The life, times of resident John Karner

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Published November 2006
One of the most colorful and historical characters to live in early Freestone and its adjoining counties was John Karner. Born in Bavaria in 1817, he was often called "Dutch John." Karner emigrated to America in 1831 with his family and, leaving them, he came to Texas in 1835. At San Augustine, John Karner joined the forces then forming the defense against the invading Santa Anna and the Mexican Army. This command joined General Sam Houston at Gonzales and was with them at the Battle of San Jacinto. At the Battle of San Jacinto, John Karner had charge of a wagon and team which was used after the battle to haul the wounded General Sam Houston and General Santa Anna, who was taken prisoner.
In the historic painting of the scene after the Battle of San Jacinto, with General Houston lying under the tree wounded and General Santa Anna standing in front of him surrendering, the young man in the cart is John Karner. One impressive painting of the historic moment did hang in the Grand Lodge of Texas AF&AM in Waco.
After the Texas War of Independence, John Karner came to Leon County to claim land awarded for his service. Due to Indian uprisings and troubles he then spent several years, and became famous, as an Indian scout and fighter. He was involved in establishing Fort Boggy in Leon County and in organizing the "Minute Men" who helped protect the frontier between the Trinity and Brazos Rivers.
Karner served in and helped organize Ranger Companies traveling all over the Texas frontier. While involved in the Indian Wars, once his group almost died of thirst near the base of El Capitan. They climbed up the mountain until snow was in reach, then brought snow in their saddle blankets to water their horses.
John Karner is credited with giving the Great War Chief of the Anadoras, Chief Jose Maria, a severe wound in a battle on the Bosque. One Indian expedition carried he and his men into Colorado where they were involved with the Navajo and famous Scout Kit Carson, although they never caught up with the hostile Indians they were pursuing, they reported this band was never known to return to raid Texas.
Karner told the hardest fight he was involved in between the Indians and Texas was about 1800 Indians with only about 50 Texans, the fight went well into the night with the Texans strategically escaping. When the Mexican Army recaptured San Antonio in 1840, John Karner was one of the first to join the forces that drove them back across the Rio Grande.
John Karner was also a land surveyor and land locater for public granted lands. One of his pieces of work was laying off and surveying the townsite of Huntsville, he also took the contract to clear the land for the courthouse and public square. John Karner and his family moved to Freestone County and Fairfield in 1853.
When Texas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy, John Karner enlisted in the 7th Texas in 1862. He served for 12 months at Sabine Pass, Galveston, and other coastal points. Karner returned to his home in Fairfield until near the end of the war. When Union General Banks tried to invade Texas, Karner took up arms again and stayed until the end of the war.
One family story concerning John Karner during the War Between the States was he started to Montgomery, Alabama with a herd of horses to sell the Confederate forces, but due to enemy troops, had to abandon them on an island in the Mississippi River swamps.
Later, Karner and Freestone County Sheriff J.B. Rogers owned a herd of horses that were stolen and recovered by Sheriff Rogers with some of the rustlers later returning and taking Sheriff Rogers' life from ambush. In his memoirs, Karner says the last buffalo seen around Fairfield was in 1851 and the last in Mexia area was in 1853. Karner is reportedly a charter member of Springfield Lodge No. 73 and lifelong member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. John Karner and his family moved to Mexia, Limestone County in 1876 after the railroad came through where he lived until his death and is buried in the Mexia Cemetery with an impressive stone marking his resting place.
John Karner's surveying compass and tools, along with other personal belongings are on display at the Freestone County Museum located in the old jail near the square in Fairfield. John Karner's grandson, Philpott Karner, lived in Mexia and was a longtime personal friend, much of this information came from him through visits over the years. The beautiful, ornate Karner home still exists on N. Ross in Mexia.

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