Spring Cleaning

Beating a rug in the mid 1850s.  The object in her hand was known as a “carpet beater” and took a fairly strong girl to rid the rug of the accumulation of dirt from the winter.  (Sovereign Hill Education Blog, servant-carpet-beating.)

Beating a rug in the mid 1850s. The object in her hand was known as a “carpet beater” and took a fairly strong girl to rid the rug of the accumulation of dirt from the winter. (Sovereign Hill Education Blog, servant-carpet-beating.)

Do you set aside a few days every spring to clean house? I bet few people, if any, do that. But a few generations ago, Spring Cleaning was a must.

That didn’t necessarily mean that housewives were more absorbed with cleanliness than we are today. More dirt and dust found its way into their houses.

Women simply had fewer of the time and energy saving devices we have today. Plus, many women did not work outside the home. So they had more time to do such chores such as ironing the sheets and pillowcases, washing and drying dishes by hand, and of course, cooking more elaborate meals. By elaborate I mean they cooked all foods from scratch. No running by a fast food place on the way home to pick up supper.

For many, many years the working class families ate the main meal at noon. In small towns the volunteer fire department rang the fire alarm to announce it was time to close down for a big meal at home and a short nap.

But back to the cleaning. Rugs and blankets received a good beating out on the clothesline to rid them of mud and dirt. Mattresses were turned and often taken outside to air. Women got down on their hands and knees and scrubbed floors with soap and water; most floors were either wood or covered with linoleum. Windows were washed, as were the window screens. My grandparents had a large wrap-around porch with cement flooring. My grandmother and I washed the porch as soon as the weather warmed up. She took the water hose, sprayed the porch with lots of water, then we took brooms to sweep away mud, wasp nests, leaves, and everything else that found a hiding place during the winter. I thought it was great fun to go barefooted and play in the water.

Closets were gone through and clothing that didn’t fit was given to someone else who could wear it. If no one could be found that was the right size, the fabric could be reused in another item of clothing. Shoes could be resoled.

Seldom was anything discarded. You reused, made do, or did without. But cleanliness was stressed more often in the springtime.

I did have one great-aunt that took the prize for cleanliness. She and her husband lived on the Club Ranch south of Wichita Falls where he was ranch foreman. Aunt Earl believed in cleanliness with a passion. The kitchen was a typical early rural kitchen of the 1900s with linoleum on the floor and wood stove in a prominent space.

Every morning the cowboys came into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and instructions for the day. On a working ranch there was always something to do. Aunt Earl may have fed them breakfast but I don’t recall. Once they went out to start work, she grabbed her bucket and scrub brush to clean the kitchen. She was never able to train those cowboys to scrape their boots or take off their spurs. Believe me, I doubt if any of those men saw another part of the house or sat down in a chair while talking to the foreman.

Aunt Earl was a tiny woman full of energy. I suppose she was so small because she worked so hard. Her sister was more of a town lady and carried a few extra pounds. She always fussed about her weight. I thought if she worked like her sister, maybe she wouldn’t have that problem. But believe me, I never voiced my opinion on that subject. I knew better.

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The Last Cattle Drive to New Orleans

Army beef swimming the Occoquan River, Virginia / sketched by Mr. A.R. Waud. Library of Congress Online Catalog (634,618) Prints and Photographs Division (815,639)

Army beef swimming the Occoquan River, Virginia / sketched by Mr. A.R. Waud. Library of Congress Online Catalog (634,618)  Prints and Photographs Division (815,639)

I took a long weekend recently to spend in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans. Yes, I enjoyed the delicious food, the weather was perfect, and flowers were already blooming. But my mission was indoors at the Williams Research Center on Chartres Street. It’s one of my favorite places because it is the home of the Historic New Orleans Collection. There, I needed to learn how a herd of cattle leaving Matagorda Island in Texas wend its way into New Orleans.

If you fly or drive from Northeast Texas, you will see lots of swamps about an hour out of Shreveport. Cows don’t swim well so how did they get to the city in 1861?

When I went into the Research Center the attendant asked me how she could assist me. I really think she thought I was kidding when I told her I wanted to see maps showing how cattle and horses might arrive in the Crescent City. Then I told her I would really like to find a good social history of south Louisiana before Admiral Farragut arrived with the Union navy. But the lady was as cool as could be, brought me three wonderful atlases, a journal the mayor kept that spring and summer, and numerous photographic histories, memoirs, etc. I spent two days there taking notes, looking carefully at maps and charts, and having a great time.

