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Unpublished Manuscripts & Letters by Robert Hancock Hunter

“Best account of the San Jacinto Campaign left by a veteran…An Indispensable Source” (Carlos E. Castañeda)


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235.     HUNTER, Robert Hancock & family. Collection of materials by Hunter, including two unpublished versions in his hand of his famous Narrative of the Texas Revolution, correspondence concerning his life, and other materials relating to his family and descendants. The collection descends from the Burke family, who married into the Hunter family.

     Robert Hancock Hunter (1813-1902), by virtue of his Narrative, is one of the better known veterans of the Texas Revolution. In 1822 he came to Texas as a child with his four siblings and parents, physician Johnson Calhoun Hunter and Martha Herbert of Virginia (a relative of David Crockett). The family did not have a soft landing, being shipwrecked on the Texas coast, where they lost most of their belongings and ate roasted alligator tail. The Hunters were “Old Three Hundred” colonists in Stephen F. Austin’s grant and established themselves near Houston in 1824 (probably the first colonists to establish themselves in present-day Harris County). As a young man, Hunter participated in the Grass Fight and the siege of Bexar; he volunteered to march to the relief of the Alamo, but it fell before his column could reach it. Joining Sam Houston’s forces, his unit was at the Battle of San Jacinto, although Hunter himself was delegated to guard the baggage train. His descriptions of the battle and its aftermath are, however, gripping. After the war, he returned to Fort Bend County, and for the rest of his life was engaged in various enterprises. He died a widower in Flatonia, his wife having died in 1888. Handbook of Texas Online: Robert Hancock Hunter.

     His father, Johnson Calhoun Hunter (1787-1855), one of Austin’s Old Three Hundred, was a physician, farmer, stock raiser, surveyor, and postmaster. According to various sources, he was born either in North or South Carolina. After living at various places in the Midwest, he came to Texas with his family in 1822, where he was promptly shipwrecked. After initially settling in Harris County, he removed to Fort Bend County. During the Runaway Scrape, both Mexican and Texas troops slaughtered and dined on his cattle herd, which he could not remove in time, forcing him to leave them on his plantation. Reportedly, he refused to bill the Texas Republic for his losses. Handbook of Texas Online: Johnson Calhoun Hunter.

     Hunter fathered Thaddeus Warsaw, Messina, Martha, Letitia, William, Amanda, Walter Crockett, Jacob, Robert Hancock, Mary, John Calhoun, Harriet Harbert, and Thomas Jefferson. His wife was the former Mary Martha Harbert. Some of those people and their descendents are buried in the family cemetery, called Brick Church Graveyard, near Richmond, Texas.

     William Wittliff, in the introduction to his 1966 Encino Press edition of Hunter’s Narrative, remarks:

In reading Robert Hancock Hunter’s Narrative, something about the man is quickly gleaned: his enthusiasm for and his delight in life. When his father asked who would go to defend the Alamo with Travis, he immediately shot back, “I am one.” …I do not believe his quickness of reply was strictly in the line of patriotism; rather, it was the spirit of the thing—to take a personal part in the events, to wield whatever powers he might command, to assert his manliness in the face of what might well be eternal darkness….

In my mind, the Narrative written by [Robert Hancock Hunter] is one of the great classics of what J. Frank Dobie called “the stuff of literature.” Robert Hancock Hunter was participant in events which have for more than a century reflected glory on Texas and Texans, and shall yet do so until men no longer care about such things. His Narrative is straightforward—without embarrassment or embellishment—and it reveals vividly the frontier mind and tongue. There is much of the understatement in it—usually the mark of the authentic in the personal narrative of early days. With the exception of J.E. McCauley’s A Stove-up Cowboy’s Story, I can think of no other personal narrative so delightful to read for the sake of the happy manner in which the words are strung together—and in the case of Hunter’s Narrative, the happy misspellings of the words. For me, the monumental events in which Hunter took a hand and described become almost secondary to his talk.


     The collection consists of:

HUNTER, Robert Hancock: NARRATIVE (1884). Autograph manuscript signed of Hunter’s “Narrative.” 1884. 8vo (22 x 14 cm) in ink on 110 numbered and lined pages in a stenographer’s notebook stapled into printed covers. Written on one side only. With eight leaves of inserts, six of which are written on both sides, and various manuscript corrections. Wanting most of lower cover, contents very fine.

