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Entry from August 09, 2009
Mount Bonnell (place name)

Mount Bonnell is a popular tourist destination in Austin, offering excellent views. It had long been thought that the name came from George W. Bonnell (?-1842), who moved to Austin in 1839 and edited the Texas Sentinel in 1840. In the 2000s, Austin lawyer Seldon Graham, Jr., wrote that Mount Bonnell might have been named after Joseph Bonnell (1802-1840), a forgotten hero of the Battle of San Jacinto (1836).

George W. Bonnell’s book, Topographical Description of Texas, to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes (1840), mentioned the name but did not state a derivation: “Four miles above the city, upon the east side of the river, is a high peak, called Mount Bonnell.”

In 2008, Steven Bonnell (no relation to either Bonnell) offered a $200 reward to anyone who can prove that Mount Bonnell was named after George W. Bonnell.

Evidence seems strong that Mount Bonnell is named after George W. Bonnell and not Joseph Bonnell. Joseph Bonnell never lived in Austin, nor is there any documentary evidence whatsoever to credit him for the naming. George W. Bonnell was a resident of Austin—a very small town in 1839-1840.

Three reliable witnesses credit George W. Bonnell with the naming of Mount Bonnell:

1. A long documentary account in the May 7, 1876 Galveston (TX) Daily News, “Journalists of Austin in 1840,” states that Mount Bonnell was named after the editor of the Texas Sentinel and Mount Teulon was named after the editor of the Austin (TX) City Gazette.  The article’s author had been present in Austin in 1840: “I had been told that the two mountain peaks, Mount Bonnell and Mount Teulon, were named for the two editors.”

2. John Holland Jenkins (1822-1890) wrote his recollections in the 1880s and also stated that Mount Bonnell was named after George W. Bonnell.

3. Francis Richard Lubbock (1815-1905) published his memoirs in 1900. He was a resident of Austin and he had known George W. Bonnell personally. Lubbock gives a third independent contemporary account to credit George W. Bonnell with the naming of Mount Bonnell.

Wikipedia: Mount Bonnell
Mount Bonnell (pronounced /bəˈnɛl/), also known as Covert Park, is a prominent point alongside Lake Austin in Austin, Texas. It has been a popular tourist destination since the 1850s. The mount provides a vista for viewing the city of Austin, Lake Austin, and the surrounding hills.

Mount Bonnell is located at 30.3210°N, 97.7736°W (WGS 84 datum). Although the mount is often described as the highest point in Austin, the elevation at its peak (about 780 feet above mean sea level (AMSL)) is less than that of the Jollyville Plateau (max. elevation about 1100 feet AMSL).

Origin of the name
Mount Bonnell was named after early Texas newspaper publisher George W. Bonnell, who moved to Texas in 1836. George W. Bonnell was publisher of the local paper The Texas Sentinel and was prominent in early Texas and Travis County (Austin) affairs.

Legend has it that Mount Bonnell was once called Antoinette’s Leap, after a young woman who leaped to her death to avoid capture from Native Americans that killed her fiancé.

Wikipedia: Talk:Mount Bonnell
Joseph Bonnell speculation
While Mr. Graham’s research is laudable, it is still original research unless the THC or some other reputable source has published it. As it is, it’s merely speculation. Deh 03:33, 15 April 2007 (UTC)

Handbook of Texas Online
MOUNT BONNELL. Mount Bonnell is a summit within the western city limits of Austin in central Travis County (at 30°19’ N, 97°46’ W). In the early 1830s the peak supposedly acquired the name “Antonette’s Leap,” in memory of a woman who jumped to her death to escape Indians who had just killed her fiancé. Later, it became known as Mount Bonnell, in honor of George W. Bonnell, who moved to Texas in 1836. Overlooking Lake Austin, Mount Bonnell stands at an elevation of 780 feet above sea level, nearly 200 feet higher than the surrounding area, and is a popular picnic area.

