Footprints of Fayette

These histories were written by members of the Fayette County Historical Commission. They first appeared in the weekly column, "Footprints of Fayette," which is published in local newspapers.

(La) Fayette

By Gary E. McKee

The Marquis de Lafayette
Most Texians know the local roots of the place names of Houston and Austin and even the assumed meaning of the name Texas. Fayette County, the towns of La Grange, Fayetteville and several streets in our county trace their origins to the American Revolution and then across the Atlantic to France, to a man known as the “emblem of liberty” and a “hero of two worlds.”

Fayette County, established in 1837, was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette, born in 1757, was orphaned at the age of 13, joined the French army as a cadet, and three years later married into nobility.

When the American Revolution began, Lafayette was a captain in the French Army. Against his aristocratic background, he supported the principals behind the Revolution, as noted in his memoirs that “my heart was enrolled in it.” King Louis XVI of France, seeking neutrality, forbade any assistance to the infant republic. However, Lafayette contacted an American agent in Paris and secured a commission as a major general in the Continental Army. The King issued an arrest warrant for Lafayette, but he left for America with eleven other European officers in May of 1777. By July, Lafayette had begun a life long friendship with George Washington, so much that Lafayette would name a son after him in later years. Lafayette commanded Revolutionary troops in numerous battles, wintered at Valley Forge, was wounded once, and was instrumental in the final battle of the American Revolution at Yorktown in which Lord Cornwallis surrendered the British Army. While many generals would have commanded from a safe place, Lafayette was always in the thick of battle with his soldiers. His respect of the ordinary working and fighting man would last for decades.

Returning to France after the American Revolution, politics had changed. He began his career as a politician during the French Revolution against the King. In the new government, with assistance from Thomas Jefferson, he presented the draft of a Declaration of the Rights of Man, which borrowed heavily from the American Declaration of Independence. Elected vice president of the Assembly, he spoke in favor of abolishing titles of nobility and renounced his own, though he was forever addressed as the Marquis. Lafayette was chosen as commander of the Paris militia, which he named the Garde Nationale. America’s National Guard derives its name from this militia. With the French Revolution spinning out of control, Lafayette spoke out on the excesses being committed, causing the new government to brand him a traitor. With the assistance of the American ambassador, Lafayette attempted to escape to America, but was arrested and spent five years in prison. The French revolutionaries demanded that his wife be sent to the guillotine, but the American ambassador threatened economic sanctions against France, so she was sent to prison with Lafayette instead, where future U.S. president James Monroe secured her freedom after a year. The French political tides changed and he was released through the efforts of American authorities in 1799. The new emperor, Napoleon, offered him a post, which he refused, choosing to become a gentleman farmer on his wife’s estate, which was named La Grange. In 1818, after the fall of Napoleon, he reentered public life advocating measures to advance the power of the people and representative government. This did not bode well with the latest French government, and in 1824, Lafayette accepted a timely offer to visit the United States as “the guest of the nation.”

Embarking on a 15 month tour through the 24 states comprising the U.S., he was honored at every stop. To celebrate his visit to his adopted country, Congress voted him the sum of $200,000 and gave him 36 square miles of land. (nice veteran’s benefits!!!!). The states of New York and Maryland made him an honorary citizen. (In 2003, Congress granted him honorary U.S. citizenship, one of only six ever awarded). Counties, towns, lakes, rivers, a mountain, schools, parks and streets were named after Lafayette or his French residence, La Grange. Wherever he went, large crowds of citizens cheered him and celebrations were held. The American citizens manufactured a variety of objects, including furniture, pipes, purses, flasks and money with his likeness imprinted on them. Presently there are over 600 entities in the U.S. honoring his name, including the first nuclear ballistic-missile submarine.

In 1834, Lafayette passed away in France at the age of 77. The U.S. went into mourning, and President John Quincy Adams delivered a two and a half hour eulogy to Congress. Anticipating his death, dirt from the Bunker Hill was sent to France and covered his casket; more towns and counties responded by adopting his name.

It was during this time (late 1820s) that William and Mary Rabb settled on the Colorado River just north of Moore’s Fort (presently La Grange). The Rabb family was from Pennsylvania. Rabb’s family had participated in the American Revolution, and Lafayette had under his command Anthony Wayne and his Pennsylvania Rangers. It is quite possible that the Rabb family had personal contact with Lafayette. At the same time that America was being consumed by Lafayette fever, immigrants from this America were settling the future Fayette County. His death in 1834 occurred during the forming of the La Grange area. Their admiration of this personification of freedom and the common man inspired the naming of Fayette County, Fayetteville, La Grange, and the local Masonic Lodge. When the town of La Grange was being planned, the streets were named after American and Texian heroes, i.e. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Lafayette, Fannin, Crockett, and Milam.

The naming of this county and its towns over 170 years ago manifests itself in the independent spirit which is Fayette County today.


Our Most Famous Foreigner

by L. J. Calley

La Grange, Fayette County—names many of us use daily and know well. La Grange is a French term meaning, "The Meadows," according to Texas It was the name the Marquis de Lafayette gave to his chateau thirty miles east of Paris. Fayette, La Grange—it is obvious that our forefathers name our county after this man, and our county seat after his home.

Why would a French nobleman merit such recognition and respect from circa q838 Texans? It's a long story that goes well beyond the space allowed here. In short, at nineteen Lafayette, whose wife was related to Louis XVI, went to America to become George Washington's aid during the revolution To Washington, who seems to have had the loneliest job in our history next to Abraham Lincoln, drew strength from Lafayette's total loyalty, his ear for staff intrigue, and most of all, his connections in Paris. Benjamin Franklin not withstanding, without Lafayette the alliance with France, which proved Engand's undoing, would most likely not have happened.

Returning home after our victory, Lafayette, to the detriment of his own fortune, promoted the idea of revolution in France, but during the Reign of Terror almost lost his head along with the rest of the French aristocracy.

As a prelude to the huge fiftieth anniversary celebration of our independence in 1826, President James Monroe and Congress made Lafayette an honorary U. S. Citizen and invited him to visit. In what he called his Farewell Tour, an aged Lafayette traveled our country by carriage, visiting all twenty-four states in 1824-1825, greeted everywhere he went by large crowds, parades, speeches, gifts, parties, and places named after him.

Lafayette died in 1837 and was buried in France in American soil, which he had taken home with him at the end of his farewell tour. La Grange and Fayette County were named in his homor by the Congress of The Republic of Texas folowing his death. The name, Lafayete, or Fayette appears almost 440 times as a place name in the United States. Fifty-seven are populated places, such as towns and counties, a fitting tribute to who has been, by far, America's most famous foreigner. Perhaps Washington's words in a letter to Lafayette dated April 28, 1788 express our own feelings toward him as well:

"The frequency of your kind remembrance of me, and the endearing expressions of attachment, are by so much the more satisfactory, as I recognize them to be a counterpart of my own feelings for you."

Jacob Laffere – a Gold Rush Participant

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Go west young man, go west! That was the slogan heard throughout the country in 1849 after gold was discovered the previous year at Sutter’s Mill in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  Gold fever attacked men in epidemic proportions, stealing away their sensibilities and filling their heads with dreams of prosperity. Thousands of men ventured westward in search of their fortunes with seemingly little forethought about the perils of crossing mountains and deserts to get to their destinations. There were others, however, who capitalized on the infectious malady by providing necessities to the affected multitudes who were heading west. These entrepreneurs became wealthy while remaining safe.

Upon hearing the news of the gold strike, men in Fayette County were also infected by the fever and were soon laying down their plows and leaving their weeping families, some never to return.  The son of John Murchison, who lived in the Fayetteville area, was determined to not be left behind.  Not wanting his son, Duncan, to go without him, John Murchison organized a gold -seeking group called The La Grange Company.  On March 31, 1849, he advertised in a local newspaper that he was recruiting 100 men to join him on his journey to California. Approximately 42 men responded and joined Murchison with the hope that they would beat the odds and come home with a fortune in gold.

As they journeyed to California, the group divided at times or joined with other groups as they struggled to find a safe route through the rugged terrain that oftentimes hindered their progress. Bad weather, lack of water, food and supplies, poisonous snakes and Indian attacks were constant threats. Unfortunately, John Murchison was not one of the lucky ones!  He died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound and was buried where he died, never to be found again.

It was fortunate, however, that two men, Samuel P. Birt and John B. Cameron, kept fairly detailed journals of their adventures that began on May 1, 1849 with a total of 43 men and seven wagons. Six months later on November 10, 1849, the company finally reached its destination in California with ten men and three wagons, due to the other men venturing off alone or joining other groups.

Three of the 43 men, who ventured to California in The La Grange Company, are known to have returned to Fayette County.  The names of the others who may have returned are unknown.  Those three were Charles Helble of Biegel, Joseph Brendle, who lived in the Rutersville area, and Jacob Laferre of Ross Prairie.  Helble and Brendle were listed among the remaining ten men in The La Grange Company at the end of their trip.  Laferre was not listed, so undoubtedly, he was one of those who left the group somewhere along the route. It seems that Helble and Brendle, who left their families for up to four years, were not as successful with their gold-seeking adventures as Laferre, who came back to Texas with a sizeable fortune within two years.

Jacob Laferre of French descent was born in 1823 in Bavaria, Germany. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1846, arriving in New Orleans with his 19-year old wife, Therese, and Caroline D’Later, also 19, whose relationship to Laferre or his wife is unknown.  It is quite possible that since both ladies were 19 years old, they could have been twin sisters. 

Laferre migrated to Fayette County where he purchased his first 50 acres of land in the Lucy Kerr League in April 1847 from William Luke.  It is not known when Laferre’s first wife died, but he was back in Fayette County by February 24, 1852, when he married Caroline D’Later/DeLater, also of French descent. They had four children together: Carolina (Lena), born in 1854, who married Louis FrederickTiemann; Jacob, Jr. (Jake), born in 1856, who married Louise Stoecker; Charles A., born in 1859, who married Agnes Wolle; and Adolf J., born in 1862, who married Mary Giese.  Caroline Laferre died in 1862, perhaps after the birth of Adolf.  Laferre married his third wife, Fredericke Kaase, in 1867.

Jacob Laferre's grave in Eilers Cemetery; courtesy of Pete FridellDeed records show that Laferre purchased and sold multiple tracts of land in the areas around Ross Prairie, Ellinger, Fayetteville, Biegel and Rutersville, as well as along Cummins Creek east of Fayetteville.  Family tradition states that he concealed his money for a long while after returning from California, but records show that he was a money lender for a large number of people who were wanting to purchase land, but who had insufficient funds.   

One of his tracts of land at Ross Prairie was sold to Henry Eilers, who established a cemetery on this land for his family. Laferre and his family continued to live on a nearby farm. When Frederike Laferre died in 1899, she was buried in the Eilers Cemetery.  Jacob Laferre died at age 77 on August 26, 1901 and was buried next to Frederike.     

Laferre’s probated will shows that his estate that was valued at $30,000 was divided among his children and grandchildren.  Obviously, his success in the gold fields of California had a ripple effect for his family, friends and acquaintances, all of whom benefitted from his good fortune and generosity.  

Photo Caption: Jacob Laferre's grave in Eilers Cemetery; courtesy of Pete Fridell
Sources: Immigration Records and Family Trees
Fayette County Deed, Marriage and Probate Records
Fayette County TXGenWeb Project: Cemeteries
Obituary; Schulenburg Sticker, 5 Sep 1901
“The Journal of the La Grange Company: Being the Record of a Journey from Texas to California in 1849”. The Quarterly of the Tuolumne County Historical Society, Vol. 8, No. 3, Jan.- Mar. 1968, pp. 238 -239

La Grange, R.F.D.

(or, The First Texas Rural Mail Route)

by Annette Ruckert

"Tis nine o'clock, and Duty calls to the Friendly Road; And you ride over the hills of beauty, bearing your precious load—News from the world's far places—." So wrote one southern mail carrier many years ago, in a poetic a tribute to the Rural Free Delivery Service called "On the Route."

Fayette County's rural carriers have traveled "on the route" for nearly 104 years. In fact, postal service officially came to Texas communities on August 1, 1899, when the first Texas Rural Mail Route station opened in La Grange.

In the early days, before Texas was annexed to the United States, post-riders carried mail between San Antonio and the viceroy of Spain in Mexico City. Mail carriers were mostly Indian runners, weather-hardened men of great physical endurance. Mail bound for points other than Mexico was carried horseback from Texas to Louisiana or Mississippi, then forwarded to its destination in the States.

The first regular postal system for Texas was inaugurated in December 1836, during the Presidency of General Sam Houston. But the Republic had no finances to adequately establish the system. The first Congress of Texas authorized the postmaster general to solicit funds from the public, and mail carriers were often paid in land.

Financial worries were not the only drawback to the early postal system. Bad roads, few bridges, and highwaymen lurking in out-of-the-way places posed enormous problems to the carrier.

After entering the Union in 1845, Texas was partly relieved of the responsibility of mail delivery when the state postal system became part of the national system. Longer routes were established, and much of the mail was carried in stagecoaches. One of the longest routes in the nation was from El Paso, Texas, to San Diego, California.

Around the turn of the century, the federal post office began experimenting with a mail delivery system with shorter routes, a system that could greatly benefit people living in the country.

"No one knows better than those living miles away from mail accommodations how unpleasant it is when work is plenty and urgent upon the farm to take the time to ride or drive to the post office," wrote a La Grange Journal reporter in August 1899.

To alleviate the problem, and to make mail accommodations as complete as possible, the federal government established several test routes to determine the feasibility of a rural delivery system. As the Journal shared with readers, "the authorities have thought favorable enough of this community to make it one of the experimental stations."

The route entailed twenty-three miles of travel in Fayette County and served about 685 people. Laid out by the national post office department in Washington, the route went as follows: "Beginning at the bridge west of La Grange, go west one mile on the La Grange and Cedar Road; thence north on the La Grange and Plum Road to Manton Sand Ridge; thence west over MKT track over road by W.J. Kirk's place about three miles; thence south between Jos. Brown and Max Wildner's farms to La Grange and Cedar Road; thence to the Cedar post office; thence southeast to Parma's Store to Schulenburg and La Grange Road via Bluff post office and back to La Grange."

Henry Cremer was the contractor, and Ernst Prilop served as the postmaster at the Cedar Post Office when the rural route was established.

According to a January 1945 report in The Texas Carrier, the "first rural route" question was raised in 1933, when Hillsboro also claimed the honor. The question was aired in several daily newspapers, including the Dallas News. After much debate, and with the assistance of State officials, a marker was granted to commemorate and permanently mark this location, thus settling the issue.

Since it was a state incident and not a national one, the marker could not be erected on Post Office grounds. So the City of La Grange granted permission for its location on a site adjacent to the post office, on land that was not officially U.S. government property. Etched in a brass plate mounted on red granite, the marker proclaiming "The First U.S. Postal Rural Mail Route in Texas" graces the lawn at the corner of Colorado and Jefferson streets.

The Rural Letter Carriers Association of Fayette County had charge of the dedication ceremonies when the marker was erected by the State of Texas in 1936, the state's Centennial Year. A large number of citizens from La Grange and across Texas attended, as well as the 57 post offices in District No. 9. John L. Giese, the Rural Letter Carriers president, and mail carrier Chas. C. Albrecht organized the event.

A similar celebration was held on August 2, 1999 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the Texas Rural Route System. A unique cancellation device, designed by local artist Sally Maxwell, was used on that date for outgoing mail. Linda Kossa, a La Grange post office employee, worked from an antique window in a special model post office brought in from Gonzalez for the occasion. Formal ceremonies held on the Fayette County Courthouse square attracted many local citizens and dignitaries, as well as guests from across the state and nation.

During the anniversary celebration, Fayette County Judge Ed Janecka remarked on the importance of the rural mail system, noting that its establishment was instrumental in developing Texas. Certainly, throughout its century-long history, it has proven to be a tremendous benefit to people living in the country. And though the routes are different and the mode of transportation has changed, today's rural mail carriers continue to "make mail accommodations as complete as possible."

A New York post office opened in 1914 with the declaration that "neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Although this is not an official post office motto, it is nevertheless embraced by many in the U.S. Postal Service.

Indeed, that rural carrier and poet from the South, writing many years ago, echoed the sentiment, and no doubt Fayette County's mail carriers throughout the century understood. "Folks for their mail are calling—It's more than determination—it's something one can feel—a sort of exultation to the [One] behind the Wheel, That drives him into action, and a sense of duty done, Brings a thrill of satisfaction when the battle has been won."

Jonathan Lane

by Connie F. Sneed

Jonathan Lane, a founder of The First National Bank of  La Grange, was a cowboy, attorney and state senator.  He was also a descendant of David Crockett of the Alamo fame.

Born in Decatur, Alabama in 1853, he was the son of Charles Joseph and Ellen (Crockett) Lane. His father was a Methodist minister, and his mother was a niece of David Crockett.   At the age of 18 months, he was brought to Fayette County where he received his schooling.  After graduation, he went to Goliad County, where he worked as a cowboy until he was 25 years old.

He then became a clerk in the J. M. Harrison General Merchandise Store in Flatonia.  During his leisure hours, he studied law and courted Miss Alma Harrison, the daughter of his employer.  They were married on December 29, 1876 and had a daughter, who died in Houston about 1906, and an adopted son.  Lane was admitted to the Texas bar in 1880.

He practiced law for several years in Flatonia and then later associated himself in La Grange with R. H. Phelps and J. C. Brown.  The firm later became known as Brown, Lane & Garwood.  From 1887 to 1891, Lane served in the state senate.  While in the senate, he was named as a director of the First National Bank which was founded in 1888.

Lane later went to Houston and became a member of the law firm, Brown, Lane, Garwood & Parker.  He also became very active in business ventures.  He served as president of the Cane Belt Railroad, a 119 mile line that became a part of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe System.  He served as president of the Thompson Brothers Lumber Company of Trinity, a company with capital stock of $1,500,000.  He was also president of the American Surety and Casualty Company and of the Guarantee Life Insurance Company.

He was a member of the Democratic party and served as chairman of its state convention in 1892. He was a Shriner, Mason, Knight Templar, Knight of Pythias, and Methodist. Lane died at Port Aransas on May 27, 1916, and was buried in the Flatonia City Cemetery.

According to an article in the Houston Post dated May 28, 1916 reporting Lane’s death earlier that week, it was written that   “while always taking an active part in political affairs, Mr. Lane held only one political office in his life….His judgement on party matters was trusted by practically all the political leaders of the state.”

Honorary pallbearers included Gov. James E. Ferguson, Lt. Gov W.P. Hobby, and several judges.  In an eulogy passed by the Harris County Bar Association, Lane was described as a “manly” man.  He inherited the traits of courage and devotion to which he conceived to be the right from a father who amid the early settlements of a new county consecrated himself to the service of God and his fellow man.

The Houston Post and The Handbook of Texas


The Latins and the Prairie Blume Society

by Donna Green

The Latins were a group of young people who lived in and around the Bluff area of Fayette County during the 1840-1860 time period. They were so named because of their education and cultural background. They had emigrated from the small principalities of Central Europe in order to give their children better opportunities. These people hoped to find in Texas the democracy and freedom that had been denied them in Europe. Many of the Latins were political refugees who had taken part in the republican revolution of 1848.

