Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986

Terry and Judy Bray purchased the
property in 1985, and recognized the
potential historical significance of the
homestead. Assisted by the Bastrop
County Historical Commission Chairperson,
Nan Olson, they arranged for a
grant to be made to The Texas Archeological
Research Laboratory of The University
of Texas, earmarked for researching,
investigating, and recording the site.
For most of this century the homestead
was used by sharecroppers or transients or
stood empty, but it was once the home of
one of Bastrop's more prominent early
residents, George Washington (Wash)
Jones, a lawyer who came to the Bastrop
area in 1849, and hung out his shingle
there two years later. A frequent candidate
for elective office, he served as Bastrop
District Attorney prior to the Civil
War, was elected Lieutenant Governor of
Texas in 1866, served two subsequent
terms in the state legislature, and was
twice an unsuccessful candidate for governor
on the Greenback Party ticket.
In 1855, Jones acquired the property
on which the house was built the following
year. The property, once part of the
holdings of Stephen F. Austin and part of
the Austin estate at his death, passed
through the hands of three other owners
between 1838 and 1855. The wording of
the deed transaction in 1840, when
W. Pinkney Hill sold the property to
Andrew E. Castleman, indicates appurtenances
of some sort to the property were
involved in addition to the sale of the
land. It is possible that this refers to the
log cabin which stood behind the house
that Jones built. Thus, Jones may have
temporarily resided in that cabin while
construction of the house was accomplished,
and the cabin remains may predate
1840. Jones and his family occupied
the house from 1856 until his death
in 1903.
The house remained substantially intact
until at least 1936, when photographs
were taken of it by a University of
Texas librarian, Fannie Ratchford, an
avid collector of pictures of older structures.
Her photographs found their way
into the State Archives, in Austin, where
they were discovered during the archival
research of the site. They are reproduced
here. The cabin also stood intact and was

lower part of the cabin's chimney still
stood; the house was reduced to a shell
and near ruin as can be seen in the recent
photographs. Years of neglect, decay, and
removal of materials for other structures
and for fencing, had taken a heavy toll.
Investigation of the site was initially
intended to provide a record of a spatially
intact frontier era farmstead, once it was
obvious that restoration of the house was
not a viable option. The inside of the
house had been gutted; the outside, particularly
the western half, had whole
walls and a chimney down, and the roof,
including its supporting rafters and
beams, had passed the point of repair.
The replacement of the essential missing,
damaged, and deteriorated parts would
have resulted in a structure which, at
best, would have been more a replica
than a restoration.
During the examination of the interior
of the house, bits of hay and straw, protruding
between the woodwork around
the door and window frames, gave evidence
that rodents had nested between
the interior and exterior walls. Frequently,
such nests contain shredded
paper, and may contain material pilfered
and dragged back to the nest by the rats
or mice. Usually, the latter are small
items, such as gnawed bones, nut husks,
and feathers; occasionally, there are more
ornamental items which have attracted
the rodent's attention because they are
brightly colored or shine. While most of
the items found in a nest are of little
archeological or historical importance, a
few can be dated or attributed to a period
in history. Datable coins, buttons,
marbles, glass beaded pins and the other
similar items can be found, and some
shredded papers, used as nest material,
may be identifiable.
With this in mind, a rat nest that occupied
the space inside the molded frame
(the architrave) surrounding a door between
the front hall and the center rear
room was exposed by removing the molding.
The expected feathers, bones, and
nut husks were found and so were a "Bennington"
style ceramic marble, a metallic
button, and a small red plastic clown
charm of the candy box prize type. But
there was more; much more. Somehow,
the nesting rats had dragged back to their

Among these papers, all nearly intact,
were: a two page list of legal actions disposed
of, in 1851 and 1852, by Elijah P.
Petty, George Washington Jones' law partner;
a letter of patent issued to William
Dunbar in 1855 and recorded in 1857 for
640 acres of land in Milam District; a
letter written December 5, 1859, by one
A. M. Brooks to Elijah Petty concerning
a fee owed; and an order to the Bastrop
County Sheriff commissioning him to notify
one Edward Irwin that an injunction
placed upon Irwin's boat ferry operation
had been countermanded, dated June 14,
1858. Identifiable, but less complete, are
several letters to G. W. Jones and E. P.
Petty; a number of legal document fragments
and envelopes addressed to Petty,
both at his Bastrop address and at his previous
residence in Seguin. These papers,
at least in part, indicate that the partners'
law practice may have been conducted at
the Jones house.
Parts of two pre-Civil War periodicals
emerged from the nest. One is entitled
The Negro: His Ethological Status, Etc. It
presents the abolitionists' view of slavery
and extolls the necessity for abolishing it.
The other magazine, its title missing,
presents the dangers of the abolition of
slavery and a luridly expressed purported
plan of the abolitionists for accomplishing
it at the expense of the South. References
to the elections of 1858 and 1859,
and the "soon to take place" election of
1860, serve to date the second periodical,
as do its references to Vice President John
C. Breckinridge who held that office from
1857 to 1861. It is interesting to speculate
as to which of the two law partners
may have been the owner of each of the
tracts since either document could be
viewed as an unreasonable presentation
of the cause it was intended to support. In
any event, they are tangible evidence for
the pre-war views of the two men involved,
and provide some insight into
the depth and intensity of the feelings
aroused in dealing with the slavery issue
in antebellum Texas.
The papers from the rat cache may
contain even more information for researchers
and shed more light on local
history. The find will be cleaned and processed
by the conservators at the Harry
Ransom Humanities Research Center to

hideaway a great quantity of paper.

photographed in 1936. By 1985, only the

stabilize the paper from further deteriora

Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 02, Fall 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45442/. Accessed January 28, 2015.