Why was I doing all this? Who cares about such things? A large group of south Texas ranchers and historians, that’s who. I will present a paper I call “The Last Cattle Drive to New Orleans” on April 28 at the Central Texas Historical Conference in Brenham, Texas.

I wrote the paper about seven or eight years ago. I had no trouble getting those steers to Beaumont and crossing the Sabine River. Leaving Matagorda they headed to Richmond where they took the El Camino Real or Old Spanish Road created in the 1700s or earlier. But I wasn’t really clear about the way to New Orleans and the trials and tribulations facing the drovers over there.

As I read over the paper I wrote I quickly decided it needed a drastic revision. I have made the trip down there several times in the last few years and knew my paper was weak on that leg of the trip. I have less than four weeks to read and rewrite. There are so many important viewpoints that I neglected the first time. It will be fun putting together a better paper, I hope.

Not only is the Research Center a great place for historians and genealogists, but also not far away is an almost ideal bookstore, the Faulkner House. William Faulkner actually lived in the home while working in New Orleans. Every time I make a trip down there I find my way to Pirates’ Alley and Faulkner House.

This time I bought Gerstäcker’s Louisiana, translated from German by Irene S. DiMaio. I found lots of fodder for my paper. As I read, I remembered that Frederick Von Ende arrived in Greenville in 1857 after a series of adventures very similar to Herr Gerstäcker’s.

There is a saying among Texas historians that only criminals, debtors, and persons running from bad marriages came to early Texas. If so, most crossed through Louisiana, particularly New Orleans and Shreveport, where they honed their traits.

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An Awesome April

An estimated 5000 citizens gathered at the Hunt County Courthouse in Greenville, Texas on April 21, 1917.  Instead of traditionally celebrating San Jacinto Day, when Texas won her independence from Mexico, the crowd eagerly listened to Governor James Ferguson and showed support for President Wilson’s war tactics.  Note the enormous American flag on the flagpole atop the copula.

An estimated 5000 citizens gathered at the Hunt County Courthouse in Greenville, Texas on April 21, 1917. Instead of traditionally celebrating San Jacinto Day, when Texas won her independence from Mexico, the crowd eagerly listened to Governor James Ferguson and showed support for President Wilson’s war tactics. Note the enormous American flag on the flagpole atop the copula.

Daily newspapers often delight us, bring giggles and tears, and tear at our heartstrings. Such was April 1917. Normally spring brought news of baseball and track meets to Greenville and Hunt County. While these sports captured the readers’ attention, national and international news were at the forefront that year. On April 6 President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. The whole world was at war, now the United States joined in the fray.

The Zimmerman Telegram a month earlier scared many Americans into the belief that war was inevitable. Patriotism sprang up like the first weeds of the season. Patriotic citizens purchased an American flag 25 feet by 15 feet to unfurl on a seventy-foot flagpole on the roof of the courthouse. Governor James E. Ferguson arrived on April 21, San Jacinto Day in Texas, to deliver the principal address at the flag raising ceremony. More than 5,000 people from all parts of Hunt County gathered on the courthouse lawn to hear the Governor and others give speeches in support of the President and the ideas he endorsed. A resolution pledging the support of citizens (remember only men could vote) to the President was adopted. The selective draft plan of raising an army was favored.

Earlier in the month a crowd of an estimated 5,000 people joined in a public celebration to honor the Hunt County Company of the National Guard. A donation of $250 was collected and given the men for unfurnished necessities. The local company had gained about fifty recruits in five days. At mid-month fifteen young men from Greenville enlisted in the US Navy and immediately left for Dallas to be assigned for training. One of the new enlistees was Cornelius E. Hall, an African American of Greenville. By the end of the month President Wilson and General Joffre of France indicated by the end of May National Guard troops would be on their way to France.

Such events were held in many parts of the country. However, in other places the war was not at all popular. Among other matters, Americans were encouraged to report any neighbors who were not enthusiastic about the war. The Great War was as divisive as any war.

But there was humor and good cheer in the air in April 1917. The folks at Commerce were tremendously enthusiastic about the Governor’s approval of Mayo’s College becoming East Texas Normal College.

Was this the flying machine Mrs. John Wells saw over her home in Commerce?  She described it as flying rapidly over the campus of East Texas Normal College.  Sighting such as this were quite frequent in the spring of 1897.  But very few reports were found in 1917.  See http://www.carolctaylor.com/wordpress/?p=634 for more about flying machines in Northeast Texas.  (Gareth Shute: Airships)

Was this the flying machine Mrs. John Wells saw over her home in Commerce? She described it as flying rapidly over the campus of East Texas Normal College. Sighting such as this were quite frequent in the spring of 1897. But very few reports were found in 1917. See http://www.carolctaylor.com/wordpress/?p=634
for more about flying machines in Northeast Texas. (Gareth Shute: Airships)

A gentleman in Commerce decided to challenge a recent Supreme Court decision that the pool hall law was unconstitutional. He opened a pool hall in downtown Commerce with no problems.

