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My ancestor, Capt. Jesse Burnam, hero of the Republic

September 30, 2018

Capt. Jesse Burnam (Burnham) was the oldest living veteran of the Texas/Mexico War when he died at 91 on April 30, 1883. He was instrumental in helping Texas become a republic. Jesse was born in Kentucky in 1792. His ancestors migrated from Gravesend, England, in 1635 and settled in Hartford, Conn.

Capt. Jesse was married to Temperance Null Baker, who bore him nine children. After her death, he married Nancy Ross, who bore him seven children. He had four stepchildren.

The family settled in Fayette County (Holman), near La Grange, on 1824. The Burnam family was the 13th family in Stephen F. Austin’s original “Colony of 300.” He built a fortified trading post, home, and the Burnam Ferry Crossing on the Colorado River frontier. He organized a small group of rangers and fought off several uprisings with the Comanche, Karankawa and Apaches.

Jesse rode with the Mounted Volunteers of Tennessee in the War of 1812 and later fought in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Austin commissioned Burnam as a captain of militia in May 1824. Jesse was a delegate to the Conventions of 1832 and 1833, and the Consultation of 1835 held at Washington-on-the Brazos. During the fall of 1837 Jesse was elected to the second session of the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. He aided Col. James Fannin in gathering volunteers and supplies during the Texas Revolution. Col. Travis arrived at the Burnam home and used it as a headquarters prior to escalation of the Alamo battle.

During the Battle of the Alamo, Jesse was at Ferry Crossing. Gen. Sam Houston’s army arrived at the Burnam Ferry on March 17, 1836, and crossed over in two days. This was known as the Runaway Scrape.

Once across the ferry, Gen. Houston gave orders to burn the Burnam homestead, trading post and ferry. This was to prevent Gen. Santa Anna and the advancing Mexican army from using the crossing. Burnam filed suit against the Territory of Texas, for damages. He was awarded $35,000, but he never saw any of the money. They kept telling him that it was “in the mail.”

Capt. Burnam did not like Gen. Houston for burning down his property. He did not make the trip to San Jacinto with Gen. Houston, but instead stayed and rebuilt his homestead and Burnam Ferry a mile up the Colorado River in Colorado County.

Burnam was a representative in the Republic of Texas’ provisional government and its first Congress. He also served as a Texas Ranger (1840-41). He continued to engage in four or five battles with several different tribes of Indians.

In 1855, Jesse and Nancy moved their family to Burnet County. Jesse’s second land grant was southeast of present-day Marble Falls on Double Horn Creek, near Spicewood, where he established one of the first sheep-raising operations in the area and a large wheat farm. The historic Burnam homestead, now in the family’s fifth generation, includes a log cabin, a two-story home and family cemetery where he is buried with other members of his family.

A memorial monument was dedicated to Capt. Jesse in 1936, near the original site of the Burnam Ferry, in the small community called Holman. The ferry site and a Burnam/Holman Cemetery are located on private land in Holman. A controversial event occurred in 1964, when the county of Colorado, site of the second ferry, came and confiscated the monument and installed it at the site in Colorado County. It stayed there for 45 years. In 2009 the Texas Historical Commission brought the two counties, Fayette and Colorado, together and came to a comprise in 2011. The large monument was moved back to the original site in Colorado County and the community of Holman.

In June 2015, a highway historical marker,was dedicated to Capt. Jesse Burnam by the Burnet Country Historical Commission. The location was in the Double Horn Community, Spicewood, Texas (near Marble Falls), near the Burnam Ranch. He also received the Texas Ranger Cross recognition from the Former Texas Rangers Association.

Capt. Jesse Burnam had a son and a brother who fought in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

This frontiersman, Ranger, Indian fighter, legislator, veteran, rancher and Texas hero deserves to be remembered by the people of Texas.

Historical information about Capt. Jesse Burnam can be found in the new location of the Alamo Library, 126 E. Nueva, operated by the Daughters of Republic of Texas.

Ken Burnam is a descendant of Capt. Burnam, his great-great-great-great-uncle. Burnam worked as a docent at the Alamo.

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