Gilbert Onderdonk was born September 30, 1829 in Sharon, New York. He was the third child of John and Harriet (Ward) Onderdonk. He graduated from New York State Normal School at Albany in 1849 and two years later he left New York and travelled to Indianola, Texas, arriving on November 14, 1851. He taught school and worked on the ranch of Reverend Stephen F. Cooke at Green Lake, twenty miles from Indianola. Here he learned about stock-raising and successfully drove his own herd of horses to market in Booneville, Missouri.
George Tyng's numerous occupational interests took him throughout North America. In the early 1870s he and his family moved to Arizona where he served as a U. S. Marshall in Arizona Territory from 1874 to 1877. In 1877 he purchased the Arizona Sentinel newspaper in Yuma. Three years later he sold the newspaper and moved to Mexico City to manage the Mexico business interests of the Tehuantepec Inter-Ocean Railroad Company, which he helped to organize. During this time, while on a business trip to Florida, he travelled through Victoria and, in about 1885, the Tyng family established a home in Victoria and a cattle ranch within the county.
In 1861 the dark cloud of Civil War hovered and, in May of that year, Gilbert Onderdonk enrolled in Capt. G. J. Hampton's Company C. This unit was known originally as the "Victoria Blues". On May 14, 1862, Onderdonk enlisted in Captain William E. McCampbell's Company E, 8th Texas Infantry, commanded by Col. A. M. Hobby. On November 29, 1863, Onderdonk was captured by Union troops at Fort Esperanza on Matagorda Island and held in New Orleans for eight months before being exchanged at Red River Landing on July 22, 1864.
Following the Civil War, amid dire post-war economic conditions, Onderdonk now began to implement his plan to devote land in Mission Valley to a nursery for growing fruit trees. His success in this venture dispelled a long-held notion by many that fruit trees could not be grown in that part of Texas. In 1883 Onderdonk established another nursery branch along the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad about ten miles northwest of Victoria. He named the town Nursery and became its postmaster. On seventy acres of land he developed varieties of peach, plumb, mulberry, pear, and apple trees. As his specimens of fruits and flowers grew, so did his reputation and soon he was supplying the area between the Rio Grande and New Orleans.
Onderdonk published catalogs and news about his varieties in Meehan's Gardener's Monthly, the Texas Almanac, and Burke's Texas Almanac. In 1909 the Texas Department of Agriculture published his Pomological Possibilities of Texas. He was a consultant to the Texas Department of Agriculture and a member of the Texas Horticultural Society and the American Pomological Society.
During about 1898-1902, the U. S. Department of Agriculture sent Onderdonk on several trips to Mexico to explore that country's plant life. In addition to technical reports to that department, Onderdonk sent reports on his travels to newspapers in Cuero, Texas and kept a private journal as well.
He died on July 28, 1920, at Nursery and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Victoria. Unfortunately, his orchards do not remain at Nursery.
Contents of Gilbert Onderdonk Papers: Photocopies of Onderdonk's essays on horticultural topics, frontier and pioneer life in Texas, and his trips to Mexico; correspondence; address to the Texas State Horticultural Society. Also a publication titled Pomological Possibilities of Texas by Gilbert Onderdonk.
Onderdonk, G. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2012, from Fold3, The Web's Premier collection of Military Records, http://www.fold3.com/.
Oppenheimer, Evelyn (1991). Gilbert Onderdonk: The Nurseryman of Mission Valley, Pioneer Horticulturist. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press.
Oppenheimer, Evelyn & Roell, Craig H. (2012, Dec. 17), "Onderdonk, Gilbert," Handbook of Texas Online, Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Texas State Library and Archives Commission (2012). Muster Roll of Captain G. J. Hampton.