Matthew Nolan

Co. C

2nd U.S. Dragoons

nolanm

Photo Credit:  Rosa G. Gonzales


1.   Photograph of Mat Nolan

Provenance:  Corpus Christi Public Libraries

2.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (March 4, 1999). Available on microfilm.

 

3.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (January 26, 2000). Available on microfilm.

 

4.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (August 23, 2000). Available on microfilm.

 

4.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (August 30, 2000). Available on microfilm.

 

5.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (September 6, 2000). Available on microfilm.

 

6.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (April 4, 2001). Available on microfilm.

 

7.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (September 26, 2003).

 

8.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (July 27, 2005).

 

9.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (January 18, 2006).

 

10.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (June 7, 2006).

 

11.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (December 27, 2006).

 

12.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (July 25, 2007).

 

13.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (August 1, 2007).

 

14.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (August 15, 2007).

 

15.   Corpus Christi History by Murphy Givens

            Corpus Christi Caller Times (February 27, 2008).

 

16.   Article from the Corpus Christi Caller Times, July 30, 1961

 

The Century-Old Mystery:   Why Was Mat Nolan Killed?

 

Editor's Note – This is the 11th of a number of articles on South Texas in the Civil War.  Principal sources are official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, records in the files of the Nueces County district and county clerks, the Corpus Christi Ranchero, the memoirs of John S. Ford and a  manuscript by South Texas historian, Dan Kilgore.

 

By: Ernest Morgan

 

Why was Mat Nolan murdered? 

Nolan, the sheriff of Nueces County and one of Corpus Christi's finest Confederate officers, was shot down the night of Dec. 22, 1864.

He was talking to a man named J. C. McDonald, a horse trader sometimes called McFox.  Apparently, they were at what is now the parking lot behind the old State Hotel on Mesquite Street.  Across the street was Nolan's house.

As they talked they were approached by two brothers, Frank and Charles -----.  Their names won't be used because they still have descendants in South Texas.  Call them the Blanks.

One of the Blanks asked if they were Col. Mat Nolan and McFox.  Nolan said, "Yes."

"We are the Blank boys," said one of the Blank boys.

"And immediately one of them discharged his doble barrel shotgun at him, Col. Nolan," said a witness at the coroner's inquest later, quoting Nolan.

 

Mortally Wounded

Nolan must have been turning away because eight lead slugs from the shotgun tore into his back at the left side.  He was mortally wounded.

He fell.  One of the Blanks knelt and felt of his body and, concluding that he was dead, did not fire again.

What McDonald was doing while the shooting was going on isn't recorded.  At the inquest, a Mrs. Mary A. Shaw said she heard the firing while in Nolan's house.  She said she looked out and saw two men run across the street from the opposite side.

Mary Ann Malloy testified that she was at home when she heard two men run past, with another man a short distance behind them.  They were running up the beach (north), she said, soon after she had heard shooting.

 

McDonald Killed

The men she heard must have been the Blank boys, pursued by McDonald.  And McDonald must have caught up with them because his body was found at a corner a block or so away from Nolan's house, near the present site of The Caller-Times.  He had been wounded several times, but the cause of death was a pistol shot behind the left ear.

Nolan was carried into his house.  Dr. D. H. Lawrence examined him and told him he could not survive his wound.  And Nolan, on his deathbed, then described the shooting.

Violence was a predictable end for Matthew Nolan.  He had lived with it since the age of 12 when he came to the new town of Corpus Christi as a bugler with the U.S. 2nd Dragoons in 1845.

Nolan, his brother Tom, 10, and their sister May were part of Gen Zachary Taylor's army.  Tom, too, was a bugler and Mary was a hospital matron.

 

Mary the Oldest

They were Irish.  Mary, who was older than her brothers, was born in Ireland.  Mat and Tom were born in New York, according to the Corpus Christi census of 1860.

Why they joined the army isn't known.  It may be that their parents had died and Mary put them all into the Army to keep them alive.

At any rate they were a fighting family.  Mat and Tom were with the 2nd Dragoons at the battles of Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto in the Rio Grande Valley.  They took part in other fighting of the Mexican War.

Mary nursed the wounded and sick of the Army during the Mexican campaign.  In 1849, the war over, all three returned to Corpus Christi.

The two boys entered the Ranger service.  In 1850 Mat was a bugler under the famed John S. (Rip) Ford.  Tom probably was with him.

Mary married Charles Hutchinson of Corpus Christi.  She nursed the victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1854 here.  Her husband died that year, possibly killed by the fever.