The Latins were proud of their culture and education and often found it difficult to adjust to their new rural surroundings. One young woman wrote to a friend in Europe complaining that there was little mental stimulation in the daily life on a farm. She wrote that each day suffered from "eternal sameness" and was "painfully monotonous." In her desire to learn she often spent countless hours studying alone.

About 1857 things changed for the young Latins of the area when a local German poet, Johannes Romberg, formed the Prairie Blume Literary Society at Black Jack Springs. It was one of the first literary societies in Texas. The society published a journal featuring literary contributions from its members. The journal was named the "Prairie Blume" because the prairie flower symbolized prose and poetry.

The young Latins anxiously awaited every meeting of the society. It was nothing for them to ride fourteen miles on horseback just to attend one of the meetings. They were much more formal than is customary today. Julius Willrich would often ride to a member's garden gate and invite them to the next meeting with these words: "I have the honor to invite you to the next meeting of the Prairie Blume at our house." Various families took turns in entertaining the group of young scholars.

At meetings intellectual games were often played followed by a flute solo or a violin concerto. The young Latins discussed many subjects including the political and social conditions in the world. They would often spend hours philosophizing over books they had read or writing down these thoughts to contribute to the next issue of the journal. Today some copies of the "Prairie Blume" still exist.

At the outbreak of the Civil War the activities of the organization declined as many members joined the military. After a few more years the society was discontinued entirely.

Recollections of Early-Day Laundry and Ironing Practices

By Carolyn Heinsohn

Having had a great aunt and uncle, who lived here in Fayette County during a time when others had advanced to a lifestyle of modern conveniences, I was given the opportunity to witness a lifestyle of the 19th century, because they chose to remain in a time warp. A few of my memories include my great aunt’s laundry and ironing practices, some of which would have been rarely experienced by someone in my generation. 

Since no detergents were readily available for laundry, scrubbing floors or doing dishes, homemade soap had to be made prior to doing any cleaning chores.  Until lye balls or canned lye was available, my aunt first had to make lye by putting ashes from the wood stove and heater into a barrel and adding water.  The ashes would settle to the bottom of the barrel, and in a few days, there would be strong lye water, which would be cooked with lard or bacon skins in a large iron wash pot. A chemical reaction would take place, turning the ingredients into a strong, smelly, unattractive-appearing soap that was cut into chunks. 

Doing the laundry was an all-day job.  Wet soap was rubbed onto their soiled clothing, which was then rubbed on a scrub board before being placed into a large wash pot that was placed over a fire.  The wash pot had to be filled with bucket after bucket of water carried from the well.  The clothes in the wash pot were agitated with a large wooden paddle until my great aunt thought that the clothes were clean. She would then remove the clothing with the paddle and rinse them in clear water in a washtub. Sometimes the white clothing was rinsed a second time in water with Mrs. Steward’s Bluing, which was a fabric whitener. The clothing was then wrung out by hand and hung on a clothesline to dry.  Handling bed sheets and heavy clothing was quite a chore.  Wind would occasionally blow clothing off of the clothesline into the sand and dirt, or frigid temperatures would freeze the clothing into a stiff “board”.  Everyday work clothing had to be made with heavy duty fabric in order to withstand the harsh soap, scrubbing and boiling water that were necessary to get them clean. Sunday clothing was washed infrequently. My great-aunt’s “better” dresses, some of which were made of finer fabrics, were hand washed only when absolutely necessary. Usually, they were spot cleaned and hung up to air out.  My great uncle’s only suit was made of wool, so it was never washed, because woolen fabric would shrink. There were no dry cleaners for non-washable fabrics, nor would they have spent the money for such frivolities. His dress shirts were washed perhaps after every second or third wearing. 

Their first electric wringer-style washing machine was purchased after they obtained rural electricity.  Prior to electricity, earlier styles utilized kerosene to run their motors, but my great aunt and uncle never owned one of those machines.

Ironing was another all-day chore.  All of my great-uncle’s dress shirts, some of my great aunt’s dresses, aprons, their pillow cases, dresser scarves and doilies were dipped in cooked starch and allowed to dry.  Then they were “sprinkled”, using a Nehi soda water bottle and a sprinkler stopper.  The clothing was rolled up, placed inside a pillow case and allowed to “set” before ironing.  Their first irons were flat irons or “sad” irons, which were V-shaped pieces of iron with handles across the top.  They were placed on top of the wood stove to get hot, so it was beneficial to have two irons in order to have one hot iron to work with while the other was re-heating.  Later they had hollow irons, so that hot coals could be placed inside.  All of these irons were very heavy and were never reliable insofar as how hot or cool they were.  Oftentimes, these irons left spots of soot on their clothing, which created more work for my great-aunt.

Laundry and ironing practices have changed drastically through the years.  Fortunately, I still have a couple of old scrub boards and irons in my possession to remind me that I should never complain about having to press a few items of clothing after removing them from my clothes dryer that has a wrinkle-free cycle.  Sometimes we need a “wake-up call” to remind us just how fortunate we really are!

Lawlessness in Fayette County, 1867

By Stacy N. Sneed

This article is taken from Flake’s Bulletin of 03 Mar 1867

“A company of infantry is stationed at Round Top, Fayette County, Texas. On the 8th instant a rowdy of the neighborhood passes through the camp of the company and deliberately shot off his revolver among the soldiers, fortunately doing no damage, he put spurs to his horse and succeeded in making his escape, although the men fired their guns after him.

The citizens of the place furnished the soldiers with horses and revolvers, and the commander of the camp took a party in pursuit, following the would-be murderer five miles, overtaking him at Cumming’s Creek. Refusing to surrender the troops fired a volley at him, and think him killed, although he and his horse disappeared in the brush, and night prevented further pursuit. There have been seven murders committed in Round Top within the past twelve months, all owing to the fact that the civil authorities are impotent against a few lawless vagabonds.—San Antonio Express March, 15.

We believe the above to be true, because it accords with explanations given at headquarters of the frequent escape of these outlaws. Red tape so binds our military that with thousands of revelers rusting in the arsenals and cords of carbines, our soldiers cannot get hold of them, but must borrow from citizens when going into a fight. Imagine a scene like the above and then think how inexpressibly funny it must be to see soldiers running to all the corner for groceries for weapons, because a fight is on hand. Horses innumerable scour the plains of Texas and yet soldiers ride borrowed nags--this red tap, this is system, this is downright nonsense. We have no patience with this way of doing business. In these days of emancipation, we ought to emancipate our offers from the bondage of red tape.”

First Lawman on the Colorado

by Allen G. Hatley

During the second year of the Republic of Texas, Fayette County was created out of Bastrop and Colorado Counties on December 14, 1837 and officially organized in January of 1838. But beginning in 1821, some seventeen years prior to that, the land that would make up Fayette County was a part of Stephen F. Austin's first colony, granted in early 1821 by the Spanish Governor of Texas.

Austin had been given the right to settle three-hundred Anglo-American families in Texas, and almost immediately the first of those settlers began arriving to lay claim to land, mostly along the Colorado and Brazos Rivers.

Then in 1822, after only about one hundred of those families had arrived in Texas, the Mexican Revolution successfully overthrew the rule of Spain. Suddenly Austin's colony was in jeopardy and he was forced to leave Texas and travel to Mexico City to convince the new Mexican government to approve his grant of land.

While Austin was in Mexico City for over 16 months in 1822 and 1823, his first settlers were not finding Texas a very hospitable land. A crop failure and increased problems with various tribes of Indians seriously threatened the success of the venture. There were also no Mexican Army troops in Texas to help guard against increasing instances of theft, intimidation and the attack on the few settlers by hostile Indians. New immigration into Austin's colony stopped.

Luckily for all concerned, the Mexican Governor of Texas, Jose Felix Trespalacios, recognized the delicate balance between success and failure of the colony. As a result, Governor Trespalacios sent Baron De Bastrop to the settlements on the Colorado River in December of 1822, authorizing the settlers to organize a militia command to defend against hostile Indians and also elect two alcaldes, or Justices of the Peace. One of those magistrates was elected in the "Colorado District" and the other in the "Brazos District" to rule on civil and criminal matters. The Colorado District was the first governing body organized in what would eventually include Fayette and Colorado counties.

Then just two months later on March 5, 1823 the alcalde, in the Colorado District, John Tumlinson, Sr., wrote Baron De Bastrop in San Antonio, that "I have appointed but one officer who acts in the capacity of constable to summon witnesses and bring offenders to Justice, yet a few complain of the expense which I thought as reasonable as could be allowed for the time and trouble of so disagreeable an office, to wit at the rate of five cents per mile--."

When taken with other records, it is confirmed that a constable, not a ranger, a marshal or a sheriff was the first lawman in Anglo-American Texas, and that the attitude of "a few" toward this office has not changed in almost 180-years.

Capt. William H. Ledbetter

by Connie F. Sneed

William Hamilton Ledbetter, Fayette County attorney, was born to Hamilton and Jane (Peacock) Ledbetter, a well-to-do Tennessee Episcopalian couple, in 1834. In 1840, the family moved to Texas and settled with a large number of slaves near the site of present-day Victoria. Four years later, the Ledbetter family moved to Fayette County and established a small plantation there.

William, the third of nine children, was educated in Fayette and Washington counties and began to study law in 1855. He was admitted to the bar in 1857 and set up a lucrative practice in La Grange, the seat of Fayette County. In 1862 he was commissioned a lieutenant in Company I of Col. George M. Flournoy's Sixteenth Confederate Texas Infantry. Ledbetter subsequently fought in a number of battles in Louisiana, including Perkins Landing, Millican’s Bend, and Mansfield. In 1863 he was captured by Union forces at the battle of Pleasant Hill; he was freed in an exchange shortly thereafter.

Later that year, having been mustered out of the Confederate Army, he went to Austin as a representative in the lower house of the Tenth Legislature. He returned to Fayette County in 1865, nearly bankrupt as a result of losing twenty slaves and a good deal of valuable property in the war. He once again took up the practice of law and in 1876 was elected as a Democrat to the Texas Senate, where he served until 1880. He thereafter served several terms as mayor of La Grange. Capt. Ledbetter was one of the most prominent citizens of Fayette County.

Ledbetter was married twice. His first wife, Elizabeth “Bettie” (Pope), died in 1864 at the young age of twenty-five, leaving two children, William Hamilton Jr. and Elizabeth Nina – both of whom were born in La Grange. In 1868 William Ledbetter married Tennessee “Tennie” Hill; four or five of their children died in infancy, but two survived, Emmet and Aline.

William Ledbetter was found dead on April 24, 1896, in his home in La Grange by his wife upon her return from a trip to Virginia. His family had been away from home and he been taking his meals at the hotel in La Grange. He had also been out and about the day before he passed away. Death was believed to result from heart failure. It is this man that town of Ledbetter, Texas is named after.

Joseph Lev

by Donna Green

Generosity and appreciation are two qualities which have always been abundant in American soldiers as they served around the world in various wars and police actions. Private Joseph P. Lev of Praha, Texas was no exception. Private Lev was twenty-six years old when he was a soldier serving in New Guinea. He was shot in the stomach by a Japanese sniper in late July, 1944. As he lay dying, Lev begged a soldier friend of his to write his parents a letter regarding his last will. He wanted all the money that was his life saving to be given to the missionaries in New Guinea. Lev had personally been witness to the hard work and extreme conditions under which the missionaries worked.

In February, 1945 the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries was notified by letter of Private Lev's generous bequest. The letter received at the headquarters of the mission in Illinois was from the Reverend John Anders. He was pastor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary church at Praha. The letter explained that Private Lev had always had a great interest in foreign missions and was an ardent supporter of their work.

Private Lev has a marker in the cemetery at Praha. The marker states that he was killed in action on Luzon Island. Luzon is an island in the Philippine archipelago. This is several hundred miles from New Guinea. According to a telegram from the War Department Private Lev was buried in the United States Armed Forces Cemetery, Finschafen, New Guinea, No. 1, Grave 787. This cemetery is located on the east coast of the Huon Peninsula, approximately 50 miles north of Port Moresby, New Guinea.

Private Lev was born August 12,1918 in Praha. He was the son of Emil and Marie Lev.
Photo from World War II memorial in Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Cemetery at Praha.

Life in Early Fayette County

by Carolyn Heinsohn

The following excerpts about life in early Fayette County were taken from the “Sketch of Fayette County” compiled by Laura J. Irvine in 1880 for The American Sketch Book, an Historical and Home Monthly:

“J.G. Robison was the first to represent this district in the First Congress that convened at Columbia, on the Brazos, in the latter part of 1836 and in February, 1837. He had just returned home when he and his brother, Walter Robison, were both on their way to see a gentleman on business and were killed by the Indians on Commings (Cummins) Creek. The same day Mr. and Mrs. Gocher were killed by the same party of Indians on Rabb’s Creek, and three of their children carried off as captives, one girl and two boys; they were afterward redeemed by a Mr. Spalding, who married the young lady.”

“The first court held in Fayette County was in the town of La Grange in a little log cabin.”

“Mr. John E. Lewis, Sr., a veteran of the war for independence, moved to Fayette County in 1833, participated in the Battle of San Jacinto, and he together with J.H. Moore, had the pleasure of guarding the captured Santa Anna. He was the first justice of the peace commissioned in the county.”

“John Breeding, one of the old settlers of Fayette County, came to Texas in 1832…He was the first sheriff of Fayette County under the Republic…He died in October, 1869.”

In 1880, “Fayette County has four Texas veterans still living that fought in the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836: Col. Monroe Hill of Fayetteville; I.H. Hill of Round Top; Col. Joel W. Robison of Warrenton; and John E. Lewis of La Grange.”

“The first cotton crop raised in this county was in 1834 on the farms of Jessie Burnham and Jack Crier.”

“In 1842, the Indians killed one of old Mr. Earthman’s sons and ran another son until he went blind from over-heating and so remained the rest of his life.”

“The last Indian raid in this county was in 1843. Mr. John Lewis says that the Tonkaway (Tonkawa) tribe would occasionally camp on O’Quinn Branch.”

“The first whiskey sold in La Grange was brought by a man who went to Houston and sold his horse for a barrel and brought it back on a ‘Truck Wagon’ with oxen attached.”

“The Galveston, Houston and San Antonio railroad has a branch running from Columbus to La Grange, thirty-one miles. Cars commenced running to that place on the first of January, last 1880.”

“Bradshaw and White have erected a large warehouse at the depot…Mr. Shumacher has built at the depot a splendid ice house…”

“La Grange has three hotels. The most popular is the ‘Farquhar House’, W.E. Farquhar, proprietor. It is a two-story building and very convenient for businessmen.”

“The La Grange Journal has lately been purchased by Messrs. Bradshaw, Holloway and Bryan, and is edited by the able editor, Lewis R. Bryan. The Journal is a weekly newspaper….”

“The Slovan is published in La Grange and is the only Bohemian paper published in the state. It is a splendid forty column paper, well supported.”

Livingston Lindsay

by Katie Kulhanek

Livingston Lindsay was born in Orange County, Virginia on October 16th, 1806. It is said that Lindsay’s mother (a devout Episcopalian) “carried him some forty miles on horseback as an infant so he could receive the sacrament of baptism”. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he moved to Hopkinsville, Kentucky where he studied law. After practicing law a short time, he moved to Princeton, Kentucky and taught school. In 1860, at the age of 54, Lindsay moved to Texas and began practicing law in La Grange. The move was not centered around his career, but rather because he intended to join his daughter there.

After settling in La Grange, Lindsay joined The Volunteer Aid Society. The society was organized to aid families whose fathers and sons had left their farms and homes to go fight during the Civil War. Lindsay had a son-in-law (Ben Shropshire) who was fighting in the war. Shropshire later became known as a popular Confederate hero.

While in La Grange, Lindsay had a clash with a townsman. One August morning at about 9:00 a.m. in 1867, Lindsay got into a confrontation with Dr. J.P. Brown in front of G. Friedberger’s store and stabbed Brown. Despite his action, Lindsay only had to post bond and “suffered no further punishment”. The ordeal must not have had much of an impact on his reputation. He was appointed an associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court about a month later.

After the war in 1867, US military authorities replaced the current members of the Texas Justices of the Supreme Court (who had been Confederate supporters of secession and were considered hindrances to reconstruction) with justices that would adhere more to the needs and orders of the U.S. government. Lindsay was appointed as one of these new justices on September 10, 1867 by the occupying Union forces because of his moderate views and general dislike for slavery. Together, these justices formed a Military Court of justices in Texas during the Reconstruction era. Lindsay’s views on slavery enraged local residents of Fayette County. At that time, the area was occupied by federal troops, but there were many confrontations between the troops and the ex-Confederate soldiers of Fayette County.

It was at about this time (fall of 1867) that the Yellow Fever epidemic hit La Grange. Texas governor Elisha Pease made Lindsay his correspondent for La Grange during the epidemic. From August to December 1867 the fever struck the town of La Grange taking as many as 240 people—20% of the town’s population. Livingston himself was affected; several of his family members contracted the disease. His concern can be seen in his letter written to Governor Pease in October of 1867:

My Dear Sir:

Our mutual friend, Dr. M. Evans, and his daughter, very unexpectedly to me, and to my great surprise, from the report I had heard of their cases, both departed this life last night, and will be buried to day. The Epidemic has not abated here, so far as there are subjects left for its actions. I have three new cases, in the past thirty-six hours, in my own family. Whether they will be fatal, or not, I cannot judge, till further developments. This leaves only two in my family yet to have it -- a grand child and a servant.

I don't know certainly -- but it does appear to me that this favor [sic] has proved more fatal here -- than it has ever been anywhere in the South, or even in the West Indies. Just to think of it -- one hundred and seventy deaths, in a period of a little over four weeks, in a population, all told, of not more than 1600, when all the re-sidents were at home; and during the Epidemic, more than half; yea, I believe, two-thirds of the population, had fled their homes! I trust the malady has nearly spent its force, and our afflicted people may soon be relieved from this awful visitation. With my best wishes for your health and happiness,

I am, your friend, & obt. Sevt.

Livingston Lindsay

N.B. I am almost worn down with care and nursing, and I am fearful I shall not be able to reach Austin as early as I anticipated. But, as soon as I can come, in justice to those dependent upon me, I will come.


The Yellow Fever disease first hit Galveston repeatedly, but in the fall of 1867, it came inland, wrecking more havoc. The mortality rate is thought to have reached as high as 85%. The disease could strike quickly too; a person could be healthy one day and then dead three days later. In La Grange, people died so quickly that the funeral homes had no room to store the bodies. Sometimes they were piled inside the cemetery grounds where they were later buried in large, circular shaped mass graves.

Lindsay’s political views were more radical when compared to the average Fayette County citizen of the time. However, there were instances in which Lindsay stayed conservative. Southwestern Historical Quarterly explains a case involving the selling of slaves in1865 in which Lindsay allowed the sale of slaves despite the arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas in June of 1865. He believed that even though Juneteenth was “the day of jubilee of the freedom of the slaves in Texas” the buying and selling of slaves in Texas was lawful before June 19th.Generally though, Lindsay was against slavery. He believed that the Thirteenth Amendment (freeing slaves) was “not necessary to destroy slavery in Texas” because it basically “finished the work throughout the entire nation”. It is noted that in 1868, local Fayette County blacks marched military style and with arms into La Grange to vote. Their response to those asking why they came this way with weapons was that Lindsay had warned them it would be needed for their protection.