The sheriff received reliable word that a possible bomb might blow up the cotton compress in Greenville. Extra deputies patrolled the area but no bombs were found.

And finally, Mrs. John Wells stated that about 5:35 on the morning of April 25 she saw a flying machine at not a great height traveling due north over the western part of Commerce. She described it as shaped like a canoe carrying three passengers flying rapidly over the college. It was broad daylight so there could be no mistake about it.

For more detailed events in April 1917 visit my FaceBook page at Carol Taylor. I’m the one standing by a Texas Historical Marker.

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While Strolling, Take in the Historic Sites

Lee Street on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1925.  Everyone came to town to visit, to shop, and make a few trades.  Notice the IOOF Building at the far right.   The Greenville National Exchange Bank would soon move to the opposite corner. (Photo courtesy of author.)

Lee Street on a Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1925. Everyone came to town to visit, to shop, and make a few trades. Notice the IOOF Building at the far right. The Greenville National Exchange Bank would soon move to the opposite corner.
(Photo courtesy of author.)

While enjoying the Greenville Downtown Stroll next Saturday night, take in a few historic sites. Start at the northeast corner of the square with the Fred Ende Chapter # 87 of International Order of Odd Fellows, the second oldest fraternal group in the county. While the downstairs has served as home to such retail businesses as an old-fashioned hardware store, the original home of Citizen’s State Bank in the 1920, and currently a florist it is the wonderful turn-of-the-century architecture that is worth a glimpse.

Cross Johnson Street and notice the old Kress Building. Bob Landon did an excellent job refurbishing the exterior of the unique building, a truly successful job. I love the way he retained the wooden floors inside.

On your left is the front of the 1929 Hunt County Courthouse. This wonderful jewel was the prototype of the courthouse at Travis County in Austin. Sometime when you are downtown on a weekday from 8 to 5, drop in and look around. There is a lot of history in that building.

Across Stonewall Street is the Greenville National Exchange Building built in 1926 and later modified with three more floors. It not only served as a bank, but housed doctors, attorneys, and dentists. Today it is owned by Hunt County and used for offices.

Now look down Lee Street. You will notice that the south side of the street takes a slight jog. An early surveyor didn’t run a straight line long ago; hence the odd angle. Now cross Lee Street to the north side where the old Perkins Building is. At one time it was one of the earliest “cash stores” in the county. Later it became an elegant department store until it was converted into a unique mall. All the lumber, railings, and doors came from the original Perkins Building.

In the next block of Lee Street were some of the most fantastic women’s clothing stores in Texas. No need to run to Dallas when Skibell’s, Wolfe’s, and Tannenbaum’s were here. The Corner Street Pub was once a great shoe shop.

Of course, the Texan is in the same block. My husband and I had our first date there when it was a movie theater. Next door is the Medical Arts building, now known as the Henson Building. Virginia King had the building built after the King Opera House burned three times. Look up at the craftsmanship on the building.

Now cross Lee Street and turn right on Washington Street. In front of you is the crown jewel of Greenville – Central Christian Church. If you ever get a chance to go inside, by all means do. It is as special as the exterior.

Head east down either side of Washington and notice the Washington Hotel at the corner of St. John and Washington. Imagine dancing under the stars on the Roof Garden; or enjoying a delicious meal in the Coffee Shop. At one time you could soothe sore muscles with a Turkish bath. Yes, it is called the Cadillac Hotel today, but in it’s heyday it was the Washington and the place to be and be seen.

Now walk down to the corner of Johnson and Washington. Look at the name over the door. This is the Ende Building where Fred Ende opened a mercantile store ca. 1858. After the railroads arrived in 1880, Ende tore down his store to build an elegant hotel. Unfortunately it and a large portion of downtown Greenville burned in 1883. It took twenty years to settle insurance matters. By that time, Mr. Ende had died. But his partner James Armestead named the new building in memory of his partner and Greenville promoter.

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The First Anglo Settlers in Texas

Skipper Steely had permission to use family correspondence and the work of Dr. Rex Strickland for his book Six Months from Tennessee.   An e-book copy is available through Amazon.

Skipper Steely had permission to use family correspondence and the work of Dr. Rex Strickland for his book Six Months from Tennessee. An e-book copy is available through Amazon.

