the Alamo in March 1836.  These 32 brave men (several of them part of the “Old Eighteen”), ranged in age from 16 to 48.  They gave their lives for the cause of Texas independence.


After the fall of the Alamo, Sam Houston saw the writing on the wall.  Realizing Mexican troops would soon be heading to Gonzales, he burned the town, leaving no shelter or supplies for the enemy.  He headed to San Jacinto and succeeded in defeating the Mexicans in a mere 18 minutes on April 21, 1836, earning Texas its freedom.


We walked throughout the town of Gonzales, visiting every square, avenue, cemetery, and historic marker.  We treaded lightly on the sacred and hallowed lands where freedom fighters and Mexican soldiers alike lost their lives.  A small grove of newly-planted peach trees commemorates the orchard where the “Come and Take It” cannon was hidden. Though it now resides on private property, we glimpsed the oak tree where Sam Houston camped before heading to San Jacinto.    

Newly-planted peach trees and a monument commemorate the site where the "Come and Take It Cannon" was buried

The oak tree under which Sam Houston camped before departing for San Jacinto

There are few historic buildings left in town.  But we toured the Memorial Museum, where the original “Come and Take It” cannon is on display.  We also visited the jail that was used from 1887 to 1975, at which 3 hangings took place.  We popped in to the Memorial Library for their 2 especially interesting exhibits:  one of the largest private collections of guns in the US and the largest private collection of documents from the Texas Revolution.  We walked along mansion row, homes built for the rich and affluent of the mid-19th and early 20th century.  Unfortunately, these homes are not available for touring since they are all private residences, even the structure that housed Gonzales College in 1851.

Memorial Museum and Reflecting Pool

The original "Come and Take It" Cannon

Monument honoring the "Immortal 32"

Monument honoring the "Old Eighteen"

The gallows at the jail where 3 hangings took place

Part of the Gun Exhibit at the Memorial Library

The Gonzales College of 1851 is now a private residence

More examples from mansion row...

Texas Heroes' Square

Gonzales’s economy relies heavily on tourism and oilfields, industries that are both hurting right now.  Most of the merchants in town were consignment shops and antique stores, which is where Mom found something Dad has wanted for quite some time:  longhorns for Big Boomer!

Dad proudly installed his "Hook 'Em Horns" on Big Boomer

There is slim pickins’ when it comes to eateries in Gonzales, especially places to meet Dad’s plant-based requirements.  Our hotel normally offers lunch and dinner options, too, although the cook had resigned abruptly during the second day of our stay, so no vittles for us.  Hence, one night we ate at the Come and Take It Bar that had a bean burger for my non-carnivore Dad.  And another night we dined at La Bella Tavoli.  Not on par to East Coast Italian, but for being in a Texas border town, the food was quite decent.  Service was pleasant and efficient, too. 


On another morning we visited nearby Palmetto State Park, which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.  While hiking along Oxbow Lake Trail and the San Marcos River, which runs through the Park, we spotted a bald eagle and a flock of turkey vultures that were sitting in a tree with their wings extended.  It was a hot, humid day, so I guess the vultures were airing out their armpits—I certainly was! 

The Park's namesake, the palmetto palm


The vultures airing out their pits

When we were in Ohio earlier in the fall, Mom informed Dad that we had to go to Columbus to visit the Santa Clause Museum.  Dad had to set her straight that the Museum is in Columbus, TX—not Columbus, OH.  So she was thrilled to learn Gonzales is only an hour’s drive from her desired destination.  Due to COVID, visits at that time were limited to Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays by appointment only, and Mom called to book our tour.  Our docent was pleasant and allowed us plenty of time to peruse the vast assortment of Santa items from decades past:  cookie jars, PEZ dispensers, needlepoint, even a Santa jack-in-the-box.   It was a very cool place, and I saw several items on display that are in my Mom’s own collection!


Columbus bills itself as a “City of Live Oaks and Live Folks” and boasts having the largest live oak tree in all of Texas.  Not only is it big at 75 feet tall and 300 inches in circumference, it is OLD, celebrating 500 years of life.   Columbus was the center of Steve Austin’s land grant colony previously known as Montezuma on his map of 1835.   Today it is the Colorado County seat.  We took a self-guided walking tour of the City.   Unfortunately, many museums and historical sites were closed to tours due to COVID.  We did get inside the restored Courthouse and the 1836 cabin of Abram Alley, one of Steve Austin's colonists.    


Columbus's 500 year old live oak tree

Colorado County Courthouse

Dome ceiling with beautiful skylight in the Courthouse

Abram Alley cabin circa 1836...

We departed from the Alcade Hotel on Friday morning and checked in to the Best Western in Hondo, TX.   We had plans to meet up with friends Sherry/Matt, who have a lot at Escapees Alamo Area Lone Star Corral Co-op.  We were to meet for lunch at Hondough, a new pizza joint in town that our friends said received excellent reviews.  According to Hondough’s website, they were open 11-2 and 5-9 on weekdays.  We arrived at 12:40 on a Friday, with Sherry/Matt already seated.   After doing our greetings, Sherry broke the bad news she just learned:    pizza is not offered for lunch.  What!  A pizza joint that doesn’t have pizza available all day long!  This is a foreign concept and almost sacrilegious for those of us from the East Coast.  And we even brought Dad’s plant-based cheese with us!  Disappointed, we all perused the small but tempting lunch menu.  That’s when the proprietor informed us he was pretty much out of all the lunch options.  What!   How does an eatery run out of stuff to eat?  Thankfully, the proprietor is very customer-service oriented.  He offers to break from his business plan and make us pizzas, even though it is lunchtime.   Terrific, since this is what we wanted to eat anyway! Our veggie pie came with a light, thin crust baked to perfection (with amble bubbles but not burnt on the bottom), topped with onions, olives, spinach, and Dad’s fake mozzarella.  It was DE-LISH!   Add in the terrific company, and I’d say it was a Rambling RV Rat 5-cheese experience!  After lunch we returned to the Lone Star Corral Co-op to see Sherry's/Matt’s lot and check out some that might fit our future needs.  Then we talked and laughed the day away, having so much fun we forgot to take a photo.  (This seems to be a common occurrence for us, especially when food is involved.)


Wish our stay at the Best Western in Hondo was as satisfying as our lunch, but it left much to be desired.  People were partying in the parking lot until almost midnight.  Then the “grab and go” continental breakfast that was offered was pathetic.   It consisted of a tangelo and a small-size granola bar in a brown lunch bag.  The bag probably costs them more than the contents!     


Hondo’s slogan is, “This is God’s Country—Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell”, and they were celebrating their annual “Christmas in God’s Country Days” while we were visiting.  We walked the downtown to check things out.  Normally they have a parade and lots of festivities.  Not so this time around thanks to COVID cancel culture.  Only a few vendors set up their wares to sell on a gloomy, overcast Saturday.

We had a great mini getaway.  But it was time to return home to appease our perturbed putty cat and retrieve post-surgical Big Boomer.  But I did convince Dad to stop at Buc-ees.  A combination of rest area, department store, fuel station, and food stop, Buc-ees is a true Texas treasure.  I even did some Christmas shopping there!


Buc-ee took me for a spin in his pickup!

How do you like my new Buc-ee Christmas PJs!

Well, time for me to sign off.  It's just a few days before Thanksgiving and my family’s official kickoff to the holiday season!  Talk to you again soon!


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