The Incredible Story of Early Colonist Martin Varner
Martin Varner, born March 7, 1787, left his Virginia home at an early age after the death of his mother and lived with his two sisters in Missouri. When he heard of Moses Austin's colonization plan for Texas, he immediately applied for a grant and in 1821 joined the first group of Austin's colonists, settling at Hickory point in what is now Brazoria County. Varner's grant was the twelfth issued of the "Old Three Hundred." Varner had the first distillery in Texas. In 1829, Stephen F. Austin thanked him for a bottle of home-made rum, which he called "the first ardent spirits of any kind made in the colony." Varrner grew restless and sold his plantation to Columbus Patton; (much) later it was bought by Gov. Jim Hogg, whose daughter Ima gave it to the state. It is now the Varner-Hogg Plantation Museum and State Park.
After fighting in the Texas Revolution, Varner took land in Wood county. In 1843, a neighbor, Simon Gonzales, borrowed money from Varner, putting up some of his tools as collateral. Gonzales later rode back to Varner's house and asked for return of the tools without repaying the loan. Varner refused, an argument ensued, and the neighbor pulled a gun and shot Varner, reportedly in the back. Seeing his father shot, Varner's only son, Stephen F. Varner, aged 18, ran to the man, who was still on horseback, and grabbed his arm, only to be shot through the heart. Their loyal slave, Joe, appeared on the scene, disarmed the killer, and turned him over to Varner who, enraged, cut the tendons in the neighbor's legs, then proceeded to strip him of skin. Varner's wife grabbed a kitchen fork and gouged out the killer's eyes. A neighbor found the man still alive and, as an act of mercy, gave him the coup de grace with a shot to the head. (Descendants say the body was thrown in a hog wallow, from which flooding rains washed it away, and it was never found; others report that it was buried nearby.) Varner died after three days, leaving a wife and six young daughters.
In 1975, a historical monument was erected near the rural homesite, naming Varner as the first Anglo settler of Wood County.
------- Courtesy A.C. Greene's wonderful "Sketches from the Five States of Texas." The book is highly recommended for the Texas history buff on your Christmas list.
Beauty is only skin deep but Texas is to the bone.