Kathleen Y’Barbo~Dick Dowling: How an Irish Saloon Owner Saved Texas from the Yankees


I love a good historical, and any story with an unlikely hero is bound to find its way onto my keeper shelf. When I discovered Gone With the Wind, I found both, as well as a love for Civil War era tales. Imagine my surprise when I found out one of the most surprising tales of the era took place almost within walking distance of where I was born in Jefferson County, Texas.

Picture it: Five thousand Union sailors in a flotilla of seventeen vessels against 44 Confederate artillerymen at the command of an Irish saloon owner. Sounds like the making of a sound defeat or a Hollywood action movie, doesn’t it?

In truth, it is the story of a band of soldiers called the Davis Guards, or Company F of the First Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment stationed at tiny Fort Griffin on the mouth of the Sabine River. Their stunning victory is one that Confederate President Jefferson Davis called “one of the most significant military victories in world history.”

dickdowling1Richard “Dick” Dowling started life in County Galway, Ireland. After immigrating to New Orleans then losing his family to yellow fever, Dowling settled in Houston in the mid-1850s, where he established a chain of saloons. The most successful of these, the Bank of Bacchus, was situated on Courthouse Square in downtown Houston and was, according to several sources, the first business in the city to boast gas lighting.

At the outset of the war, Dowling enlisted and eventually found himself assigned to the remote outpost of Fort Griffin (near the city of Sabine Pass, Texas). To pass the time – which moved quite slowly in the mosquito-ridden lowlands – Dowling drilled his men on artillery exercises. These lazy-day activities came in handy on September 8, 1863 when a flotilla of seventeen Union vessels appeared on the horizon. While the four-dozen men scrambled to their well-rehearsed positions, the brown waters where the Sabine River poured into the Gulf of Mexico filled with enemy ships. The first two crafts were quickly disabled by the Davis Guard sharpshooters, blocking the channel and effectively keeping the other fifteen ships out of the river.

At the end of the battle, 350 prisoners had been taken and the enemy had retreated leaving significant amount of supplies, weapons and ammunition behind. Lt. Dowling and his men were heroes, hailed by President Davis and commemorated with medals melted down from Mexican silver.

Interesting fact: two streets in downtown Houston are named for Dowling. The first is obviously Dowling Street. The second is Tuam, named for the city of his birth. And ironically, the Yankees couldn’t best him but the yellow fever that took his family back in New Orleans did. Dowling died in 1867 of the disease, just a few scant years after his stunning victory. Not the ending I would have written, but still quite a story!

So, what sort of history can you find within walking distance of your birthplace?


Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of The Confidential Life of Eugenia Cooper.

 Kathleen’s Website


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25 thoughts on “Kathleen Y’Barbo~Dick Dowling: How an Irish Saloon Owner Saved Texas from the Yankees”

  1. Kathleen good morning that is pretty interesting information about where you live. I live in Florence Ne and their is lots of history here I have gone to some of the meeting and found things out about the little town (it used to be it own little town but the big city has it now). We have a place real close to our house called Potter’s Field it is where at least 4000 people were buried that didn’t have money or some are unknown who they are. It was used from 1887 to 1957.
    And in 1846 the mormons traveled here we have a big mormon temple here it is beautiful, I am not mormon but we were able to visit it when it first opened. It is beautiful.

  2. I love history and learning things from the past too. I’d love to win your book also. Please include me. Thanks

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  3. I live in a very small town in SW Pennsylvania but we certainly do have a rich history. It’s rumored that our town was being considered as location for the capital by George Wahington. In his early days before he was president, he established a Grist Mill which was rebuilt and restored about 10 years ago. It is literally a stones throw from my house! So I see history everyday when I step outside!

  4. Kathleen,

    Very interesting post. I love to learn about different things that is a part of history.

    Not much history from where I am from.

    Interesting post and thanks for sharing


  5. I leave for a 2 1/2 week vacation in about one hour and a little over a week of that will be spent in Texas. Thanks for another interesting tidbit of Texas history. I’m really looking forward to the trip. We’ve been lucky to live in historic areas most of our lives. At the moment, we live in Jonesborough, TN the oldest town in the state. We are only 7 miles from Davey Crockett Birth place State Park and 17 mile from The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. This part of the country is rich in history from the prehistoric mammoth site they found (a very rich site for hundreds of animal skeletons, not just the mammoth), early native americans, early settlers & revolutionary war, the civil war , to current times. I work in a neighboring county’s public library located in an old railroad station. The town is famous (notorious?) for hanging an elephant, Mary. If you google hanging elephant, I think it is the only item that comes up.
    Your book sounds really interesting. I’ll be looking for it.

  6. This post was delightful! Historical books are wonderful to read and learn aobut the past! Thanks for the chance to enter the drawing!

  7. What a fascinating topic. Congratulations on this great release. Where I gew up and lived for many years was and still is a large, interesting and historic city with many wonderful places to explore and learn from. Moving away to another small city but equally as historic and interesting for me.