Did you know that the first Anglo settlers in Texas did not follow Stephen F. Austin to Austin’s Colony in 1821, but were here in North Texas as early as 1816? True! One story I’ve heard is that a few Tennessee soldiers heading home from the Battle of New Orleans decided to stop along the Red River and do a little hunting. Remember how Davy Crockett killed him a b’ar when he was only three? Well, these men were supposedly in the middle of some of the best hunting in the country, right here in Hunt and Fannin Counties.

Claiborne Wright also heard about the vast open prairies of lush grass, ample water and enough timber to build a cabin and keep it warm. Skipper Steely, a descendent of Wright’s and one of the two Steely brothers who are outstanding Texas historians, wrote Six Months From Tennessee in 1983. It is the sole work that I know of about the settlement of lands on the south bank of the Red from Pecan Point to Preston Bend.

Wright, his sons and laborers, built a 60-foot keelboat and floated down the Cumberland River from Carthage, Tennessee to the Ohio, then down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Red. There they turned northwest, poled their way through the Great Raft and up river to Pecan Point. The trip took six months, and on the night of their arrival Indians stole the keelboat.

The Wright family first chose to settle on the north bank of the Red where they lived for several years until the U. S. Army forced them to leave and move to the south bank of the river. The north bank became home to immigrant Choctaw Indians as a result of Dancing Rabbit Treaty.

Needless to say the Wrights and their neighbors were not happy to leave their homes and crops, and move. So they burned everything down after crops and livestock crossed to the Texas side. When they moved in 1821 they honestly believed that they then lived in Miller County, Arkansas. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 had not clearly identified what was United States and what was Spain/Mexico. The Anglo settlers paid taxes to the state of Arkansas, sent representatives to the Arkansas legislature and claimed to be Americans. It would no be until 1836 when Texas became a Republic that attempts were made to clarify the boundary issues.

It has often been said that Texas was settled by three types of men (and a few women) who were three steps ahead of the debt collector, running from the law, or escaping a soured marriage. Yet some fine families settled along the Red River. As more and more people arrived with families and slaves, they drifted inland to Hunt County.

The settlers built houses, raised livestock and grain crops as well as their own food, and developed communities with churches and schools. The prairies were full of bears, coyotes, wild hogs, herds of buffalo and mustangs, hundreds of birds, and clean streams filled with fish. They raised horses, cattle, goats, sheep, and hogs for their own food and to sell at markets down the Sabine.

The stories these early families left are amazing.

Posted in Historical tidbits, North Texas History, Texas | 2 Comments

William Etier

All that remains of the Tidwell community is the Tidwell Baptist Church and Cemetery. The dense thickets were cleared for cotton farming. Google Maps photo

All that remains of the Tidwell community is the Tidwell Baptist Church and Cemetery. The dense thickets were cleared for cotton farming.
Google Maps photo

The United States in the 19th Century did not allow women many rights. They were considered too delicate to handle finances or to manage their own businesses. Economics were too complex for their understanding. It was the duty of fathers, husbands, even brothers to handle such matters for women whose duty it was to raise children and be concerned about her husband. No more and no less.

Since life expectancy was much shorter at that time, it was assumed that a widow would need a strong man to care for her. Men who found themselves widowers felt unable to care for children. Therefore, second, third and even fourth marriages were the norm.

Such is the case of William Etier or “Bill Aikey” as he was known in Hunt County. In June 1874, Bill filed suit for a divorce from Sarah Jane Maxwell Etier, which the judge granted. In his petition we find an amazingly humorous, but probably very true account of the post-Civil War era.

Bill Aikey hired Col. Dan Upthegrove, a young and enterprising attorney in Greenville to represent him in the case. It is from Upthegrove’ petition that we learn the affairs of Bill and Sarah Jane.

Bill began his petition complaining that Sarah Jane Etier, nee Maxwell, should have always retained the surname Maxwell. As the tale unfolds, you may agree.

Bill lost his beloved wife in 1871, leaving him with seven children ages twenty-two to three. In the fall of 1872 Sarah Jane crossed Bill’s way, a widow also with seven children. Bill admitted Sarah had “mighty winning ways.” She was mild mannered and claimed her children were angels. But, she would be the last woman to “wheedle him into matrimony.”

On a Sunday morning in December 1872, (1873 according to marriage records in Hunt County Clerk’s Office) Sarah Jane convinced Bill it was time to go see Preacher Thomas Reedy who united the couple in the bonds of holy matrimony. According to customs of the time, Bill and his kids moved in with Sarah Jane and her seven children. Immediately war broke out. The kids fought, Sarah Jane nagged and hit Bill over the head, and Bill mouthed and cussed. The location of Sarah Jane’s home she inherited from her late husband did not help matters. It was in the absolute middle of Tidwell Thicket where the sun shone about two hours on a good day.

