SAMUEL, WILLIAM GILES MARTIN
SAMUEL, WILLIAM GILES MARTIN (ca. 1825–1902). William Giles Martin Samuel, Bexar County lawman and folk painter, was born about 1825. He was the son of Giles M. and Letitia (Cummins) Samuel and was born in Howard County, Missouri. He came to Texas during the Mexican War and served as a teamster for the United States Army at present-day Port Lavaca. Samuel, a friend of William A. (Bigfoot) Wallace, was known for his fearlessness and marksmanship—"by common consent the bravest man of his day." In 1850 Samuel was farming in San Antonio and in 1852 was a city marshal. Sometime before 1856 he traveled by horseback from San Antonio to California. He was back in San Antonio by July 29, 1856, when he witnessed the fatal shooting of his brother-in-law John S. McDonald by San Antonio mayor James M. Devine. He married Narcissa Hickman-Sappington in San Antonio in 1859.
At the outbreak of the Civil War he was an agent of the commissioners of Texas. During the war he served first as a captain of artillery in the Confederate States Army, then in 1863 as an ordnance officer posted at Bonham. He subsequently was transferred to the quartermaster post in San Antonio at the request of Col. John S. (Rip) Fordqv, who described Captain Samuel as "an efficient and zealous ordnance officer." Samuel's wife Narcissa died in childbirth at Bonham during the Civil War. They had one daughter.
After the war Samuel served as justice of the peace of Medina County. He was also a business partner with his brother-in-law, Robert J. Siebert, in a flour warehouse. It may have been at this time that he lived at the old Garza Crossing of the Medina River, just above Von Ormy, at the site of one of the last Indian battles in that part of the state. He was a Bexar County court commissioner in 1877 and a deputy sheriff from about 1882 to 1900, known to the public from serving as auctioneer on the courthouse steps at sheriff's sales. He was a notary public from the late 1870s. In 1879 Samuel lived on Acequia Street (later named Main Avenue) in San Antonio, and afterward on San Pedro. For a time he had an office on Soledad; in later years a room in the sheriff's headquarters in the courthouse served as his office.
Samuel painted a number of large portraits, some of which he presented to the county; they were hung along the second floor corridor of the courthouse. He made likenesses of Sam Houston after the 1856 Frederick photograph; of Bigfoot Wallace, inscribed and dated the day of Wallace's death in 1899 and apparently taken from a photograph by A. A. Brack; of San Antonio mayor (1863–65) Pasqual Leo Buquor, dated 1889; and of José Antonio Menchacaqv (1800–1879) and Rip Ford, both of whose portraits are still in the courthouse. Also attributed to him are portraits of Erastus (Deaf) Smith, Stephen F. Austin, and a self-portrait. He painted copies of Charles Deas's painting The Trapper and a picture of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission, which also hung in the courthouse. During the San Antonio International Fair in 1888, two of Samuel's oil paintings were on display.
Most notable among his works are four views, dated 1849, of San Antonio's Main Plaza, which were also displayed in the courthouse. They show the buildings, residences, and landmarks of the lively central plaza, with San Fernando Cathedral, the Casas Reales, La Quinta (the town's first post office), and the people of San Antonio going about their activities. It is thought that Samuel probably painted the scenes from courthouse windows, looking out in the four directions. Some doubt that the paintings were actually done in 1849 and instead ascribe a later date to them. In any case, the four Main Plaza paintings have become valuable and vital records of San Antonio at mid-nineteenth century, frequently referred to and often published. They are in the collections of Bexar County on extended loan to the Witte Museum in San Antonio.
Samuel died on November 7, 1902, at St. Francis Home for the Aged in San Antonio and was buried in the Confederate Cemetery in that city. It was said that his death was caused by taking household ammonia as an antidote for a tarantula bite, but his obituary gives the cause of death as locomotor ataxia, from which he had suffered for some years. Samuel received no academic training, and his paintings manifest an awkwardness that is offset in his best works by vigorous characterization and composition. His works are in the collections of Bexar County, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo, and the San Antonio Museum Association.
Frederick Charles Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (Yanaguana Society Publications 4, San Antonio, 1937). John S. Ford, Rip Ford's Texas, ed. Stephen B. Oates (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). Frontier Times, October 1930. Pauline A. Pinckney, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). San Antonio Daily Express, November 16, 1888, November 8, 1902, May 16, 1900. San Antonio Express, July 19, 1931, March 15, 1935. San Antonio Express News, June 2, 1968. Cecilia Steinfeldt, Texas Folk Art: One Hundred Fifty Years of the Southwestern Tradition (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1981). Frances G. Trimble, Make Some Lone Star Your Resting Place... (Frances G. Trimble, 2001). Frances G. Trimble, Following Giles Samuel and His Kin: From Virginia to Kentucky to Missouri and Texas (in press 2010). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: GPO, 1880–1901).