March 19, 1840. San Antonio. The Council House.
Peace negotiations between Comanches and Texans erupts into a full scale battle: The Council House Fight. When the shooting stops thirty Comanches and seven Texans are dead.
Mary Maverick was visiting her friend, Mrs. Higginbotham during the calamity.
She recalled in her memoirs:
“While I was there, Dr. Weideman came up to her grated front window, and placed a severed Indian heads upon the sill. The good doctor bowed courteously and saying, “With your permission, Madam,” disappeared. Soon after he returned with another bloody head.”
Dr. Edmund Weideman, physician, scientist and profound eccentric claimed to be in Texas on behalf of the Tsar Nicholas I of Russia to investigate agricultural prospects. A learned gentleman of about thirty-five, a surgeon and polyglot.
Of course, Mrs. Maverick and Mrs. Higginbotham were curious as to why the good doctor would place two severed heads on the window sill, so they inquired as to his motivation. He explained that he had viewed all the dead Indians and selected those two heads for their beautifully formed skulls. He had also selected two entire bodies to preserve as specimen skeletons.
“I have been long exceedingly anxious to secure such specimens—and now, ladies, I must hurry and get a cart to take them to my house.”
He erected the resulting skeletons in his garden and dared anybody to steal from him. He proclaimed that the spirits of the Indians were under his enchantment and would tell him everything they witnessed.
The Mexican population of San Antonio would cross themselves when they saw Dr. Weideman coming. They believed he was in league with the devil.
Devil or no devil, Dr. Weideman was a competent physician. He saved numerous lives in and around San Antonio and would never accept payment for his services.
Mrs. Maverick tells us that San Antonio lost this medical benefactor/ghoul around 1843. He was with a traveling party near Gonzales when he and his horse were swept away and drowned trying to cross a flooded creek.
But is that really the end of Dr. Weideman’s story? The 1866 city directory for Chelsea, Massachusetts lists a Dr. Edmund Weideman of the appropriate age living in that city.
Perhaps this story will be continued.
John Hunter Herndon arrived at Galveston in 1838.
He was the epitome of a romantic era gentleman: young and handsome, a graduate of Transylvania College, trained as both a lawyer and artist.
He was a fine sportsman.
A charming conversationalist.
A connoisseur of literature…wines…and skulls.
Once in Texas, Mr. Herndon, Esq. quickly assembled a fine collection of human craniums and mandibles. Many he collected on the battlefield at San Jacinto.
Lodging at a Galveston boarding house, he found a like-minded companion in Dr. Robert H. Watson, who shared his fascination with the human noggin.
Herndon recorded in his dairy that Watson provided his fellow boarders with great amusement one winter’s night when he, “drank whisky out of a skull that had yet brains in it.”
The good doctor toasted:
“This when living was not worth a pin, But now how precious with good liquor in.”
Herndon took part in the Somervell Expedition. He settled in Fort Bend County, accumulated more than a million acres of land across the state, and by 1860 was the richest man in Texas.
Dr. Watson was a member of the Mier Expedition. Sam Houston appointed him to be surgeon of the army, but the Senate asked the President to withdraw the nomination, which he did. History has not recorded a reason for this rejection. They may have been disturbed by his drinking habits.
It’s not known what became of the two skull collections. But we know where a third collection resides.
In may of 1837 John James Audubon, while in Texas to observe and sketch the fauna of the republic, visited the San Jacinto Battlefield. He collected five skulls of Mexican soldiers, which he sent to his friend Sam Morton in Philadelphia.
Those skulls are in the Samuel George Morton cranial collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.