Lindsay was one of the more moderate members of the Constitutional Convention when he attended it from 1868-1869. Subsequently, he was judge of the district composed of Colorado, Fort Bend, Washington, Austin, and Wharton counties. Lindsay served on the Texas Supreme Court as a justice until 1869 when the court was reorganized and the number of judges was reduced from five to three. Lindsay was a member and Senior Warden of St. James Episcopal Church in La Grange and at one point served as lay reader for the church when Reverend W. G. W. Smith became sick. He also served as Fayette County Attorney in the 1880s. Lindsay died in La Grange in 1892 and is buried in the Old La Grange City Cemetery.

Faith Healer: Henry Charles Loehr

by Gary E. McKee

Henry Charles Loehr was born Jan 30 1862, in the Bluff community. As a 16 yr old, he rode a freight train to the state of Illinois. There, Henry attending the Weltner School of Healing and supported himself by working on a farm growing corn. After graduation, he returned home.

He worked on the family farm for a while and courted Anna Hausmann. Henry then traveled to West Texas, settled near San Angelo and engaged in sheep farming. One year later, he returned home to claim his bride, Anna, whom he married in 1889. He took his new bride and returned to West Texas. The couple was blessed with one son, Robert, born in1891 in Irion County. After several more years of ranching, Henry decided to return to La Grange.

His success in the sheep industry allowed Henry to rent a complete train to relocate his homestead. In one railroad car, he put all his sheep, and another he loaded with his horses, buggy and wagon. A third car was filled with his household items and supplies. Henry, Anna and Robert enjoyed the ride in a Pullman car all to themselves.

They arrived at the La Grange stock pens, and were met by Anna's brother, Louis. From the stock pens, they drove Henry's sheep across Buckner's Creek bridge and up the old Bluff Road (now Country Club Drive) to the land, which is now the Loehr Ranch. He quickly resumed his ranching business, where Henry, an expert with a rope, was known by all as "Being Born in the Saddle."

Henry's reputation as a faith healer took root. From ledgers handed down through the family, the clientele list was very large. His healing was much like acupuncture and chiropractic medicine. Patients would come from miles around and wait their turn sitting on his front porch, to receive healing. He was strong in his convictions and stressed daily to all his patients that "all healing came directly from God." (thus he was known as a faith healer.) He also gave "absent" treatments, whereby he would sit and meditate on a patient who might not be able to come to him for treatment. The ledgers show the names of many influential people from Fayette County who paid 25c to $1 for a treatment. He healed people for over 40 years until his death.

Mr. Loehr had a very gentle nature, but was stern in idealistic values. He was in love with nature and went to all means to protect it and taught his son, Robert, to do the same. Henry died in 1948 and Anna died on June 3, 1955. Both are buried with the Loehr family members at Williams Creek Cemetery.

The home in which he practice is still located on the bluff and is owned by the Lloyd G. Loehr family and is being restored to its original state as much as possible.

An Embarrassing Moment for Sheriff Will Loessin

by Rox Ann Johnson

Sheriff Will LoessinYou've heard of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A travelling couple's stop to rest at Carmine in 1930 could have cost them their lives at the hands of local law enforcement.

It had all started with an attempted robbery at the Round Top State Bank. Very early on the previous Saturday morning, A. L. Krause, who lived across the street from the Round Top bank, was awakened by the steady noise of a hammer coming from the direction of the bank. He tried to call Sheriff Will Loessin in La Grange, but no one was awake to make the connections for the call. He then began firing his shotgun to rouse his neighbors and three men were seen running toward their car, leaving their pliers, crowbars, etc. behind at the bank. They had entered through the back door and had been attempting to dig through the seven-layer brick wall of the bank vault. The sheriff was finally reached by telephone "in a round about way" and found fingerprints and other clues, but did not catch the culprits. This set the scene for what happened in Carmine the following Friday morning.

Local newspapers differed on whether the couple had traveled from Illinois or Indiana, but on Thursday evening, November 13, Mr. J. J. Day, a traveling salesman, and his wife, Doris, were en route from Houston to Austin. A storm was approaching and Mr. Day stopped at Carmine to rest. Parking near a filling station seemed like a safe place to spend the night, so Mrs. Day took the rear seat while Mr. Day slept on the front seat.

The storm came through after midnight, accompanied by lightning that struck a wire leading to the burglar alarm in the Carmine State Bank. Sheriff Will Loessin was alerted and, with Deputy T. J. Flournoy, sped over to Carmine where they noticed the out-of-state license plates on the parked Day automobile.

Sheriff Loessin approached the auto and demanded that any occupants get out. The travelers were awake by this time and, while trying to sit up, Mr. Day accidently set off his car horn. Having just dealt with the attempted robbery in Round Top, the sheriff thought Mr. Day was signaling accomplices. He opened fire on the car, hitting the wife with buckshot in the back and hip as she rose from her prone position. Much to Sheriff Will's distress, her wounds were serious enough to summon an ambulance to take her to La Grange. Surgery was performed and a week later she was still recuperating in the hospital, while the embarrassing story made the rounds in area newspapers.

The 1930 episode was just a false alarm, but the Carmine bank was indeed robbed in 1932, in 1933, and again in 1997.

The La Grange Journal, November 13, 1930
The La Grange Journal, November 20, 1930
The Schulenburg Sticker, November 23, 1930
Photo courtesey of Sandy Otto

A Machine Gun For Fayette County

from the La Grange Journal files at the Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives

On April 16, 1934, "Commissioners' court met in special session Monday morning, having several important matters to be acted upon and without much delay set to work. Unanimous was the decision of the members to buy a modern machine gun for the sheriff's department. This will enable the sheriff and his deputies to cope with the situation, should it materialize, when bandits invade a section and drive all opposition before them because of their machine gun fire."

Apparently the procurement processes in 1934 were a lot more streamlined than today because three weeks later in the May 3 edition of the journal this article appeared:

"The machine gun, ordered and purchased by the Commissioners' court for the sheriff's department recently, was received last Monday, and the news spread among the boys on the street rapidly. All had to take a look at the fast repeater, and see how it "worked." What to the bank robbers is "an old thing" to the peaceful citizen is new, and had to be seen."

"Deputy Jim Flournoy was showing it to several late in the afternoon, and was pointing it out of the window while explaining its operation. The Journal desires not to be funny, in mentioning this, but Jim did not notice what several others noticed. Out in the street, and standing near to an automobile, was a salesman, he had probably placed some groceries in the vehicle. When he saw the machine gun pointed directly at his body, and Jim Flourney wafting it from sided to side, this salesman became nervous."

"Small thing this machine gun, almost a toy, but $250 for it makes the blamed think look larger. Maybe it will not have to be put to use, can't say; but, the reader will remember the remark of the old woodsman who had neglect a part of his raiment: "Well, the Good Book says, ye must always go prepawed."

This equalizer is believed to still be in the arsenal of the Fayette County Sheriffs Department.

Nellie Mann's Final Resting Place

By Rox Ann Johnson

Many years ago, the late La Grange historian, Verna Reichert, first told me the story of Nellie Mann, the little girl who lies buried beneath a Victorian playhouse in the Old La Grange City Cemetery.

Nellie was born in La Grange one hundred twenty-five years ago on September 25, 1892 to Mr. and Mrs. Adam S. Mann. Her mother Marie Price Lane, known as "Ridie," was born at Oso in southwestern Fayette County to Rev. Charles J. Lane, a Methodist preacher and farmer who later became a Flatonia merchant. Two of Nellie's maternal uncles represented Fayette County at the State Capitol. Jonathan Lane served two terms as a state senator, while his brother, Charles E. Lane, served two terms as a state representative.

Ridie and A. S. Mann, a native of Illinois, married in 1889 and made their home in La Grange. A daughter, Vivian, was born in 1890 and then Nellie arrived two years later. She was described as a bright and merry child, both lovely and loving. On the Christmas Eve that she was five years old, Nellie, her sister, and another little girl were playing near a fireplace in her home on South Main Street when her clothing caught fire. Her mother heard her screams and rushed in and wrapped her in a foot mat to extinguish the flames, but Nellie's back had been burned raw and part of her hair was burned to her scalp. Local newspapers reported the accident and, for a while, it looked as though she would recover, but on Monday night, January 3rd, 1898, Nellie passed away at her home. According to The Journal, the sad words, "Nellie is dead," passed from lip to lip. She was laid to rest in the Old City Cemetery the following day.

Nellie Mann's grave in the Old La Grange City CemeteryNellie's heartbroken parents had a fanciful gazebo-like structure built over her grave. Mrs. Reichert told me that it had curtains that were drawn on stormy nights, because little Nellie was afraid of storms. Its corner posts held shelves for small toys that might amuse her.
A younger brother, Roy, was born in 1900, but the family was soon split even further apart. Though the couple remained married, Ridie moved with her children to Houston where she lived for the rest of her life. Adam Mann stayed in La Grange, boarding in other people's homes as he served Fayette County as deputy county clerk and then deputy tax collector. A. S. Mann died in 1932 and his wife passed away in 1947. In death, the couple was reunited next to Nellie's grave.

The curtains and toys are long gone, but Nellie's unique playhouse is occasionally painted and re-roofed. Every few years her grave is featured on the Ghosts and Gravestones cemetery tours and the story of little Nellie Mann is shared once again.

Photo caption:
Nellie Mann’s grave when the playhouse structure had curtains from "Ladies Cemetery Association, La Grange, Texas, 1873-1910"
Sources: Family Trees
Fayette County marriage index
Federal Census Records
Gravestone inscriptions in the Old La Grange City Cemetery
Lotto, Frank S. Fayette County, Her History and Her People. Schulenburg; Sticker Press, 1902
The La Grange Journal, December 30, 1896, January 6, 1897, February 11, 1932 and October 30, 1947 issues
Weimar Mercury, January 1, 1898 and January 8, 1898 issues


Edward T. Manton

by Connie F. Sneed

Edward T. Manton, soldier and writer of an eyewitness account of the Dawson massacre, was born at Johnston, Rhode Island on September 16, 1820.

In 1833, he came to Texas with his brother, Henry, and settled in central Fayette County. In March 1842, when Mexican general Rafael Vásquez attacked San Antonio, Manton joined Rabb's company of Fayette County volunteers and, with them, pursued the retreating Mexican army toward the border. For this service he received a 640-acre bounty grant of land.

In September of the same year, Gen. Adrián Woll again led a Mexican army against San Antonio, and Manton joined Capt. Nicholas Dawson who assembled Fayette County volunteers to help repel the invasion. There were about fifteen men who met and gathered under the historic oak tree in La Grange, where valiant men continued to muster in subsequent wars. The volunteers crossed the Colorado River on a ferry run by a Mr. McAhron, where they were joined by John Bradley and Francis E. Brookfield. The contingent moved along the Old Seguin Road, which stretched from La Grange through Cedar, O'Quinn, Black Jack Springs, Muldoon, Colony, Elm Grove and Waelder on the way to Seguin toward San Antonio.

When Dawson's command was massacred at Salado Creek on September 18, Manton was one of the fifteen prisoners in the Fayette County Company who were taken to Perote Prison in Mexico.

An article in the Houston Telegraph, dated January 25, 1843, states “Survivors of Dawson’s Fayette County Company, all now in Castle of Perote, and in good health on the 31st December, 1842: John Bradley, James Shaw, Edward Manton, Wm. Coltin, Wm. Trimble, David E. Kornegay, Richard Barckley, N.W. Faison, Joel Robinson, Allen H. Morrell. John R. Cunningham died at Leona on the 19th September, 1842.”

At the intercession of Gen. Waddy Thompson, Manton was released on March 23, 1844 and returned to his plantation near La Grange, where he wrote an eye-witness account of the Dawson massacre. In Fayette County, he expanded his holdings by acquiring the John Castleman home at Castleman Springs. He renamed the spring, Manton Spring, and resided near that location until his death on August 20, 1893.

The Dallas Morning News reported on February 3, 1905 that the House Committee on Appropriations adopted a provision on the previous day in Austin, making an appropriation of $3000 for a monument to be erected in La Grange to the memory of Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson and the men under him who fell at the battle of Salado on September 18, 1842, and also to the Mier Prisoners, who drew black beans and were executed on March 23, 1842, after including an amendment by Mr. Terrell of Travis County, that the remains of John Cameron should be removed to La Grange. Appearing before the committee urging the appropriations were Hon. Jake Wolters and Judge Willrich of La Grange; Mrs. Edward Manton, widow of Edward T. Manton, a survivor of Salado and a prisoner at Perote; Judge Sam Webb and Hon. C.E. Lane of Fayette County.

That monument honoring those brave men still stands on the east side of the Fayette County Courthouse.

Edward T. Manton’s correspondence, legal documents and reminiscences are in the Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Dallas Morning News, February 2, 1905
Houston Telegraph, January 25, 1843
Texas Handbook
The History of Texas Book 1685-1892


An Early Fayette County Marriage

By Gary E. McKee

A provision of Stephen F. Austin’s colonization contract with Mexico was that the Roman Catholic religion would be the only one practiced in colonial Texas. This “minor detail” was pretty much ignored by the majority of the Protestant settlers, until it became a legal issue when the subject of marriage came up. There being only one known priest that visited the colony, Father Miguel Muldoon, who spent a lot of time in Mexico. So to keep the colony growing spiritually, morally, and population wise, Austin authorized Marriage Bond ceremonies to be performed between a couple who could not wait the sometimes year or more for the priest to show up to perform a proper Catholic wedding, which was not high on their list of rituals. The following is a Marriage Bond issued in 1824 concerning the offspring of two families of Fayette County colonists. All original punctuation and spelling has been retained.

Marriage Bond
Be it known by these presents that we John Crownover and Nancy Castleman of lawfull age inhabitants of Austin’s Colony in the Province of Texas wishing to unite ourselves in the bonds of matrimony, each of our Parents having given their Consent to our Union, and there being no Catholic Priest in the Colony to perform the Ceremony—therefore I the said John Crownover do agree to take the said Nancy Castleman for my legal and lawfull wife and as such to cherish support and protect her, forsaking all others and keeping myself true and faithfull to her alone, and I the said Nancy Castleman do agree to take the said John Crownover for my legal and lawfull husband and as such to love honor [and] obey him forsaking all others and keeping my [self] true and faithfull to him alone. And we do each of us bind and obligate ourselves to the other under the penalty of ______ Dollars to have our Marriage solemnised by the Priest of this Colony or Some other Priest authorized to do so, as soon as an opportunity offers—All which we do promise in the name of God, and in presence of Stephen F. Austin judge and Political Chief of this Colony and the other witnesses hereto signed
Witness our hands the 29th of April 1824
Witnesses present
Be it known that we Sylvanus Castleman and Elizabeth Castleman the parents of the within named Nancy Castleman do hereby give our consent to the marriage of our said daughter with the within named John Crownover—April 29, 1824. Attest.

Stephen F. Austin then issued a proclamation that he had witnessed the ceremony and it was legal, at least in the eyes of the colonists. It has been noted that more than one Catholic wedding was attended by the children of the bride and groom.

From The Austin Papers, edited by Eugene C. Barker, 1924.

The Mauer Brothers — Acclaimed Architects

by Carolyn Heinsohn

H. P. Luckett House in BastropTwo brothers born in Fayette County in the latter half of the 19th century pursued architectural careers that took them from humble origins to being recognized as successful, highly-acclaimed designers of outstanding homes and buildings. 

Their story begins with the emigration of their grandparents, George H. Mauer, Sr. and wife, Emilie; daughter, Emilie, who died within the first ten years after arrival; and son, George, Jr.  Originally from Liegnitz, Silesia, they moved to Oldenburg, Prussia and then immigrated to Texas in 1850 and settled in Fayette County. By 1852, Mauer purchased three tracts of land totaling 169 ½ acres in the Joseph Biegel League from Christian Wertzner, the first permanent German settler in Fayette County, who arrived in 1831.  Wertzner, who supposedly influenced Joseph Biegel to select his league in Fayette County, then purchased 1,872 acres from Biegel in 1839 and sold it in parcels to new settlers.  A large portion of the Biegel League is now part of the LCRA power plant property or under its cooling lake.

By 1862, George, Jr., age 19, was a private in Co. A, Luckett’s 3rd Regiment, Texas Infantry, CSA.  In 1866, he married Sophie Steves, the 20-year old daughter of Siegbert Steves, a cabinetmaker in Fayetteville, and wife, Hendrina Zeuven. The Steves were some of the earliest German settlers in Fayetteville, having emigrated because of the Revolution of 1848 and economic pressures in Germany. Their home is still standing behind the two-story Masonic Lodge building located on the northeast corner of the square in Fayetteville. 

In 1877, George Mauer, Sr. purchased an additional 120 acres near Rutersville. He apparently had died by mid-1879, when his wife, Emilie, sold their acreage in the Biegel settlement.  After that transaction, Emilie and her son, George, Jr., and his family moved from Biegel to the Rutersville property. At some point, George, Jr. went into the construction business, but continued farming as well.  He was also a county commissioner for four years from 1886 to 1890.  George, Jr. and Sophie had nine children, two of whom are the subjects of this story.

Louis Mauer, their eldest son born in 1868, became an architect, most likely being influenced to do so by several family acquaintances through marriages, all of whom were well-established businessmen.  Louis’ younger sister, Lydia Mauer, had married Leon John Speckels, whose uncle was Henry Speckels, a well-known businessman in La Grange, who also designed and built homes and remodeled building fronts and interiors, including the Hermes Drug Store.  Henry’s brothers-in-law were Axel and Paul Meerscheidt.  Axel was not only educated as an architect in Heidelburg, Germany, but also studied law and became an attorney, and then a real estate developer.  It is quite possible that Axel mentored or assisted Louis with his aspirations to become an architect.  Axel’s brother, Paul, was also sent to Germany to be educated.  He later received his law degree and joined Axel in the real estate business in San Antonio, where they developed the Meerscheidt Riverside Addition, as well as other early subdivisions.

Louis first worked on his own in La Grange and designed the magnificent H.P. Luckett House, a Queen Anne-style 14-room house with double wraparound galleries and ornately carved interior woodwork.  It was built for a local physician in Bastrop, TX in 1893 at the site of the old Bastrop Military Institute.  It remains one of Bastrop’s most photogenic historic landmarks.  Mauer then partnered with a Mr. Wesling after 1894; their office was located on the second floor in a building on West Colorado Street that was built by Axel Meerscheidt and John Schumacher, a local bank owner.  The post office occupied the east half of the first floor of the building from 1894 to 1906. After a jewelry store vacated the other side in 1892, the First National Bank took its place. Eventually, the bank purchased the entire building. 

The architectural firm of Mauer and Wesling designed an impressive, innovative two-story brick building that was built in 1895 for Fey and Braunig, photographers, in Hallettsville on the south side of the square. The second floor was used as their photography studio, and a stationery store was housed below.  With its unique glass skylights and curved front windows, it was the first building of its kind west of the Mississippi to be used exclusively as a photography studio.  Mauer was also a supplier of building materials in La Grange in the 1890s, but that business went bankrupt.  He eventually moved to San Francisco, where he worked as an architect and associate editor for an architectural publication, contributing articles on waterproofing methods. 

He later moved to New York City, where he had a successful career until he retired.  In his earlier years there, he designed a four-story 21-family apartment building in the Bronx and a nine and a half-story store and office building in 1905. Then in 1908, he designed the Hotel on the Hudson in Nyack, NY, followed by a six-story warehouse in New York City in 1909 and a five-story tenement building in 1911. He never married and died in Philadelphia, PA at the age of 81 in 1948. 

