The Courthouse Fountain

One of the many things I love about wandering about and exploring is stumbling upon interesting things that are a little out of the ordinary, the things that are often overlooked or maybe just plain quirky.  They just seem to jump out at me and my eyes are drawn to them.  This lamp post type structure on the grounds of the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos, Texas called me over to check it out and I did!

As I tiptoed around the cones denoting loose tiles around the structure I wasn’t sure exactly what the base of the lamp post was as it had knobs like a drinking fountain and basins with a drain hole and small troughs at the base.  I didn’t take time to look at it closely, although I did think that it was a strange water fountain and wondered if possibly it was a pet watering system (my mind revolves around dogs). I made a picture and went back to looking at the Courthouse as it was my focus point.  I just thought it a novelty. But it is a novelty with a little bit of history behind it.

Later that evening in researching the Courthouse I pulled up the National Register of Historic Places nomination forms for both the Courthouse and the Historic District around it.  I intended to read the Historic District form later when I would delve into exploring it, but I did scroll down to the pictures at the end of the form.  Who can resist photographs of buildings? Much to my unexpected surprise a black and white photo of this very same structure was the 2nd photograph in the Historic District series.  The caption immediately revealed its identity:

Peter C. Woods Fountain, United Daughters of the Confederacy Monument

The short caption further revealed a wealth of information in just a few brief statements.  The fountain was erected in 1907 by the Lone Star Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  The caption described it as having an “Octagonal base supporting a Corinthian column with large ball on top” and is the only historic monument on the courthouse grounds. At this point I decided to leave the Courthouse for later; I wanted to know more about Peter and the fountain. His name was familiar, but who was he and had I encountered him before?

Peter Cavanaugh Woods (December 30, 1819 – January 27, 1898) was a highly regarded medical doctor in Hays County and served in the Confederate Army as commanding officer of the 32nd Texas Cavalry Regiment.  After the war he returned home to Hays County to farm and practice medicine.   In between, he lived a very full and useful life that I’ve enjoyed researching.

I am hopeful to find more information about him and this intriguing fountain, but here is what I’ve discovered so far. Most of this is based on information by Dorothy Woods Schwartz of Alvarado, Texas on a Sons of Confederate Veterans website.  I’m sharing a summary, but also offer the reminder that I have not documented any of this yet. It may or may not be completely accurate, but it is a good read. And, at the end I’ll explain where I’ve met Dr. Woods before…


Dr. Woods’ father was the Sherriff of Franklin County, Tennessee. He was killed making an arrest when Peter was just 6-weeks old. Peter’s mother returned to her parents’ home and eventually remarried leaving Peter and his brother with her parents.  In 1837 they moved to Yalobusha County, Mississippi bringing the Woods brothers along with them.

When Peter was 18 years old the grandparents died of what was then referred to as milk fever (brucellosis). Peter began studying medicine, graduating from what is now the University of Louisville in 1842.  He returned to Mississippi to practice medicine, marrying Georgia Lawshe in Water Valley in 1846. (Just to note this was a nice find as my family has ties to Water Valley, MS)

Sometime in the next few years Dr. Woods and his father-in-law travelled to New York to study the treatment of surgical infections.

He learned to use a diluted solution of carbolic acid to cleanse surgical instruments and wounds and to use a diluted spray to kill air borne germs before surgery.  This knowledge would serve him well and save many lives during the war.

Col. Woods taught the physician of the 32nd to use the aseptic technique to help save the extremities and lives of his men.  Not a one of Col. Wood’s men had to have their extremities removed due to infection.

Dr. Woods was wounded at the Battle of Yellow Bayou in 1864.  The bullet (or ball) entered his let hand, travelled up his forearm and emerged near his elbow.  The aseptic technique helped him recover quickly and while he was back in battle within 2 weeks he suffered from limited use of his left arm the rest of his life, limiting him from a full medical practice.

We take sanitization and sterilization in medical procedures and treatments for granted today, but this was a novel concept in the mid-1800’s. Wound treatment today is a highly specialized part of the medical field and much more complex, but he was one of its pioneers.

Dr. Woods and his wife brought their two children (at that time) and their slaves to Bastrop, Texas in 1852 where they briefly settled before coming to Hays County in 1854. Early in the Civil War he joined a group of men near San Antonio and they formed the 32nd Texas Cavalry; one of his sons later joined him.  Dr. Woods was quickly appointed Colonel of the regiment that stayed active in Texas and Louisiana.

When he returned to San Marcos after the end of the war he found that his wife and her father had kept the farm and ranch solvent while he served in the war. He freed his slaves, but only 2 left.  Those who stayed with him were each give 15-20 acres of nearby land so they could continue to live nearby and have their own farms.

Dr. Woods maintained a medical practice in San Marcos for 44 years and, per the oral history, was known to kneel beside the bed of unresponsive patients and pray for them.  He was a delegate to the 1866 Texas State Convention, a member of the Indian Affairs Committee, the “blue law” committee, and was active in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  Ms. Schwartz remembered that he was known to kneel beside the bed of unresponsive patients and pray for them.


Based on this remembrance of Dr. Woods, he did have a very productive life, serving his fellow man in many ways.  I thought the aseptic method he studied and pioneered to be amazing.  We take sanitization and sterilization in medical procedures and treatments for granted today, but this was a novel concept in the mid-1800’s. Wound treatment today is a highly specialized part of the medical field and much more complex, but he was one of its pioneers.

So, where did I meet Dr. Woods before?  In the pages of a book I had read many years ago!  In reading about him online I found several references to a book by a woman named Janice Woods Windle. The title, True Women, immediately caused a ping in my memory.  I had read this book and still had it on one of my bookshelves.  Small world, right? I only remembered the book being  about her ancestors in Seguin, Texas, and had forgotten about the San Marcos relatives that she included in her story.  As I recall it was a fictional story based on the information she had obtained from family members and other archival sources and in places was a rather brutal account of life on the frontier.

So, that sums what I know about Dr. Peter C. Woods of San Marcos and Hays County, Texas.  What I’m really curious about is this fountain and its history, including why the ball on top was replaced with a shaped lamp light and does it light up at night? I’ll let you know what I find!


6 thoughts on “The Courthouse Fountain

  1. How interesting that noticing a fountain unveils a whole story from long ago. Did you learn much about Dr. Woods in the “True Women” book? I am also curious as to why the ball was replaced with a lamp light. Was electricity later added an as improvement? Thanks for your post and the history lesson! Happy Exploring!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Truthfully, I don’t think I finished the book as it was like a lot of these “historical fiction by a relative” books and was rather boring. I think I had just remembered the name somewhere way in the back of my mind!

      Liked by 2 people

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