Handbook of Texas Online
BONNELL, GEORGE WILLIAM (?–1842). George W. Bonnell, journalist and soldier, a native of Onondaga County, New York, was an editor in Alabama for a time and moved by 1829 to Columbus, Mississippi, where he worked as an editor. He traveled to Texas in the summer of 1836 with a company of volunteers from Columbus that he had recruited for the Texas war of independence. In December 1837 he was living in Houston, where he was a charter member of the Philosophical Society of Texas. During Sam Houston’s first term as president of the republic, Bonnell was commissioner of Indian affairs. In April 1838 he reported efforts of Manuel Flores and other Mexican emissaries to stir up the Indians in Texas against the whites. In June 1838 Houston assigned Bonnell to prepare a report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the status of relations with the Indians. Bonnell advocated a harsh policy against them. In November 1838, with rank of major, he was campaigning against the Indians. In 1839 he moved to Austin, where he and Jacob W. Cruger were selected as government printers on December 6. On January 15, 1840, Bonnell started publication of the first Austin Texas Sentinel. He sold the Sentinel on December 26, 1840, the year he printed his Topographical Description of Texas, to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes. That year he was also a charter member of the Texas Patriotic and Philanthropic Society and sometimes worked as a Spanish translator in the General Land Office.qv In January 1841 he was involved with the Texas Trading, Mining, and Emigrating Company. On February 4, 1841, he became a charter member of the Austin Lyceum. He took part in the Texan Santa Fe expeditionqv and was released from prison in Mexico in the summer of 1842, in time to return to Texas to join the Mier expeditionqv as a lieutenant in Company F. On December 26, 1842, Bonnell was left with a camp guard on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. When the guard was ordered to retreat, he and a companion returned to the camp for horses, and Bonnell was captured and shot by a Mexican soldier, probably on December 27, 1842. Mount Bonnell, on the Colorado River near Austin, was named for him, probably by Gen. Edward Burleson in 1838.

Wikipedia: Joseph Bonnell
Joseph Bonnell (04 Aug 1802 - 27 Sep 1840) was an unsung hero of the Texas Revolution. He was a West Point graduate (Class of 1825) and a member of the The Long Gray Line (The phrase The Long Gray Line is used to describe all graduates and cadets of the USMA at West Point, New York).

As a Lieutenant, Bonnell was assigned to the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment when he successfully quelled an uprising of 1,700 Caddo warriors through a peaceful negotiation with Caddo Chief Cortes. His efforts helped enable General Sam Houston to focus the full strength of his army on defeating Mexican troops led by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the famed Battle of San Jacinto, effectively securing the Independence of the Republic of Texas.

Lt. Joseph Bonnell was dispatched by U.S. Major General Edmund P. Gaines (who commanded the southwest military division of the United States in 1836 at Fort Jesup, Louisiana and whose sympathies were with Texas) to the Caddo villages of east Texas to persuade the Indians to remain at peace. It was Bonnell who discovered the plot of Manuel Flores to incite the tribes to war against Texas.

The Bunnell/Bonnel Newsletter (August 2008)
$200.00 REWARD Offered
The official Texas Historical Commission marker on Mount Bonnell in Austin, Texas states that:
“Mount Bonnell...was named for George W. Bonnell...”
A $200 reward is offered to the first person who can provide conclusive evidence that Mount Bonnell was truly named for George W. Bonnell.