The manuscript of Hunter’s Narrative (Basic Texas Books 100) in the Texas State Library has been published twice. It was first put into print by Beulah Gayle Green (1936; copy included with archive), who worked from the original. Its second appearance was edited by William D. Wittliff (1966; see Item 236 herein), who worked from a typescript, possibly the one also found in the Texas State Library. Jenkins and others have praised the narrative and declared it to be one of the more important Texas Revolution documents covering that critical era in Texas history, not only for the facts it preserved but also because of Hunter’s plainspoken, direct style. As Jenkins concludes, “Hunter’s narrative, with all its flavor, remains not only an important account of the revolution, but a delight to read.”

The present version, although it covers many of the same events found in the published versions, is in fact more extensive and contains more information than the published ones. One revelation he makes, for example, is that he actually managed to attend school for a while (p. 60). He also notes that a Catholic Mexican who had never read the Bible because it was forbidden to do so, upon being given one, read it cover to cover and was eventually hired by printer Gail Borden, who declared he “was the best tipe seter in the office” (pp. 58-60). He discusses other daily routines and problems, such as cholera (pp. 63-65), well-digging (pp. 67-69), brick making (pp. 73-75), and yoke mending (pp. 93-97). He also gives some descriptions of fights with Native Americans (pp. 100-105) and bears (pp. 72-73 and 79-80). Finally, he relates the first time he got drunk (pp. 77-78). A highly important manuscript containing new information about Hunter himself and life in pioneer Texas and every bit as interesting as the known published versions.

HUNTER, Robert Hancock: NARRATIVE (1900). Autograph manuscript signed, of Hunter’s “Narrative.” San Antonio, April 26, 1900. 8vo (22.5 x 15 cm) in ink on twenty-nine pages of ruled paper. Written on one side only, addressed to Andrew Jackson Sowell (1848-1921). Vertical crease where formerly folded, otherwise very fine. This version, which is far shorter than the one found in the stenographer’s notebook and the version in the Texas State Library, fairly closely follows the published work, although it often differs in some details.


HUNTER, Robert Hancock: LETTERS TO SOWELL. Three autograph letters signed from Hunter to Andrew Jackson Sowell relating details of his life and ancestry (creased where formerly folded, otherwise all are very fine) consisting of:

FIGHTS WITH NATIVE AMERICANS. 2-1/2 pp., in ink. 8vo (22.2 x 14.7 cm). Flatonia, May 3, 1900. Relating a fight with Native Americans and requesting that Sowell return his documents when he is through with them.

FAMILY HISTORY. 1 p., in ink. 8vo (22.2 x 14.7 cm). Flatonia, May 13, 1900. Discussing his father and his own birth place.

FIGHT AT RICHMOND IN 1828. 1-1/2 pp., in ink. 8vo (22.3 x 14.7 cm). Flatonia, n.d. [but 1900]. Discussing an 1828 fight with Native Americans at Richmond, Texas.

HUNTER, Robert Hancock: PAPERS ON HIS MILITARY SERVICE & PENSION. Five autograph documents signed and one printed form concerning his military service and his applications for a pension. Folio. Creased where formerly folded and slightly worn, otherwise very good. All in Hunter’s hand and signed by him, recounting his service record, enlistment, discharge, battles, etc.

HUNTER, Robert Hancock: ACCOUNT OF EARLY LIFE IN TEXAS. Autograph letter signed to his brother, Thaddeus Warsaw Hunter. Flatonia, March 14, 1884. 12 pp., in ink on lined paper. 8vo (25 x 12.7 cm). With two typed transcriptions of the letter. Fine. Recounting the family’s early days in Texas and during the Revolution. Thaddeus was the first Anglo male born in Austin’s colony (so stated by Thomas Cutrer in the Handbook of Texas Online article on Robert Hancock Hunter).

HUNTER, Robert Hancock: VARIOUS CORRESPONDENCE. Seven autograph letters signed from Hunter to various people on various topics. All 8vo (approximately 20 x 12.5 cm), in ink, as follows:

LAND TRANSACTIONS. 3 pp., unsigned, Flatonia, June 28, 1889, to his brother William Hunter, concerning land transactions, etc.

SACKETT NEIGHBORS.     1-1/2 pp., unsigned Flatonia, November 16, 1890, to Mary W. Sackett, concerning his neighbors (condition is fair only).

