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.
Day Stage Inn. Erected by Louis Turner. A.D. 1872
Photo Courtesy Friench Simpson Memorial Library (Hallettsville).
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.