upon a time one of the most fascinating characters in Texas history
inhabited the Baytown
Who? Sam Houston,
Lorenzo de Zavala, David G. Burnet or Ashbel Smith?
Although they qualified as fascinating characters and at one time
or another they all had homes in the Baytown
area -- Houston at Cedar Point, Zavala at Channelview, Burnet at
Lynchburg, Smith in Baytown
-- the man in question is someone else.
Here's a hint: His last name sounds like cocoanut.
Full name: David
Hardly in the mold of those previously mentioned, DLK wasn’t your
typical, larger-than-life Texas legend. He was no military hero,
intellectual or innovator. Yes, he knew Sam
Houston – going back to 1832 when they shared bottles of wine
-- but he was no Sam
Indeed, one might call up an old expression, “They threw away the
mold,” when describing Kokernot, this trouble-making, street-smart
rogue from Amsterdam. Never before or since he made his home on
the shores of Scott’s Bay – and later on Cedar Bayou -- has Texas
experienced such a colorful and controversial character.
up in Gonzales County, by way of Columbus,
but not until he had left his mark (black mark, some would say)
in this bay area.
Barber, a DLK descendant who’s kin to the Barbers of Barbers Hill,
wrote a book about him. “David Kokernot, Rogue Soldier of the Texas
Revolution,” newly published by Kullyspel Press in Idaho, is a treasure
of regional and state history, and as a bonus, reaches out to the
Kokernot roots in New Orleans and The Netherlands.
Kevin Ladd, director of the Wallisville Heritage Park in Chambers
County and himself a noted author/historian, offered this opinion:
“Barber, a remarkable researcher, has accomplished a great miracle
with this book. The end result vividly captures the man and the times
in which he lived.”
into the activity that Kokernot relished – chasing Tories. After
at San Jacinto, supposedly at the behest of Gen. Houston, Kokernot
tracked down the so-called slackers, those who failed to back the
cause of independence from Mexico. As British loyalists were labeled
Tories in the American Revolution, they were the Tories of the Texas
Revolution. Mostly, however, they were solid citizens, ranchers
and farmers who just wanted to be left alone to mind their own business.
To paraphrase a line from the film "Treasure of Sierra Madre," they
“didn’t need no stinkin’ war.”
Soon after San
Jacinto, Kokernot was confiscating their cows and horses and
in general making lives miserable for them and their families. For
his efforts, bordering on obsessive/compulsive behavior, DLK became
Public Enemy No. 1, especially in Chambers County.
(Keep in mind that when Barber alludes to Liberty County, usually
it’s Chambers County. Until 1858 Chambers was part of Liberty County.)
So, David Kokernot was the bad guy, the zealot hell-bent on making
Tories pay for what they had done – or rather what they had not
done – in the struggle for freedom from Mexico.
Texas President David G. Burnet had to make him back off and return
the livestock to the rightful owners, but the damage was done. Then
and thereafter the name of Kokernot would be mud, even in his own
away from all that, DLK returned to his first love, the sea, boarding
a schooner called the Terrible that kept the Gulf of Mexico safe
from Mexico during the summer after San
Now there was a job Kokernot could handle, having been a capable
sailor before docking permanently in Texas.
Start from the beginning:
David was born
in 1805 in Amsterdam, the second son of Levi and Elizabeth “Betsy”
Kokernot. His Jewish family, with roots in Germany, had been in
Holland a hundred years.
By the early
19th century, the Kokernots, along with a multitude of fellow Europeans,
were ready for a change in a far country -- America.
Young David accompanied his father to New Orleans in 1818 and they
were followed within a year by David’s mother Betsy and older brother
The Kokernots established a mercantile business in the French Quarter,
importing goods from Europe.
David, however, never planned to be a shopkeeper the rest of his
life and as soon as possible he sailed away, satisfying his longing
for the sea. After a variety of voyages and adventures, including
a shipwreck, Kokernot arrived one day at Anahuac
and never looked back.
An instant Texan, he established his first Texas
home in the early 1830s on Scott’s Bay in present-day Baytown.
(Specifically, present-day Baytown Nature Center). He bought the
property from William Scott, the Stephen F. Austin colonist whose
home stood about where the ExxonMobil docks are located today. With
fellow seafarers Scott and James Spillman, Kokernot managed to block
supplies being shipped to the Mexican garrison at Anahuac
in the early stages of the Texas Revolution.
Spillman, who lived on the island where the Baytown-La Porte Tunnel
would be built more than a century later, had been Kokernot’s friend
in New Orleans.
It didn’t take long for Kokernot to catch “war fever” in his new
environs, and a chance encounter with Sam
Houston drove his patriotism even deeper.
Perhaps that is why, soon after the battle
of San Jacinto, DLK went “over the top” in his zeal to persecute
alleged Tories. Another reason, too, could have been the alcohol.
It was no secret that Kokernot had a drinking problem and in the
process of searching out Tories, he helped himself – when barging
into homes – to barrels of whiskey owned by the non-combatants.
His second home in Texas, after trading places with William Bloodgood,
was on the banks of Cedar Bayou in the vicinity between Baytown
and Barbers Hill.
Eventually he pulled up stakes and moved away, first to Columbus,
then to Gonzales County where the Kokernots’ son Levi Moses became
a prosperous rancher. While in Columbus,
DLK got sober for good and became a devout, Bible-thumping Methodist.
son-in-law and daughter John and Elizabeth Barber also relocated
to Gonzales County and finally to the Rockport
area. John’s sister Melissa married George Maley, a half-brother
of Kokernot’s wife Caroline. There were two Maley brothers, George
and William, sons of Juliane Maley and her second husband.
John and Melissa Barber were the son and daughter of Chambers County
pioneer Sam Barber.
of the family connections cited in Barber’s book are too numerous
to list here but, suffice to say, the names read like a Who's Who
of Chambers County and East Harris County history.
The author, who lives in Sandpoint, Idaho, is the great-great-great-great-grandson
of David Levi Kokernot. His book may be ordered via Amazon.com.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
15, 2012 columns
| Columns | Texas
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