 

Status Increased

Mat was named administrator of Hutchinson's will in December, 1854.  He must have been 21 then.  He became increasingly a respected and valued citizen of Corpus Christi.

Nolan became so well-liked that four years later Nueces County elected him sheriff.  He chose as deputies men prominent in the early history of Corpus risti – Charles Lovenskiold and Reuben Holbien.

 

Other deputies were his brother Tom, the stepfather of the men who later killed him.

Little more than a year after he took office, Mat Nolan was back in the Rangers.  This time he was a lieutenant, again under Ford, fighting the Mexican bandit Juan Cortina on the Rio Grande.

After Cortinas' defeat Nolan returned to Corpus Christi, but there was little time left for a sheriff's job – the Civil War was just ahead.

 

Tom Killed By Lawbreaker

There was need for a sheriff.  Tom was wounded in a gunfight with a lawbreaker and died in Corpus Christi Aug. 15, 1860.  Within six months, Mat Nolan had taken a commission in the Texas State troops.

Nolan was in Austin in the early part of 1861, when the Secession Convention met.  Ford was a delegate to the convention and was authorized by the State Committee on Public Safety to raise a regiment for duty on the Rio Grande.

Ford appointed Nolan a captain and sent him to South Texas to enlist a company.  Nolan also took Ford's horse south since Ford was going to Houston and then to Brownsville by boat.

Nolan came back to Nueces County and enlisted many of his old friends.  His first lieutenant was Holbien, his former deputy.  They camped at Banquete and of the 98 men on the company muster roll most are noted as enlisting there.

 

Went South

From Banquete, the company went south where Nolan was a notable success at persuading Federal officers and soldiers from the forts along the Rio Grande to join the Confederate army.

Many of the men in his company joined up at Brownsville and Ringgold Barracks.  They are discreetly listed on the muster roll as "formerly in U. S. service."

After the evacuation of the Federal forts on the river, Nolan fought bandits and rebels.  The citizens of Zapata County for a time refused to accept the Confederate government and tried to prevent the county officials from taking the Confederate oath.

Nolan and 20 men attacked the rebels near Carrizo, killing nine and wounding two.  The rest fled across the Rio Grande.

His company was disbanded in the fall of 1861, but apparently many of the men reenlisted to serve under him again.

 

Fought Indians

The next year he fought Indians on the Frio and Nueces Rivers who had attacked ranchers after the U. S. troops left.

On May 22, 1862, Nolan returned to Corpus Christi to marry Miss Margaret J. McMahon.

Nolan and his Company G of the Second Texas Cavalry were sent next to East Texas.  They took part in the recapture of Galveston Jan. 1, 1863.

Nolan had a friend write The Ranchero, Corpus Christi's newspaper, that Company G was in support of a heavy artillery battery and had to stand a "galling" fire from the enemy for several hours.  None in the company was hit.

Three weeks later they had a more active part.  The company went aboard the Confederate vessel J. H. Bell and aided in the capture of the Federal ship, Morning Light.  The "Horse Marines," as Nolan's men were called, poured volley after volley of rifle fire into the Morning Light before it lowered it flag.

 

Action in Louisiana

Ashore again, Nolan fought in Louisiana, chiefly scouting for an expected invasion.  In October, he was responsible for saving powder from a grounded schooner in Louisiana and getting it to Confederate authorities.

Early the next year, Nolan was recalled to South Texas by Ford and promoted to major.  He skirmished with the U. S. troops occupying Mustang Island on some of their raids to Corpus Christi.  He was re-elected sheriff Aug. 1, 1864, and took office after the U.S. soldiers evacuated South Texas.

Nolan retained his Army commission – he had been promoted to lieutenant colonel.  He apparently was loaned to Nueces County to restore order to Corpus Christi.  The town had been hurt badly by the war.  Many of its people had gone.  Those left had suffered hunger and many of them had aided the enemy troops on Mustang Island.

 

Kin a Collaborator

The stepfather of the men who killed him was one of those collaborating with the U.S. troops. 

Nolan lived long enough after he was carried to his home to name his killers, but he did not say why they shot him.

Col. A. C. Jones testified at the inquest that he heard Nolan say "they," apparently the Blank boys, had cause to kill him.  What cause they had, he didn't say.

The dying Nolan also said that McDonald was "after" the Blank boys, but it isn't clear whether he meant before the shooting or after.

Only one direct reason is given in the old records for the killing, and it seems open to doubt.