Bill must have been very strong physically. By June 1873 he had cleared all of the trees and brush around the house, plowed and fenced new fields, planted and raised a good crop. At that point Sarah Jane issued an ultimatum to Bill: take your “brats and git up and git.” That’s when Bill went looking for Col. Upthegrove.

The Honorable W. G. Andrews, Judge of the 11th Judicial District of the State of Texas issued the divorce decree in June 8, 1874. One wonders if Sarah Jane wheedled another man to do more work on her farm? What happened to Bill Aikey?

No records were found of either family but the divorce petition can be found in Pace’s Texas Scrap Book: Containing Gems of Thought from Bench, Bar, Pulpit, Rostrum on Religious, Political and Educational Subjects (Dallas 1933). Here is a transcription of the divorce petition:

DIVORCE PETITION
ETIER vs. ETIER
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF HUNT COUNTY, TEXAS. TO THE HON. W. G. ANDREWS, JUDGE OF THE 11TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

Your unfortunate petitioner, William Etier, who is generally known as Bill Aikey, and who has been before your honor in time past, and to whom your honor granted a new trial when petitioner believed he was gone where the “Woodbine twineth”, and who is a citizen of Hunt, State aforesaid, complaining of Sarah Jane Etier, who is also a resident citizen of said County and State, and who was formerly, and always should have remained, Sarah Jane Maxwell. Petitioner states that in the year 1871, he lost his beloved wife, leaving him a disconsolate widower with seven children to mourn with him their loss. Petitioner states that the respective names and ages of his children are as follows: William Henry Harrison, my first born, 22 years old; Nap, my second born, 20 years old; Franklin, my third born, 18 years old, Myra, my fourth born, 16 years old; Boston, my fifth born, 7; Nancy, 5; Henry, 3.

In the Fall of 1872, Sarah Jane Maxwell crossed his way, and if your petitioner had followed the advice of Tony Weller to his son, Samuel, this suit would never have been brought. Petitioner would further state that the said Sarah Jane was a woman of mighty winning ways before they were married, and one of the mildest mannered women he ever saw. Petitioner would further state that the said Sarah Jane told him that all of her children were angels, and that she believed petitioner’s children were angels for they looked just like their Dad. Sarah Jane told petitioner that she was raising up her children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and that she required her children to repeat the Lord’s Prayer every night; all of which petitioner believed, for the said Sarah Jane repeated to the petitioner the said prayer which begins, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” etc. Now right here, let petitioner state that the said Sarah Jane is the last woman that will ever wheedle him into matrimony on the piety side of the docket.

Petitioner would further state that on a Sunday morning in December 1872, the said Sarah Jane came to the house of the petitioner, and by her fascinating walk and pious conversation induced petitioner to go to the house of that Godly man, Thomas Reedy, and there they were united in the holy bonds of matrimony; and your petitioner, believing he had a Dorcas for a wife, thought it was his duty to follow the injunction of the Scriptures, and leave home, father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, so he left his home, taking with him his seven children, and went to the house of the said Sarah Jane, in Tidwell Thicket, and here petitioner would like for a veil of oblivion to fall upon the scene, and what followed to be lost to history and to man, but as the veil of oblivion will not fall, petitioner is bound to tell what happened.

Petitioner soon discovered that when he went into the house of the said Sarah Jane, his Dorcas was gone, and he had a Mary Magdalene with her seven devils – for soon the Maxwells wanted to know if the Aikeys would mix; and it is well known that wen the Aikey blood is up they will not be imposed one – as mix it was. Your petitioner jumped upon the head of a barrel, and, in the language of our President, cried out, “Let us have peace;” but about that time Sarah Jane motioned a stick at petitioner – and here petitioner makes his head “Exhibit A” to show the result of that fight.

Petitioner would further state that in order to have a clear and comprehensive view of the case we must understand the geographical position of the home of said Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane is the middle-man in Tidwell Thicket. Plump in the center of said thicket is where she lives, and to this place petitioner was conducted; and the place was gloomy enough indeed, for the Sun shone only two hours a day, and then was let down by lead troughs; but this darkness would have been sufferable to a newly married man, if it had not continued so long. For three weeks petitioner worked night and day before he saw the Sun. Petitioner believes and thinks that the sequel will show that the said Sarah Jane wheedled him into matrimony for no other purpose than to get him to clear up the thicket, because from the first she was abusive; but at first her abuse was bearable, but just in proportion as petitioner cleared up the thicket she became more abusive, and when petitioner had cleared and fenced a good field, planted and raised a good crop, the said Sarah Jane – putting on a full head of steam – told petitioner to take his Aikey brats and git up and git, and it is needless to tell anyone who knows Sarah Jane that petitioner had it to do.

