Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 4, Number 1, January, 1994 Page: 3
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Brief History of Columbus
by Oscar Abraham Zumwalt
annotated by Bill Stein
Since it was published in a small pamphlet in 1935, Oscar Abraham
Zumwalt's "Brief History of Columbus" has been the dominant influence in Colorado
County historiography. Not only have the statements made by Zumwalt been repeated,
amplified, and modified to the point of absurdity, but other writers have adopted his
excessive devotion to personalities and anomalies, his undisguised and tiresome
boosterism, and his apparent attempts to justify interest in local history by associating
it with people and events, such as government officials and wars, that define history to
school children and their intellectual equals.
Zumwalt was born July 9, 1870 in Lavaca County. In May 1899, he and
Kenneth Brandon purchased a drugstore in Columbus from Ike Towell (see The Colorado
Citizen, May 11, 1899 and May 18, 1899). He lived the rest of his life in Columbus,
serving the city as mayor from 1927 until 1941. He died on May 29, 1951.
Shortly after he and Brandon purchased the drugstore, The Colorado Citizen
published a fairly lengthy history of it (see The Colorado Citizen, June 1, 1899). The
article may well have stimulated Zumwalt's interest in local history. By 1935, when his
own landmark article appeared in print, Zumwalt was regarded by most of the populace
as the expert on local history. It was a field in which he had little competition. His active
role in the festivities surrounding the supposed centennial of the establishment of the
City of Columbus in 1923 was enough to secure his reputation. Yet, though he remained
involved with historical matters for the rest of his life, he never published anything except
his "Brief History of Columbus" and a few scattered items in local newspapers. What
prompted Zumwalt to produce his 1935 article is unknown, but its publication might
have been tied up with the growing attention that was being paid to Texas history in
anticipation of the 1936 state centennial celebration. In 1935, Zumwalt was the head
of the county centennial association which secured from the state the grant that financed
the erection of the first few historical markers in the county (see The Colorado County
Citizen, October 21, 1935 and November 7, 1935).
Despite its enormous importance, very little critical attention has been paid
to Zumwalt's article. The initial printing contained only minimal citations. No further
attention was paid to sources in either the reprint with a revised supplementary section
that appeared on pages 65-68 of Naylor's Epic Century Magazine for October 1936 or
in the abridged reprint that appeared on pages 89-92 of Mary Farrar Holland's privately
published 1948 book Stories ThatHaveBeen Told. However, it is possible, through close
analysis of the text, to guess at most of Zumwalt's sources. In fact, he frequently follows
published material so closely that there can be no doubt. His history is based mainly on
two sources, neither of which was commonly available at the time he wrote it. The first
and most often-tapped source is Letters From an Early Settler of Texas, a book which
purported to be a collection of letters written by William B. Dewees. In reality, the book
was the product of Dewees' collaboration with Emanetta Cara Kimball, as evidenced by
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 4, Number 1, January, 1994, periodical, January 1994; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151390/m1/3/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed August 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.