How a president going back on his word changed the name of a city

This story was originally published on the Livejournal group HistoryTime on Sep. 27th, 2008.

This is a true story and a funny story. Not funny “ha, ha,” but still…

It was told to me by the most well-versed state historian I’ve ever met (and I have met quite a few). He passed away a few years ago, but the man was a living database when it came to Texas history.

He told me how our home town really got its name.

When future-president Zachary Taylor visited the Rio Grande, he promised the soldiers he would rename “Ft. Texas” after the first man to die in battle.

On May 3, 1846, Sgt. Horace A. Weigert was stationed near a hole in the wall.

I wonder if he thought, “At least they’ll name the fort after me.”

 Weigert died instantly from a blow to the head, and his body was moved to a medical tent for the ensuing battle.

Another blast landed on the tent, knocking off his head entirely.

Hoping to spare Weigert further problems, he was burried in a shallow grave.

The grave was subsequently hit by another Mexican blast.

On May 6, Maj. Jacob Brown was checking a hole in the wall.

He was severely injured and died three days later.

Upon returning, Taylor learned only two men died in the battle with Mexican troops.

A lowly enlisted man, and the commanding officer.

He renamed the base, “Ft. Brown.”

Twelve years later the city of Brownsville Was named for the fort.

If the future president had kept his word, I’d be living in Weigertsville today.

There ya go, the legend of Ft. Texas Ft. Weigert Ft. Brown.

In Brownsville, many people know the name of Jacob Brown (not to be confused with his tocayo from the War of 1812) – his name is on the main meeting hall of the local university (the same site as the original fort)- and some may know he had something vaguely to do with the Mexican-American war, but very few know the whole story.

Most I’ve told the story to agree the city is better off with the name “Brownsville” over the clunky-sounding “Weigertsville,” but honestly, the guy went through a lot to earn what was promised by then-General Taylor. He should be remembered too.

By the way, check that link from the top of this post. The article is missing a lot of punctuation (like quotation marks) due to a glitch in the newspaper’s archiving system, but he had a lot of good stories to tell.

A memorial to the Mexican-American war exists in Austin, in the capitol building. Although the casualties are listed in chronological order, but the first name Jacob Brown – Weigert isn’t listed at all.

SECOND FEATURE: The Sad Fate of Sgt. Weigert’s Body

This story was originally published on the Livejournal group HistoryTime on Oct. 31st, 2008.

This man is so forgotten by history that a recent edition book referred to Maj. Brown as “the first hero” to give his life in the war with no mention of Weigert. He was shot to death, blown up and decapitated in the battle that kicked off the Mexican-American war – but that wasn’t the end of his troubles!

You see, following the war Ft. Brown became the center of a growing community (soon to be Brownsville) and host to its very own national cemetery.

This was a source of pride for the budding community, but the rosy relationship between the city and the fort could not last forever. Eventually the fort became home to a colored regiment, something that didn’t sit well with the largely white population of the town (the city is now over 90 percent Hispanic). Racial tensions built for many years, culminating in the so-called Brownsville Raid in which black soldiers were dishonorably discharged for a near-riot that, in all likelihood, they had nothing to do with. It’s a long story for another day, but suffice to say, the city didn’t like the fort anymore, and the feeling was mutual.

About four years after the raid, the city decided it didn’t want to care for the cemetery any more – which by this point included many black soldiers along with the likes of Weigert and Brown – so they had the whole thing moved. That’s right, 3,000 graves were moved from south Texas to the Alexandria National Cemetery in rural Louisiana.

One catch though – an estimated 3,000 graves were removed, but only one gravemarker exists in Alexandria recognizing the soldiers of Ft. Brown. None of those heroes are named on the marker, not even Maj. Brown. You can see the marker here.

Do the math: 3,000 graves, 1 gravestone.

The supposed mix-up was first discovered in 1933 when a series of powerful hurricanes (my grandfather remembers his shed blowing away over his head) wrought devastation in the area, and caused several coffins to float to the surface of a resaca (small lake) near the fort. The bodies were re-buried and promptly forgotten about again.

By the late 40’s, the fort closed up shop for good and the land was sold off piece by piece. The graveyard became a hotel and golf course, and years later, the hotel became dorms for the college built up around the remnants of the old fort.

For years, residents and workers have said the place was haunted. It was such a known “fact” that during the hotel’s tenure clerks would actually give “certain rooms” to rude guests just out of spite. It wasn’t until recent years when historians poured over old maps and reviewed old records that it donned on anyone, publicly anyway, that the graveyard is likely still there, under the resaca, dorms and golf course.

A new marker has been posted at the dorms, but no attempt has been made to dig up the dead.

Weigert’s body, like those of 3,000 other soldiers, remains somewhere below blissfully unaware college coeds as they study, party and sleep.

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