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  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    Twin Sisters

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox

    When 74-year-old Dr. Henry North Graves died that summer morning in Dallas, the solution to one of Texas’ enduring mysteries may have died with him.

    Though no irrefutable evidence has been found, some historians believe that Graves had a hand in the burial of the most famous pieces of artillery in Texas history – the Twin Sisters.

    The two guns had been donated to the Texas cause by the citizens of Cincinnati in 1836. On April 21 that year, with devastating effectiveness, the six-pounders helped Sam Houston defeat Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in the rout that came to be called the Battle of San Jacinto.

    Battle of San Jacinto 1895 Painting
    Battle of San Jacinto Painting 1895 by Henry Arthur McArdle
    Courtesy Texas State Library and Archives Commission
    . Wikimedia Commons

    During the near-decade of Texas’ sovereignty as an independent republic, the Sisters served only occasional ceremonial roles at the capitol. When Texas joined the Union in 1845, the guns became the property of the U.S. government, and the Army removed them to a federal arsenal in Baton Rouge, La.

    As Texas and 10 other Southern states moved toward secession in 1861, the guns barely escaped being recycled at a Louisiana foundry. At the request of then Texas Gov. Houston, the Louisiana state legislature voted $700 to restore the guns and return them to Texas. They arrived on April 20, 1861.

    The old guns later sent cannonballs whizzing toward Yankee gunboats during the Battle of Galveston. The federals briefly took the island city, but either were not interested in the vintage field pieces or the guns had been withdrawn to the Houston area. In February 1864, Lt. Walter W. Blow wrote John S. “Rip” Ford that he was getting ready to send the guns to San Antonio. Whether that ever happened is not known.

    The Handbook of Texas says a Union soldier, M.A. Sweetman, wrote in his diary that he had seen the guns near Houston’s Market Square on July 30 that year.

    This is when Graves finally enters the story. Even though the war ended in 1865, die-hard Texas rebs did not want the historic guns again ending up as federal property. Graves later said that he and four other men buried the guns in a field near Harrisburg. The men made careful mental notes on where they had hidden the artillery and went on about their lives.

    Graves soon married and began studying medicine. He practiced at Gonzales, Seguin and Georgetown, an early authority on the therapeutic use of antitoxins. In 1916, he moved from Georgetown to Dallas to live with one of his three daughters.

    An article in the Dallas Times-Herald noted that in his old age, Dr. Graves “expressed a desire that he would live long enough to make a trip to Harrisburg and aid in recovering the Twin Sisters.”

    Graves attended a Confederate reunion in Houston in 1920 and, as the Dallas newspaper reported, “escorted a group of veterans to the field where the guns are concealed, but made no effort to determine the exact spot where they were buried.”

    The doctor had hoped to return to the area “if financial aid could be extended him.”

    But on June 27, 1921, Graves died. His obituary noted that the doctor “breathed his last Tuesday morning at 8:30 o’clock without designating the place where the cannon were buried.” Whether someone in his family made a last ditch effort to get the information out of him went unreported.

    As the Dallas newspaper reported, “plans were being made to introduce a resolution in the Texas legislature at the time of his death asking the necessary appropriation” to recover and restore the cannons. But that movement seems to have died with Graves.

    Battle of San Jacinto  cannons "Twin Sisters"

    Replicas of the famous cannons.
    Wikimedia Commons

    The whereabouts of the real Twin Sisters remain a mystery, but the boom of two cannons still occasionally is heard at the San Jacinto battleground. In 1985, two graduates of the University of Houston’s College of Technology oversaw the making of replicas of the famous cannons.

    Of course, replica is a relative term. No one knows exactly what the Twin Sisters looked like. In the mid-1980s, the Cinncinnati foundry that manufactured the guns still existed, but it had no record detailing the specifications of the Twin Sisters.

    “There are several descriptions of the cannon left by people who actually saw or used them,” Austin historian and Republic of Texas reenactor Charles Yates said at the rededication of the Twin Sisters in 2001. “But as is the case with multiple eyewitness accounts of the same event, they seldom agree on all points.”

    Unless the real Twin Sisters are found, the replicas will have to do.


    © Mike Cox - April 5, 2005 column
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