Petitioner would state that he had always made the said Sarah Jane a good and obedient husband, and did all in his power to make her happy; but for every kind word, an insult would return; and when Sarah Jane was not abusing petitioner, the children were in a row. Petitioner states that since June, 1873, the time when petitioner was driven away by the said Sarah Jane, they have lived separate and apart, having no communication, or association as man and wife. It is true petitioner mentioned several times the subject to the said Sarah Jane, but she replied, “Bill Aikey, you blamed old fool! I have got my land cleared up now; I would not live with you again to save your life.” Petitioner would further state, that he had lived with several wives before, in perfect peace and harmony, for he was always repeating those old and beautiful lines from Ignomar to Parthenia, “Two souls with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one,” but petitioner states that since he married Sarah Jane, he has not repeated those lines much. And will further say that he believed that matches were made in Heaven until he married Sarah Jane, but that he now doubts that theological dogma.

Petitioner states that the said Sarah Jane kept up a continual clatter about her dear, dear, dead husband, and what he did and could do; and how much better her dead husband was than the petitioner, and that her children were much better than the petitioner’s; and petitioner states that he well knows that for a scientific aggravation Sarah Jane has no equals in these parts. Petitioner is now fully convinced that marriage is nothing but a civil contract, and when broken on the other, and as Sarah Jane drove petitioner away from her home, and refused to live with him or to have anything to do with him, he is certainly entitled to have the contract abrogated.

Wherefore, the petitioner prays and sues, etc.
June 8th, 1874
Signed, DANIEL UPTHEGROVE, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Posted in Greenville, Historical tidbits, North Texas History, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Taking a Stand in History

A winning exhibit about World War I’s Deadliest Killer – Spanish Influenza. Taking a stand about the pandemic was vital to world history.

A winning exhibit about World War I’s Deadliest Killer – Spanish Influenza. Taking a stand about the pandemic was vital to world history.

Last week I had the honor and privilege of being a judge for the Regional National History Day contest. This is an event that is close to my heart. I have been involved since 1993, as a parent, a coach, and a judge.

National History Day gives students the opportunity to learn about the research process, about presenting their research in a number of different venues, about gaining poise while speaking to an unknown audience, and accepting constructive criticism. Some of the contestants will go on to become historians; while the majority will be engineers, lawyers, accountants, teachers, and doctors. The skills learned in research will last a lifetime, if used regularly.

Each year the National History Day officers choose a new theme. This year it was Taking a Stand in History. Students were to consider the risk involved in a firm position using force, words or economic power.

Normally there are five venues for students to present their research. The most popular is the exhibits category. They must determine the most important aspects and create visual materials to instruct the audience and judges. As a judge, it is easy to see who spent weeks or months on the project and who put it together the weekend before.

Another format is drama. An individual or group puts together a monologue or play interpreting an event that reflects the theme. Here again, the secret is to be relevant and succinct.

Some students choose to work alone by writing a paper. Judging the three high school students’ works I was amazed with their understanding of the theme. Then there are two venues that would overwhelm me if I were a contestant. One is Documentaries and the other is Websites. These students must have a great understanding of electronics; but most are superior. A documentary is really a short news piece with outstanding interpretation of the theme. Often both documentaries and websites jolt the judges into perceiving a concept in a new light. One of the websites really got me to thinking.

That was Doomsday: the Stand for Freedom, created by two young men. To them Doomsday was June 6, 1944 or D-Day, when allied troops invaded Normandy. For them, the risk-takers were not the soldiers but the generals and admirals who planned the invasion, who had to live with the anxiety and loss of men for the rest of their lives. It was truly a different viewpoint.

The other two websites were equally insightful. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Winston Churchill: Standing Against the New World Order focused on the courage of individual leaders who were often forsaken and ignored. All three websites were almost flawless, especially for high school students.

Three papers dealt with familiar topics in an unfamiliar way. Students examined Rosa Parks, Martin Luther, and Malcolm X and their accomplishments closely. Each pointed out a new twist to a familiar story.

Two students or two teams in each category will travel to Austin in late April to compete in the Statewide National History Day contest. Winners there will present in Washington, D. C. early in June. But every student is really a winner. They researched, presented their research, and did so with poise. That is truly an accomplishment for any student. Congratulations to all.