George W Bonnell’s book (1840)
Topographical Description of Texas, to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes
-- a short review
. Topographical Description of Texas, to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes
. by Geo. W. Bonnell, AUSTIN: Published by Clark, Wing, and Brown. 1840.
. “In preparing this small volume on the Topography of Texas, I have endeavored to present the country to the reader precisely as it is at the present time. …
City of Austin, April, 1840.”
, “Four miles above the city, upon the east side of the river, is a high peak, called Mount Bonnell. From the top of the mountain there is a perpendicular precipice of seven hundred feet down to the water. The prospect from the top of this mountain, is one of the grandest and loveliest in nature. On the north and west extend the mountain peaks, rising in bold magnificence hill above hill, for a distance of twenty miles. And though what are here called mountains, would be in many countries be looked upon as inconsiderable hills, they form a bold contrast to the flower clad prairie, which stretches off to the south and east as far as the eye can extend. The Colorado river is seen for the distance of fifteen miles winding its course among hills and rich valleys; below us is the infant city, which completes the prospect and renders it one of the loveliest upon earth.”

7 May 1876, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 4, col. 2:
Major Bonnell—Mr. Teulon—Dr. Brenham.
Major Bonnell was of the SentinelGazette. The most noticeable thing about Major Bonnell was that he was extremely ill-favored, an ugliness so pronounced that it was unique. A shock or rosy hair lifted itself above his light blue eyes, and a face that seemed to be trying to out-do in color the rosy color of his crown. There was almost a waggish love of exicting curiousity, a twinkling eagerness in his eyes to see a wide-open attention in the eyes of others when he gave some description of the wonderland of Texas, the then “terra incognita” to all except a favored few. “Canon de Uvalde” was his “Happy Valley,” and what was more, it had within its walled-in sides the “Fountain of Perpetual Youth” that Ponce de Leon had siought for in vain among the umbrageous glades of Florida. San Saba, with its fabled mines, was his Eldorado; the “Enchanted Rock” on the upepr Colorado was the “Fountain of Light” to his legends, though the Kojneer had not then sparkled among the crown jewels of Great britain. His own especial mountain of light was so brilliant in its corruscations that campers at its base seeded neither moon nor stars. And then he would tell of acres of petrified forests that stood in gloomy grandeur, without leaf of bud, like Nemesis, stony and solemn. These marvels seldom came into his paper, but he told them with such grave assurance to persons who (to use a cant expression greatly in vogue at that time) “were green from the States,” that he excited a certain vague faith for the time. How wonderfully steam, railroads, telegraphs and pictorials have invaded the rights of children and dreamers. Hardly an unknown spot large enough to locate a fairy tale.
of the Gazette, said to be a Canadian, was an odd little man, short, very short, and were, when I saw him in the summer of 1840, a black cap, which made him look still shorter. I remember when I was introduced to him, it was through an opening in a picket fence, which separated the printing office yard from the yard of Bullock’s hotel. I was following the proprietress in her morning rounds. No one passed her without a kindly word, and during the exchange of friendly greetings, I was made acquainted with the odd looking little man, that Austin boasted of as an editor. I had been told that the two mountain peaks, Mount Bonnell and Mount Teulon, were named for the two editors, and when I saw this mite of a man show an evident touch of pride at the mention of it, I was forcibly reminded of a comic picture I had seen, of lofty Ben Lomond and little Ben Dockey. Surely, thought I, this must be little Ben Dockey.

Mr. Teulon was thought to be a better writer than Major Bonnell, clearer and more incisive, and he had beside the advantage, which is a very great one, if used with wisdom, of being considered eccentric. He advocated the policy of General Houston, while Major Bonnell fought the fight for General Lamar and JudgeBurnet. There were no great political questions to disturb the quiet of our new formed government; personal feelings alone moved its equanimity, with the exception of the two fingers of “a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand,” that rose in the east, the Cherokee land question and the seat of government question; especially the latter, as a mandate to return within the limits of peace and safety, was more dreaded than the Indians. Them we feared not, for as in many other cases with which the human family deal, experience failed to teach us, we ventured as long as the covering remained on our heads, which nature placed there, but when, by sharp contact, it was removed, our journalists were furnished with startling local items.

