Burleson County is located in East Central Texas and its county seat is Caldwell. The county is named for General Edward Murray Burleson, who served as Colonel of the First Regiment of Volunteers at the Battle of San Jacinto. He was born in North Carolina on December 15, 1798 and was still a relatively young man when his father James B. Burleson brought him on to act as Secretary as his father fought in the Creek War under Andrew Jackson. They both were descended from Ed Burleson’s grandfather Aaron Burleson, who had fought as a Minuteman in the American Revolution. The family first moved to Virginia, and Ed was elected Lieutenant and later Colonel of the militia. They later relocated to Tennessee where he served as Colonel of the militia from 1823 to 1830 in Hardeman County, Tennessee.
He was 33 years old when the family moved to Texas in what is now Bastrop County, then on the Texas frontier. For over 10 years, he and the other residents were called upon to defend against and pursue marauding Indians, which began his military career in Texas. He remained a volunteer under Stephen F. Austin and in 1835 in Gonzales, he was elected Colonel of the only Texas regiment that existed at the time. He was elected Commander-in-Chief after Austin resigned and was still serving in that capacity at the Siege of Béxar, holding that position until 1836 when he was again elected Colonel of the first regiment. In 1837, he was elected Brigadier General of the Texas Army.
Much of Burleson’s service had been to pursue or defend against Indians, before and after the Texas Revolution. At first glance it might appear that Ed Burleson was driven by some type of vendetta or grudge, and that may very well have been true, but his grandfather Aaron who in addition to having been a Minuteman, had also been an acquaintance of Daniel Boone, his uncle Aaron and another relative had been killed and his grandfather scalped in an ambush back in Tennessee on November 16, 1782, long before Ed was born.
In 1839, after years of Indian attacks on Anglo settlements in Texas, the prevailing sentiment of President Mirabeau B. Lamar and many others was that tribes like the Texas Cherokee should be driven from the area to preserve the safety of the Anglo residents. This sentiment was not shared by Sam Houston who was conciliatory toward the Indian tribes, particularly the Cherokee. He had lived with the Cherokee for a time and for a while had also been married to a Cherokee woman. One strong Cherokee leader was Chief Bowl, a personal friend of Houston. Houston had proposed a treaty with the Cherokee, but the Texas Senate had refused to act on his proposal. There were a number of battles between the Cherokee and the Texas forces, one of which was on July 15-16 of 1839 when the Cherokee, led by Chief Bowl who was then in his 80s, took a stand where Warrior Creek and Kickapoo Creek come together in what is now Van Zandt County. Neither side prevailed on the first day, but the Cherokee force was defeated on the second day. Chief Bowl was shot in the head by Capt. Robert W. Smith. His hat, his sword (given to him by Houston) and skin from his arm were taken to verify the Chief’s identity. There was already standing animosity between Burleson and Houston over the Indian issue, and after Burleson presented Chief Bowl’s hat to Houston on some occasion, it cemented their disagreement.
However, in 1841 Burleson was elected Vice President of the Republic under Sam Houston in Houston’s second term as President. Burleson was serving in that capacity in 1842 when the Republic decided to invade the border states of Mexico. He was the popular choice to serve as commander of this action but Houston instead chose Alexander Somerville to lead the Texas forces. Burleson ran for President in 1843 but lost to Anson Jones in that election.
He rejoined the military a final time in 1846 (after Texas joined the United States) and served as a staff officer under General Henderson. Following that term of service, Burleson returned to Texas for good, again locating his home in the San Marcos area. He was later elected to the Texas Senate and served as President of the Senate in his second time to be in public service.
In 1816, Ed had married the former Sarah Griffin Owen and together they had 10 children, one of whom they named David Crockett Burleson who served in the Civil War and later was a police officer in Austin. Another son, Edward G. Burleson, served in the US Army in the Mexican-American War and later continued to serve in defense of the frontier. In addition to his own wife and children, Ed Burleson also took on a youth by the name of John Holland Jenkins after his father, a neighbor of the Burlesons, was mysteriously murdered while working on his farm in 1833. Jenkins would go on to serve with Burleson’s regiment and may have been the youngest soldier to serve in the San Jacinto campaign, though he was sent back to Bastrop by Burleson to protect the family before the actual battle. Thus, Jenkins did not actually take part in the Battle of San Jacinto. In his senior years, Jenkins would write the memoir Recollections of Early Texas which includes his personal accounts of many of the important events in Texas history.
Jenkins’ mentor Ed Burleson died in Austin on December 26, 1851 and is interred in the State Cemetery there. It is hard to imagine any single individual who spent more years in military service for the defense of Texas than did Ed Burleson.
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