John Crittenden (John C., Texas John) Duval, writer, son of Nancy (Hynes) and William Pope Duval, was born at Bardstown, Kentucky, on March 14, 1816, and grew up in Tallahassee after his father was appointed to a federal judgeship in what was then Florida Territory. Duval returned to Bardstown in 1831 with his mother to continue his education at St. Joseph College. Late in 1835 he left the college to join a small company organized by his brother Capt. Burr H. Duval to fight with the Texans against Mexico. The brothers were with James W. Fannin's army when it surrendered to the Mexican forces under José de Urrea. In the Goliad Massacre on Palm Sunday, 1836, Burr Duval was killed, but John escaped. Not long afterwards he entered the University of Virginia to study engineering. He returned to Texas by 1840 and became a land surveyor. In 1845 he was, alongside William A. A. (Bigfoot) Wallace, a member of John C. (Jack) Hays's company of Texas Rangers. Duval did not favor secession, but he joined the Confederate Army as a private, declining a commission. He was a captain by the war's end.
He liked to be out in wilderness places, to loiter and to read, write, and recollect. His writings justify his being called the first Texas man of letters. Early Times in Texas was published serially in Burke's Weekly at Macon, Georgia, in 1867, although it did not appear in book form (and then only as a pamphlet printed on rotten paper) until 1892. The story of Duval's remarkable escape from the Goliad Massacre and of his more remarkable adventures before he rejoined human society became a Texas classic. Of all personal adventures of old-time Texans it is perhaps the best written and the most interesting. The Young Explorers (189?), a narrative with a fictional thread, a book for boys, was published as a sequel to Early Times in Texas. Duval's most artistic and most important book is The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter (1870). Always free and at home with himself, Bigfoot opened up to his old friend Duval with gusto, and Duval helped him stretch the blanket. He died in Fort Worth on January 15, 1897.
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William Corner, "John Crittenden Duval: The Last Survivor of the Goliad Massacre," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 1 (July 1897). William Corner, John Crittenden Duval: The Last Survivor of the Goliad Massacre (Houston: Union National Bank, 1930). J. Frank Dobie, John C. Duval: First Texas Man of Letters, with Sketches by Tom Lea (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1939; 2d ed. 1965). John Crittenden Duval, Early Times in Texas, or the Adventures of Jack Dobell (Austin: Gammel, 1892; new ed., Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
Memoirs, Diaries, Letters, and Travel
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
J. Frank Dobie,
“Duval, John Crittenden,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 16, 2020
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