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The Story

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, .)

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.  


The History



Nacogdoches August 14

When I undertake to wright to those that I left behind me it calls to mind may serious reflections After A long and tedious jorney I arrived in this fertile vineyard tomorrow we will take up the line of march thear is only 18 in company

Col Charles Harilson makes I of the number we see the general in chief every day. He lovs flattery he is indeed A man oftexas. Thoug after I in forme you that I have bin sick for 2 months and am now on the mend I way 127 lbs all bone and sinue nearly I have never resented my undertaking as I look forward to the time that my dear little Mary will be considered independent by my presont exirsons Hear is the the finest county I ever saw good water and good land and

A helthy climate are all hear together and every poor man in your country that fails to come to Texas and inherit the goodly country dos not only stand in his own ligh he dos injustis to his posterity hear is the land that flows


with milk and honey come all of you and posses it. The best vine yard in the united states dos not surpas the finest hear in grapes neither in size varity nor flavor and they are abundant

Hear stands the walnut ana the pine together covered with the muskadime vine on land that will produce more then 2000 lbs per acre and hear are thousans of the finest cattle I ever saw hogs goats shep are rais hear with out feeding on salt.

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I travel a short dist (document torn) every day to see the country and people thear are (document torn) any spanish people hear that depend intienty on the (document torn) stock and hunting for a suport others clear 4 or 5 acr (document torn) of land and plant a fig tree

6 or 8 peach trees a small plum nursery some rhubarb tomatoses kian peper & butter beans and corn

the largest and most valuable of all thear house hold furniture is a buffilow skin which lays in the midle of the flour. we see Indians of diferant tribes evry day they appear to posses a considerable degree of pride

Court of Claims File for Duncan Cannon, 16 August 1858, Court of Claims 001281, Records of the Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

and say that are glad that Jacksons men have come hear to see that grow on well. If general gains dos not take his troops back to the united stats in 10 or 15 days I expect as how he will be lean of help as thear is not a night passes that thear is not several disirsions thear is mutiny in the camps which caused 10 to start on to our army last nigh. Gains will not cary I expect.

The dress of the americans or the setlers from the united states differ from what you ar acustomed to see part of thear apparel consists of I or 2 braces of pistols a large knife a sourd and gun a furious look and frequently use thear implements on each other.

The other day a frien of mine was un armed and under took to save the life of a man by nocking up the gun of a monster which caused the deamon to turn on him the inosant man was forced to slay him with his own knife.

[Begin page three]

Court of Claims File for Duncan Cannon, 16 August 1858, Court of Claims 001281, Records of the   Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.


Not all but many of the people are bad men hear. Thear are some as fine men hear as any I conversed the other day with a man of 35 years of age who informed me that he had never herd a serman nor had he even bin in a church others say that they that they went to church when young and beleaved the preacher becaus thear parants did. Thear are many children hear that no no more of the BIBLE then a well taught parot what a field for preaching.

We will join the army I suppose as soon as

Huston he thinks when the wether is cool and water plenty we will march to matamores I shall not be supprised if you hear from us on the square of mexico

had I bin able to work I would hav sent mony for the bennifit of my family. I erned a $1 per day for 16 and could get 2.50 if I had strenght to labour.

GOD nows my greatest disire is the well far of my family say to Loueaser I intend to com

Court of Claims File for Duncan Cannon, 16 August 1858, Court of Claims 001281, Records of the   Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.


home when I get a wright to my land. and I would not think a man to insure me to be worth 50.000 10 years hence

Say evry thing to marey that will make her happy a bout me

J D Cannon


Reverend Jeremy Cunningham

US-Shelbyville Bedford County


Court of Claims File for Duncan Cannon, 16 August 1858, Court of Claims 001281, Records of the Court of Claims, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

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