Texas families have their particular Christmas
traditions, but the way the Hornsby clan used to observe the
holiday may just take the fruitcake.
Reuben Hornsby, born in Georgia and raised in Mississippi, came
to Texas in the early summer of 1830. Soon he obtained a one-labor
headright from Stephen F. Austin for land in the empresario’s newly
organized upper colony, which extended up the Colorado River.
Hornsby built a log cabin on the land in 1832 and received full
title to it nine years later. Located on the east bank of the Colorado
30 miles north of Bastrop
in what is now Travis County, his land and the settlement that began
there came to be called Hornsby Bend.
“A more beautiful
tract of land,” historian John W. Wilbarger later wrote, “can nowhere
be found than the league of land granted to Reuben Hornsby. Washed
on the west by the Colorado, it stretches over a level valley about
three miles wide to the east, and was…covered with wild rye, and
looking like one vast green wheat field.”
The land was
fruitful and so were Hornsby and his wife Sarah. They had 10 children,
the seed stock of one of Texas’ oldest and best-known extended families.
Being on the far edge of what passed for civilization in early Texas,
Hornsby and his family had a lot of trouble with hostile Indians.
Hornsby rode as a Texas Ranger and had several scrapes with Indians.
In fact, Indians snuck up on son Daniel Hornsby and a friend in
1845 while they fished in the river and killed them both.
on for another third of a century, dying Jan. 11, 1879. His family
and friends buried him in the Hornsby Bend Cemetery next to his
wife, who had preceeded him in death by 17 years.
that time, Hornsbys lived all along the river below Austin.
One of those Hornsbys was Reuben Addison Hornsby, who the family
credits with starting the tradition of letting loose with a blast
from his shotgun every Christmas morning.
But it was not just a one-volley salute.
As soon as Reuben Addison fired his scattergun, neighbor Jess Hornsby
would pull the trigger on his shotgun. That shot would in turn be
answered by a round from neighbor Mark Gilbert, followed by shots
from Smith Hornsby and Spurge Parsons.
who lived up the road, fired next, usually touching off two shots.
The sound of
gunfire continued to echo along the river as Ernest Robertson and
Jim Hornsby joined in on the annual yuletide salute.
One year, according to Hornsby family lore, neighbor Tett Cox had
not had enough coffee before shouldering his shotgun. He dropped
the hammer too close to his front porch, blowing a hole in his roof.
Still the holiday morning fusillade went on. It was the way they
said Merry Christmas to each other.
August Foster fired next, followed by Paul Rowe, who lived near
the Hornsby burial ground, and then Vince McLaurin. From farther
downstream came shots fired by Malcolm Hornsby, Willie Platt, Jimmie
Platt and Sam Platt. But just to be different, Sam Platt used his
.45 revolver in welcoming Christmas day. The years went by and the
shooters began marrying and moving off or dying. Slowly, the tradition
morning, Harry Hornsby grabbed his shotgun, stepped outside and
filled the cold morning air with the sound of a shot. He stood waiting
for an answer but none came. For all anyone living in the area knew,
someone had taken a shot at a turkey or was showing their son how
to fire the shotgun he’d gotten for Christmas.
Walking inside, Hornsby put the weapon away with the realization
that he was the last member of the family who remembered the old
tradition. It was the last shotgun Merry Christmas heard along Hornsby
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" December
17 , 2009 column
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