CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A drawing of the settlement of Corpus Christi's founder recently re-emerged after more than 160 years.
Local historians are agog to see for the first time an 1849 image of the backside of Kinney's Trading Post and Kinney's Tank, a freshwater pond next to it that was Corpus Christi's first water supply.
"This charming drawing is a real Christmas treasure for us all," said Geraldine McGloin, longtime Nueces County Historical Commission researcher and transcriptionist. "With its provenance well established, as to the artist and the date, it is an important historic document."
Col. Henry Lawrence Kinney homesteaded atop the downtown bluff in the late 1830s and by 1844 controlled most trade with Mexico, with the aid of hired gunmen. Kinney's property was at the present site of the AT&T building in the 400 block of North Carancahua Street, and the location of the pond is now the shallow parking lot behind Trinity Towers, where the street still floods with heavy rains.
The image of Kinney's property is a less than 7-inch by 10-inch graphite drawing by military man and West Point educator Seth Eastman.
It's one of four of Eastman's drawings that emerged in a New York auction, purportedly from descendants of Caleb Loy, a former New York congressman, according to research by James Graham Baker, the retired Texas A&M University educator and historian who purchased it.
Baker authored an academic article about Eastman's work that used the image for the cover of the October issue of Southwestern Historical Quarterly, published by the Texas Historical Commission.
"Eastman's image of the fledgling waterfront village of Corpus Christi was previously unknown," Baker said. "He was one of the most outstanding artists to work in the West."
Eastman drew two kinds of images, Baker said.
"Sketches from the back of his horse that have a hurried and sketchy feel to them," he said, "and very detailed renderings that are absolutely outstanding documentations of quality."
Despite believing that Eastman's drawing of Kinney's post has historical significance beyond value, Baker offered to sell it to Corpus Christi for $30,000, city officials said. After the city couldn't raise the money, Baker provided the Caller-Times a high resolution scan to share with the community.
"We tried to find private money to buy it," said Herb Canales, longtime library director, now interim assistant city manager. "The library friends were raising money at the time for the Greenwood library improvements, and an artifact could not compete with focusing on facility improvements for our children."
It is a significant artistic image of early Corpus Christi, Canales said.
Eastman was a native of Maine who studied technical draftsmanship at West Point before graduating in 1829. He fought against the Seminoles in Florida in 1840, and later campaigned in Texas as part of the U.S. efforts to secure frontier from attacks by Comanche and other tribes, according to Baker's article. Eastman and his troops were at Fort Snelling, in what is now Minnesota, in 1848 when directed to Texas.
Eastman drew images as they sailed along the Mississippi River, traveled through Kerrville's early German settlements, Indianola, then in summer of 1849 he was sent to make images of the Nueces River valley.
The view from behind Kinney's homestead is now the only known original drawing of Kinney's house and store, said Murphy Givens, retired Caller-Times viewpoints editor and local historian.
"That is exactly the right location for where Kinney's Tank was located," Givens said about the freshwater pond next to the homestead. "That is the most important aspect of the sketch, other than the fact that it exists at all."
There have never been any other images of Kinney's Tank, Givens said.
Various historical accounts describe the pond, he said. It was later an impounded water source for the town, supplied by an arroyo that trailed from what is now the Blucher Park area into Corpus Christi Bay. A few years later the City Council prohibited livestock from using it because it was the city's main fresh water supply, Givens said.
Texas images from the 1840s and 1850s are quite rare.
Only two others of Corpus Christi are known from before 1850.
One is an 1845 bird's eye view of the encampment of the American Army, at what is now part of downtown's Artesian Park. It's an illustration created by Capt. Daniel P. Whiting of the 7th Infantry that was later etched on stone by lithographer Charles Parsons and printed by G. & W. Endicott in New York about 1847. It was the Camp Marcy encampment of Gen. Zachary Taylor's troops before the Mexican War.
They are not the troop tents seen in Eastman's image between the structures of Kinney's property. Taylor's troops moved south to invade Mexico, and it was not until June 1849 that a company of Federal Dragoons are believed to have camped there, Baker said.
"The lurking dragoon tents in the background indicate all may not be as peaceful as it looks on the surface," McGloin said.
Whiting's 1845 image was not published immediately, so the first published image of Corpus Christi, and probably the earliest surviving image of the village, is thought to have been created in January 1846. It was published two months later in the Weekly Herald in New York. It's a sketch that shows a shoreline view from the south that includes the front portion of Kinney's Trading Post property. The original artwork is lost, making Eastman's image the only original artwork known.
"We have had no image to close our eyes and visualize what Kinney's place looked like," Givens said, "and now this adds an important part to our local history."