VETERANS’ REUNION IN FORT WORTH. 1 p., signed, Flatonia, March 27, 1890, to A. Faulkner, Passenger Agent, requesting the promised free railroad pass to attend the veterans’ reunion in Fort Worth.

EARLY FAMILY HISTORY IN TEXAS. 2 pp., signed, Flatonia, April 10, 1892, to his brother T.W. Hunter, concerning community news and the family’s early history in Texas.

NEW MADRID QUAKE & LOSS OF SLOOP WHEN EMIGRATING TO TEXAS. 9 pp., unsigned, Flatonia, December 14, 1893, to his brother T.W. Hunter, concerning an earthquake he experienced in Ohio (i.e., the New Madrid quake) and difficulties, including the loss of their sloop, that occurred after the family moved to Texas (as recounted in the “Narrative”).

POST-ARMY EXPERIENCES. 1-1/2 pp., unsigned, Flatonia, October 6, 1894, to his brother T.J. Hunter concerning events after his discharge from the army, including collecting salt at a destroyed mill (as recounted in the “Narrative”).

PICTURES & FRAMES. 1 p., unsigned, Flatonia, December 3, 1894, to his nephew R.W. Say, sending some pictures and frames.

HUNTER, Thomas Johnson: ACCOUNT OF EARLY LIFE IN TEXAS, “Incidents in the Life of Thomas J. Hunter in Texas for 72 years.” March 27, 1893. Folio (31.7 x 20.2 cm), in ink on ruled paper, 4-1/2 pp. (incomplete). Creased where formerly folded, last page partial, chipped, and torn at bottom, otherwise very good and highly legible. Interesting relation of early pioneer life in Texas, including his near death by drowning when he was only four months old and saved only by his mother’s bravery, the courage of his mother in numerous trying circumstances, the struggle to find and plant enough food to sustain them, etc. An important description by Hunter’s younger brother, some of it based on incidents learned from his parents and not related in his brother’s “Narrative.”


HUNTER, Johnson Calhoun: ACCOUNT OF EARLY TIMES IN TEXAS. Autograph letter signed with an initialed postscript to his sons Thaddeus and W.H. Hunter. Rocky Well, September 30, 1846. 2 pp. Folio (31 x 19.8 cm), in ink. Creased where formerly folded, a few splits at folds with minor losses, otherwise fine. A vivid letter from their father describing difficult frontier times in the Republic, including near-fatal illnesses of himself and family members, troubles with getting in the crops, and difficulties making a success of his cattle herd. He complains about the scarcity of labor and asks that his sons come to help him and bring some mounted men with them to assist with rounding up the cattle. In the postscript he jokingly chides them for not having sold the mill yet. Any Johnson Hunter letter is a very rare survival.

WREN, T.L.: DETAILS ON MILITARY ASPECTS OF TEXAS REVOLUTION. Three typed letters signed to R.H. Hunter, 1891 & 1894. 1 p. each. 4to. Mostly routine correspondence requesting information about Hunter’s former acquaintances. The January 31, 1894, letter, however, contains the revealing information that Hunter apparently informed Wren at one point that he exchanged rifles with supposed Alamo defender William Hunter, thereby explaining the origin of the decrepit Jaeger rifle Hunter himself had at San Jacinto. William Lockhart Hunter was actually a survivor of the Goliad massacre rather than an Alamo defender.

HUNTER FAMILY, CIVIL WAR IN TEXAS, ETC.: Collection of approximately seventeen nineteenth-century manuscript documents, letters, receipts, and other materials relating to the Robert Hancock Hunter and the Hunter family. Condition varies. Contains two miscellaneous manuscripts in Robert Hancock Hunter’s hand and signed by him (one of which is a brief listing of Republic of Texas Navy officers), and a deed also signed by him (February 11, 1882). Included is a J.S. Menefee autograph letter signed, 4 pp., 4to, Galveston, April 15, 1865, to an unspecified recipient concerning Civil War activities in the city, referencing the activities of Galveston blockade runners now that Wilmington and Charleston have capitulated. Also present are three Civil War letters (June 18, 1864, August 18, 1864, and January 8, 1865), from William Hunter (Robert Hancock Hunter’s brother) to his family from various places in Louisiana and Texas (4to & 8vo). These are newsy and sometimes impassioned letters concerning events he has witnessed and his own feelings about his service.