Henry Conrad MauerLouis’ younger brother, Henry Conrad, born in 1873, helped his father in the construction business for about four years after getting his secondary education.  Apparently, his brother and other family acquaintances influenced his decision to pursue a career in architecture as well.  He may also have had their financial assistance to be able to attend the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, where he received his education in architectural design. 

After returning to Texas, Henry Mauer moved to Beaumont, TX, where there was a building boom due to the successful lumber and shipping industries, as well as the wealth generated by the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901.  He married Kate Adams in Jasper, TX in 1903. They had one son, Henry Conrad, Jr., born in 1907.

Henry’s architectural office was isolated in his home on Spruce Street away from the main avenues of trade and commerce, but he was somehow connected to the movers and shakers of the city to be awarded the commissions for some of the grandest homes in Beaumont.  He incorporated local materials with the most advanced electrical, heating and plumbing systems of the time.

McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont by Henry MauerHis most outstanding design was for the striking and distinctive McFadden-Ward House, a 12,800 square foot, three-story Beaux Arts Colonial Style home built in 1905-1906.  Di Vernon Averill commissioned Mauer to build the home; however, she then traded homes with her brother, William H.P. McFaddin, in 1907.  He added a large carriage house with a stable, hayloft, garage, gym and servants’ quarters.  The Averills had considerable wealth from the cattle business, rice farming and commercial real estate, and McFaddin also owned part interest in the land where oil was discovered at Spindletop.

The home was occupied by the same family for 75 years and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is one of the few house museums in the United States in which the original furnishings are still intact and on display.

Henry Conrad Mauer died at the age of 66 years in Beaumont in 1939.  He and his brother, Louis, each left an impressive legacy of architectural accomplishments in three different states, but their story began on a farm in Fayette County.  Their determination to succeed could be called “True Grit”!  

Top: H.P. Luckett House, Bastrop, TX. Photo by Carolyn Heinsohn
Middle: Henry Conrad Mauer
Bottom: McFadden-Ward House, Beaumont, TX. Photo by Doug Matthews
Sources: – U.S. census records, immigration & death records
Bastrop Visitors Information website
Fayette County Clerk, deed & marriage records
Fisseler, Brenda. “The Past is Still Visible: The Fey and Braunig Building”; Lavaca County TXGenWeb site
Lotto, F. Fayette County, Her History and Her People; Schulenburg, TX, 1902
Matthews, Douglas, Austin, TX; personal interview
McFadden-Ward House Museum – Beaumont, TX website
Rabensburg, Neale. Meerscheidt-von Rosenberg Family history
Online architectural publications
Weyand, Leonie Rummel and Houston Wade.  An Early History of Fayette County; La Grange Journal, 1936

Meat Clubs

by Ed Janecka

Jesse Heinsohn butchering for the Willow Springs Beef ClubThe coming of electricity is probably the most important event that changed people's lives, especially in rural areas. Electricity not only brought electric lights and water pumps, but also perhaps the most single important appliance, the refrigerator.  However, the evolution of refrigeration also brought about the end of meat clubs, also known as beef clubs.    

A meat club generally consisted of a group of five to seven individuals, but there could be as many as ten in a group. One member of the group was designated to be the butcher. Clubs were organized for the purpose of having fresh meat weekly, and the process was fairly straightforward. Each week one of the club members donated a steer or a heifer to be butchered. The butcher did not have to contribute an animal; his participation in the group was the butchering process. There were occasions when inferior calves were delivered to the butcher.  If the same group member continued to deliver inferior calves over a long period of time, then that person was asked to leave the meat club or produce a better steer or heifer. 

On butchering day, the person whose turn it was to provide a calf delivered it to the butcher’s location.  After the calf was butchered, the meat was divided into as many portions as there were members.  If there were seven members in the group, including the butcher, then the calf was divided into seven portions.  Each week, a club member received a different part of the calf that he took home in a “meat sack”, generally made of a heavy-duty material.

Butchering was usually done on Friday or Saturday, so that there would be fresh meat for the weekend in case company were to come.  If the butchering was done on a Friday, however, it was more challenging for Catholics, who did not eat meat on Friday. Once the meat arrived home from the butcher, some of it may have been prepared for the evening meal, but most of it was fried up and then placed in large containers of lard. Usually, crocks with lids were used for preserving meat in this manner. Lard preserved the meat for a long period of time, because it served as a barrier against bacteria. Oftentimes, the lard-covered meat was stored in a cistern house to keep it cooler. Some individuals would take a portion of their meat, wrap it up and place it in a bucket down into the water well to keep it cool for a day or two. 

The entire process changed with the coming of electricity and refrigeration.  Most people then butchered their own calf at home.  Once the calf was butchered, the meat was wrapped and placed in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator.  Because of limited freezer space, most people butchered a calf with their relatives and then divided the meat.  Just think how wonderful it was for people to have meat every single day of the week throughout the year. 

Photo Caption: Jesse Heinsohn butchering for Willow Springs Beef Club; courtesy of Rox Ann Johnson

Fayette County Medical Society

by Sherie Knape

The Fayette County Medical Society was formed in 1874. Although the meetings were held in La Grange all doctors of Fayette County were invited to join including general doctors as well as surgeons, dentists and other specialty doctors.

The society met annually to compare notes, give an account of their experiences during the year and discuss matters beneficial to both themselves and their patients.

Though the membership of the society was not large it was composed of gentleman who stood high in their professions and who took great interest and pride in promoting its usefulness. Many well-known doctors of Fayette County were members of this society. Some of the more prominent members included W. W. Lunn, J. C. B. Renfro, R. A. McKinney, F. E. Young, J. K. Gault, J. T. Carter, J. W. Smith and C. E. Kellar.

Just as many patients question the fees of medical doctors and hospitals today, many in the community thought that the society was formed for the purpose of fixing the fees of the physicians in the county. But the society members firmly stated that the group was formed merely to enhance communication and cooperation among the different physicians, which in the end would help patient care in the county.

At the annual meeting, usually held every January, the physicians would discuss many topics including some that are still controversial today. For example, at the meeting in 1885, Dr. Renfro read a paper that discussed abortion that created considerable discussion between himself and Drs. Lunn, Smith and McKinney. They would also discuss new treatments as well as different illnesses that were affecting Fayette County. They would talk at length about the necessity of maintaining sanitary conditions in Fayette County towns so there would not be another yellow fever outbreak like the terrible tragedy of 1867. The doctors also discussed what medical issues were affecting surrounding counties and how these could impact Fayette County. Each doctor would speak of medical cases that he had and what treatment he gave so that they could try to improve patient care.

After the discussions the members would vote on officers and decide who would be the delegate to the Texas State Medical Association. After the meeting was adjourned the members would meet at a local La Grange eatery where a banquet was prepared for them and a lively discussion with members, as well as invited guests, was had over bottles of fine wines and liquors.

Advertised Medical Products and Services in 1928

by Carolyn Heinsohn

While browsing through old newspapers, the advertisements are oftentimes the most entertaining.  In a November 1928 edition of The Fayette County Record, there were multiple ads for physicians, dentists and druggists, some of which were quite amusing.  Hermes Drug Store in La Grange had several ads for various products, as well as an announcement about an upcoming  three-day Rexall One Cent Sale with over 100 different kinds of toilet goods, Rexall remedies, Purest Products, stationary, candy, rubber and pure food products. Another ad by Hermes explained that if a customer purchased one item at their sale, another item from their special selection could be purchased for one cent – what a deal!

Those were the days before antibiotics, FDA regulations and research studies, so there were many products that may have been palliative, but not curative, and surely did not fulfill all of the advertised promises.  Many times, the various tonics were a blend of alcohol and various herbal elixirs, some of which were sold by charlatan traveling salesmen.  Of course, the alcohol was the primary ingredient that had a definite effect on numbing the pain.

Some of the various ads are listed here verbatim.

Thank goodness that we have our modern day medical technology and pharmaceuticals.  I still have flashbacks of having to take an awful “vitamin” tonic as a child, because I was very sickly from terribly infected tonsils.  Our family physician thought that I was too young to have my tonsils removed due to the fear that the use of ether as an anesthetic would be harmful at such a young age.  Having to take that nasty tonic left an indelible imprint in my brain. I can still “smell” that yellow viscous stuff!


Medicinal Home Remedies Used in the Past

By Carolyn Heinsohn 

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many people resorted to home remedies to treat their ailments.  If their medical conditions worsened, they may have summoned a country doctor to come to their homes.  Unfortunately, that might have been too late, especially for conditions like bacterial infections, pneumonia, appendicitis or post-partum hemorrhaging.  Of course, before the era of hospitals, antibiotics, diagnostic tests and today’s sophisticated medical treatments, most of those conditions would probably have resulted in death anyway. 

Some of the old home remedies have been proven to actually help certain conditions.  For example, eating two or three cloves of garlic a day was recommended to control hypertension.  Studies have shown that garlic actually does have a positive effect on blood pressure. Eating honey was a remedy for hay fever. We now know that local honey helps build up immunity against pollens that can cause allergies.

There were a variety of remedies for boils and other pustular lesions.  If an infection was very superficial, cleaning the area with soap and water and covering it with a clean bandage would have definitely helped.  However, good hygiene was not the norm, and the germ theory was relatively unknown, so different types of “drawing” agents were used, such as shredded potatoes, raw bacon, or a piece of seared onion wrapped in cheese cloth. An ointment made of goose grease and sulfur powder, or applications of prickly pear cactus pulp were also used. These remedies may have been successful in drawing out small thorns, but were not effective against streptococcal infections that led to “blood poisoning”.

Sore throats were treated in a variety of ways.  I recall being given two or three drops of kerosene on a teaspoon of sugar twice a day. Gargling with warm water with salt and baking soda, or sipping on a mixture of honey and lemon juice were simple remedies that are still used today.  Then there was the less conventional treatment that consisted of a few drops of turpentine on a large piece of raw bacon that was placed in a cloth and wrapped around one’s neck. That probably acted as a rubefacient, which is something that causes capillary dilation and warmth in the area. Mustard plasters that were applied to the chest for colds and bronchitis had the same effect. Eventually, Vicks Vaporub and Mentholatum replaced mustard plasters. 

Chicken noodle soup has always been a recommended remedy for the common cold. Although not a cure, the steam from the hot soup helps loosen congestion, the salt and warmth soothes a sore throat, plus the soup may also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Rheumatism and backaches were treated with a liniment made with shaved camphor dissolved in alcohol or with a mixture of one part turpentine to two parts sweet oil.  Earaches were also treated with warm sweet oil or smoke blown into the ear through a paper funnel. Both of these remedies provided warmth inside the ear, which had a short-term palliative effect, but provided little long-term relief.  Oil of cloves was used for a toothache; it is still a remedy that provides some numbing relief until a dentist can tend to the problem. A spoonful of honey or sugar was supposed to cure the hiccups.     

Insect stings were treated with a moist tobacco product or baking soda paste. Raw garlic or onion was also rubbed on bee stings for relief.  A mixture of buttermilk and salt was used for poison ivy, although if it had progressed to the open blister stage, salt would have been more of an irritant than a remedy.

Castor oil was often used as a laxative.  I can still recall being given that awful-tasting stuff mixed in orange juice.  Paregoric, which is a camphorated tincture of opium, was used as an antidiarrheal, an expectorant and cough medication, as well as a calming remedy for babies with colic. When rubbed on the gums of babies, it provided a soothing relief from teething pain.  

Eventually, over-the-counter and prescription medications replaced most of the home remedies that were used by our ancestors, who depended upon their ingenuity or traditions passed down from generation to generation to take care of their minor health needs. Some of the remedies may have been effective, but unfortunately, the prompt attention that certain conditions required was oftentimes delayed by the prior use of a variety of non-effective concoctions.

We now have an abundance of non-prescription products to take care of every minor medical need, but thankfully, we also have the resources to obtain prompt professional attention when the need arises.

Czech Reflections, Recipes, Memories & History. The McClennan-Hill County Czech Heritage Society; 1994
Heinsohn, Carolyn - personal recollections   

Medicine Men of Fayette County

by Sandra K. Briones

The practice of medicine in the 1800’s was quite a bit different than it is today. Doctors traveled from house to house on horseback or in a horse drawn buggy. There were few hospitals, no fancy equipment or insurance companies. They hoped to get paid in cash for their services but many times they had to accept bartered payments or none at all.

In 1835, Dr. Abner P. Manly was a physician and an ordained minister. He was most likely the first practicing doctor in this area. He set up an office in La Grange in 1845 where he performed surgery and midwife duties. He was upfront about his fees and expected payment in cash. He charged $1 for each visit, $10 for consultations, 25 cents per dose of medicine, $5 for attention to simple labor cases and $10 to $20 for difficult cases. One dollar for extracting a tooth, $1 for using a syringe, 25 to 50 cents for drawing a blister, $1 for opening simple abscess and $5 to $25 for surgical operations with an extra charge for any other services rendered in the case. He charged 50 cents per mile, day or night and an extra $5 for each day he was detained by a bad case. He presumed no one would be dissatisfied with these fees, as he would give his entire attention to the business of his profession by serving the people promptly by day or night, without regard to distance or weather conditions.

Dr. Kenzie Routh settled in Fayette County around 1851. He visited his patients astride either his horse or mule carrying his medicines in saddlebags. Dr. Routh was widely consulted for eye trouble; and he more or less converted his home into a hospital for patients who came a great distance with such ailments. When a patient arrived he never asked, "What about the money?" He took them into his home and gave them the best treatment he could. If he wasn't paid, he had the satisfaction of knowing he had rendered a worthwhile service. On one occasion he was called to an obstetrical case twelve miles from home. After caring for the patient all night and well into the next morning, he was asked the amount of his fee. It was only ten dollars. The farmer replied, "Well doctor, that is nice; it just balances my charge for your board and horse feed while you were here." Dr. Routh seeing the humor agreed that it was quite nice.

Dr. William Wallace Walker, a Civil War and Spanish American War veteran began his career around 1871. His practice in Schulenburg provided him with several challenging cases. A local businessman was shot in the abdomen. As Dr. Walker was treating the wounded man, his assisting physician fainted so Dr. Walker called upon his three-year-old daughter, Mary Ann, to wipe away the blood as he removed the man's watch and fragments of his chain that had been blown into his abdomen. He sewed up the man's intestines; he recovered and lived for many years. There were no hospitals outside of the cities and Dr. Walker was probably the only surgeon between Houston and San Antonio who used his home to accommodate his patients. Accidents always occurred during the ginning season and many a man was brought to the doctor with his arm in shreds. The patient was placed in an elegantly upholstered operating chair where Dr. Walker would do what he could. Few arms could be saved and many had to be amputated. Surgery was often crude but usually effective. Dr. Walker was most careful, having the reputation of rarely losing a case to blood poisoning. He did everything from removing cataracts to major abdominal operations, with a record of success that favorably compared to any of the city doctors.

Medicine Shows, Drive-Ins and Movie Theaters

By Lillie Mae Brightwell

Part I – Medicine Shows and Movies

It began with medicine shows. Harry Graeters’ Round Top history tells of medicine shows on the square (approximately 1912). “The show started at 7:30 at night. In those days, there was hackberry trees all around Round Top, all around the square. There was a saloon on the corner where that cannon is sittin’ there now, Gus Bender’s saloon. A show put up a tent right there. At that time, it was customary anybody that uses the Square pays a dollar and the town Marshall has to collect it. This outlaw just happened to be the town Marshall. In prohibition times, he made whiskey. So he come up there to this Austrian (who ran the medicine show) who had rattlesnakes tattooed all over his chest and arms and everything. Alright, he was sellin’ this medicine and the Marshall walked up to him . . .he didn’t have his gun on or anything . . .and this man says ‘What the hell do you want shorty?’ He (the Marshall) was not a very big man. He says ‘It is customary in the town of Round Top to pay one dollar for use of the square.’ The medicine show man said ‘I ain’t gonna give you no dammed dollar.’ The Marshall walked up to him and said ‘What did you say?’ He had to look up at him. They got to scufflin’ and (the Marshall) got on bottom but he was a cattle man and he had on spurs. The man was choking him and all (the Marshall) did was...(Spurring motions). That was it. That blood come spurtin’ out. I never learned what happened to him.”

Harry Graeter continues, “Old Schiege was a comical fellow (The Schiege Cigar factory was the first of its kind in Texas and is on the grounds of the Round Top Inn). He had a long beard and he had about nine kids. He didn’t work much. He’d sit on the corner of the porch and raise cain. He had a son Snoogie and he was the same way . . .he didn’t work, but he got rich one time in the oil business and moved to Fayetteville.”

Back in the 20s through 40s there was great excitement, usually once or twice a year when the news was announced that the show on wheels, The Medicine Show, was coming to town. Some of the owners of these shows rented the Ellinger auditorium or the Pastime Theater building to sell their wares, including medicines that were a sure cure for all ills, as well as candy, popcorn, snow cones, etc. Others set up their tents, bleachers and stages on the outside. People who came from miles around to see Ma Goodwin and others and their troupes perform also bought their medicines, after which the vendors’ yelled out the very familiar, “Sold out, Doctor, Gimme some more!” To keep people coming back for more, contests such as nail driving, popularity and baby contests, and amateur performances were incorporated into the acts. The young lady winning the popularity contest was usually awarded a “diamond” ring or a wrist watch.

Kermit Heinsohn remembers medicine shows across from the Lutheran church in Fayetteville, upstairs in the Germania Insurance building and at the SPJST hall. Kermit also remembers when in the 1930s Mr. Melcher showed silent movies behind the Roznov store in Roznov (area of the Ben Halamicek home). They were in black and white, and music would accompany the movie. Mr. Schiege traveled around and showed movies in Park, Roznov, Ellinger and Fayetteville. In Fayetteville, the movies were shown in a tent on a vacant lot across from the fire station on the corner of Franklin and Washington Streets near the railroad track. Mr. Schiege and his wife lived in a two-story house that was located where the Fayetteville Bank has its parking lot today.

Eugene Michalsky remembers in the fifties that Snoogie Schiege was a short fellow, white-faced (probably from a lack of sunshine for he did most of his work in the evenings into the night), smoking a cigar and bringing movies to the Dawn Theater in Fayetteville and the Pastime Theater in Ellinger. Theater tickets were from 15 to 25 cents. Mr. Michalsky owned the Pastime Theater building when it burned in 1971.

Part II – Drive-Ins and Movies

The first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, NJ in 1933. Essentially an open field with a large screen, the audience would drive into the “theater” and park. Originally, audio was provided by speakers on the screen. Later patrons parked next to a post which had a speaker attached to it, and viewed the movie from the car.

Drive-ins were especially popular with parents who didn’t want to have to pay extra money for a babysitter; it was common to see whole families in their cars, with the kids all in pajamas, watching the movie together. The original drive-in advertised, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.”

Before the war, there had been approximately 100 major drive-ins nationwide. One of the originals was Galveston’s Drive-In Short Reel Theater (July 5, 1934). The drive-in craze began to build very strongly following the end of the Second World War. At their peak, which most experts agree was in 1958, there were almost 5000 drive-ins. Teenagers with limited incomes developed an ingenious method to see drive-in movies for free: two teenagers (usually a couple) would take their car to the drive-in, and pay for two tickets. After the couple entered the theater and found a parking space, the driver would open the trunk and the other teenagers hidden inside jumped out to enjoy the “free” movies. To ensure one person was not continually stuck with paying, the ticket cost was often rotated or split among the friends.