 

Officer's Report

Brig. Gen. James Slaughter, Confederate commander in South Texas, reported from Brownsville that:

"Nolan was walking in company with one Mt Fox (McDonald) and was met by two brothers named — whose sister had been seduced by Fox.  They were determined to kill Fox and as Nolan was sheriff of the county and would be the strongest witness against them they destroyed him also."

Slaughter's report makes a good story, but it doesn't seem plausible.

The Blank boys specifically asked for Nolan and McDonald.  They killed Nolan and ran off.  McDonald wasn't killed until afterward.  Furthermore, if they had wanted to shoot only McDonald, they would hardly have picked as a time to do it an evening when the was strolling with the county sheriff.

Nolan himself seemed to think the Blank boys were out to kill him.

 

Planning Action?

It could have been, as a guess, that Nolan was planning of taking some action against the Blanks' stepfather.  The idea that there was some Confederate-Union tinge to the killing is supported by what happened to the indictments against the Blanks.

The Nueces County grand jury quickly indicted the Blank boys for the murders of Nolan and McDonald, but they were never tried.

The war ended a few months after the shooting, and Reconstruction began when those who had aided the Union were in power in Nueces County.

The Blanks' stepfather became sheriff and one of the Blanks was named bailiff to the grand jury and also a deputy sheriff.  Then on Dec. 6, 1866, two years after the murders, the indictments were dismissed.

 

Left Property

Nolan's will, probated a year after his death, showed the one-time bugler boy had become a landowner.  Besides the house and lot on Mesquite, he left his wife a lot on the Bluff, 1,455 acres on Padre Island, 738 acres in Bee County, eight town lots in the town of San Patricio and 43 certificates from the State of Texas with a face value of $3,905, probably worth nothing.

Nolan was buried beside his brother, Tom, in Old Bayview Cemetery.  With all his many activities, as Ranger, sheriff and Confederate officer, his gravestone, like Tom's simply reflects the manner of his arrival in Corpus Christi.

It says, "Matthew Nolan, Co. G, 2nd U.S. Dragoons."

 

 

Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times, July 30, 1961, p. 16D, cols. 1-3

Research by: Msgr. Michael A. Howell

Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales

 

17.   Research by Frank Wagner

            "The Shooting of Sheriff Mat Nolan"

 

Prepared 9 September 1986, 4:05 p.m.

 

Mat and Tom Nolan joined Harney’s Regiment of Dragoons, United States Army in the late Fall of 1845.  They were both born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island.  Mat was 12, but Tom was only 9 so he lied about his age telling the recruiting officer he was 10.  Mat signed on as a bugler, Tom as a drummer, Company G, 2nd U. S. Dragoons.  Their elder sister Mary Nolan signed up as a laundress.  She was sixteen years old.

 

Tom was almost captured when Captain Seth Thornton and his companies were ambushed on a reconnaissance along the Rio Grande.  Mat stayed with the main part of the regiment and served as a bugler at the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma in the weeks just immediately before the Declaration of War.  Mary Nolan washed their clothes, and took care of the wounded.  They went through the whole war together, returned to Galveston together, and tried to sign up with the Texas Rangers together.  Tom joined the company of Captain John Grumbles.  Mat joined Bagby’s Minute Company and later served as a bugler with Captain John S. Ford.  Mary stayed in Galveston a while, then apparently moved to Corpus Christi where she married a certain Charles Hutchinson.  Charlie died in 1854, and Mat got leave to attend to his brother-in-law’s last will and testament.  He was elected sheriff and he quickly appointed his brother Tom as a deputy.  Tom was seriously wounded when he tried to wrestle a six-shooter from an overgrown, very drunken teenager in La Retama Saloon in Corpus Christi on August 4, 1860.  He died 11 days later on August 15, 1860 and was mourned by the whole town.

As soon as the Confederacy was established in Texas, Mat Nolan was authorized to raise a company in South Texas.  He enlisted the whole company of the Walker Star Rifles (named for an Indian-fighter named Andrew Jackson Walker, by their Captain Charles Lovenskiold).  The militia company had to be rebuilt after most of the stronger and younger men joined Nolan’s company.  John S. Ford, in his memoirs, recounted that Nolan was successful in enlisting many of the U. S. Army soldiers and officers in Confederate service.  In point of fact, he enlisted no officers, and only 4 enlisted men joined the Confederate service.  The Texas State Committee on Public Safety company was disbanded.  He organized another company of Rangers to fight the Indians in the upper reaches of the Nueces River.  Mat Nolan went along too.

