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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Christmas Shooting

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Many 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.

Reuben lived 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.

By 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.

Wallace Hornsby, 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 faded.

One Christmas 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 Bend.


© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
December 17 , 2009 column

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