Modern drive-ins were built after the war. In La Grange, there was the SkyHigh Drive-In. The SkyHigh was very popular, neat, and exceptionally clean. Destroyed by Hurricane Carla in 1961, it was located where Dr. Tiemann’s Fayette County Veterinary Clinic is located today.

The concession stand, also called a snack bar, is where the drive-in made most of its money. As a result, much of a drive-in’s promotion was oriented toward the concession stand. The typical snack bar offered any food that could be served quickly, such as hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, popcorn, soft drinks, candy and French fries. They also sold mosquito repellant coils that could be burned. The smoke would keep mosquitoes out of the car.

Today, there are fewer than 500 drive-ins in the United States. Video tapes, DVDs, Direct TV, DishNet, satellite services, cable and microwave popcorn have taken over. Investment costs in land have made it harder to invest in drive-ins.

One of the “firsts” to which Ellinger can lay claim is that it was the first in Fayette County to have “talkie” movies. Mr. C.A.J. Meyer, owner of the Pastime Theater, was the projection man, and his able assistant, Robert Roesler, ran the theater back in the 20s and 30s with Mrs. C.A.J. (Norma) Meyer being cashier. According to Norbert Vrazel, Mr. Meyer’s son ran the “bicycle” for the movies, and everything was okay until he fell off the bicycle. After Mr. Meyer went out of the theater business, its operation was taken over for few years, first by C.W. Schiege and later by Bernard Stojanik.

Many indoor theaters have not survived for one reason or another. Jo Ann Mynar wrote in December of 2003, “THE RED & WHITE STORE and THE DAWN THEATER were owned and operated by my uncles Rudy Mynar and Joe Mynar. I went to many movies there throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties. My cousin, Tom Rohde, operated the popcorn machine for years.” The Fayetteville Area Museum has the projector and some items from the Dawn Theater on display. The famous Red & White building in Fayetteville is now a private residence.

Years ago in the late 1940s, and in the summer, before cars had air conditioning, my friends went to see a movie at the Cozy Theater in La Grange. Traveling to town, the car ran over a skunk. When they got seated in the theater, they noticed that people got up and moved away from them and sat in a different part of the theater.

Audrey A. Herbrich writes after a fire destroys the Cozy Theater in La Grange: “It was also where I first held hands with a boy, and where my cousin got in his first fistfight (over a girl). I knew those walls well. The Plexiglas ticket window was scratched and foggy. Two double glass doors connected outdoors to indoors. The theater lobby was a delicious den of assorted Red Hots, Junior Mints, Mike and Ikes, Snowcaps and Teriyaki Beef Jerky. The popcorn machine in the corner glowed beneath the homemade price signs. Movie preview posters always lined the walls. The entrance was split, allowing for access by going either right or left, and introduced viewers to three sections of seating. There was even a balcony, rarely used, but there nonetheless. The bathrooms were tiled a banana yellow and always smelled of pine. The theater itself was tall – a two storied ceiling – but the lobby area was not as grand because it had an upstairs. Above part of the lobby lay a quiet apartment flat, occupied, normally.

The theater had always been a town staple, not unlike cotton of the 40s, Chicken Ranch hookers of the 60s, or oil of the 80s. It was a prime hot spot. First dates, first kisses, first tastes of Cokes not from cans – all in the Cozy. It was the Friday night hangout, the Sunday afternoon retreat, the weekend default.”

The Cozy Theater in Schulenburg is still showing movies. The four-story Von Minden Hotel/Cozy Theater was built in 1929 and is located at 607 Lyons Ave. They featured a famous Czech movie a few years ago, which a friend and I thoroughly enjoyed.
Sources: The Internet; personal interviews and memories; Fayette County Deed Records, Vol. 795, p. 287; additional research revealed that C.A.W. Schiege’s name was spelled with one “g” and that his wife’s name was Willie May; their name was spelled with two “g’s” in the book Ellinger – Yesterday and Today. I remember him as Snoogie Schiege.

Rosa Meinecke — Not Your Usual English Teacher!

By Elva Keilers

Among the definitions of “legend” one finds the terms “old story”, “modern myth”, “celebrity”.  If ever there existed a legend involving La Grange High School, the one that immediately comes to mind is that of Rosa Meinecke.

Miss Meinecke taught English at La Grange High School for 34 years of her 50-plus years in the teaching profession. She sent many a student off to college with such advanced knowledge of English grammar and literature that those fortunates, although quaking in their seats at the time, placed out of college freshman English. She was of the Old School in teaching methodology and curriculum content, as well as personal conduct.

Rosa MeineckeRose was born October 31, 1886, to Adolph and Emma (Kachele) Meinecke near Kinney, Texas.  She was the oldest of four children, followed by sister Lula and brothers Walter and Arthur. Both Rosa and her sister entered the world of education, Lula in Indiana and Rosa in Texas. Before joining the faculty in La Grange, Rosa taught at Cedar (near present-day O’Quinn) and Runge. She was evidently earning funds to further her college education, as records show that after four years of teaching at these small rural schools, she entered Southwest Normal College (now Texas State University) at San Marcos, Texas, graduating in 1911. She taught for two years at Cuero, then furthered her education, again, receiving her Master of Arts degree at Sam Houston State Teachers College (now Sam Houston University) in Huntsville. She joined the high school faculty of La Grange High School in 1925.

Miss Meinecke, as she was forever known and remembered by her former students, tolerated no nonsense, in or out of the classroom. Her trademark appearance included long-sleeved shirtwaist dresses in dark hues, adorned with prim white collars and cuffs, sturdy flat-soled walking shoes, and always white cotton gloves and a broad-brimmed hat—straw for summer and felt for winter. She walked everywhere, including the Bon Ton Restaurant in downtown La Grange, where she took daily breakfasts and suppers. She usually carried an umbrella to fend off both rain and sun, depending upon the demands of the moment. Her long auburn hair was wrapped beehive-style around her head, making her appear taller than her diminutive 5’3” stature of probably less than 100 pounds.  Over the years, speculation arose as to whether she wore a wig or if she did, indeed, possess only her own hair. The question was laid to rest when this author, in the company of another classmate, spotted her one evening on the balcony of her rented room in the home of Miss Mary Kaulbach, brushing out her own very long hair. Another portion of the legend concerning her hair is the often-circulated story that she had been engaged to a soldier and had promised him that she would not cut her hair until he returned home. This did not happen, as he was killed in battle, thus her hair continued to grow. No proof of the validity of this story exists; it remains an intriguing rumor.

In sharp contrast to her slight frame, Rosa’s voice rang with demands and directions that could not be ignored. She expected excellence from her students at all times, both on and off of the campus. Multiple-choice or true-false tests did not exist in her classroom. All weekly exams unfailingly consisted of five essay questions written on the blackboard, to be completed within the near hour-long class period. Anxiety and tension were high during that time period. Her high expectations, however, as previously mentioned, led to benefits during college years and throughout ensuing careers, no matter the direction or focus.

Rosa MeineckeMiss Meinecke never missed a day of school during her entire career, whether for illness or any other reason. Her career ended abruptly when she failed to appear for classes on the first day of the 1959-1960 school term. The school administration called Miss Kaulbach, Rosa’s landlady, to inquire as to whether she might have become ill. Upon investigation, she was found unconscious in her bed, having suffered a stroke during the night. Despite discouraging odds for recovery, she did survive long enough to enter a nursing home in Bellville, the home of her nearest relatives. She died on January 29, 1960, and was buried in Oak Knoll Cemetery in Bellville.

As evidence of her high regard in the entire community, Rosa’s obituary made mention that Superintendent of Schools C. A. Lemmons declared classes dismissed on the afternoon of her burial so that those who wished might attend her funeral, an opportunity rarely offered at that time. Rosa Meinecke influenced the lives of many. Some families even included two generations who had benefitted from her tutelage.

J. G. Banik succeeded Rosa Meinecke in the high school English classroom at La Grange High School. He honored her with this statement, "The students of La Grange High School knew Rosa Meinecke as an excellent teacher and as a strict disciplinarian for the past thirty-four years. She lit the candle of desire for knowledge in the minds of most of her students and gave them knowledge of beauty until it glowed and sparkled in the developing personalities of her students."
Thanks, thanks, and more thanks are due this unique individual whose legacy as a true educator lives on.

Email communications between Tom Meinecke and Rodney Koenig
Fayette County Texas Heritage. Vol. II, F720; p. 307. Curtis Media Co., 1996
Koenig, Rodney. “Leave Your German Mark”,  The Journal, German Texan Heritage Society; pp 136-136, Fall 2015
La Grange Journal. January 28, 1960, p. 1
Meinecke, Tom. Arms of God; Author House, Bloomington, Indiana, 2010
Miller, Mike, “Miss Rosa Meinecke”; high school project paper (source unidentified)
Texas Vital Statistics, Department of State Health Services, Austin Texas


J.C. Melcher

by Connie F. Sneed

J. C. Melcher and his wife had come to Texas by way of Galveston. En route to the German settlement of New Braunfels, they found the Colorado River flooded. While they waited for the water to go down, Melcher had ample time to visit with ferry owner and Fayette County pioneer John Moore, also a noted Indian fighter. When Moore found out that Melcher was a cabinet maker, he said that a man proficient at that trade could make a good living right there. Moore soon convinced Melcher to forget about New Braunfels and stay in Fayette County. [See correction below.]

In 1855, Melcher opened a general store at Black Jack Springs, a community between La Grange and Flatonia. While meeting the retail needs of his customers, he heard plenty of sad stories about crop-eating critters.

A creative sort who despite his success as a merchant still liked to make things with his hands, Melcher invented a solution. He called it “The Victory Ant, Mole, Gopher and Ground Squirrel Exterminator.”

The Exterminator consisted of two major components, a cast iron “fire chamber” and a wooden pump. The operator heated sulfur with coal in the 12- by 24-inch furnace, causing a build up of sulfurous gas in the chamber. It had a sharpened flange that went into the ground over a gopher or ant hole.

The 11- by 11-inch pump, nearly three feet high, at 30 strokes a minute pushed two cubic feet of gas into a pest’s underground domicile. That much gas, Melcher asserted, could fill a two-inch gopher hole 2,000 feet long with deadly fumes.

The Fayette County man’s device must have been quite effective. His invention won first place at the 1879 State Fair of Texas, an event then held in Austin. Melcher received an ornate “Diploma,” complete with an engraving of the limestone Capitol that would burn down a few years later.

Less than a month after winning his prize, on Nov. 18, 1879, Melcher received from the U.S. Patent Office a patent for his pest-control device.

Word of the invention’s effectiveness soon spread. The Jan. 3, 1880 edition of the Scientific American had a story on the Exterminator that gave it and its creator national recognition.

Melcher soon went to a job printer and had a handbill run off.

“I have manufactured over 400 pumps during the last few years,” the inventor-entrepreneur said in the advertising piece, “and have taken great pains to bring them as near perfection as possible and will continue to improve them if I possibly can.”

The piece also announced that “territorial rights” to tell the device could be purchased “very cheap for cash, land, notes, or other good property.”

Just how many salesmen Melcher recruited and how well his business went is not known by his descendants.

Unfortunately, the handbill is the only known evidence of Melcher’s product. A fire at the old family homestead at Black Jack Springs destroyed Melcher’s house and any unsold Exterminators he might have had around.

From Mary Belle Melcher Meitzen: John Frederick Melcher was the first generation to come to Texas. His son is J.C. Melcher. Connie confused J.C. with his father who visited with John Moore. The correct information is at the Fayette County Library/Museum.

Menefee County

by Edward F. Janecka

In the 1870's, when the GH&SA Railroad was pushing its way west from Houston, there were many new towns that popped up. 1873 saw the establishment of Schulenburg and Flatonia. As more and more people moved to these new towns they brought with them a feeling of trying to create something new and the spirit of independence. Therefore, it would not be unusual that the citizens of Schulenburg and Flatonia were at odds with the courthouse in La Grange.

In 1876, the citizens of Flatonia and Schulenburg petitioned the 15th State Legislature to form a new county. The new county would consist of portions of Fayette, Colorado, Caldwell, Gonzalez, DeWitt and Lavaca counties. The name of the new county would be Menefee, presumably after William Menefee, a signer of the Texas Constitution and member of the legislature and the first county judge of Colorado County appointed by San Houston. Menefee had died on October 28, 1875 and was buried in Pine Springs Cemetery near Flatonia.

The process to create a new county was stalled over the determination on what city would be designated as the county seat. Weimar, whose populations had grown to just over 500 in three short years, was expected to be a vital part of this new county. But on May 29, 1876, the citizens of Weimar sent this petition to the state legislature:

"To the Hon. House of Representatives of the fifteenth Legislature of the State of Texas.

Whereas your Honorable bodies have, or will be petitioned to create a new county, to be known as the county of "Menefee", to be composed of a part of Fayette, Caldwell, Gonzalez, DeWitt, Lavaca and Colorado Counties.

And, Whereas, we the citizens of that portion of Colorado County proposed to be included in said new county of Menefee, are fully apprised of the increased expenditures, and many inconveniences that will necessarily accrue to us on becoming a part of said new county. Would therefore, respectfully ask and pray your Honorable bodies in setting forth and designating the bounds of said new county that they be so shaped as to make up its requisite area without including any portion of the County of Colorado.

Seventy citizens from Weimar petitioned the State Legislature to exclude them from the new county; therefore, hopes of creating Menefee County had died.

Fayette County Meteorites and Tektites

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Two unusual kinds of mineral specimens with cosmic connections have been found in Fayette County – meteorites and tektites. Many people are familiar with meteorites, but knowledge about tektites seems limited. Tektites are natural glass objects of earth material melted by meteorite impact, splashed up into the atmosphere and frozen into distinctly different shapes as they solidify during their fall back to earth. The shapes, which include spheres, rods, tear-drops, flat discs and boomerangs, are determined by the presence or lack of rotation and the speed of the initial molten blob upon re-entry. The colors of tektites range from yellowish to olive green to black.

There are only four major tektite strewn fields in the world – the Ivory Coast in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Czech Republic, and Georgia and Texas in the U.S. Most sources indicate that the point of impact responsible for the tektites in the U.S. has been found beneath Chesapeake Bay. However, another theory is that the impact crater for Texas tektites is in the Yucatan region of Mexico. Tektites found in Texas are classified as black Bediasites, which seem to have a certain pattern of distribution, which includes Fayette, DeWitt, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Burleson, Brazos and Grimes counties.

Perhaps more interesting, however, are the Fayette County meteorites, which are known worldwide. Ten stone meteorites recovered from our county are grouped according to where they were found: Bluff, Cedar and Round Top. They represent four or five different falls. The first Bluff meteorite, a single stone weighing approximately 320 pounds, was found in 1878 by Frank Rainosek on his farm in the Bluff area about three miles south of La Grange. A local school teacher, H. Hensoldt, acquired the stone in 1888 and disposed of it to Ward’s Natural Science Establishment of Rochester, New York, who cut it up and sold it to as many as 41 different institutions and collectors. Rainosek’s meteorite was named Bluff, because La Grange had already been used to name a Kentucky meteorite.

In 1890, C. L. Melcher of Swiss Alp found three more meteorites, which weighed approximately two, twelve and sixteen pounds. They were first identified as Bluff meteorites due to their proximity to the location of the original Bluff specimen. However, chips of these meteorites were later analyzed and found to be from a different fall, so they were re-identified as Cedar specimens. The 16-pound meteorite ultimately went to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and the two-pound specimen was acquired by Baylor University in Waco, but its current location is unknown. An extensive search at Baylor failed to locate the stone, so it is possible that it was traded in the past, but not documented. The 12-pound specimen was the most extensively divided and distributed of all the Cedar meteorites. A 2.8 kilogram cut of this specimen is now on display in the Hall of Gems and Minerals in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Other pieces can be found at Baylor University, Arizona State University, the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin and the British Museum of Natural History. It is possible that pieces of the 12-pound Cedar meteorite may be mislabeled “Bluff” in some collections.

In 1896, Louis Hausmann found a 17-pound meteorite on the family farm near Creamer Creek Road. Identical in composition to Rainosek’s find, it has also been named a Bluff meteorite. It is now exhibited at the Texas Memorial Museum. George Bruns found the third Bluff meteorite circa 1917; it weighed 30 pounds and is now at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. All three Bluff meteorites were found within two miles of each other. A fourth Cedar meteorite, weighing approximately 25 pounds, found by Henry Rainosek circa 1896, is also in the collection of the Texas Memorial Museum.

There were also three stony meteorites from multiple falls found in the Round Top vicinity. One of the specimens, however, is similar to the Cedar meteorites, so since its provenance is unknown, it is speculated that it may have been a Cedar specimen that was transported to Round Top. All three meteorites were acquired by O.E. Monnig in the late 1930s and are now at Texas Christian University.

It would be interesting to know if there actually were more meteorite finds in Fayette County that were never identified. There may also be specimens still buried in unknown sites, waiting for chance discoveries by persons who someday will accidentally uncover their hiding places.

Mississippi Brown

By Larry Ripper

I was a picker, cotton picker that is.  As a ten-year old growing up in Rabbs Prairie during the 1950s, Fayette County cotton offered an opportunity to earn some pocket change for the summer.  The land owners took little risk in hiring children, as you were paid by the pound and not the hour.  Technically we “pulled” cotton, that is, pulling the entire spike studded boll with the cotton still inside to be deposited into a long pick sack.  “Picking” is where the cotton fiber is pulled from the boll first. Either way, it’s hard work.   

As with most activities, children tend to stay together.  As our chatty little group moves slowly across the field one sunlit morning, the girls are laughing, while the boys chunk green cotton bolls at each other.   I overhear this old grey headed gentleman off to the side singing in a deep gospel melody.  “Sweet Mississippi Brown … how I miss your soft touch through the years …”   I ask the kid next to me who Mississippi Brown was   … he didn’t know … but he said the old man sings about her a lot.  At the end of the row, in the cool shade for a water break, I respectfully approach the singer with my question.  “Mr. Lonnie”, I ask, “who was Mississippi Brown?”   He sort of smiles and says (paraphrasing):   “Well son, she ain’t a lady friend … she’s a cotton.  Back in Mississippi, before coming to Texas, my people grew and picked cotton on a large plantation. But, for ourselves we grew this wonderful brown cotton … it was the best there ever was … we took it with us to Texas.”    When I asked him if he still grew the brown cotton he replied, “Best I recollect … my people said she died out in some old blackland field ‘bout half-a- hundred years ago”.

Skip ahead about the same number of years.  I’m helping with a history workshop for a 5th and 6th grade Texas History class. Another presenter has a table full of cotton for a “show and tell”.  I stop by and visit with her later, and I get a short history lesson on cotton.  On the table are several variations, one being a brown.  She said her son was at Texas A&M doing genetic enhancement studies on some of the old heirloom seeds, including the brown. Offering me a handful (with seeds included), she said “Some people have called this one Mississippi Brown. In an instant I flash back to that dusty old cotton patch standing in front of Mr. Lonnie.

