During the Texas Revolution, many people had direct connections with Seguin, Gonzales and the DeWitt Colony. John Twohig was one of them. He was born in Cork, Ireland, and moved to San Antonio. There he became one of their most memorable pioneers.
While growing up, John served as an apprentice on a British ship and eventually worked his way to San Antonio in 1830 where he opened a store on Commerce Street and Main Plaza. He took part in the Battle of Bexar with Ben Milam in which the Texans defeated the Mexican forces under General Martin Cos, brother-in-law to Santa Anna.
Six years after Texas won its independence at the Battle of San Jacinto, General Santa Anna sent his army, under General Rafael Vasquez, to recapture San Antonio and Texas. John Twohig, alerted to the fact that the Mexican Army was approaching, invited the poor to take what they wanted from his store to keep the supplies from the invaders. To protect the gunpowder, he set fuses and waited until the invading soldiers entered the store, then blew it up, along with the soldiers.
In September 1842, invaders under the command of Andrian Woll, a French Mercenary employed by Santa Anna, again invaded San Antonio. John Twohig, along with 50 members of the District Court, were captured and taken to Mexico and imprisoned in Perote prison near Vera Cruz where Big Foot Wallace, Ezekiel Smith and others from Seguin were being held after the failed Santa Fe Expedition. Samuel Maverick (prominent family still in San Antonio), Judge A. Huchison (relatives in Seguin) and William Jones were released through the efforts of the United States Minister to Mexico, in April 1843. On July 2, 1843, Twohig and 11 other men from San Antonio dug a tunnel under the wall and escaped. Three of the men were recaptured, while Twohig and the other eight men managed to escape. They walked to the port of Vera Cruz where they slipped aboard a ship for New Orleans, reaching San Antonio in 1844.
In a few years Twohig reestablished his trade business with Mexico by wagon trains. In 1869, he began an extensive move into the banking business on the corner or Soledad Street at Main Plaza. He opened branches in New Orleans, New York, San Francisco and London.
Towhig House stood beside the San Antonio River, across the street from present day St. Mary’s Church. His home saw guests such as Robert E. Lee, Sam Houston and General Phil Kearny.
On July 5, 1855, Texas Governor E. M. Pease wrote to Seguin’s Texas Ranger James H. Callahan asking him to form a company of Texas Rangers to pursue raiding Indians who had been terrorizing the settlers above New Braunfels and the Hill Country. Callahan tracked the raiders to Eagle Pass where they crossed into Mexico on Oct. 1, 1855. Callahan pursued the Indians into Mexico at Piedras Negras and penetrated Mexico about 40 miles.
On Oct. 3, 1855, Callahan encountered several men who informed him that the Mexican Military planned to ambush them on the way back to the Rio Grande. Callahan repulsed several attacks as he retreated to Piedras Negras, a town of about 2,000 people. In a message to the Mexican Commander, he stated that if attacked he would burn every house in the community. The Mexican Army attacked and Callahan, true to his word, burned the town to the ground.
The Mexicans expected to overwhelm Callahan’s forces but the timely actions of the United States Commander, Captain Sidney Burbank, Commander of Fort Duncan on the river opposite Piedras Negras, prevented that from happening. He set his cannons to rake the Mexican side and in this action demonstrated to the Mexican Commander that if you attack my countrymen, I shall pour shot and shell into your ranks. Callahan was able to withdraw back to Texas.
Fort Duncan was on the east side of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass and was established in 1849. The fort was abandoned and reactivated several times up until World War Two. In a strange connection, John Twohig, who had blown up his store in San Antonio, had owned the 5,000 acre site where the fort was established. Today, Fort Duncan is the site of the Eagle Pass City Park.
John Twohig’s connection to Seguin is that he married Elizabeth Pendleton Calvert in Seguin. Jack Coffee Hays had married Susan Calvert in 1847 in the Magnolia Hotel.
In 1941, the Witte Museum moved the Twohig home to its museum grounds. Twohig was known in San Antonio as the “Breadline Banker” for his practice of buying bread by the barrel and distributing loaves to poor families every Saturday and giving considerable money to those in need.
It is strange how, in a round about way, circumstances in individual’s lives bring about connections to people of Seguin’s history.