time you’re in Austin, be
sure to visit Covert Park.
But if you don’t know how to get there, don’t ask someone where it
is. If you need directions, ask how to find Mount Bonnell.
Most Austinites don’t know that one of the prettiest places in their
city is officially known as Covert Park. That’s in honor of Frank
M. Covert Sr., who in 1938 donated to Travis County a tract that back
then lay just beyond the western edge of town. The centerpiece of
the property was Mount Bonnell. In the early 1970s, the city acquired
the land and turned it into Covert Park.
Mount Bonnell, named for pioneer Texan George M. Bonnell, is not a
mountain in the real sense of the word, but it’s the highest point
in Austin – some 775 to 785 feet above sea level. Even those numbers
make the landmark sound higher than it is, about 200 feet above Lake
Still, the view from the top is impressive. And people have been coming
to enjoy that view for a long time.
view from Mount Bonnell
TE photo, 2002
1841, as the Austin Daily Bulletin reported on Dec. 13, “A large party
of ladies and gentlemen incited by the fineness of the weather and
making use of the vacant time during the temporary adjournment of
Congress made an excursion on Saturday morning to Mount Bonnell and
the country adjacent.”
The newspaper editor, in recounting the excursion, noted that his
“editorial duties” had “precluded [him] from the pleasure of participation.”
But just about everyone else in town made the trip.
“The party consisted of 40 gentlemen and 10 ladies, who returned to
town in formal array, the armed portion of the cavalcade in advance,”
the Bulletin account continued. Vice President Edward Burleson had
made the trip, along with the charge of a foreign nation (France),
members of the republic’s Congress, “professional men and plain citizens,
many of them temporary visitants…who will certainly go home with a
vivid recollection of the sunny and variegated beauty of the scenery
around Austin and the salubrutity of its atmosphere.”
The reason the excursionists had to have an armed escort was that
Austin then constituted the farthest outpost of settlement on the
Texas frontier. The Indians still had not accepted that Texas had
declared itself a sovereign nation.
Despite the threat of Indians, the editor of the Bulletin obviously
hated that he had missed the trip. “We wanted to scent the pure air
of the mountains,” he waxed on, clearly needing some time out of the
office, “to encircle with the heart’s vision the beauty of the scene,
to look again over the dark blue peaks of which the memory of our
boyhood still has some reminisces, and upon the river with its gentle
current running far beneath, and the wood upon its borders, for we
think it one of the pleasantest sights in nature to look down upon
running water and the varied verdance of a forest.”
Those who did go, the editor continued, got the view and good groceries.
“The viands which were carried out and partaken of by the Cypress
spring in the valley, would to us have had an improved taste engendered
by the pure air and the novelty and beauty of the scene….”
All in all, the editor concluded, the excursion to Mount Bonnell had
been “merry as a marriage bell.” Still lamenting that he had missed
the outing, the editor philosophized, “We count such a day’s enjoyment,
worth a year of common life, and reiterate our regret at not having
Houston, just beginning his second term as president of the republic,
had not been there either, but he had visited Mount Bonnell.
Houston once climbed the peak with Judge R. M. Williamson, a former
Texas Ranger. The big general is supposed to have slapped Williamson
on the back and proclaimed:
“Upon my soul, Williamson, this must be the very spot where Satan
took our Savior to show and tempt him with the riches and beauties
of this world.”
© Mike Cox
October 3, 2004 Column