Mat Nolan had many other adventures in Confederate service, but he was needed back in Corpus Christi in 1864.  He was needed to follow and arrest the irregulars in Federal pay directed by Cecilio Balerio.  Balerio owned considerable property in Corpus Christi, and was on his way to becoming a leading citizen of the town when Texas withdrew from the United States.  He and his family hid out and attacked the cotton wagon trains freighting to Brownsville.  Balerio’s son, Jose, was enamored of a girl in Corpus Christi.  When Sheriff Nolan found out, he watched the girl’s house.  Patience rewarded his efforts.  Jose Balerio came calling, and the sheriff arrested him.  under threats of death, the terrified boy agreed to direct Mat Nolan and his posse to his father’s hideout in the chaparral.  The present site of the place is not know, but probably was somewhere near Premont

At the last moment, Jose Balerio shouted an alarm to the sleeping irregulars.  Pandemonium ensued.  There was shooting in every direction.  When the smoke had cleared, the boy Jose was gone.  So was Don Cecilio.  An old corrido of Robstown told the tragic story:  the father was so ashamed of his son’s betrayal, they went to Tamaulipas to live, where they were not known.

Later that year as Christmas approached, Sheriff Nolan arrested a man named John C. McDonald, who appears to have been a swindling horse-trader.  Known under various names, he was often called McFox of Matt Fox.  The Sheriff was escorting McDonald to his home, where Mrs. Margaret Nolan, the sheriff’s wife, had prepared supper.  McDonald, though in custody, was not shackled or chained in any way.  They apparently were confronted by two young men from the town.  Frank and Charlie (their last names are given in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion,  but as many of their relatives still live in South Texas there is no need to bring it up) were armed.  They intended to kill McDonald because he had seduced their sister.  Their first shot hit the sheriff.  McDonald raced off down the street.  They caught him about a block away.  The two brothers dispatched him with a bullet behind the ear.

The sheriff was seriously wounded.  He was taken to Dr. D. H. Lawrance, a respected physician who had lived hereabouts among the Indians even before the Kinney brothers came and founded Corpus Christi.  Dr. Lawrance told him that he could not survive the wounds, so Nolan began reciting his account of the shooting.  He seemed to believe that Frank and Charlie wanted to kill him.  A former sheriff had been arrested by Colonel Lovenskiold’s Confederate soldiers loading cotton onto Federal vessels off Padre Island.  The older sheriff was held under sentence of death.  The young men involved in the shooting had been supporters of the old sheriff.

Possibly because of some mischance, the declining light of the early December evening, or what, sheriff Nolan was shot first.  General James Slaughter sent in an official report explaining that McDonald was the intended victim, and that Nolan was only assassinated because he would be the strongest witness against them.  They were right!

Frank and Charlie were never tried.  Their stepfather was appointed Sheriff of Nueces County  by the Federal military authorities.  Charlie was made a deputy sheriff.  Another brother was made clerk of the Nueces Grand Jury.  The young men who had shot Mat Nolan became prominent in the ranching life of  South Texas.  An indictment was drawn against them, but it was dismissed quietly.

Mat Nolan is buried next to his brother Tom in Old Bayview Cemetery, Corpus Christi. 

Transcription by:  Rosa G. Gonzales

 

18.  Obituary

 

The Brownsville Ranchero of the 31st inst. gives the following account of the killing of Capt. Mat Nolan and J. C. McDonald (familiarly known as MacFox.)  The affair is reported to have occurred in Corpus Christi  on the night of the 19th ult. As is thus described by a gentleman who arrived in Brownsville from Banquete:

 

“It appears that Nolan and Fox were walking along the street together; that they were met by Charles and Frank Gravis, brothers, who inquired who they were.  The night being a dark one, they were informed.  The Gravis boys then kept on some twenty feet and, wheeling, commenced firing, first with a shot gun and then with six shooters-  Nolan fell at the first fire, mortally wounded.  Fox emptied his pistol upon the assailants and they fled.  He was pursued, overtaken and killed.  Nolan lived some two hours.  It is reported he did not believe it was the intention of the Gravis boys to injure him; that they sought the life of Fox only.  Our informant says that the Gravis boys had not been heard of since.  We give the above as it was related t us.”

 

Source: The Weekly State Gazette of Austin, Texas, January 11, 1865, p. 1, col. 3

Research by:  Msgr. Michael A. Howell

Transcription by:  Geraldine D. McGloin, Nueces County Historical Commission








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