Interesting Life Story of An Early Texan
Written By Mrs. Mary E. Lesesne, Hennessy, Texas
[From J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine, December, 1923]
Colonel John Durst was born in Missouri February 4, 1797. He was raised in Texas by Mr. Samuel Davenport, who, taking young Durst with him, abandoned the country about 1814 on account of the war between Spain and Mexico.
He married Miss Harriet M. Jamison, a native of Harper's Ferry, Va., whose father, Col. Jamison, had been appointed Indian agent for the United States and in that capacity was then living in Louisiana. The marriage took place in Natchitoches February 21, 1821.
In 1827 Colonel Durst and his wife moved to Nacogdoches, Texas, and bought the old stone house which the missionaries had built in 1778. This house was their home while they resided in Nacogdoches and was fort as well as home. Col. Durst kept well in view the protection of his family.
Engaging in merchandising he soon found a large and lucrative business on his hands. The Mexican government had stationed Col. Piedras at Nacogdoches with a considerable force to keep the Americans in check. The citizens were forbearing and trying all the while to gain their liberty. At length the order came that all arms should be surrendered. At this the long-forbearing residents flew to arms, assembled at Nacogdoches, attacked Piedras in his fortified camp, routed him and pursued and captured his entire force. At the commencement of the attack Colonel Durst was second in command, but before any fighting was done he was made commander and conducted the brave onslaught and pursuit.
In a short time he was chosen delegate to represent the eastern district of Texas in the congress sitting at Monclova. While there, he was one day informed by a friend that the government had secretly declared war against Texas. Milam and Bowie refused to believe the report and, selecting a trusty peon, Colonel Durst determined to come alone, bring the information to General Rusk, and thus save his country from the overwhelming hordes that would pour unlooked for into her territory.
Nine hundred and sixty miles was accomplished by this intrepid pioneer in twelve and a half days on the same horse. The danger of the journey through the arid plains of the enemy 's country can well be imagined. Verily, Paul Revere and Caeser Rodney were not the only historic riders who rode for "liberty or death."
Col. Durst moved to Angelina county and commenced farming on the river of that name. Scarcely had he completed building when all the families had to abandon the country and flee from the Santa Anna invasion and from Indian treachery. With wise foresight Colonel Durst had the walls of his home filled with shelled corn and when the families returned to their homes he gladly divided this store of food with them. While his family was away he with some picked men did picket duty for that part of the country.
From 1836 to 1839 was the crucial time for the young republic. Treacherous foes were on her border and in the midst of her people, instigating the savages to midnight attacks and bribing them to ally themselves with the Mexicans for the extermination of the white settlers. Flores and Canales were busy plotting, planning and scheming for this deadly work. The eagle eye of Colonel Durst took in the situation. He rightly read that the calm was the presage of the storm. He fortified his dwelling making ample room for others. Besides the blockhouse fortification he built a large cellar underneath his dwelling, which was used as a dining room, but was to be a place of refuge for the women and children in case of attack.
Assured of the safety of his family he was then with his company of minute men off and away at the least sign of threatened warfare. Often his life was in great danger from the foes around, and on several occasions he was kept from death by the fidelity of Mexicans whom he had formerly employed. One prominent characteristic of Col Durst's was the power he wielded over the men under him. Whether as soldiers following him into battle, or as servants doing his bidding, they were ready to lay down their lives for him.
Every now and then such fearful deeds as the Baden massacre, and Ft. Parker tragedy, would almost curdle the blood of these early settlers, and at last the minute men reported to Gen. Rusk that large forces of Mexicans and Indians were assembled near the Angelina river. The Durst home now was converted into a place of refuge, and the families of the settlers invited to come there for protection. The enclosures were soon filled and many camped on the outside where they could quickly run in in case of an attack.
Colonel Durst, leaving enough men to guard the families in these fortifications, was soon with General Rusk, pursuing the enemy at the head of his company and when the fight came off had a horse shot under him.
Col . Durst employed John H. Reagan to teach in his family for four years. Judge Reagan said "At the home of Col. Durst I was a hard student, as well as teacher. From his fine library I read many books. At this hearthstone I listened to their conversations on the science of government. My mind was directed in that channel and my going into the home of Colonel John Durst was my first stepping stone to public life."
In 1844 the Durst family, with a large stock of cattle, many servants and retainers, moved to Robertson colony. That colony was soon divided and Col. Durst named the eastern part Leon, from the prairie on which he had settled, and which had long borne that name. He owned large quantities of land in various portions of the state, the deeds to many of which are in possession of Hon. Bruno Durst, and are written in Spanish.
Colonel Durst died in Galveston while attending supreme court in February, 1851. His sons at that time were quite young and much of his landed estate was lost for the want of timely attention.
From the old Spanish Bible, a sacred relic now in the family, the following record is translated into English:
Eliza Almira Durst was born in Natchitoches, La., in 1823. Louis Orlando Durst was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, September 1, 1827. April 7, 1830. Bruno Durst, October 11, 1832. December 28, 1834. March 20, 1837. Harriet Matilda Durst, July 29, 1839. John Sterling Durst, October 20, 1841. Horatio Durst, March 16, 1844. Clara Elizabeth Durst, September 6, 1846. Eugenia Marcelino Durst, 1849.
Out of these eleven children the two Alexander Horatio Durst, Benigna Durst, Angelina Durst, Eugenia Marcelino daughters, Benigna and Harriet, lived and married in Leon county. Benigna married General T. W. Blake and died leaving two children, J. W. Blake and Mattie Blake. Harriet married Dr. Sim Hopkins, and died, leaving three children. Two of these, Louis Hopkins of Oak Cliff, and Arch Hopkins of Jewett, are still living.
Louis Durst, the oldest son, married Miss Davenport, and soon afterward was killed. He left one son, John Durst, of Tyler, Texas. Bruno Durst married Miss Lusk of Leon county. He represented his district in the State legislature. John S. Durst married Miss Kittrell of Madison county. He is now a minister in the Church of Christ. and a resident of Junction City. Horatio Durst has been married four times. His present wife was Miss Wynne of Calvert. He resides near Leon at the old Durst homestead. Mrs. Durst died in 1885, aged 78 years.
John S. Durst
In writing this sketch I have borne in mind the words of the battle-scarred Cromwell to his portrait artist, "Paint me as I am." In gathering up the incidents and drawing out the leading characteristics of Colonel Durst I have looked for the scars. I have tried to picture him as he was.
Refusing all offers for public life he preferred the quiet citizen's walk, but when duty called he was "foremost in the fray," defending his country and his home.
"They builded better than they knew." Today our Lone Star blazes with a magnitude and a brilliancy peculiarly her own. All honor to the men who wrested her from vandal hands.
(Editor's Note: The above was published in the Houston Post 24 years ago. There are now only two of Mr. Durst's children living, Horatio Durst, aged 80, and John S. Durst, aged 82. The memory of our brave pioneers should not fade away. Col. Durst's name should be kept green with the laurel wreath of honor, and the know ledge of indomitable courage and endurance of the heroes of the stormy revolutionary days should imbue coming generations with the patriotic fire that stirred the breasts of their illustrious forefathers.)
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