Before there was an "Austin," there was a "Hornsby Bend." As the first permanent white settlement in Travis
County and the last outpost, the settlement was called "land's end."
Hornsby Bend was named after Reuben Hornsby, a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin, who brought his family here in 1832. To fulfill his headright claim of a league and a labor of land, he found a spot on a horseshoe bend of the river where he built a cabin and later a stockade. He chose that particular spot on the river because he felt it would provide adequate protection from the Comanche Indians, who also lived in the area.
Over the years Hornsby, with other settlers, built a gristmill, cotton gin, sawmill, blacksmith shop, general store and, eventually, a post office. In 1847, the community built the first school, known as the Old Rock Schoolhouse, in Travis County. The first cemetery in Travis County is also located near this community.
Although nothing of the original settlement remains, markers along the roadside remind us of the historic value of this community and the sacrifices and struggles to establish it.
"A more beautiful tract of land, even now, can nowhere be found than the league of land granted to Reuben Hornsby. Washed on the west by the Colorado, it stretches over a level valley about three miles wide to the east, and was, at the time of which we write, covered with wild rye, and looking like one vast green wheat field. Such was the valley in its virgin state which tempted Hornsby to build and risk his family outside of the settlements."
John Wesley Wilbarger,
Indian Depredations in Texas, 1889
Born near Rome, Georgia in 1793, Reuben Hornsby came to Texas as a surveyor with Stephen F. Austin's "Upper Colony." He moved his family to the area that became Hornsby Bend in 1832, and served in John J. Tomlinson's Company of Texas Rangers in 1835-36. He was also instrumental in securing a mail route from Bastrop in 1838, and was one of Edwin Waller's surveyors who laid out the new city of Austin in 1839. After introducing cattle to the area, he was one of the first to register a cattle brand--RH--in Travis County on March 19, 1840. He served on the first Travis County Grand Jury, and in 1840-41 he was a surveyor to mark a new road from Austin to Bastrop. Because of his many contributions to the County, he was awarded one million square yards of land within the city limits of Austin. In 1879, after a lifetime of service to the community he helped to found, Reuben Hornsby was laid to rest in the cemetery that bears his family name.
"In the spring of 1832…Stephen F. Austin with some settlers set out from his Upper Colony, headquartered at Mina (now known as Bastrop) to survey a half-dozen homesteads along the Colorado River. By late day, Josiah Wilbarger, John Walters, Joseph Duty, William Webber, and a man named Barker had chosen land for their farms…
Only Reuben Hornsby could find no land to suit him, and caused the party to ride on while he sought the extraordinary place where he would make a new home.
At last they entered territory that intrigued Hornsby, land far out into the wilderness…below them, when they topped the hill, lay the most delectable valley anyone could remember seeing, luxuriant and emerald-green, where a horseshoe bend of the Colorado hooked into a lowland waving with a sea of wild buffalo rye grass.
Laying down his gun Hornsby turned to his friends. 'Boys, this suits me just fine,' he said. 'You can go on home if you like.'"
The Texas Public
Employee, August 1968
The Reuben Addison Hornsby home, located off Webberville Road in Hornsby Bend, was built about 1886. Reuben Addison Hornsby was Reuben Hornsby's grandson.
"Many Christmas mornings Reuben [Addison] Hornsby would get up early and from the front porch would shoot his shotgun. Seconds later Jess Hornsby, living a few yards away, shot his gun, answered by Mark Gilbert, Smith Hornsby and Spurge Parsons. Up the road we could hear guns of Wallace Hornsby, who usually shot twice, then Ernest Robertson, and Jim Hornsby living down the lane. Tett Cox was next to shoot.
One Christmas, half asleep, he shot too close to the front porch--the shot going through his roof. This he never lived down. Answering that shot was August Foster, and nearer the Hornsby Cemetery was Paul Rowe and Vice McLaurin, who never failed to answer. From down near the river could be heard the guns of Malcolm Hornsby, Willie and Jimmie Platt, followed by Sam Platt with his forty-five. This was their way of saying "Merry Christmas" to the Hornsby Bend Settlement. But as time went on, many of the shooters married, moved away, or died, and so the tradition faded.
Years afterward, Harry Hornsby decided he wanted to shoot his shotgun off on Christmas morning to see if there were anyone to remember. He shot, waited a few minutes, and there was no one left to answer. He silently came in the house to put his gun up and realized he was about the last one to remember to shoot on Christmas morning."
of the Hornsby Family, 1975
Reuben Hornsby's son Malcolm Morrison Hornsby posed for this portrait with his own son, James Malcolm Hornsby. Malcolm's granddaughter, Myrtle Hornsby Callan, remembers that "Malcolm M. Hornsby returned to Austin after serving in the Confederate Army in 1865 to find hard times and little, if any, materials available here. James Malcolm Hornsby, second child and first son of M. M. Hornsby, is shown wearing his first suit, which was made by his mother's half-sister, Cordelia Flint, who used the cloth covering a large old umbrella to make this suit. This old picture was made in Austin about 1868 or 1869."
Although the village of Montopolis was incorporated before the city of Austin, and at one time vied with Waterloo for becoming the site for Austin, we have little in the Austin History Center collections to remember those early days. Any documentation of either 19th or 20th century Montopolis would be welcome.
The name derives from the Greek words for mountain, "mont," and city, "polis." The townsite was laid out atop a southern bluff of the Colorado River, two miles downtown from Waterloo. The town was near a natural crossing place that was to become one of the two main Chisholm Trail crossings of the Colorado.
Montopolis did not thrive as a town in the 1900s. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s that the community finally grew, as the Montopolis area was settled by some of the increasing numbers of Mexican immigrants fleeing political and economic repression to seek a better life in Texas. The area was incorporated into the Austin City limits in 1951.
This 1937 photograph of Montopolis' old courthouse is said to be the first courthouse in Travis County. It is now demolished.