I woke up this morning thinking of Andrew Jackson Hitchcock (I fell in love with that name the moment I saw it). Although he is just a footnote in the history of Denton, Texas, he was a hero of the Texas War of Independence. Few people think of him these days, and he lies forgotten under the sod of the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, beneath a towering monument. Today, March 27th, would have been a day etched into his memory; it was a day the horrors of which A.J. Hitchcock would have liked to forget.
Hitchcock came to Texas in 1836, with a battle regiment from Georgia, to fight with the Texians in their quest for independence from Mexico. He had the great misfortune of fighting under Colonel James Fannin.
You might not know much about Colonel Fannin, or Texas history for that matter. It’s OK. If you didn’t grow up here, then you never had a history teacher who extolled the virtues of the men who fought for Texas independence with all the fervor of a preacher at a tent revival. The Texian battle cries of “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” were pounded into my pea-brain; they were the cries that spurred the Texians to victory in their battle for independence from Mexico.
You probably remember the Alamo? Hey, John Wayne was in a movie about it … surely you remember that! That tragedy of Texas history happened on March 6th. I will never forget the anniversary of The Alamo, because it’s my birthday (and you should remember that I like gifts of chocolate or coffee!).
Certainly Colonel Fannin remembered The Alamo later that month. He found that his troops were in a dire predicament against an overwhelming number of Mexican troops. Rather than risk another senseless slaughter of soldiers, on March 20th, 1836 Colonel Fannin surrendered his troops to General José Urrea near La Bahia (Goliad). Fannin and Urrea had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” that the men would be turned over to the United States Government as prisoners of war. Well, that didn’t happen.
The men, along with other Texians who had been captured by the Mexicans, were imprisoned at Fort Goliad. Though General Urrea wanted to honor his agreement with Fannin, it wasn’t his decision to make. The President of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, ordered them executed.
On Palm Sunday, March 27th, the men were marched out of the fort. Thinking that perhaps they were being released, the approximately 350 men were docile prisoners. After marching about a half-mile from the fort, the Mexican soldiers turned and fired on the men. Most of the men fell with the first volley, but a few were left standing.
Andrew Jackson Hitchcock was one of them!
As the Mexican soldier began clubbing and knifing the survivors near them, Hitchcock (and perhaps as many as 30 other men who were not killed) turned and ran like hell.
When the war was won, Hitchcock was given land grants, as were all of the veterans of the war. His life after that read like a ten cent novel. He was a wealthy plantation owner in Louisiana for a time until his wife and children died of a fever. He went to Argentina, thinking to become a rancher, but decided he liked The States better. In his old age, he wound up right here in Denton, Texas, but he wasn’t living the high life.
Hitchcock lived at a boarding house which was grandly called, “The James Hotel.” He shared a room with another boarder. Quite often, he visited with local family members and told them the tales of his harrowing escape from Goliad. One of his kin, Dr. W. N. Rowell, later wrote the story (you can find it at the Emily Fowler Library). Unfortunately, the life of Andrew Jackson Hitchcock ended in tragedy.
On August 25, 1887, A.J. Hitchcock retired to his rooms with two bags of gold known to be on his person. A suspicious fire broke out at the James Hotel that night. It burned to the ground, and only one person died — A.J. Hitchcock. His charred body was downstairs, but the gold he possessed never was discovered; only a single gold collar button from his shirt was found. It was a mystery that was never solved.
I’ve spent months trying to discover where the James Hotel was located, and finally have. If the story interests you, I tell more about it sometimes on the Ghosts of Denton tour (Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00). Make reservations to take a walk around the square with me, ask for his story, and I’ll take you to the spot where he died to tell you the full tale.
Today, however, I just want to raise my glass to Andrew Jackson Hitchcock. He was at the Massacre at Goliad and lived to tell the tale.