These knights of the pen had, as I have said before, each their own favorite statesman, and their own ideas of the personal wisdom and bravery of the heroes of this heroic land, and each had their little scheme of national progress but beyond that; the editors, like their readers helped to decorate the old Capitol with wild flowers and then danced under their own decorations. (Perhaps I may except from the last clause, the little man who, by his eccentricity had found an easy chair that relieved him from such social requirements as dancing.) Happy, lightsome days; one who enjoyed the gladness of them alone can know how fresh and free they were, and yet how wit and refinement mingled with their joys. As a proof of their enlightenment, at this outpost of civilization, this “ultima thule,” newspapers were read with avidity and their editors honored above the heroes of the sword. They (Col. 3—ed.) measured that honor by the mountain tops, and in this land of sunshine and flowers their monuments are the “everlasting hills.”
In their cases, to be known was to be honored, but the unknown editor of the AUstin Spy (I think that was the name of an anonymous paper promulgated from “Bullock’s Logs") is left without honor in his own country. THis little paper, sparkling with wit and humor, made magically so by the deep-toned reading of the lamented Dr. Brenham, was written and left on the rough seats in front of the hotel, called “Bullock’s Logs.” At evening round this spot gathered the crowds of young men, from the different offices, with listening ears and merry hearts, making wild echoes, as each in turn had their own peculiarity, dressed in witty garb, and handed forth for the amusement of the others, not knowing whose turn would come next.

The humor of Dr. Brenham was inconceivable to one who never saw him, and was far past description by one who knew him well; even the memory of his bright scintillations brings a thrill of pleasure, verifying the poet’s song, “Our echoes roll from soul to soul.” “Alas! poor Yorick,” if tradition is true, the cruelty of Mexican authoritoes denied him even a grave. How much the authorship of this inimitable little sheet was attributable to him none knew; of course it was denied by all. No mountain peak rears its head to the honor of itseditor, but though the echoes he set flying roll on and return no more, yet memory still gives all honor to the Nameless.
J. L. B.

Google Books
Recollections of Early Texas:
The memoirs of John Holland Jenkins
By John Holland Jenkins (1822-1890)
Edited by John Holmes Jenkins III
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press
1958, 1987
(From the Handbook of Texas:
“In 1884, with the aid of his daughter-in-law, Emma Holmes Jenkins, Jenkins completed his memoirs for the Bastrop Advertiser. A typescript of the memoirs has been preserved in the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It was edited by his great-great grandson, John H. Jenkins III, and published in 1958 by the University of Texas Press under the title ‘Recollections of Early Texas.“ )
Pg. 117:
A man by the name of Bonnell,* editor, I think, of the first paper ever published in Austin, was left with the company of thirty men who kept camp when Fisher’s army charged into Mier and was nevermore heard of.

His fate is among the mysteries of our past, but his name still lives in the mountain from whose summit one can take such broad survey of Austin and the surrounding country—Mount Bonnell.
*George W. Bonnell was editor of the first Austin newspaper, the Texas Sentinel. Handbook of Texas, I, 186-187.

Google Books
Six Decades in Texas;
or, Memoirs of Francis Richard Lubbock, governor of Texas in war time, 1861-63. A personal experience in business, war, and politics.

By Francis Richard Lubbock (1815-1905)
Edited by Cadwell Walton Raines
Austin, TX: Ben C. Jones & Co., printers
Pg. 84:
In the fall of 1838 the Indians were killing people and depredating on the Brazos about the falls near where is now the town of Marlin, and in the present counties of Brazos and Grimes. They came as low down at times as Navasota, only seventy miles from Houston. These savages became so troublesome that the government determined to put a battalion in the field to chastise them, and Maj. Geo. W. Bonnell was appointed to the command. THe milam Guards, a military company of Houston, (Pg. 85—ed.) volunteered for the time—three months—and made part of Bonnell’s battalion. As i was a charter member of that company, an then acting as Comptroller, I obtained from the President leave of absense to go with them. In compliment to the Milam Guards perhaps, as well as to myself, Major Bonnell appointed me his adjutant. The office was not a sinecure or easily filled, as some military knowledge and business tact were prerequisites for the proper discharge of its duties. I had been a holiday soldier since my sixteenth year, but this was my first experience in the field, and a rough one it was.

