Felix Huston and about six hundred volunteers, mostly from Mississippi and Tennessee, arrived in Texas on July 4th, 1836. Huston (pronounced, Huss’ tun) and his men arrived too late to join the fight at San Jacinto and Texas independence. With little to do but drill, march, wait, and get in trouble, some of the men managed to spend their time more productively. One of them was a lively letter writer from Shelbyville, Tennessee named J. D. Cannon.
Like a lot of correspondence written during the era, Cannon’s letter is almost devoid of standard punctuation and spelling but is still remarkably readable. J.D. was a genius at phonetic spelling, writing words as they sounded not as they are correctly spelled. Apparently, this deficiency didn’t hinder his ability to describe Texas and its people in astonishing detail.
J.D.’s mind is all over the place. He writes about a murder, his poor health, a serious lack of religion (he’s writing to his pastor), giant grapes, fertile land, big hogs, army desertions, and how Texans live, dress, and treat each other. There’s much more as you’ll see.
About the aforementioned Felix Huston, his commander.
Cannon describes him as a man who loves flattery. Turns out Cannon’s assessment Huston is historically accurate. (Here’s a link for more information about Huston and his contentious relationships, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/huston-felix .)
Despite everything, J.D. champions his new country as a place where opportunity abounds only if one is willing to work for it. The key is obtaining a land “wright”(right) for his military service, a resource essential for getting ahead in life.
Like many emigres to Texas in the 1830s, J. D.’s story doesn’t end well. He dies the next year in 1837, for reasons unknown, most likely from declining health. Twenty years later, his descendants request his land grant but according to the Texas Court of Claims, there is no evidence of J.D. Cannon’s death “in the country” nor is there a record of his military discharge. His dream dies too.
Despite the heartbreak, J.D. Cannon’s legacy in Texas history is secure. His brief but interesting and informative account of the early days of the Republic of Texas is, nonetheless, a lesson in faith, hope, and courage, misspelled words and all.