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Old Turner Hotel
Uncovered by Hallettsville Fire

Hallettsville, Texas

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
When a major fire hit the downtown area of Hallettsville, on Feb. 12, 1997, and totally destroyed what was known as the “Weingarten building,” it also consumed a structure that could be considered as a precious historical asset belonging to the people of Hallettsville, Lavaca County, and Texas as well.

It seems that the old Weingarten structure had originally been built around a much older building which was the creation of a civil war veteran in 1872. After the flames had destroyed the outer walls of the Weingarten building, a thick walled structure used for cold storage was revealed. That building was the old Turner Hotel/Inn and was quite possibly the oldest building in Hallettsville before it was consumed by the 1997 blaze. Built to serve as a hotel, in the beginning, the Turner House soon became a stage stop for coaches transporting mail and passengers from Columbus to San Antonio.
Turner Hotel Hallettsville Texas Stage Inn
"Early Day Stage Inn. Erected by Louis Turner. A.D. 1872
Hallettsville, Texas"

Photo Courtesy Friench Simpson Memorial Library (Hallettsville).
Much more interesting than the hotel itself is the story of Louis Turner, the man who built it. Turner, along with his wife, settled in Hallettsville in 1856. He established his home and started to practice his trade as a gunsmith at a location one block north of the square. The couple seemed to be doing well – but that all came to an abrupt end with the start of the Civil War.

Louis Turner was quick to answer the “call to arms” and immediately enlisted in J.W. Whitfield’s company. Whitfield, a planter living on the Navidad, raised the company and promised to arm and mount each recruit at his expense. In his book History of Lavaca County, Paul C. Boethel writes that this unit was know as Whitfield’s Legion and was organized in Lavaca County. Turner, a German immigrant, enlisted as a bugler for Company D and was later promoted to headquarters bugler.

Turner had some thrilling adventures during the war, some of them nearly resulting in his demise. On Sept. 19, 1862, during a skirmish at Iuka, Mississippi, he was sounding the order to charge a Federal battery, located on a hilltop, when a bullet from a Yankee sharpshooter pierced his bugle – another round hit him in the side. Not to be denied by a few bullets, Turner sounded the charge again and the Lavaca County boys took the hill. In this battle, besides taking the hits to his bugle and side, three other rounds also pierced his clothing.

The young man from Hallettsville was back at it on July 27, 1863, at the battle of DesArc Prairie near Ft. Smith, Arkansas. In this fight Turner was wounded and captured by Union troops. During the conflict, he was hit in the right leg just above the ankle. His leg bone was shattered, and tendons were torn apart; his horse was also killed by the same bullet. Boethel’s History of Lavaca County describes the events that occurred afterwards, “He was knocked unconscious by the fall [from his horse], and when he regained consciousness, the field was deserted except for the dead and dying. As he lay there, Indians pilfered the dead, and shot those showing signs of life. Turner escaped this fate by simulating death until they departed.”

After his ordeal with the Indians, Union troops found Turner and put him in a wagon bound for Ft. Smith loaded with the dead and wounded. He was hauled some six miles riding on top of three dead bodies. Upon his arrival at the hospital the surgeons determined that his wounds would prove fatal and they had him sent to the death ward.

Evidently the Yankee doctors didn’t realize just how tough this Hallettsville boy was – when they discovered that he just refused to die, one of the sawbones decided to operate. Many splintered bones were removed and his recovery was very slow. It wasn’t until three months after the end of the war that Louis Turner decided to try and make it home. He was on crutches at the time.

According to Paul Boethel’s book Sand In Your Craw, months before he started home Turner sent his personal belongings along with a letter to his wife – she never received them and still considered her husband to be dead. So it was that Louis Turner started home; wearing the only clothing he could obtain, he was attired in the blue uniform of the enemy. He was carrying his crutches, a blanket, and riding atop an army mule. The Lavaca boy had made rings and other trinkets to sell during his convalescence at Ft. Smith and it was with these meager funds that he was able to buy the condemned mule, from the army, for his trip home.

During the long journey to Lavaca County, Turner was turned away at most homes along the way – considered a “hated blue leg” from the uniform he was wearing, no Southerner was willing to give him any help. He slept anywhere he could, on the road or in the fields. Surviving on corn, green melons, and anything else he could find; the young man managed to stay alive.

It was when he reached the town of Gonzales that Louis Turner finally saw a friendly face. An old army acquaintance, Buck Harris, recognized him and gave him a place to sleep. Anxious to get home, Turner bid Harris farewell the next day and began the last 30 miles of his journey. When the young soldier stepped up to the door of his home he was met by his wife, still dressed in black and mourning his death. Needless to say, it was a joyous homecoming for both. The couple were said to have prospered and later establish the Turner House – the old rock building destroyed by the fire in 1997.

The story goes that the hotel housed and fed many a Southerner but never a Yankee. It seems the word “Yankee” just stuck in Louis Turner’s craw and did so until his death in 1906.
© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary
March 21, 2005 Column

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