Henry Wax Karnes, soldier of the Republic of Texas, was born in Tennessee on September 8, 1812, and while he was still an infant his parents moved to Arkansas, where his father, a hunter and trapper, taught him woodsmanship. Karnes visited Texas in 1828 and returned in 1835. With the outbreak of the Texas Revolution he enlisted as a private in Capt. John York's volunteer company and distinguished himself in the battle of Concepción and the siege of Bexar. Karnes was dispatched with Erastus (Deaf) Smith and Robert E. Handy from Gonzales to ascertain the fate of the Alamo, and was the first to return to Sam Houston's army with word of its fall. On March 20, 1836, with a force of five men, he defeated a party of twenty Mexican soldiers on Rocky Creek. By the time of the battle of San Jacinto he was a captain and was second in command of Mirabeau B. Lamar's cavalry corps. His service as a scout before the battle was of great value to Houston's army; after the rout of the enemy his cavalry company led the pursuit of fugitives from Antonio López de Santa Anna's army. After being promoted to colonel for his contribution to the Texan victory, Karnes was sent to Matamoros to effect an exchange of prisoners but was himself imprisoned on June 10, 1836, by Mexican authorities. He soon escaped and was authorized, on December 28, 1838, to raise eight companies of Texas Rangers for frontier defense. He applied for a headright in 1838 and received 1,920 acres as a reward for his services. On August 10, 1839, he commanded twenty-one rangers in a fight against an estimated 200 Comanches near Arroyo Seco. Although the fight was a total victory for the Texans, Karnes was wounded by an arrow and never fully recovered. He died of yellow fever in San Antonio on August 16, 1840, soon after accepting the command of the Texan Santa Fe expedition. Karnes County was named in his honor.
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Amelia W. Williams and Eugene C. Barker, eds., The Writings of Sam Houston, 1813–1863 (8 vols., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1938–43; rpt., Austin and New York: Pemberton Press, 1970).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
“Karnes, Henry Wax,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 07, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
March 24, 2017