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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

John G. Pickering

The last surviving veteran of
the Battle of San Jacinto

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
This month (April 2003), as we celebrate the 167th anniversary of Texas' independence, it's probably a good time to tweak the collection conscience of East Texas.

The last surviving veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, lies in an almost forgotten cemetery in deep East Texas, his tombstone chipped and broken. Few people are aware of the grave.

It's an ignoble resting place for a proud old soldier, John G. Pickering, who died in 1917 at the age of 99 following a career that also included service in the Mexican War, a legacy as a country physician, and a reputation for caring for the poor and unfortunate. For his service to Texas, he received a pittance of $12.50 a month.

A native Mississippian, Pickering came to Texas as a boy printer. He recalled that Andrew Jackson once placed his hand upon his head and told him, "You're a fine boy."

Landing in Texas in 1836, he joined Texas' revolutionary forces at Liberty, enlisting in W.A. Patton's company in Colonel Sidney Sherman's Regiment. "That was in April, and our men met Sam Houston at Grace's Crossing on the Brazos River after a four-day march and joined the retreat to the San Jacinto River. We tore down a house owned by Mr. (Lorenzo de) Zavala and made a raft to cross the river," Pickering told a newspaper reporter in 1916.

Pickering fought ferociously at San Jacinto as Houston's men whipped Mexican General Santa Anna's troops in 18 minutes. He stood with Deaf Smith, Big Foot Wallace and other Texas heroes when Santa Anna was brought before Houston as he lay wounded on a blanket under an oak tree.

That night, Pickering decided to kill Santa Anna to avenge the fallen Texans at the Alamo and Goliad. But Houston learned of his plan and put the young soldier under guard. "Now that time has passed, I see that Sam Houston saved me from a thing I would have always regretted," said Pickering.

With Texas' independence assured, Pickering became an apprentice to Dr. Anson Jones, who had treated Houston's wounds at San Jacinto. Jones taught him the fundamentals of frontier medicine -- a profession he would practice for more than sixty years. He was known for his kindness and his frequent refusal to take money from the poor.

During his nineties, Pickering was often called upon by lawyers as a witness in land cases with roots in the l830s and l840s. Few questioned his judgment or memory.

But in one case, when a Hardin County judge questioned Pickering's presence at San Jacinto, an attorney produced a volume of Brown's History of Texas, which carried the name "J. Pickering" as a combatant.

Pickering outlived two wives, Martha Remwater and Elizabeth Williams. As a physician he lived in several communities in Jasper, Hardin and Tyler counties. In his nineties, he moved to Angelina County to live with his son-in-law, Johnnie Williams, on a small farm near Zavalla -- a town that ironically bears the name of the man whose house helped him cross the San Jacinto River in 1836.

Pickering lived a modest life at Zavalla, rarely complaining, except to remark that he would like a new suit for his 100th birthday.

In February of 1917, he left home in his buggy, pulled by his faithful old mare Dolly, to visit his friend, Hannibal Mott. Caught in a rain shower, he became sick and died at Mott's house on February 4 — eleven months short of his 100th birthday.

The last hero of the Battle of San Jacinto was buried in an old suit.

All Things Historical
April 13-19, 2003 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers

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