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October 26, 2007

An Early Texas Pioneer Journal

16. BENNET, Miles Squier. Original autograph journal of his life in early Texas, mostly in Dewitt Colony (Gonzales area), also in San Antonio and excursions to the west. May 25, 1838–May 27, 1854. 52 pages (including 2 blank) on 24 mostly quarto sheets (2 are 4-page folded folio). Some sheets split or splitting where folded, 11 sheets with tears repaired or edges reinforced with cellotape, one leaf is actually two sheets glued onto a stiff paper backing (journal entries are visible on verso of one where a corner has been lifted). Overall good to very good. Preserved in a brown morocco, gilt-lettered and decorated clamshell case.

            The 50 journal pages span the years from his arrival in Texas in 1838 at age 20 to life as an established farmer on the Guadalupe River in 1854. Some of the pages are in a good, clean, well-aligned hand, and others have more the appearance of daily notes with smaller, more irregular handwriting and many abbreviations. Dates covered are:

1838: May 25–June 24, September 21–October 16 (6 pages, including a “title” page);

1839: June 7–20 (4 pages);

1840: January 2–March 2, 15–17, 29–May 25, June 14–28, July 11–19 (18 pages);

1843: February 6–March 25, April 29–December 31 (18 pages);

1846: February 6–May 11 (2 pages);

1854: January 1–May 27 (2 pages).

            Miles S. Bennet (1818-1903) appears to have been a compulsive journal maker. As he writes on October 12, 1838: “Time is short and soon passes away, and once gone is gone forever, By keeping an exact account of each day of ones life, one lives longer, that is, he does not dream away so much of his existence, he will have the opportunity of viewing the follies of each day and avoiding them in future, and in keeping the record he will have an history of his own life to which he can refer in future days. I regret that I did not begin my Diary several years ago....”

            Especially in the earlier years, Bennet’s journal has many interesting notes and narratives about events in early Texas. The journal begins with his May-June 1838 journey to Texas accompanying his father, Valentine S. Bennet. Major Valentine Bennet, who had immigrated to Texas in 1825, fought in the Battle of Velasco, was one of the “Gonzales Eighteen” who defended the cannon against the Mexicans in 1835, served as a major in the quartermaster corps of the Texian army from the siege of Bexar through the battle of San Jacinto, and was later a member of the ill-fated Santa Fe expedition of 1841-42. Miles and his father settled for a time in San Antonio, where Valentine was stationed as quartermaster. The journal documents an 1838 surveying expedition westward from San Antonio. The survey team, which was led by John Coffee (Jack) Hays, was sent out to survey lands granted Major Bennet for his military service in the war. The journal records another expedition as well, in June 1839, west from San Antonio. But this was a campaign directed against the Indians, which had over 100 men participating and was led by Henry Wax Karnes. Other participants that Miles names include Juan N. Seguin, Samuel A. Maverick, and Horace Alsbury. The company returned without having encountered any Indians.

            A short time after the Indian expedition, Miles and his father moved to Gonzales, where they built a comfortable house. Upon completion of the new home, Miles was dispatched to Cincinnati to bring his sister Sarah to Texas, and the present journal recommences in January 1840, with his trip from New Orleans to Texas with Sarah. Among their shipmates was James Pinckney Henderson, who with his new bride was returning from his post as Texas’ minister to England and France. In April 1840, the journal follows another surveying expedition, this one led by Benjamin McCulloch. Bennet also records signs of Indian unrest and the killing of Anglos. In a later annotation in pencil, he mentions the Linnville raid and battle of Plum Creek. Extensive coverage of life in Gonzales is given. And, like a normal 19th century young man, Miles also expresses concerns about his future: “I do not know what I had better do whether to be a Farmer or what. I am now in my 22d year and am still more childish than when in my 19th dependent on my own exertions for a maintenance both for sister & myself; What should I do?” (Sarah married Thomas J. Pilgrim in April 1841.)

            In 1842, Miles Bennet began farming a part of his father’s headright (called Valentinook) on the Guadalupe River, cleared land and planted his first crops. Although there are no journal pages for 1842, there are 18 pages for 1843 covering almost the entire year from February 6 to December 31. In addition to clearing, planting, hunting, harvesting, the weather, health, and other usual worries of any farmer, he notes the first shipment of commodities down the Guadalupe River (“they are doubtless the first boats ever seen going down the Guadeloup with frt.”). In July Miles has several entries on the death of his father, including: “July Sat 22d Hearing that My Father is sick I started to go see him thinking to travel along by easy stages for I am quite weak and Feverish rode to Kents.... Hill told me I would not see my Father as he was Dead, news that I had no expectation of hearing.... Sab 23d started on up to Mr Hinds where I staid until late in PM. Much sickness in Family. Dr Brown there sick. I went on to town to the ‘old place’ and found Mr Grinag’s Family occupying the premises. They had removed there on Mon 17th the day that Father was taken sick. He was attacked with violent vomiting which continued untill Death closed his sufferings on the morning of Fri 21st.” But the year also had some bright spots: “Sat [Dec.] 23 S Hinds and myself started for Hinds & Gonzales. I found another little niece 3 days old at Mr Pilgrims.”

            1846 primarily relates to farming activities for the period of February to March. The ink is quite light in spots and very difficult to read. Although someone has penciled “1840” at the top, the year 1846 is readable in the original journal. The leaf is actually two sheets glued to a single stiff paper backing, and additional journal writing by Bennet can be seen on the verso of one where the corner has been lifted from the backing.

            The last two pages of the journal are for January to May 1854. Though still concerned with the vagaries of the weather and the success of the year’s harvest and his livestock, Bennet is a much more seasoned farmer. He is renting out some of his land, and he is operating a ferry across the Guadalupe. May 18: “The early corn is tassel and earing although it is not grown tall, however I think a good rain will make it pretty fair. In our Roasting ear piece we have as fine stalks, well supplied with vines of Beans and Peas as I ever had.”

            The fifty pages of journal here offered complement a collection of Miles Bennet autobiographical and historical materials, the “Bennet Scrapbook”, held by the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin (although only in a photographic copy). The Bennet Scrapbook includes pages of a journal (“Reminiscences of Western Texas”) similar to those offered here though in a uniformly good hand. There is some overlap of dates as well as uniqueness, but where overlap occurs, the present journal usually has more information. Also in the Bennet Scrapbook is a more narrative diary covering 1838-43, probably composed later using his journals as a basis. For a transcription of the Bennet materials at the Center for American History, see: ($3,000-6,000)

Sold. Hammer: $3,000.00; Price Realized: $3,525.00

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