  8. The civil war. The battle of Kennesaw Mountain. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman(Union) against General Joseph Eggleston Johnston(Confederate). I think the Union soldiers had a difficult time because every time they were ready to go through with their plans they kept getting rejected by mountains, hills, creeks, and other unexpected physical barriers. In the end some woods caught on fire and the Union soldiers were being burned to death which soon put a halt to the battle. An Arkansas colonel holds up a white flag and tells the Union to come and get their men, and were soon aided by men in gray(Confederates). So the two sides that were battling were now helping to get the men out of the fire. And the next day the colonel received ivory-handled pistols from the Union commanders. (At least I got this from : http://ngeorgia.com/history/kennesawmtn.html)

    All I know for sure was it had a big loss for the Union side and that Sherman’s army kept running into barriers.

    And there’s a Kennesaw National Battlefield Site.

    So there’s that.

  9. I love history. I just started looking into my family’s past. It is amazing some of the things you can find. My family is from Pennsyvania and settled there in the late 1700’s. I love how historic areas of Penn. can be. It is an amazingly beautiful place, with may sites to see. Your books sounds great, thanks for the interesting blog.

  10. What an interesting blog post! I to love books set in the Civil War era. I have always been interested in the Civil War and I live near where a lot of the war was faught in KY. They have a reenactment of a battle in Perriville every year, but I have never been. What is sad is I live near where they have this reenactment.

  11. Great post, Kathleen. I love history too and am quite amazed at how much I learn locally. My area was originally a giant “rancho” run by Don Olivas, then settled by German and Irish farmers. We also have a wonderful heritage from the Chumash Indians that inspired such wonderful YA books as Zia and Island of the Blue Dolphins.

    Thanks for the “visit” to Texas. Best wishes for more great books.

  12. Hi Kathleen! What a fun question . . . I live in Fairfax County in northern Virginia. It’s right outside of Washington DC and the oldest county in America, founded in 1789. We’re surrounded by history here. Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, is a few miles away. The area where we live was once a plantation owned by someone in the Washington family. I can’t recall who, but the name was Ravensworth and a main street bears his name.

    If we move on to the Civil War, it’s easy to imagine young soldiers treading through the trees across from my house. Street names here are also reflect the history. You can’t go anywhere without driving on “Lee” something, named after General Robert E. Lee. We have Lee Highway, Leesville Pike, Leewood, Lee Forest, Lee Meadows. It’s endless!

    Thanks for visiting Wildflower Junction! You brought history to life today.

  13. History… I enjoy learning new things! Thanks for sharing such interesting info… I used to love hearing my grandparents talk about things… not about battles, but about how the area I grew up looked many years before, how much change had occurred… and of course bits and pieces of family history… wish I knew more!

  14. Good Day, Kathleen and all,

    I was born in Houston, an area which just abounds with historical occasions! It all begins with the
    Allen brothers who founded this great city. Just
    down the old Galveston Highway is the San Jacinto
    Monument which commemorates the historic Battle of San Jacinto and the defeat of Santa Anna and his troups, securing the future of the Republic
    of Texas. Just out FM 518 is the famed site
    which sends out those intrepid folks known as
    “the astronauts.” It’s NASA, which guides those astronauts on their visits into space. This is
    just a taste of historical Houston. Oh, it is
    also the birthplace of every living member of our
    branches of the Castillo and Cochran families,
    which now numbers into the hundreds! LOL!

    Pat Cochran

  15. You would have to walk about 18 miles from my birthplace of Las Animas, Colorado to find Bent’s Fort which was built in 1833 for trade with the Indians and trappers. For much of it’s 16 year history it was the only major white settlement on the Santsa Fe trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements.During the war with Mexico in 1846 it became a staging area for Col. Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army of the West. Zebulon Pike was known to have stayed there as he navigated the Arkansas River towards Pike Peak..which is named after his discovery. Today it is deemed a National Historic Site and is open to the public.

  16. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After approximately 300 years as a military port there’s no shortage of history here, but the major event that comes to mind is the Halifax Explosion. It happened during WW1 when two ships collided in Halifax Harbour, one of which was loaded to the gunnels with TNT, picric acid and benzol. The resulting explosion remains the most powerful man-made non-atomic blast in history. It leveled the city’s north end and took thousands of lives. I used to work in the North End in a school that was one of the few buildings that survived, two blocks from Ground Zero. It gave me chills sometimes, especially on dark winter mornings when I was the first to arrive. There are so many stories, tragic and miraculous, that came out of that day.

  17. I live in the Phoenix area which is rich in early Western history. We have a cabin near Payson, Az not too far from where the original Zane Grey cabin was located before it burned. It has since been restored. Several of his books are centered around that area.

  18. Hey Kathleen!

    I live in an area that was the Creek Nation in Indian Territory just 102 years ago. There’s not much to indicate that any more, although, in downtown Tulsa, the Council Oak tree, which was very important to the Indians, is still standing, despite tornadoes, summer heat, and ice storms. I enjoyed your Eugenia Cooper book.

  19. Great blog. I love Civil War history and particularly in the west and I’d never heard that story. Thanks for posting.

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