Major Bonnell was a young man of more than ordinary ability and information. I am not aware that he had acquired any special military experience, and I must say that his first appearance as our commander in chief did not impress the men that he had any special fitness or aptness to command a set of raw Texas boys. He was of medium height, with red hair and freckled face under a slouched hat, and he came into camp in a very long coat reaching nearly to his ankles, making quite a priestly appearance, and but for a belt around his waist and a long old sword dangling thereby, he looked less like a frontier soldier than any of us, though there was no uniformity of dress in the battalion, each one wearing what he could get as most appropriate for a hard winter campaign. Our major, however, made us a good and intelligent commander to the end of the expedition. Subsequently he was Spanish translator in the Land Office at Austin. While here, he wrote a little book about the Indians of Texas.

A peak near the capital still bears the name of Mount Bonnell, so called in his honor. He attended the Mier expedition as a private, and was killed on the Rio Grande.

Google Books
Lone Stars and State Gazettes:
Texas newspapers before the Civil War‎

By Marilyn McAdams Sibley
College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press
Pg. 122:
...Bonnell organized the Travis Guards. In recognition of their services, the citizens named two nearby mountain peaks for them — Mount Teulon and Mount Bonnell. “The editors, like their ...”

3 May 2003, Galveston (TX) Daily News, “Joseph Bonnell: Texas’ forgotten hero of San Jacinto” by Seldon Graham, Jr., pg. A10, cols. 2-4:
Bonnell and Albert Sidney Johnston, secretary of War of the Republic of Texas and a co-founder of the city of Austin in 1839, were long-time comrades-in-arms.

Bonnell graduated from West Point a year before Johnston graduated. Mount Bonnell in Austin is said to have been named for a George Bonnell who was not in Texas during the Texas Revolution. So it would appear that recognition in the cpaital of Texas may have inadvertently gone to the wrong Bonnell.

21 November 2004, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Second Bonnell may ascend to honor” by Rachna Sheth:
Is Mount Bonnell named for the wrong Bonnell?

George W. Bonnell, the early Texas newspaper publisher whose name graces one of Austin’s most loved natural landmarks, might have to share his pedestal with another man because of an amateur historian’s research.

Seldon Graham, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a World War II veteran, discovered historical evidence suggesting that the 780-foot peak overlooking the city might have been named for an 1825 West Point…

22 October 2005, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Mount Bonnell was named for Joseph, not George,” letters:
The American-Statesman is yet another victim of the false information on the Texas Historical Commission marker on Mount Bonnell. The public is not aware that the Travis County Historical Commission recommended that it be changed about a year ago.

23 August 2012, Austin (TX) American-Statesman, “Letters to the Editor,” pg. A6:
The West Point Society of Central Texas has uncovered considerable information about fellow West Point officer Capt. Joseph Bonnell, but has not produced specific evidence connecting his name with Mount Bonnell. There is only conjecture that fellow West Pointer Albert Sydney Johnston possibly had the motivation to apply Capt. Bonnell’s name to the mountain and surely would have done so.

Current namesake George Bonnell moved to Austin in 1839, published the Austin Sentinel and claimed property near the mountain. He described Mount Bonnell in his 1840 book “Topographical Description of Texas,” edited by John Henry Brown, an employee at the Sentinel. Brown later edited The Encyclopedia of the New West. His entry for George Bonnell: “In his honor, in 1838, General Edward Burleson bestowed the name (yet retained) of Bonnell on the now pleasant resort and beautiful mount four miles above Austin.”

Barry Hutcheson
Chair, Travis County Historical Commission

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary)Mount Bonnell (Austin toponym) • Sunday, August 09, 2009 • Permalink