The West Point Connection
The park is of particular interest to the West Point community because Mount Bonnell’s colorful history includes two notable graduates of West Point. George Armstrong Custer, Class of 1861 was a resident of Austin living in the Custer House, now on the UT Little Campus, at the end of the Civil War. According to Libby Custer’s memoirs, the Custers and their officers and ladies enjoyed picnicking on Mount Bonnell and listening to concerts by the Regimental Band that were held on the mountaintop.
General and Mrs. Custer and the citizens of Texas got along grandly. Texans found the General a generous and courtly Officer and were very pleased that General Custer prevented the looting and raiding of the civilian population that was allowed to flourish in other Southern states. The Texas Legislature was the only state legislature to send official condolences to General Custer's family following his death at the Battle of The Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Custer's headquarters building in Austin, formerly the Blind Asylum and located on the "Little Campus" of the University of Texas, has been restored and recently renamed as the “Arno Nowotny Building.”
In addition to the Custer connection, recently discovered, strong circumstantial evidence suggests that rather than being named for George W. Bonnell, a newspaperman who arrived in Texas after the Revolution, Mount Bonnell was named for Joseph Bonnell, West Point Class of 1825, by his comrade in arms, and fellow West Point graduate, Albert Sidney Johnston. In 1839 Johnston, who had known Joseph Bonnell for fifteen years, was Secretary of War of The Republic of Texas and supervised planning for the establishment of the Capital at Austin.
By that time, Bonnell, although he had departed for his next assignment, had spent seven years assigned to the Texas-Louisiana border providing valuable assistance to the emerging Republic. Sam Houston had recognized Bonnell’s service by making him a Captain in the Texas Army and appointing him to his personal staff as Aide de Camp. Bonnell’s service during the Runaway Scrape earned him recognition as a Hero of the Texas Revolution, when he single handedly quelled an uprising of some 1,700 warriors who threatened General Houston’s small army as it prepared to engage the Mexican forces at the Battle of San Jacinto.