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Historic Texas Cemetery

Courtesy of Kathy Hall.  Mass grave of five people who died of dreadful small pox east of Muddig.  Thirteen people in all were quarantined in a tenant farmer’s house, including three children, for two weeks in 1901.  When the quarantine was lifted, the house and all belongs were burned to keep disease from spreading.

Courtesy of Kathy Hall. Mass grave of five people who died of dreadful small pox east of Muddig. Thirteen people in all were quarantined in a tenant farmer’s house, including three children, for two weeks in 1901. When the quarantine was lifted, the house and all belongs were burned to keep disease from spreading.

The Texas Historical Commission is the Preservation Agency for the State of Texas. Not only do they approve all the roadside historical markers in the state, but also they have specialists who answer questions about house histories, who suggest ways to preserve buildings, and who are authorities in archeology. There are courthouse specialists as well as cemetery specialists. On my To Do list this spring is to apply for Historic Texas Cemetery Designation for a very small burial site in the far northeast corner of Hunt County.

It is without a doubt one of the saddest stories I ever heard. A Farm Road and a County Road corner the plot. Three tombstone bases are visible and one very small piece of limestone with the letter “A” etched on one side. These items lay under three cedar trees. The ground is far from smooth and the three bases appear as if they had been tossed asunder by an upheaval under the ground.

The cemetery has no name. A woman who lives west of Fort Worth contacted me last fall. The deceased were all related to one of her grandfathers. I met her there last Sunday. We decided to first name the cemetery, using the family name. Then the woman handed me an article from an unknown source, probably a newspaper from Bonham or Honey Grove.

The article, titled “Tragedy at Lost Prairie,” does tell a tragic story. Thomas and Matilda Evans were tenant farmers on land owned by a Mr. Jackson. The Evans family was sharecropping to buy part of the land. The couple was parents to seven children, all young adults. One of the daughters and her husband along with their little girl Grace had gone to the Oklahoma panhandle to homestead their own land. In late March 1901, the young couple rode the train back to Ladonia. Family met them and the whole family looked forward to a big reunion.

Unknowingly Grace’s mother had been exposed to smallpox and became very ill shortly after arriving at the family farm. She became ill the first week of April. Hunt County medical officer Dr. Milner was notified and took charge. Mr. Bond, a neighbor who had survived smallpox, was called to help, as he then was immune. The young mother died on April 7. Her body was wrapped in a blanket and laid out in the field behind the house where it stayed until arrangements could be made. Officials in Fannin and Delta counties refused to allow the body to be transported across county lines.

Landowner Jackson gave permission to bury the body in a far corner of yard. Bond wrapped a rope around the body, mounted his horse and drug the corpse to the site. The rest of the family, all thirteen, remained quarantined in the house for two more weeks. The next victim was the young mother’s mother, followed by her father and two young nieces. All five victims were buried in a single grave.

When the rest of the family was released from quarantine, the house was burned to the ground, destroying the deadly virus. Some years later, a nephew fenced the burial ground, and purchased three obelisks, each about four feet tall. Since then, unknown persons removed the fence and markers. Today little remains to tell their story.

This is not a typical story found in Designated Texas Historic Cemeteries, but it definitely needs notice. Once we complete the paper work, we will submit the application to Austin where staff will review and hopefully approve it. At that point, the chairman of our historical commission will receive an addendum to the property deed. That will be submitted to the county clerk who attaches it to the property deed and a copy to any adjacent property deeds. This ensures that the small cemetery cannot be destroyed any more. At that point, the descendant will determine if any improvements will be made.

If you know of any unmarked graves or cemeteries exist anywhere in Hunt County, please contact me. Thank you.

Posted in Historical tidbits, North Texas History | 1 Comment

Goin’ on a Bear Hunt

Bear hunting in Tennessee was similar to hunting in Texas.  Just avoid wild hogs.  (Wikipedia)

Bear hunting in Tennessee was similar to hunting in Texas. Just avoid wild hogs. (Wikipedia)

It was late fall 1845 when R. P. Merrill arrived in Hunt County. At the age of thirteen he was hired to help build a log barn for his brother-in-law James R. Horton. The barn was unusual by our 21st Century standards. Actually, it was a large corncrib with the south side open for about 200 hogs to bed down. Log walls enclosed the other three sides. After the corncrib was completed, Merrill returned to the Horton farm on the North Sulphur River bottom. He and a few others gathered the hogs and began the walk to their new home. After two days they arrived on the Sabine River bottom southeast of what would become Greenville. The Horton family moved to their farm before the New Year.

