Restoring history: Historic figure honored at Gonzales Cemetery
Volunteers from the Texas Historical Commission RIP Guardian program were in Gonzales Memorial Cemetery Tuesday, cleaning and restoring the grave marker of Matthew Caldwell.
Caldwell is a notable character in Texas history. As a ranger captain who fought in the Battle of Plum Creek against the Comanche Indians and later against Santa Anna’s armies during the Texas Revolution.
He also signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, March 2 1836. The document was prepared while the Alamo in San Antonio was under siege by Santa Anna’s army of Mexico.
RIP Guardian is a statewide network of cemetery preservation volunteers dedicated to protecting historic burial grounds in Texas. The (THC) provides technical assistance to RIP Guardians across the state, and encourages them to Record, Investigate and Protect (RIP) local history by volunteering at a historic cemetery.
“You’re not going to clean a stone to make it new again, because it will never look new again,” said Anne Shelton, coordinator of the Cemetery Preservation Program. “You want to make sure the stone is in good shape before you try to clean it. If it has any damage issues you should contact a stone conservator to help before you do anything to it.”
But Caldwell’s grave stone, standing nearly five feet tall, was not cracked and in relatively good condition, making it a prime candidate for the cleaning process.
Pat McCorquodale of Mason, Tx. is Caldwell’s Great, Great Grandson. He told The cannon his niece found out about the project on the internet.
“It’s nice that someone is concerned and willing to spend some time doing this kind of work,” McCorquodale said. “Our family is very proud (of Caldwell). He was instrumental in some of the activities related to Texas independence and some of the battles he participated in following that independence.”
As volunteers soaked the marker with water, sprayed on a special cleanser, and scrubbed the stone gently with natural bristle brushes, the decades of mildew and grime were slowly washed away.
“You never want to use metal bristles because they can scratch the surface and leave lines, and plastic brushes can leave the color of the dye in the stone,” said Shelton. “You also want to presoak the stone in all its pores well, and keep the water pressure of the hose at less than 100 psi.”
Melanie Landig, of Austin, is McCorquodale’s niece and describes herself as Caldwell’s “several great” granddaughter.
“His daughter Martha Caldwell Davis had a son, Thomas Jefferson Davis. His daughter Emma Thelma Davis is my grandmother. Her daughter is my mother Lois Lee McCorquodale,” Landig said with a smile.
She said she came to Gonzales several times to see the marker, and recently contacted Bob Burchard, a local historian, to discuss how some work could be to clean up and restore the grave stone of her ancestor.
“When he found out the Historical Commission was going to be here he contacted me and told me about it,” Landig said. “It’s great, it’s exciting that the HC wants to preserve the grave markers of historical Texans. And it’s wonderful that a volunteer organization would do something like this.”
She said that her two children in their twenties may not be as enthusiastic about her family’s heritage, but she attributes that to age.
“I think as we get older we get more nostalgic about history,” she said. “I feel proud. It’s kind of a neat legacy and I’m happy to have that lineage.”
McCorquodale and Landig both hope the grave marker project will help people realize “things need to be taken care of and rehabilitated,” and create a growing interest in the historic restoration process.
“In our family, he (Caldwell) was spoken about a lot, and when I was in fourth grade and began studying Texas history I learned the stories about Matthew Caldwell and started getting interested in it,” Landig said. “It’s exciting to read about him and think about people who came from other states across the country to settle an unknown land in Texas, make it their own, and fight for their freedom here.”
Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell was born in Kentucky in March 8, 1798, and died in Gonzales in 1842. He earned the nickname “Old Paint” because of white spots in his hair, beard and on his chest like a paint horse.
Land records indicate that Caldwell arrived in the DeWitt Colony with a family of five on Feb. 20, 1831. He received title to a parcel of land, June 22, 1831, southwest of the current Hallettsville in Lavaca County near the Zumwalt Settlement. In Gonzales, Caldwell acquired the original James Hinds residence on Water St. across from the Guadalupe River.
Election returns in Gonzales County show Caldwell was an elected delegate from that municipality for the convention. On Feb. 1, 1836, he and John Fisher were elected delegates from the Gonzales Municipality to the Texas Independence Convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the Brazos, and both were signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Caldwell was one on the committee of three appointed to assess the situation of the enemy on the frontier and the condition of the Texian army.
At his military funeral in 1842, D.C. Vanderlip delivered the following oration:
“When the events of the present day become matters of history--when the present generation are in their graves and other men occupy our placed, posterity will read, with wonder and admiration, that the gallant Caldwell with a handful of undisciplined volunteers, fearlessly took a position in immediate neighborhood of a disciplined army of the enemy of more than six times his own number, checked their progress and encountered their attacks, and compelled them to return from the field and the country, and then saved, the destruction of our capitol.”
In 1930, the State of Texas erected a monument at his grave in the Gonzales Memorial Cemetery.
Landig commented about her recent purchase of a home in Lockhart, Tx., located in Caldwell County.
“The courthouse there is named after him too, so its very exciting to be living so close to where he was.”
For more information about THC and the RIP Guardian Program, visit http://www.thc.state.tx.us/.