I do some research on the old “interweb” and find out that in nature there are many different colors of cotton.  The brown has been grown out west (limited) and is used to make special items.   The brown has superior UV protection and has a softer quality. It, however, has a shorter staple (fiber length) making it more difficult to spin into thread.  And the white naturally accepts various colored dyes easier, causing the brown to fall from favor in commercial use.  I plant some of the seed in my back yard garden … it produces a bumper crop … a wonderful brown, almost mocha in color.  And soft to the touch.  I’ve always grown cotton in my garden, keeps me rooted to my past.

Last year I visit an old friend, a noted author and historian, who also happens to be a back yard cotton planter.   As with most retired folks, we discuss our future projects over a mid-afternoon cup of coffee.  When it’s time to leave, I hand him a zip-lock bag full of the brown cotton I had grown. I have his interest … but when I say the words “Mississippi Brown”, he almost falls out of his chair.  After he composes himself, he tells me:  “Before coming to Texas, my people were cotton planters in Mississippi.   The folks that worked on our plantation grew a special cotton for their needs, it was called Mississippi Brown.  My family believed that this variety had been lost long ago.  I am honored that you have given me this special gift”.  I had no idea!

We all have things we would like to have done differently in the past… to correct some past injustice or complete some task undone.  For me one of those would be to go back to 1958, as a ten-year old in that dusty old cotton patch, and call out:   “Mr. Lonnie, she’s ain’t dead, she’s alive and well”.  I would then hand him a fistful of seed for his beloved Mississippi Brown.  The circle would be complete.

During its history, Fayette County was a large cotton producer for over a century; some of its early settlers came from the state of Mississippi, and more than a few of our residents have been planters, pickers or ginners of cotton.  Going back a little further, some of our plantation owners practiced the inhuman act of slavery. Bringing both good and bad, cotton was a large part of our history. History is not always about famous people, heroic deeds or iconic places.  Sometimes history is just a set of almost silent footprints through time and places … that connects our lives to those around us.  “For you … Mr. Lonnie.”


Making Molasses

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Herman Rainosek's Molasses Press, ca 1912
The process of making molasses is only remembered by some of the older senior citizens of Fayette County, because that tradition most probably faded out of existence by 1970. Almost every community in the county had a family who owned a molasses or cane press, which was a much-appreciated service for farm families in the latter part of the 19th century through the 1960s.

Herman Rainosek of Cedar provided his molasses mill services to the people at Hostyn, Cedar and O’Quinn in the early part of the 20th century. Ammannsville residents took their cane to be processed into molasses by three generations of the Fietsam family. The mill was started by Joseph J. and Ida Fietsam around 1914 and then was run by their son, Arnold Fietsam, and wife, Irma. In turn, their children occasionally helped them until Arnold and Irma retired in 1970, ending 56 years of service to the community. They cooked an average of 3,000 gallons of molasses each year.

Staches Vacek, who owned the general store, dance hall, blacksmith shop and operated a beef club in Holman, also owned the local molasses mill. He did not operate the mill, but allowed the farmers to work the mill themselves, free of charge. This practice, of course, helped him gain and keep customers at his other businesses. There were two generations of Frenzels in the Walhalla community who provided molasses making services: Christian Frenzel and his son, Alfred. Round Top residents went to the mill owned by the Henry Reuter family. In the Dubina area residents brought their cane to Anton Janecka, George Taylor or the Cernoch mill. There were many other molasses mill owners throughout the county, but their names were not documented or have been forgotten through the years.

Molasses, along with honey, were two delicious natural additions to the diets of early residents in Texas. Honey was often robbed from hives in hollow tree trunks, or homemade bee hives provided an adequate supply. Farmers generally raised their own sorgham cane, so only paid for the processing of molasses, which was used on bread, biscuits and cornbread and in cookies and other foods. Molasses also contains iron, potassium, calcium and magnesium, so was nutritious as well. It especially was a welcome sweetener when sugar was rationed during WWII.

Sorgham cane was planted by farmers in the spring. When the seed heads turned brown, the cane was ripe and ready to use to make molasses. First, all of the leaves were stripped off the cane, either by hand or with clubs. Then the cane stalk was cut down with butcher knives or sickles and laid neatly in piles. After the seed heads were cut off, the stalks were loaded onto a wagon and hauled to the cane press, which was usually located in the vicinity. The press owner also generally cooked the juice into molasses for a fee.

The first homemade molasses presses were constructed out of three live oak blocks about 15 inches in diameter by 18 inches long. The blocks were stripped of bark and planed to make them into smooth rollers. A hole was bored in the center of each roller through which a large wooden pin was driven. These pins were fitted into cogwheels that were placed on a platform stand. The rollers were fastened together very tightly. Then a long tongue, generally 28 feet or longer was attached to the press. Either one or two horses, mules or oxen were attached to the tongue. They walked around in a circular path moving the cogwheels and rollers. The cane was stuck between the rollers, and the juice was pressed out, caught in a tin “funnel” and drained into a 50 gallon barrel. The juice was then transferred into a large galvanized iron pan with four sections that each held 12 ½ gallons of juice. The pans were set over a wood fire in a brick fire pit. It generally took about four hours to cook 50 gallons of juice, which was transferred consecutively from one division of the pan to the next. Cooking molasses was a learned art, because if it was not cooked long enough, it would ferment and turn sour, or if overdone, it got to the stage that it would hardly pour.

The foamy scum that accumulated on the surface of the cooking juice was strained off and stored in barrels to feed the hogs. It was an excellent food for fattening the hogs, but also made them inebriated due to the fermentation of the waste product. There were happy, fat hogs after molasses cooking season! The pressed cane was then used to feed the horses and cattle, so nothing was wasted.

In the earlier days, charges were generally ten cents per gallon if a farmer did the press work himself and used the owner’s horses. The average farmer would try to make approximately 30 to 35 gallons of molasses every year, depending upon the size of his family. In later years, the wooden rollers were replaced with heavy metal rollers, and the animals were replaced with gasoline motors. Arnold Fietsam replaced the wood fire with a coiled element heated with pressurized kerosene, which provided a more regulated cooking temperature.

Sorgham cane was also used to make homemade vinegar. The raw juice would be poured through a hole in the top of a closed barrel, and sorgham was added in various stages to facilitate fermenting. When the fermenting process stopped, the resulting clear, sour vinegar was strained and bottled. Children also enjoyed chewing on pieces of sorgham cane as sweet treats before candy and gum became commonplace. Now all of these old traditions involving the use of sorgham cane are just sweet memories of a bygone era.

Fayette County: Past & Present. La Grange High School Students; 1976.
History of St. John the Baptist Parish, Ammannsville, Texas. Schulenburg Sticker; 1990.
Polk, Mary. I Remember…; 1971.
Recollections by Esther Raabe, daughter of Arnold and Irma Fietsam.

Fountain Is Tribute To Miss Lyttie Moore, Teacher For 40 Years

by Carolyn Heinsohn

Moore fountainThe following article was published in the Century of Progress edition of The Fayette County Record in 1938.

One of the most appropriate memorials in La Grange is to be found at the entrance of the court at the La Grange high school.

This memorial, a large granite drinking fountain topped with a sundial, was placed there by friends of Miss Lyttie Moore to honor her on the completion of more than forty years of successful teaching.

Knowing Lyttie’s love for small children and feeling that something the small children could use on the school grounds would be a fitting memorial to her years of noble work, the Mothers’ club of La Grange readily sponsored the plan proposed by Mrs. Jake Alexander and Mrs. Dr. C.M. Hoch.

The president of the Mothers’ club of La Grange, Mrs. Elsie Knigge, readily took the lead and appointed secretaries of each class Miss Lyttie had taught. All fell in line, getting in touch with former classmates who were proud to have a hand in this noble piece of work.

On May 21, 1934 at 5:30 p.m., the unveiling of this memorial in the presence of Miss Moore, many of her friends, and school children was held. A large book containing the names of every donor was presented Miss Lyttie that she might in her leisure moments review in her mind all “her boys and girls.”

Today as we pass this fountain, we pause to think: “What a fitting tribute on one who started so many of us on our educational journey.”

Although the fountain is no longer functional, it still stands in front of the old red brick high school building on East Travis Street as a memorial to a primary school teacher who taught three generations. A plaque on the fountain reads, “A tribute of love to Miss Lyttie Moore for her faithful service, presented by former pupils and friends. 1884 to 1934”

Anna Lyttelton “Lyttie” Moore, born in 1864, was a daughter of Lyttelton (also spelled Littleton) Wilde and Anna Wright Moore, who moved from Mississippi to Bastrop County in 1857, where Lyttelton Moore practiced law. After the Civil War, the Moores moved to La Grange, where Mr. Moore established a law partnership with J.T. Duncan. The Moore home on North Franklin Street is still an occupied residence. Lyttelton Moore, a CSA army veteran and member of the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1875, was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1886, serving in the Fiftieth, Fifty-first and Fifty-second congresses. Following the death of Judge Hans Teichmueller in 1901, Governor Joseph D. Sayers appointed Moore as Judge of the 22nd Judicial District, a post he held until his death in 1911.

Miss Lyttie’s two oldest siblings, Charles Lee, died at age 19, and Ellen at age two. An older sister, Mollie, married W.H. Thomas, a prominent planter. A younger sister, Lottie, was an accomplished pianist, who taught music for years. Captain John Wright Moore and Dr. Thomas Walton Moore were younger twin brothers. Wright, married to Emilie Lenert, had a notable career in the military, having served as an officer in the Spanish American War and the Philippines, eventually being appointed First Lieutenant of Cavalry in the regular U.S. Army. Dr. Walton Moore, a graduate of Tulane University, was a prominent physician in La Grange. Lyttie’s youngest brother, Dr. Clay Moore, married Maide Dunbar and practiced medicine in Markham, Matagorda, Brazoria and Hebbronville, Texas. Lyttie, Lottie and Walton, all single, lived together in their family home until their deaths. Walton died at age 43 in 1913; Lottie at age 77 in 1943; and Lyttie at age 82 in 1947. The entire family is buried in the family plot in the Old La Grange City Cemetery.

Photo caption: Miss Lyttie Moore, center, with Sadie Hoch, left, and Elsie Knigge, right, on May 21, 1934 when a new granite drinking fountain was dedicated in Miss Moore's honor at the La Grange School; photo courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives. 
Handbook of Texas Online, “Moore, Littleton Wilde”; accessed April 4, 2018,
The Fayette County Record; Century of Progress edition, 1938
U.S. Census Records – 1910 - 1940           


Where in the World is Mount Maria Spring?

by Gregory Walker

Since prehistoric times, the springs in Fayette County were valued by the area's inhabitants. As European settlers arrived, they too gravitated to these sources of pure, reliable water. Communities grew up associated with the springs, including Blackjack Springs, Cistern, High Hill, Rutersville, Willow Springs and others.

Only one spring from Fayette County was prominent enough to be listed in the 1975 report Major and Historic Springs of Texas by Gunnar Brune; that was Mount Maria Spring. Brune hints at both an impressive feature and an intriguing history:

“Described by Bonnell (1840) as a spring on top of Mount Maria with a waterfall and much lime stone spar (travertine).  The spring was on the old Spanish Bahia Road from Nacogdoches to Corpus Christi.”

Mount Maria Spring appears on modern Google maps, but the location presents more of a puzzle than an answer. The spring is shown on the prairie west of Buckner's Creek; however, there is nothing in that location even remotely resembling a “Mount” or a waterfall. The real answer was found by digging further back in history.

In 1687, La Salle set forth with an expedition to the north and east of his ill-fated settlement, Fort St. Louis, on Garcitas Creek near Lavaca Bay. It was his second attempt to reach the Mississippi River. His Native-American guides led the group along well-established trade routes connecting tribes in eastern Texas with tribes in western Texas and northeastern Mexico. This route crossed the Colorado River at the “Riffles” a few miles upstream from the present location of La Grange. La Salle was murdered farther east near the Brazos River crossing and left little trace of his passage.

The presence of La Salle was a French “thorn” that threatened Spain's claim to the region that would become Texas. A series of military expeditions were launched overland to locate the French settlement and remove the threat. In 1689, Alonso de Leon led an expedition that discovered the remains of Fort St. Louis, which had been destroyed by a Karankawa Indian attack. In 1690, he led another expedition north along the Indian trade route in an effort to establish a mission among the friendly Tejas tribes in eastern Texas. He camped on the west side of the Colorado River near the trail crossing and a prominent bluff that we know today as Monument Hill. He must have considered this a significant landmark because of the name that he gave it. He often named his campsites after the saint's day when he camped there; in contrast, he named this high bluff after the entire Holy Family: Jesus Maria y Joseph Buenavista (Jesus, Mary and Joseph Beautiful View). The hill Buenavista remained a landmark used by future Spanish expeditions to the area.

Over the years and centuries that followed, possession of the region of Texas passed from Spain to Mexico and then became the Republic of Texas. The new Republic was eager to encourage new settlers, and a number of guidebooks promoting Texas were published in the following years. One early guidebook was Topographical Description of Texas to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes, by George W. Bonnell. His descriptions start at the various bays along the coast and then progress up each of the tributary rivers, much as early settlers would have done. After describing the town of Lagrange [sic] and Buckner's Creek, he continues:

“Just below the mouth of this creek, upon the west side of the river, is a high bluff known in the neighborhood by the name Mount Maria. It is about five hundred feet in height, and commands a magnificent prospect. Upon the top of the hill is a spring, the water of which, in its descent, forms a beautiful cascade. At this cascade is found a great abundance of lime stone spar—the most beautiful of all mineral formations. With proper improvements this would be one of the most magnificent situations in any country.”

Here, then, is the original source of the brief information in Major and Historic Springs of Texas. It makes clear that Mount Maria is in fact what we know today as Monument Hill, or more colloquially, the Bluff.

As late as 1840, Monument Hill, or the Bluff, retained the name of Mount Maria, which harked back 150 years to the name it was given by Alonso De Leon in 1690. The Bluff is known for its many springs, so which one fits the description of “a beautiful cascade” and “a great abundance of lime stone spar?” One possible candidate is the local swimming hole known as “The Waterfall,” which no longer exists, but was featured in historic picture postcards.

Fortunately, the detective work has already been done. In the years following his 1975 report, Gunnar Brune performed additional research and field trips to gather information for his monumental book Springs of Texas. Here he lists eleven springs in Fayette County and positively ties Mount Maria Spring to a known modern feature, Monument Spring at the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site.

George W. Bonnell's guidebook Topographical Description of Texas was published in 1840. Just a few years later, in 1848, the remains of the fallen heroes of the Dawson Massacre and Mier Expedition were entombed on the top of Mount Maria. Then, in 1849, a recent immigrant from Saxony, Germany, began to make the “proper improvements” that Bonnell had envisioned.

A cascading waterfall from Mount Maria Spring once fell over the edge of the rock wall behind Kreische's Brewery.  Photo courtesy of Gregory Walker.Heinrich Kreische bought a parcel of land around the spring, including the tomb, and extending down the bluff face to the river. Using the natural bounty of stone at the foot of Mount Maria, he made a thriving livelihood as a stonemason. He used the stone to build the second county jail in 1853, the third county courthouse starting in 1855, his own house and other buildings in the county.

Starting around 1860, he built a brewery to make use of the water from Mount Maria Spring. The ruins of the brewery can be visited today, as can the valley that led the outflow of the spring to the Colorado River. Only one thing seems to be missing: where is the “beautiful cascade” and “great abundance of lime stone spar” that so impressed George Bonnell? Viewing the brewery from below lends a clue in the natural rock shelf on either side of the valley, at the same height as the first floor of the ruins. The rock shelf forms vertical walls on either side of the lower valley and clearly extends around the valley behind the brewery. The conclusion is inescapable that this rock shelf would have created the cascade and that Mr. Kreische built his brewery under the waterfall. The limestone spar formations must have been removed during construction or are now buried behind the back wall of the brewery.

Over the following years, the population increased, wells were dug, the water table lowered and the springs declined. In 1904, Mrs. Kreische wrote that, in dry summers, she needed to haul water for her household along the road that ran within a few feet of the Dawson vault, likely from springs to the west and further down the hillside.

Thus it was, that new people and new uses for the land slowly replaced the older Spanish names. Whether it is now called Monument Hill or Kreische's Bluff, all will agree that this prominent landmark retains one feature noted by the earliest Spanish explorers: it offers a very good view.

Photo caption: A cascading waterfall from Mount Maria Spring once fell over the edge of the rock wall behind Kreische's Brewery. Photo courtesy of Gregory Walker.
The Kreisches and Their World: The Kreische Family, the Bluff Community and Life on “Kreische's Bluff,” 1840-1960, by John J. Leffler.
The La Salle Expedition to Texas, by William C. Foster, 1998.
Major and Historical Springs of Texas, by Gunnar Brune, 1975.
Monument Hill Docent Manual, quoting the La Grange Journal, November 3, 1904.
Postcard at the Fayette County Museum and Archives, La Grange, TX.
Spanish Expeditions into Texas, 1689-1768, by William C. Foster, 1995.
Springs of Texas, 2002, by Gunnar Brune.
Topographical Description of Texas to Which is Added an Account of the Indian Tribes, by George W. Bonnell, 1840.
Wilderness Manhunt: The Spanish Search for La Salle, by Robert S. Weddle, 1973.

Father Michael Muldoon

by Ann Lamer

Father Michael Muldoon, a controversial and lovable character was the son of prosperous farmers in Ireland, who came to San Felipe de Austin in 1831. He was the first Roman Catholic priest to serve Stephan F. Austin's Colony, although there had been Catholic priests in San Antonio, Goliad and Nacogdoches for many years.

Early on in his youth, Michael wanted to become a priest, so his parents sent him to Europe to study. He was probably educated at the then popular Irish College in Seville, Spain. Father Muldoon was a diocesan priest, one who did not belong to a specific religious order.

Father Muldoon had come to Mexico as early as 1821. His first duty was to serve as chaplain to Don Juan O'Donoju, the last viceroy of Mexico. He late served as chaplain to Santa Anna, becoming that president's "almost inseparable companion."

Stephen F. Austin met Father Muldoon, by then in his mid 50's, in the early part of 1831, while attending legislative sessions in Saltillo, Mexico. Austin was immediately attracted to the genial priest and was pleased that Father Muldoon had been appointed the new curate vicar general for Austin's colonies. The padre spoke Spanish fluently, so he would be a valuable interpreter in San Felipe de Austin, where all government negotiations were done in Spanish. By speaking English as well, the priest could mix and mingle with the American colonists. To be accepted into the colony, the family had to be Catholic, the only recognized religion in Mexico. One of Father Muldoon's duties was to officially convert the newly arrived settlers to the official faith. This was done quickly, without any training in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. These converts became known as "Muldoon Catholics". Father Muldoon, being the only priest in the colonies, would travel around Central Texas performing multiple marriage ceremonies at a single site. Wood's Settlement, presently West Point, hosted such an event, and Rabb's Prairie was the sight of a wedding with Stephen Austin in attendance. It took many months to arrange a wedding; in the meantime, couples entered into contracts and began living together. At some of the ceremonies there was already offspring of the couple in attendance. Thomas Barnett, in 1831, requested that Austin and Rev. Muldoon stop by his house and "the marriage contact betwixt myself and wife may be consummated and my children christened".