BURKE, James & William Burke: VARIOUS. Collection of approximately twenty-five nineteenth-century manuscript documents, letters, receipts, three photographs, and other materials related to the Burke family. Condition varies. Included is a January, 1895, slightly faded albumen cabinet card on plain mount showing William Burke and wife (Robert Hancock Hunter’s daughter, Mary Martha Hunter Burke), W.P. Burke, and E.M. Burke.

BURKE, William Pinckney (b. 1867): VARIOUS. Collection of approximately fifty manuscripts, typed letters, documents, receipts, twenty-five photographs (most identified) etc., either by him and to him or concerning his family and acquaintances, late nineteenth-early twentieth century. Most in good condition. This Burke was the last survivor of the children born to William Burke and Mary Martha Hunter. See Photograph section below.

PHOTOGRAPHY. Four photographs, consisting of:

THE FOUR BROTHERS. Group shot of the four brothers Thomas J., Robert H., William H., and T.W. Hunter. Albumen print mounted on printed card of photographer L. Hartmann, Opposite Court House. 103 Congress St., Houston, Tex. Image area: 14 x 9.7 cm; card size: 16.3 x 10.7 cm. Except for absence of upper left corner and small loss in lower left corner of image area, very fine. Subjects identified in pencil on verso. The veterans are wearing their campaign ribbons. Haynes, Catching Shadows: A Directory of 19th-Century Texas Photographers, p. 50 locates Leopold A. Hartmann at that address in 1892.

HUNTER FAMILY 1900. Hunter family group portrait posed outdoors. Albumen print mounted on card stock. Ca. 1900. Image area: 15 x 20.4 cm; card size: 18.6 x 23 cm. Image is missing three corners where the card broke (costing some of the names on verso and far edges of image), but the loss does not affect the group shot itself; some spotting in upper left, mostly confined to mount. Sitters identified in pencil on back. R.H. Hunter is seated in the front row, holding a cane and sporting a long, white beard. He is identified on the verso as “Grandpa Hunter.”

TEXAS VETS AT BELTON. “1836 Texas Veterans At Belton, Texas” (inscription in pencil on verso). Albumen print mounted on card stock, outdoor, formal portrait of several hundred people (including some women) posed before a building. [Belton, 1883?]. Image area: 13.4 x 20.3 cm; card size: 18.5 x 23.5 cm. Image somewhat faded, lightly foxed, and with loss of image at edges. Mount is missing two corners and is lightly stained, none of which affects the image area itself. Many of the subjects hold bouquets. None are identified; nevertheless, an iconic image of the people who fought the Texas Revolution.

WILLIAM BURKE. William Burke bust portrait (attribution in pencil on verso of frame backing). Albumen print mounted on card stock. 13.7 x 9.8 cm. Photographer’s imprint on verso: C. Petersen, Photographer, La Grange, Fayette Co., Tex. Sittings for Portraits made by the instantaneous perfect method. Except for slight marginal chipping, very good, in later oval tin frame. (Haynes, Catching Shadows: A Directory of 19th-Century Texas Photographers, pp. 86-87 locates Conrad Peterson in La Grange, Fayette County between 1872 and 1900 and notes he was born in Germany in 1836 and emigrated to Texas in 1850.) William Burke on June 14, 1865, married Mary Martha, Robert Hancock Hunter’s eldest daughter. Burke died in 1927.

HUNTER & BURKE FAMILIES. Several modern typescripts, with some duplication, of genealogical information concerning the Hunter and Burke families.

NEWSPAPER: Republic of Texas News. Authentic News of the Period of 1836…Price 10¢. Vol. I, No. 1, Austin, April 2, 1935. Compiled by Lance Parker. 4 pp., folio. Creased where formerly folded. Overall light age toning, a few splits at folds (no losses), very good. Rare ephemera containing reconstructed historical news stories from the Revolution such as Austin’s letter to the Committee of Safety (October 11, 1835), “Funeral of the Heroes of the Alamo” (March 27, 1837), “Texian Opposition to the Release of Gen. Santa Anna,” Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, etc. The final page is devoted to an announcement of the Texas Centennial Half-Dollar.


Sold. Hammer: $20,000.00; Price Realized: $24,000.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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