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Footnotes in Texas History

A Revere of Our Own

Young Katy Jennings raced bareback to alert her fellow Texians about the advancing Mexican army

Illustration by Kate Gleyzer

Paul Revere wasn’t the only patriot who made a courageous ride to warn of approaching danger. In 1836, Katy Jennings rode west from her home in Bastrop to the tiny town of Waterloo (known today as Austin) to alert Texians that the Mexican army was coming and they should run for their lives.

Katy was 10 years old.

Her father, Gordon C. Jennings, was a farmer who moved his family from Missouri to Bastrop in 1833. Gordon enlisted in the Texas militia, encouraged by the promise of a land grant as compensation. He served at the Alamo as a cannoneer, probably manning artillery positions on the north wall. When the Alamo fell to Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army on March 6, 1836, Gordon, 53, was the oldest Alamo defender to die.

Author Mary Jean Kelso, a direct descendent of Katy’s brother Samuel—Kelso’s great-grandfather—wrote a book about her family, A Visual History Record of Alamo Defender Gordon Cartwright Jennings’ Family. (Kelso spells her name Katy, but a newspaper obituary called her Katie.)

When word of the Alamo reached Bastrop, most families fled east in a panicked exodus known as the Runaway Scrape. But Gordon’s wife, Catherine, and a few of her neighbors stood their ground until a division of the Mexican army reached the Colorado River at Bastrop.

With no choice but to flee, Catherine, her three children and two stepsons threw their most valuable possessions into a wagon. Then Catherine boosted daughter Katy onto a horse bareback and sent her west to warn others that Mexican soldiers were nipping at their heels. She told Katy not to return to Bastrop because the family would be gone.

Katy was instructed to join another family when she arrived in Waterloo, and the Jennings clan would meet again in a refugee camp along the Trinity River in East Texas.

Clinging to her horse’s mane, Kelso writes, Katy rode west at “great speed” for 40 miles, warning settlers along the way. Somehow she found her way back to her family after the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, and was with them when they returned to Bastrop.

“According to family stories,” Kelso says, “after the Texas Revolution, Katy married Casper Whistler, but the marriage was short lived. Whistler was scalped by Indians while Katy, who had gone to fetch water, hid in a creek bed.”

Katy later married a second time, to Sylvester Lockwood, a Texas pioneer. The couple lived near Manor in Travis County for 65 years. According to her 1911 obituary, Katy had eight children, 42 grandchildren, 100 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great grandchildren when she died at the age of 85.

She’s still remembered for her famous bareback ride.

“Some people may have called 10-year-old Katy Jennings brave or foolhardy,” Kelso says. “Texas calls her a hero.”