Austin and Father Muldoon had become such good friends, that when Austin ran short of funds, Father Muldoon loaned him some money. He also helped Austin with the Spanish language. In gratitude, Austin was instrumental in aiding Father Muldoon to eventually receive eleven leagues of land, some 48,600 acres in Galveston, Wharton, Fayette and Lavaca counties. Two of the leagues,* a combined tract of 8856 acres, were in Fayette County. Father Muldoon was said to have built a small stone hut or cabin on that location. This would have been in keeping with the Spanish laws regarding taking possession of the property. In 1834, when Austin was imprisoned in Mexico, Muldoon visited him several times and used his "Priestcraft" to carry messages out of the prison and ensure that they made it to Texas.

It is thought that Father Muldoon believed that his newly acquired land would make it unnecessary to depend upon his flock's generosity for a living. His admiration and respect for Austin had played a major role in bringing him to Texas. However, he soon realized that life in the colony was certainly different from the luxurious one he had enjoyed with the rulers of Mexico. Yet, he had voluntarily left that cultured environment and traveled to Texas where hardships were every day occurrences. Why did he make such a change? It is believed that the good natured and polished Irishman was a true missionary. Father Miguel Muldoon, like the padres of old, came to Texas to minister and to build up what he believed was the true Christian church.

But what became of Father Muldoon? Various rumors have been circulated about his death. Family tradition among his Irish descendants says he was murdered. Other rumors say he returned to Spain, or he was drowned at sea. It seems that Father Muldoon walked off the very edge of history.

The small, quiet town of Muldoon lies about fourteen miles from La Grange, Texas, located on one of the original tracts owned by Father Muldoon. He was remembered by many settlers as a man of generous spirit and warm heart.

South of La Grange, on U.S. 77, is a granite marker recognizing the memory of Father Michael Muldoon.*

*Note: Actually, four of the leagues were in Fayette County. The Muldoon historical marker has been moved from Hwy 77 to Hostyn and is now located at the rear of the Queen of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church facing the parking lot near the replica of the first church.

Multiculturalism in Fayette County

by Marie W. Watts

Fayette County has a long history of multiculturalism. Culture, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, means “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. Multicultural is defined asof, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures <a multicultural society> <multicultural education> <a multicultural menu>.”

The Native American culture existed for 8,000 to 12, 000 years in the area which would eventually become known as Fayette County. Native Americans lived as hunters and gatherers and traded with other tribes along the banks of the Colorado River. By the early 1820s the local tribes consisted of Tonkawas, Lipan Apaches, and Comanches, each with their own distinct culture.

At the invitation of the Mexicans, Anglos began to arrive from the United States and settle the area. At first the Tonkawas and Lipan Apaches welcomed the Anglos, who arrived with a vastly different way of life. However, relations deteriorated and the Tonkawas and some Lipan Apaches were forced into Oklahoma. Other Apaches headed to Mexico and New Mexico. The Comanches, who clashed with the Anglos from the beginning, were driven from the area by Col. John Henry Moore and other La Grange Anglos during the Red Fork Massacre in 1840.

The Anglos, free from the cultural influences of the Native Americans, began to chaff under the expectations of Mexican culture. That culture required them to become Catholic in order to own land, forbade slavery, and the restricted political freedoms Anglos felt they deserved. A rebellion ensued, allowing Anglos to continue to practice their own culture without undue interference from Mexico.

During the early 1800s, the Anglos imported African Americans as slaves into the area. On the eve of the Civil War, Fayette County was home to 3,786 slaves out of a total county population of 11,604 (32.6% of the population). African Americans developed their own distinctive culture as they emerged from slavery and were subjected to racial segregation.

In the 1840s the Germans began arriving in Fayette County, bringing with them their unique culture and language. Rural German communities received no additional immigrants from Germany after the early 1900s. F. Lotto in Fayette County Her History and Her People, published in 1902, said this about the Germans:

The German is very conservative, holding generally to his old customs and manners. He loves the country of his birth and naturally wishes that his children retain the language of the old fatherland. Most laudable are the efforts of the German press to assist him in this object. The German press has set itself the task to further and maintain the German language, but it meets with a great many difficulties.

First, the English language is the language of the country. To do business in this country, to be independent of other people in transacting it, one must know it. For this reason the Germans are anxious that their children may learn it. Now, English is easier than German and therefore better liked by their children. Then they mix in the schools with the American children. They have to talk to them in English and if they are not held strictly at home to study German, it is soon discarded altogether. This is done most rapidly in cities. If all the descendants of all the Germans that ever came to this country had retained the German language, a great deal over half of this country would be German.

If there is any prejudice among the Americans against the Germans? I think generally not, though there is amongst some of them. People who come to this country without knowledge of the English language will in the beginning be in a helpless condition and naturally not command great respect. There is also the point that not knowing the language, they will be sometimes misunderstood and misjudged. Their different customs and manners, their different character, their different ideals and views of life will likely be misunderstood in the beginning and be liable to misinterpretation. But I may say that during the long time the Germans have been in this country, their associations with Americans have become more frequent and reduced prejudice that might have been to a minimum. I even think that a majority of Americans have a tolerably good opinion of them.

I have had a great many talks with Americans on the subject of immigration. Some do not object to the Germans, but complain that there is no immigration of the class with a higher education, that it is the poorer and less educated class that comes to this country. I think this class the most desirable; it has health, energy and willingness and ability to work, coupled with sound common sense and average intelligence. It easily finds a field of usefulness, profitable to themselves and advantageous to the upbuilding of the country. Now what fields of usefulness are open to the foreigner with a higher education? Shall he labor in the field? Very likely he won't enjoy it; most likely his less educated countrymen will beat him two to one with ease. Shall he teach school? At first, he does not know the English well enough. Besides, that work is easier in Germany and better paid. For the mercantile pursuit, he is less fit than for the agricultural. There is no class of immigrated Germans with higher education that can provide an opening for him.

German cultural influence in Texas reached its peak in the 1890s and began to decline as acculturation took its toll. Anti German sentiment and prejudice which grew during the two world wars hurt the interest in German social forms and reduced use of the German language. Finally, in the early 1950s, the German-language press in Texas disappeared.

The Czechs arrived in Fayette County from the 1850s until WWI. These Slavic people arrived from Bohemia, Moravia, and parts of Silesia. They also brought their own unique language and culture to the area.

Like the Germans, the Czechs were wedded to their language and culture. When Augustine Haidušek, a Czech, became Fayette County Judge in 1884, he began to enforce the state law that required English as the practical language in the classroom. Enraged, both local Czech Americans and national Czech newspaper editors complained that he was attempting to deny Czech students the right to their own language. At least partially to argue his assimilationist views, Haidušek founded the Czech-language newspaper Svoboda in La Grange in 1885. It did not cease publication until 1927. However, a version of Svoboda began in 1941 in El Campo and was published into the 1960s as a supplement to the El Campo News.

Ethnic pride among Czechs in Texas perhaps reached its height during World War I and immediately afterwards, spurred by interest for the newly founded free state of Czechoslovakia. Beginning in the 1960s, Czech ethnic festivals and celebrations became increasingly popular, although the use of the language continued to decline.

After a long process, the African American, German, and Czech peoples have assimilated into the mainstream culture, blessing Fayette County with rich traditions from their distinctive way of life.

Today Hispanics make up 18.67% of the county’s population. They, like immigrants before them, have brought their own cultural traditions and language. If the past is any indication, this group will eventually assimilate, leaving Fayette County wealthier in the process.

Fayette County Profile retrieved March 13, 2012.
Terry G. Jordan, "GERMANS," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 13, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
F. Lotto. (1902) Fayette County Her History and Her People, Schulenburg, Tx. (pp.47-48)
Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of culture retrieved March 13, 2012 from
Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of Multicultural retrieved March 13, 2012 from
Clinton Machann, "CZECHS," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 13, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Clinton Machann, "HAIDUSEK, AUGUSTIN," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 13, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Martha Meacham. (1999). Lipan Apaches in Texas retrieved March 13, 2012 from
Elizabeth Woodcock, "SVOBODA," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed March 13, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Captain John Murchison

The Pioneer Who Led the La Grange Natives to Gold

by Kayla Peters
submitted by Ed Janecka

John Murchison was a prominent and prized leader of Fayette County. Many titles have been attributed to Murchison’s name, such as pioneer and creator of the first master lodge of Masons of La Grange, Justice of the Peace, Delegate to the Congress of the Republic of Texas, Grand Stewart and Grand Standard Bearer. But, perhaps the label that Murchison is most branded with is: Organizer and Leader of a La Grange company of “gold seekers” that traveled to California. Murchison did not become noteworthy overnight, but rather transformed into a prestigious leader throughout his journey in life.

John Murchison began his pathway to becoming a legendary leader when he first moved to Texas. Murchison was originally from South Carolina. It is possible that after leaving South Carolina, he resided in Alabama for some time, but ultimately came to Texas with his wife, sometime before 1836. When Murchison first arrived in Texas, he and his wife settled in San Augustine, and later relocated to La Grange.

Although his time in La Grange was not extensive, he certainly left his mark. In 1840 he was elected as Justice of the Peace number two. Murchison served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas, was a member of Hopewell Baptist Church and financially supported Rutersville College. In 1847 Murchison chartered the first Masonic Lodge in La Grange and was named Grand Stewart and Grand Standard Bearer of the lodge in 1849 and 1850, respectively.

Murchison used the tools he learned in these various leadership positions to embark on the most extraordinary journey of his life. When word of the gold rush in California reached Texas, John Murchison’s son immediately decided to join the rush. Murchison’s son was not the only La Grange native to catch the gold fever, however, and Murchison would not have his son travel that far alone, so Murchison himself decided to organize a company to go search for the gold.

A newspaper article from the time depicted and outlined the guidelines Murchison had developed for his company. It read as follows: “The company will consist of about one hundred people, and will leave La Grange May 1st. They will have military organization. Each squad of five men will be required to have a good two horse wagon drawn by four mules or horses with at least two extra mules for the following outfit: two sheets of iron 30 inches wide and 6 ft. long, if possible; half dozen long handled shovels; half dozen spades; 2 spike mattocks, 1 weeding hoe, 1 chopping axe, 1 hatchet, 1 iron wedge, extra horse shoes and nails, shoeing tools, 500 lbs. bacon, 200 lbs. of coffee, 125 lbs. flour, 100 lbs. of salt, 50 lbs. of rice; the means of carrying at least ten gallons of water; medicine, clothing, etc., in all making about 1,000 lbs. Each man must be provided with a good gun, and at least one pistol, also a Bowie or butcher knife. Every five persons must likewise carry five lbs. of powder and 40 lbs. of lead. 100 is the number to which the expedition is limited. Companies of five persons may report to Captain Murchison at LaGrange, where they will register for the expedition.”

Once Murchison had his company gathered and prepared, they began their trek to California. Another party happened to be passing through LaGrange around the same time Murchison and his crew were taking off. Amongst the other company was a man by the name of Cornelius Cox, who kept a diary of the journey and revealed that the two parties often took turns leading the way. However, Cox reported that Murchison’s party stopped at the Gila River and dug for gold, to no avail.    

Little is known for certain about the details of the journey, aside from what Cox revealed. Perhaps our greatest insight into Murchison’s quest to California comes from a letter he wrote to Reverend Chauncey Richardson which states:

                                                                                      Camp Near Passo [sic.] Del Norte
        June 3rd, 1849

Reverend Chauney [sic.] Richardson

     My dear Brother, with heartfelt gratitude, I announce to you, that we have got safe to this place without the loss of a man, horse, mule or wagon, while I have the painful reflection to believe that there are hundreds now perishing in the mountains of Texas. A part of Captain Haynie’s command and himself passed this some ten days ago before our arrival. They gave an account of great suffering. They were reduced to the necessity of eating several of their mules and horses and many snakes. Captain Joseph Young, who left one month before us, save one day, numbering thirty five men, passed this place on the fourth instead with six men; William Blair, James Blair, William Love, Turrow, R.W. Fuller, and Thomas Early; the balance of the company have not since been heard from and I fear never will be. There are several companies that should have been here long ago, but they are not heard from. We are indebted to Major Neighbors and Dr. Ford for our success; had we not have met them and procured a guide to pilot us, we would have been as badly lost as any others; the only difference would have been that we have provisions enough to have lasted us with care for twelve months. Eternity itself can only tell this great good that Neighbors and Ford have done for the human family in reviewing and describing this road. It is one of the best roads I ever saw in all my life. The only object that Mr. Neighbors feared was the Guadalupe Mountains. My command was the first that ever crossed them, and on the next day there were forty five wagons that crossed without difficulty, and since that time, from what we can learn, more than one hundred more. The fifty thousand dollars appropriated by the government for the opening of the road, we think are entitled to whether we get it or not.
    I will further say in further praise of my command that they have done their duty, and they are the only company that has come half this way united. We expect to remain here a few days. There are many applications of other companies, or parts of companies to join us. We could be 500 strong if we could receive them. My men are gentlemen and easily controlled------. The distance we have traveled, agreeable to our account, is 762 miles from La Grange; others make it much more. The route can be shortened eighty miles from La Grange by crossing the Colorado about the mouth of the San Saba. This we think is bound to be a great highway. I would warn or advise the traveler to prepare for two stretches of barron (sic) wastes without water; the first is… 70 miles--- no certainty of water. The second from Salt Lake to Passo (sic) Del Norte, 80 miles. In the latter place we came near losing some of our men and all of our stock; being the first to travel this route, we suffered more, we hope, than any others may ever do, as we lost much time hunting and digging for water. My company, being in front might have got some water at one place, but like men, passed it by leaving it for the families behind; consequently in three days and nights we were relieved, whilst others delayed until they lost many of their stock. We have been here five days and have been engaged ever since in sending back water and teams to Thorn’s and Thompson’s trains. The lives of all the families have been saved, but they have lost much of their livestock. Those coming hereafter, by coming prepared, will find no difficulty if they are the right sort of men; if not they had better stay at home. If you think proper, you may publish in your excellent paper these facts.

Most affectionately yours,
John Murchison

John Murchison survived the treacherous and extensive journey to California. Earlier in his life he survived two assassination attempts. The first was when he was traveling to church with his wife and daughter and a man shot at him. The bullet missed Murchison, but hit his two year old daughter wounding her right limb. The second instance occurred while Murchison was talking on the square with other men, and a shooter successfully shot him in the chest, but Murchison survived. This brave and rugged man met death by accident. John Murchison died on July 28, 1849 when his gun was accidentally discharged.

Although Murchison’s company never found gold in California, he will go down in history for reaching California with his company intact, while countless others failed. Murchison will forever be remembered for the remarkable leader he became and the great contributions he made to Fayette County. He was a true example of a leader who was able to accomplish various goals and conquer abundant obstacles through hard work.


Royston H. Nave

The Art of La Grange Native Lives on in Victoria, Texas Museum

By Pat Johnson

Royston Nave, born in La Grange, Texas on November 5, 1886, was an artist who enjoyed a prolific and successful painting career in both Texas and New York.  He traveled widely, painting and sketching as he went.  His primary interests were people and the outdoors, particularly the landscape of Texas.

Lou Nave memorial in Old La Grange City CemeteryHis mother, Lou Scott Royston, was born circa 1860 in Mississippi and died January 14, 1915 in Fort Worth. Her funeral was held in La Grange, and she is buried in the Old La Grange City Cemetery. Her grave is marked with a beautiful bronze bust of her likeness attached to a 31 inch granite column. The sculpture was created by her son, Royston Nave, sometime between 1915 and 1931.

In 1880, Lou Scott Royston was living in the household of S. E. Powell in La Grange. She possibly went there after the death of her stepmother in 1875. In the 1880 Fayette County Census, Lou is listed as a cousin to S. E. Powell and was then 20 years old. Sarah L.S. Hill is also living in the Powell household, apparently after the death of her husband. Sarah is listed as an aunt to Powell.  L.A. "Lizzie" Yates is also boarding with the Powells.

Royston's father, Jack Nave, was born circa 1861 in Texas and died in 1899 fighting in the Boer War. When he married Lou Scott Royston in La Grange, he was listed as a telegraph operator in the 1880 Colorado County census and was later listed as a tel­egraph operator in La Grange in 1883.

Lou Scott Royston and Jack Nave were married at the residence of Mrs. Yates (probably Lizzie) on June 12, 1883. Records show that her friend and relative, Sarah L. S. Hill, assisted Mrs. Yates with the wedding. The Naves had two sons: Royston and Tye Y. After the death of her husband, Jack, Lou Nave remained a widow until her death in 1915.

Royston Nave's first art instruction came from his mother, a well-known Texas painter, who encouraged her son’s talent. Royston Nave spent part of his boyhood in San Antonio and was painting in Fort Worth by 1910. He later studied under such diverse mentors as famed Texas sculptor, Pompeo Coppini, and T.J. Ferdinand McCan of Victoria. In New York, he studied under Robert Henri, Walt Kuhn, Lawton Parker and I. R. Wilson. It was in New York that Nave became renowned for his portrait work and where he had many one-man exhibitions. 

Royston H. NaveAfter two years as an artillery officer in World War I, he returned to New York to paint, and his works appeared in exhibitions with the Eclectics, a group of painters that included Sidney Dickinson, Philip Hall, George Luks, and Eugene Higgins. His works were shown in the National Academy School of Fine Arts in New York and in the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, where his portrait Norma received notice. Other later showings included the St. Louis Museum, the 1919 International Show in Pittsburgh, and in 1920 he was exhibiting with the Milch Galleries in New York. He was a member of the Salmagundi Club, one of the oldest art clubs in the United States.

Sometime after his two years in World War 1 and painting for a short period in New York, Royston Nave returned to Texas and studied with his mentor, James Ferdinand McCan of Victoria. James McCan's wife was Emily McFaddin, the daughter of Texas cattle baron, James A. McFaddin.

Nave and James McCan were friends; in fact, Nave completed a self-portrait which he presented to his “dear friend, J. Ferdinand McCan.”  It hangs today in the front hall of the home J. A. McFaddin had built for his daughter, Emily, when she married “Jim” McCan.  But love must have bloomed outside the artist's studio. Emily divorced McCan and after a year’s wait, she married Royston Nave.  Although there was a ten-year difference in their ages, Emily being the older, they were devoted to each other, traveling the world and settling for a time in New York before returning to Victoria in the early 1920s.

Back in his native Texas, Nave continued to paint the landscape he was so fond of, as well as commissioned portraits.  He was skilled in portraiture, using models and many of his Victoria friends and family as subjects. One of his most well-known, a portrait of Rebecca Fisher, the “Mother of Texas,” is in the extensive collection of the State Capitol in Austin. 

Nave was described as a rapid painter. His thin painterly application of paint and somber coloring are typical of his early work. Influences from William M. Chase and Robert Henri, famous New York artists who he was acquainted with, can be seen. His paintings owe a debt to the Impressionists in their coloring and technique.

In his later work, which also includes coastal scenes of Port Lavaca, Texas wildflowers and still lifes, he begins to explore a looser brushwork, and the somber colors of his earlier palate are replaced by the brighter colors of his later years. In 1981 art appraiser Gayle Pittman, hired by the Nave Museum to evaluate the collection, describes a landscape painting with "the sense of the rolling hills of his native Texas at daybreak, illustrating Nave’s interest in depicting a particular time and place which remained with him throughout his career."

In 1931 Royston Nave suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting his brother in Harlingen.  The Royston Nave Memorial, now the Nave Museum, was commissioned by his widow, Emma McFaddin McCan Nave. Emily, who was known to the public as Miss Emma, was fun-loving, outgoing and whose involvement in the social and cultural life of Victoria is legendary.  Eleanor Roosevelt stayed in the McCan-Nave home when she visited Victoria in December 1940.

