Hornsby, Reuben (1793–1879)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: February 1, 1995

Reuben (Ruben) Hornsby, soldier, surveyor, and one of Stephen F. Austin's earliest colonists, was born near the site of present Rome, Georgia, on January 7, 1793, the son of Moses and Katherine (Watts) Hornsby. After residing for a time in Mississippi, he left Vicksburg on January 2, 1830, on the steamboat Pocahontas and arrived at Velasco, Texas, on February 5. From there he made his way to Matagorda, where, on June 5, 1830, he contracted with Stephen F. Austin for a grant in the new upper Austin colony, in the Mina District near the site of Austin. A surveyor by trade, Hornsby selected and surveyed his one-labor headright at Hornsby Bend in Travis County, east of the Colorado River and thirty miles north of Bastrop. He occupied this headright in July 1832 and received title to it on March 4, 1841. "A more beautiful tract of land...can nowhere be found than the league of land granted to Ruben Hornsby," wrote historian John W. Wilbarger. "Washed on the west by the Colorado, it stretches over a level valley about three miles wide to the east, and was...covered with wild rye, and looking like one vast green wheat field." At this time the Hornsby home was the northernmost on the Colorado and therefore the most exposed to Indian raids. Only Josiah Wilbarger preceded Hornsby in settling this extreme frontier. Hornsby's home, according to J. W. Wilbarger, "was always noted for hospitality," and he was said to be "remarkable for those virtues and that personal courage" that made him and Josiah Wilbarger "marked men among the early settlers."

In August 1833, when Josiah Wilbarger and four companions were attacked by Indians near the site of present Austin, Hornsby rode to his rescue. Wilbarger had appeared to Hornsby's wife in a vivid dream beseeching aid, and she urged her husband go to him, although Wilbarger was then believed to be dead. Hornsby located his scalped and severely wounded neighbor and returned with him to his home, where he was nursed back to health.

On November 28, 1835, Hornsby was appointed a commissioner for organizing the militia of the Mina District. In the Runaway Scrape of 1836 the Hornsby family followed the Little River down to the Brazos, where they learned of Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto. Shortly after returning home Hornsbys and their neighbors were attacked twice by Indians; two young men were killed while working in the fields during the first raid, and two others out hunting cattle were ambushed and killed that fall or winter. On February 20, 1845, Hornsby enlisted as a private in the Travis Rangers under Lt. A. Coleman for three months; he reenlisted on May 20 under Lt. D. C. Cady for a single month. In June Hornsby's son Daniel and a companion were killed by Indians while fishing in the Colorado River.

Hornsby married Sarah Morrison, whom Wilbarger called "loved and reverenced by all who knew her," and was the father of ten children. Sarah died on April 20, 1862. By the end of his life Hornsby had become a prosperous planter. He died at his Travis County estate on January 11, 1879, and was buried beside Sarah in the family cemetery at Hornsby Bend. A Texas Historical Commission marker was placed at his home in 1936. A small collection of his papers is at the Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Muster Rolls of the Texas Revolution (Austin, 1986). Reuben Hornsby Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. J. W. Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas (Austin: Hutchings, 1889; rpt., Austin: State House, 1985).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Hornsby, Reuben,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hornsby-reuben.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995