MOUNT BONNELL. Mount Bonnell overlooking Austin, Texas, is one of the most popular sightseeing destinations in the city. It is located within the western city limits of Austin in central Travis County and is on the eastern bank of the Colorado River, now Lake Austin.
The steps leading to the summit are located at 3800 Mount Bonnell Road, and the summit (at 30°19' N, 97°46' W) is approximately 775 feet above sea level. The city park atop Mount Bonnell contains 5.36 acres and was named Covert Park in honor of Frank M. Covert, Sr., who originally promised to donate acreage in the 1930s. In 1939 his sons Clarence Covert and F. M. Covert, Jr., deeded the property in his memory to the people of Travis County. This land was eventually deeded to the city of Austin in 1972.
Mount Bonnell is composed of limestone rock. Vegetation on it is predominantly ashe juniper (cedar), with some plateau live oak, mountain laurel, and persimmon. In the early twenty-first century, luxury homes occupied all but the top portion.
The first known reference to the physical feature appeared in a diary by journalist and adventurer George W. Bonnell, who recorded his "Observations" while traveling through the Texas frontier in 1838. Excerpts from George Bonnell’s "Observations" that were printed in the May 1, 1839, edition of the Telegraph and Texas Register identified Bonnell’s companions as Gen. Edward Burleson and newspaper editor and merchant Simon Mussina.
The first known publication of the name "Mount Bonnell" appeared in George Bonnell's book titled Topographical Description of Texas to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes and published in April 1840. On page sixty-six of this book is found the following:
Four miles above the city [of Austin], upon the east
side of the river, is a high peak, called Mount Bonnell.
From the top of the mountain there is a perpendicular
precipice of seven hundred feet down to the water.
The prospect from the top of this mountain, is one of
the grandest and loveliest in nature.
Mount Bonnell became a favorite sightseeing location. After the Civil War, when Maj. Gen. George Armstrong Custer established the headquarters of his Sixth United States Cavalry Regiment in Austin, he and his wife, Libby, had picnics atop Mount Bonnell. The Custers noted that the summit was too steep for a cavalry horse to climb, so it had to be climbed on foot. Custer had the Sixth Cavalry Regimental Band play concerts at these picnics on Mount Bonnell. This included their favorite music, "The Anvil Chorus," because "the sound descended through the valley grandly."
While the Sixth Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Camp Sanders, a young lieutenant in the regiment, Thomas Tolman, fell gravely ill. Austin resident Jinnie Barret asked the commanding officer to have this man brought to her home so that she could try to nurse him back to health, and the commanding officer, expecting Tolman would die, granted her request. During the months of Tolman's recovery, Jinnie Barret was helped by her daughter Corinne, and during the lieutenant's convalescent period of increasing exercise, Corinne Barret and Thomas Tolman rode horses to Mount Bonnell. At the time, there was a legend that a couple would fall in love on the first visit to Mount Bonnell, become engaged on the second visit, and marry on the third visit. On Christmas Eve 1866, the couple became engaged on their second visit to Mount Bonnell. Later, presumably after their third visit to Mount Bonnell, Corinne and Thomas were married. This love story was told by their son, Texaco executive J. C. Tolman, in 1924.
The landmark has been the subject of many legends over the decades, and local lore also named the summit "Antonette's Leap" in memory of a woman who jumped to her death to escape Indians who had just killed her fiancé.
Author James Michener lived in his home on Mount Bonnell while researching and writing his novel, Texas. The Texas Monthly Guidebook to Texas states that Mount Bonnell is one of Austin's oldest tourist attractions, and the Austin Chronicle's' "Best of Austin" selected Mount Bonnell as "Austin's Best View."
Austin History Center Files. George W. Bonnell, Topographical Description of Texas to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes (Austin: Wing & Brown, 1840). “Bonnell’s Observations [manuscript]: 1838–1839, 1844, Edward E. Ayer Manuscript Collection, Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Elizabeth Bacon Custer, Tenting on the Plains, or General Custer in Kansas and Texas (New York: Webster, 1887).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, "MOUNT BONNELL," accessed August 14, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rjm28.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 2, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.