Merrill and the others managed to move the hogs with a little trickery. Hogs like to eat. So a wagon full of corn went along with them. Regularly corn would fall from the wagon but it wasn’t really necessary. The river bottoms were full of mast, the fruit of pecan, oak, chestnut, and other forest trees. Pigs and other wild animals delighted in mast. With food available, the hogs stayed together and followed the wagon.

At the new barn, the corn was loaded into cribs or storage bins, and the hogs were turned loose to forage. Merrill only had to keep an eye on them and make sure they were in the barn at night. On cold nights he slept in the barn with the hogs, but most nights he and his two dogs slept outside the pen.

About Christmas a rumor spread through the neighborhood that farther down the Sabine bears were plentiful in a big cane break. Two local hunters decided they wanted to try their hand on a bear hunt.

They arrived at Merrill’s camp and insisted that he accompany them as guide. He agreed after explaining that a huge wild boar had been seen in a thicket between his camp and the cane break. Merrill thought it would be wise to avoid that thicket and the boar. The hunters were experienced and cared little about such a thing as a wild boar. They were after bear meat and fur. After all, they were experienced hunters.

When they arrived at the thicket the hunters decided to take a short cut through the wooded area. It was only a few minutes until their twelve good bear dogs picked up the hog scent. They quickly scrambled after the wild boar in hot pursuit when it turned on them. Before the hunters could call off the dogs, two were dead and three others ripped up badly. This abruptly put an end to the bear hunt.

The men returned to Merrill’s camp where one of the hunters, Mr. Mooney, told Merrill to bring some water. It was a two hundred yard trip. After a few times, Merrill rebelled. Mooney jumped up and hit his baldhead on the low roof Merrill had over his cooking place. It was such a surprise to Mooney that the boy laughed out loud. This enraged the hunter but he did not undertake to chastise the boy.

The men tucked tails and headed home, without bear meat or bear skins as well as short some of their prized dogs.

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Great Surprise

The Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum was recently featured in Texas Highways Magazine.

The Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum was recently featured in Texas Highways Magazine.

I opened the latest issue of Texas Highways and discovered a pleasant surprise. On page 18 was a photograph I quickly recognized. It was the lonely G.I. writing a letter home to his wife and daughter. The one that is so touching at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum here in Greenville. No matter how many times I see the display, my eyes tear up.

When I walk through the World War I bunker, I wonder how those men survived trench warfare. My other favorite is the back porch of the tenant farmer’s home. The exhibits in the museum are so realistic, so well done.

It seems that Paul McDonnold feels the same way. His article invites travelers to stop by and have a look at Hunt County since 1880 when the first train arrived to haul bales of cotton off the markets worldwide. He carefully weaves the story of cotton with our hometown hero, Audie Murphy.

I visited with Director Susan Lanning after I read the article. Susan was ecstatic, to say the least. What was so exciting was that Mr. McDonnold found the museum on his own without the usual PR publicity. That was very positive for the museum.

Susan showed me the museum’s latest pride and joy. Between the bank vault and the back porch, they managed to fit in a gorgeous buggy recently donated after a thorough renovation. This is a big, a very big buggy. It took a tall, strong horse to pull it. However, I can see that horse trotting down the dirt trail, his head held high, taking the lady of the home to visit a neighbor or a country doctor to deliver a baby.

As an aside, one of my great-grandfathers was such a country doctor who often took my grandmother with him in his buggy when going on a call.

A second new exhibit is in the works at the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum. They are building a blacksmith’s shed. We tend to think of blacksmiths and farriers as those who shoe a horse or mule. That’s primarily what a farrier does in addition to specializing in equine hoof care. The blacksmith on the other hand was much more versatile.

The local blacksmith was the go to person who made and repaired anything made of iron or steel. In 19th century America, blacksmiths were almost always men. They made plows, axes, shovels, lighting devises, door hinges, logging chains, harness hardware, iron tires for wagons, and hardware to build wagons, homes and barns. Then when their product broke, they fixed it. He was one of the busiest and most important people in a community.

As automobiles replaced wagons and horses, most blacksmiths evolved into mechanics. They learned how to work on cars, bicycles, and even airplanes. In my Civil War research, I found the local blacksmith was adept at repairing old rifles, muskets, and other firearms. Here on the frontier in Texas, those weapons were vital.

The next time you are looking for something to do or to entertain visitors, go to the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum. The early 20th century merchants of Hunt County are still waiting for you. Now you can look at the buggy. Have you seen the actual, life-size bale of cotton? It’s very impressive. Hopefully by summer, you can visit the blacksmith’s shed. Located at 600 I-30 Frontage Road, Greenville. Hours are 10 AM to 5 PM Tuesday through Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.

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