The museum building, a majestic Greek revival temple designed by San Antonio architect Atlee Ayers, opened in 1932 to house Nave’s paintings and contain the library of the Bronte Study Club.  When the Victoria Library on Main Street was built in 1976, Mrs. Nave’s heirs, the McCan family, deeded the building to the city to be used as an art museum for the region.  The city in turn rented the building to the newly created Victoria Regional Museum Association, formerly the McNamara-O’Connor Historical and Fine Arts Museum, to operate as a visual arts center.  In December 2003 the city deeded over the property to the Victoria Regional Museum Association. Royston Nave's art lives on in this beautiful regional museum and of course with the bust of his mother in the La Grange City Cemetery.

Bust of Lou Scott Royston Nave, La Grange Old Cemetery, courtesy of Pat Johnson
Royston Nave in uniform, courtesy of Gary Dunnam, Nave Museum, Victoria, TX.
Carter, Kathy. Fayette County Historical Commission
Dunnam, Gary. Independent curator and photo credit, Victoria, Texas
Fielding, Mantle. Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers (New York: Struck, 1945; rev. ed., Glenn B. Opitz, Poughkeepsie: Apollo, 1983).
Fisk, Frances Battaile. A History of Texas Artists and Sculptors (Abilene, 1928; facsimile, Austin: Morrison, 1986).   
Forrester-O'Brien, Esse. Art and Artists of Texas (Dallas: Tardy, 1935).  
Nave Museum, Victoria, Texas
Ragsdale, Crystal Sasse and Margaret Crain Lowery, Handbook of Texas, 2010                   
San Antonio Express, March 1, 1931, December 25, 1932.                                                                         
Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Fayette's First Newspaper and It's Offspring

by Annette Ruckert

"The intelligence of a community may be judged by its newspaper press; the press is the mirror of the intellect, the morals, and the manners of the people," wrote F. Lotto in Fayette County: Her History and Her People, published in Schulenburg in 1902.

In the early days, Fayette County's intellectual life made itself felt throughout the county, with its center in La Grange. The county's first newspaper was the La Grange Intelligencer, which began publication in February 1844 and continued through September 1845.

James P. Langley was the publisher of this mirror of the county's character. The editor was William P. Bradburn, a nephew of John David Bradburn, known in Texas history for the role he played in the clash between the colonists and the Mexican authorities at Anahuac in the early 1830s.

In An Early History of Fayette County, published in La Grange in 1936, authors Leonie Rummel Weyand and Houston Wade quote the flowery eulogy of the publisher in the first issue. Langley wrote that he had traveled much, having "sailed over various seas, visited many cities and beautiful islands, having trodden the shores of foreign nations—and looked down upon green valleys and white valleys, but with the exception of a few towns washed by the waters of the sea, we assert that no little village has ever enchanted us more than this in which we now reside."

Bradburn, too, complimented the town's citizens. "Nowhere is there a village the size of this, which can bring before the eyes of a stranger more of that refined beauty and graceful demeanor so prominently admired and distinguished here," he wrote. "If there ever was a spot destined to be a place, say of love and poetry, not forgetting the pursuits of life, it is our delightful and growing city of La Grange."

The La Grange Intelligencer was a four-page newspaper, fifteen inches by twenty-four inches in size, with four columns to a page. At the top of the front page, beneath its name, the newspaper displayed its motto: "Westward! The Star of Empire Takes its Way!"

According to Weyand and Wade, a subscription cost six dollars and fifty cents per year. A local business could place an advertisement at the rate of one dollar for the first insertion and fifty cents for the second. The insertion of a political card cost four dollars, and the announcement of a political candidate was priced at ten dollars.

Typically, the first page was devoted to articles reprinted from other newspapers. Many of the articles were of national interest. The second page was the editorial page; it discussed the strong and weak points of political candidates and the government's administration, often with caustic comments on the political views of other Texas newspapers. Death notices and advertisements were located on the third page, and the fourth page contained more advertisements and various court notices.

During his brief editorship, Bradburn exchanged journalistic blows with an editor of the Texas Democrat, who supported Anson Jones for the presidency of the Republic of Texas. Bradburn supported his employer's candidate, Edward Burleson, who had served as the republic's vice-president in 1841. Burleson, a supporter of Mirabeau B. Lamar's policy of extermination and expulsion of Indian tribes, lost the election.

Established in the mid-1840s, the La Grange Intelligencer reflected the intellect, morals, and manners of early Fayette Countians. Chronicles of Fayette author Julia Lee Sinks wrote that this newspaper, the county's first, was established to advocate Edward Burleson's bid for the presidency of the Republic of Texas. Certainly, the paper strived to advance the interests of the county's residents.

Unfortunately, the newspaper's circulation did not meet the expectations of its publisher, James P. Langley, and editor, William P. Bradburn. After a few months, Bradburn left La Grange to pursue more lucrative opportunities. The editorship then went to S.S.B. Fields.

In his first issue, Fields presented the events of the week: "Two weddings, two fairs, one dancing party, four old bachelors deceased, a fine rain, a great swelling of the Colorado River, one lady fell in love, and strange to tell - we fell off our horse - sprained an ankle - bruised a side - mashed our hat and don't know where to get another."

Although his journalistic capacity lacked development, Fields' flamboyant style was typical of the man. He announced that a fair portion of the newspaper would be devoted to "politics, the sciences, agriculture, religion, foreign affairs, miscellaneous items, domestic matters," which he carefully culled from other newspapers. He was given to editorial outbursts on occasion; often vigorously denying various accusations by the editor of a newspaper called the Vindicator.

Financial difficulties prompted a plea for support of the county paper in the September 12, 1845 issue. A week later, the La Grange Intelligencer suspended publication.

Eventually, the newspaper passed into other hands. The name was changed to The Far West, and William G. Webb served as editor. In her reminiscences, Sinks writes of a late 1840s fire in La Grange that consumed a large portion of the south side of the square, including Webb's office. The newspaper files were destroyed, and Sinks could never determine how long The Far West was published.

Other county newspapers followed, including the Texas Monument, The La Grange Paper, The True Issue, and The State Rights Democrat, which were published successively during the 1850s, each existing for a relatively a short time.

The 1870s and 1880s saw the establishment of the Flatonia Argus, the Flatonia Record, The La Grange Democrat, The La Grange News, and The La Grange Journal. Introduced in the 1890s and early 1900s were the Schulenburg Sticker, the Schulenburg Sun, Carmine's New Century, and The Fayette County Record.

The county also boasted two foreign language newspapers that existed for a short time. The Svoboda, a Czech newspaper, was established in 1887; the La Grange Deutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, began publication in 1896.

Today, three of the above newspapers remain in publication: the Flatonia Argus, established in 1875; the Schulenburg Sticker, started in 1899; and The Fayette County Record, born in 1922. The Banner Press Newspaper, established in 1985 also covers the county's news and events. This publication serves a tri-county area that includes Colorado and Austin counties.

As author F. Lotto remarked in his book Fayette County: Her History and Her People, one can see that "a healthy intellectual life pulsates in all parts of the county."

Jeanette Gouldsberry adds that the Schulenburg Argus was established before the Schulenburg Sticker and Sun, and that the Flatonia Argus came later.
The States Right Democrat and later The True Issue were both established in the 1860s.

See ca. 1900 photograph of the Svoboda newspaper office at the Institute of Texan Cultures website.

Notable Persons with Fayette County Connections

by Carolyn Heinsohn

In addition to a long list of notable facts and firsts, Fayette County has also been the home to many persons who had notable lives. The following persons may have only lived in Fayette County for a short time, but they still have a connection to our history.

The Murder of Constable Charles Hendrickson Null

by Allen G. Hatley

Cattle raising in the rough sand hills and sparsely settled area where Fayette, Bastrop, Gonzales and Caldwell Counties came together, was an important part of the local economy in the 1890's, but it was also sometimes a dangerous place. Back in those days there was very little of the land in that part of central Texas that was fenced or had good grass for grazing a large herd of cattle.

As a result, much of the cattle raised in the western part of Fayette County roamed across county and private property lines, and it was mostly open range up into the twentieth century. What was often difficult was proving ownership of the unbranded cows and calves when they were cut-out for branding or sale. As a result, the theft of livestock went on pretty much all the time. A number of family feuds were born out of those accusations of cattle theft.

After Reconstruction, the Stagner family was among the largest cattle raisers in the area, but during the 1890's, they had fallen on hard times. Bunk Stagner was no ordinary cowboy. He was an important local man, who had once owned 600 head of cattle, over 1,200 acres of land in several tracks, a one-third interest in the rock quarry and several buildings located in Muldoon, along with the liquor stock in two local saloons. He and his family were also mixed up in the ongoing theft of livestock. The Stagner family was far from the only suspected cattle thieves in the area, as a mixed group of both black and white men were suspected, occasionally accused and sometimes arrested for trading in stolen cattle.

By 1891, a number of cattle owners hired a detective agency out of Waco, to help identify the thieves. In July of 1892, Bunk Stagner's oldest son, Charles, was charged with 8 counts of theft in which 52 head of livestock were taken in Fayette County. Charles pled not guilty and his case was never brought to trial. In the spring of 1895, Charles Stagner was charged with, tried and found guilty of the theft and butchering of two oxen in Bastrop County. He was sentenced to 4-years in the Texas State Penitentiary. Only a year before in May of 1894, another of Bunk's sons, William J., had been shot at while hunting stray cattle, and when that developed into a gunfight, he was finally shot and killed by a neighbor, Tom Birge. That fight was allegedly due to suspected cattle theft. Tom Birge was tried, but acquitted of murder and their feud was joined.

Charles Hendrickson Null, had been born in Missouri, and his family moved to Fayette County in 1853. By the early 1890's, Null owned a fairly large herd of cattle grazing north of Muldoon. In December 1892, he was elected constable of Precinct #5, Fayette County. The twin towns of Muldoon made up the largest community in that sparsely settled Precinct. On August 8, 1896, Constable Null left his home and was riding toward the Precinct Court House in Muldoon, when he was murdered from ambush by a party of several men.

Charles Null was shot three times and while he was down on the ground, he was shot again in the back of the head to make sure he was dead. A few days before his murder he had said that he had found new evidence that could put somebody in the penitentiary, and told several people that, "my life is in danger and I expect to be killed."

Null was on his way to Court probably to obtain a warrant for the arrest of Bunk Stagner, who was immediately suspected by Sheriff Loessin of participating in the constable's murder. The tracks of Stagner's mule were found nearby, mixed in with the hoof prints of two horses and close to several .32-20 empty shell casings.

On September 10, just over a month after Null was murdered, his son Will, his brother, George, and feudist Tom Birge rode up on Bunk Stagner, who was outside the cotton gin near Primm Switch (Kirtley). Will Null slid out of the saddle and Stagner told him to give him five minutes and he would explain everything. Will, however, told Bunk, "You didn't give my pa five minutes," and then emptied both barrels of his shotgun into Stagner. Will and the other two boys went into hiding for a few days, but no search was made as the sheriff knew he would turn himself in. When he did, Will Null was tried, but was never convicted of the murder of Bunk Stagner. That was because most believed that Stagner had been in the party that murdered Null. But after his death, it was still a mystery as to the identity of the other men who had been with Stagner when the Constable was ambushed. A few years later, Fayette County Sheriff August Loessin delivered a prisoner to the State Penitentiary at Huntsville. While there he visited with a well-known outlaw he knew from Bastrop, James Brennan (Jim) Nite, who was serving a life sentence for the murder of a bank clerk in Longview, and concurrently a seven-year sentence for cattle theft in Kimble County. During their conversation, Jim admitted that he and his brother Jud Nite had been among those who shot Constable Charles Null and had been paid $500 for the murder, during a meeting with a man he would not identify in the back room of a salon in Smithville.

After the meeting, the Nite brothers rode into Fayette County from the west, passing through the small town of Cistern. They stopped there and bought some food, whiskey and a box of .32-20 cartridges. Somewhere near Muldoon, they met the man who would identify Constable Null for them and they shot Null as he rode along the road toward Muldoon. Despite his confession, Jim Nite was never indicted for the murder of Charles Null. Nite was already serving a life term and his brother was dead. There were also no witnesses except the killer, who was not expected to repeat his confession in court.

That is the story of Constable Charles Hendrickson Null, the only Fayette County lawman ever killed in the line of duty.

Photo of Tom Null, left, was contributed by Vicky Busby. The photo at right of Tom W. Burge in about the 1930s was contributed by Lucretia Morales.


Pre-Austin Chalk and Eagle Ford Shale Oil in Fayette County

Transcribed by Gary E. McKee

Oil, the underground goose that lays the black golden egg, has been searched for since the early 1900s in Central Texas. Following are two articles from the July 9, 1926 edition of the Schulenburg Sticker.  What is interesting in the second article is the seemingly personal connection with the oil field workers that was reported, perhaps because this was a relatively new endeavor in the area.

Russek Well No. 1 Spudded In Last Thursday at Noon

The Russek No. 1 located behind the home of Mrs. Ignaz Russek about a mile from town was officially spudded in [drilling the initial larger hole] last Thursday at noon. Geo. W. Zeigen of Monroe, La., came here to be present when this drill started its course into the bowels of mother earth in search of the black gold as the Indians call it.

A big steel derrick towering more than 100 feet in the air is being used on this well which is being financed by a British Syndicate in London. A number of our citizens were present to witness the spudding of this well.

The well is now 200 feet deep, [a] twelve and a half inch casing is being set to this depth and cemented in to prevent a surface cave in. This has to harden for 48 hours when the drill will again be on its way. Schulenburg is fortunate in having the number of test wells put down that we are getting and will get shortly. Much praise for this is due Henry Russek who has worked hard for months and months and spent considerable money keeping in touch and entertaining the oil men as they came here to look over the propositions.

A [rail] carload of drill stems are now being unloaded and hauled out to the well by Jim Robbins.

Hopes are very high for a successful well and the finding of oil in paying quantities in the well. Wm. Green of Shiner a big capitalist and Banker was here Sunday looking over the proposition, he says it looks far better to him than the Luling structure, he will probably become interested in the oil development in this section.

1926 - With the Oil Men

Kuhlmann and Jefferies, geologists for Geo. M. Ball and Co., who plan to drill several oil wells in this vicinity, are now here making a survey of the different oil structures through which their leases run. As soon as the remaining holdouts can be closed, actual work of starting the drilling will start. In the interest of this section and the development of this section we earnestly request those parties who have not leased to do so, that actual drilling may be started. If oil is found, the eighth royalty which each land owner reserves in his lease will be more money than he can ever use, unless we lease and get wells we will never get anywhere.

C. H. Moody head driller on the Russek No. 1 was painfully injured Sunday afternoon when a big pipe wrench, which was attached to the drill stem, became loose and flew off striking Moody across the leg. He was forced to walk on crutches for some days.

O.A. Studds and associates who drilled a dry hole up in the Muldoon section are here with a view of taking part in the development of the Schulenburg oil field. We understand that they are favorably impressed with the structures [geology] in this section.

Driller Moody of the Russek No. 1 received a telegram Wednesday afternoon stating that his brother-in-law was killed in Monroe, La., while working on an oil well there.  He left immediately for that City to attend the funeral. His many friends here extend their sympathy to Mr. Moody.

Fayette County Oil and Gas Production

By Norman Wied

Old wooden oil derrickEven though there remains a large number of Fayette County residents who still understand the “old days” and the “old ways”, this group and the information that they possess is slowly passing into history. Years ago, words such as “coal oil lamps”, “a cord of wood”, or even “a team” could easily have been spoken anywhere across the county or state, and the citizens would have easily understood their meanings. In present-day Fayette County, terms such as “lease”, “horizontal well”, or “work-over rig” are now commonly spoken and understood. 

With the arrival of the famous Spindletop strike near Beaumont in early January 1901, work was soon diligently underway statewide to find new areas for oil exploration. Stories of air bubbles rising to the top of stock tanks, or tales of gas pockets encountered by men involved in digging water wells with picks and shovels were not uncommon around the county. Natural gas is not easily detected without the familiar smell obtained through the modern-day addition of mercaptan. Thus, an odorless gas made the job of well-diggers and miners even more dangerous. 

The following excerpts from articles will take a step back in time to describe the beginnings of the modern energy sector in Fayette County. The first one appeared in the March 14, 1901 edition of the La Grange Journal: “Fayette County’s Oil Well - Mrs. Mary Cervenke [Cervenka], residing six or seven miles south of La Grange, has turned over to A. Haidusek and J. B. Holloway- upon a twenty-five years’ lease- the 159 ¼ acres of Fayette County school lands upon which she resides.  Some three years ago [1898] water was sought by the boring of a well upon the premises, but when 130 feet down natural gas was encountered to such an extent that the work was abandoned.  Later, curiosity led a number of people to visit it and a member of one of these parties held a lighted match to the vapor. In a jiffy, a flame of enormous proportions shot into the heavens, seriously endangering the surroundings. With great difficulty, by packing water and other substances to check it, the danger was passed. From that time until now nothing has been done in the matter. The gentlemen named will organize a stock company for the purpose of deepening the well sometime this year, with the firm belief that oil will be the output. If this conclusion should be verified in the outcome Fayette County will experience a boom of no mean proportions…”

By June 1903, the Journal reported that “great things are expected of the Muldoon oil fields. Expert oil men and geologists have been studying the field close… it is agreed that a great quantity of oil exists here.  Great numbers of leases and options have been taken… and it is reasonable to believe that within the next sixty or ninety days four or five derricks will be erected.”   

In the Sept. 21, 1911 edition of the La Grange Journal, the following was printed under the topic “Fayette County Oil Field - At the invitation of A. B. Bradshaw, local agent of the Fayette County Oil and Development Company, a representative of the Journal witnessed the first day’s work of boring for oil on the company’s land, the old Kennedy tract, ten miles northwest from La Grange.  A large crowd of people were present… A massive derrick, 75 feet in height had been erected, the machinery put in place and the drill tested, all ready to begin operation, and everything worked without a hitch for several hours until work ceased at night, when it was found the drill had gone down thirty-six feet…The drilling work is being done by an experienced crew of men from Texas and Pennsylvania oil fields. They are boring a hole slightly over 12 inches in diameter, to accommodate a 10-inch casing. The company have on the ground a large amount of the casing and piping necessary for the progress of the work until a depth of 2,000 feet is reached, should oil in paying quantity be not sooner found, which the company guarantees to do.”    

In May 1943, the Schulenburg Sticker reported that “farmers of the Hostyn-Swiss Alp, Freyburg and Cistern area were paid approximately $15,000 in cash for oil leases and royalty.”  Furthermore, the Fayette County Record in a May 1968 release stated that “oil and gas wells provided economic output for Fayette County of approximately $761,000 a year. With total production of some 252,000 barrels of oil and 104 million cubic feet of natural gas, Fayette County ranked 17th among Texas counties.”

In our modern, fast -paced world, energy production is seen in all aspects of our daily life - from the oil/gas rigs and storage installations commonly seen throughout Fayette County, to the many pipelines that crisscross the state, to the huge wind turbines seen in the West Texas landscape. Though current figures may be difficult to obtain, the 2016 oil and gas production for Fayette County included 2,181,322 barrels of oil and 10,837,281 million cubic feet of natural gas. A monetary figure for this output would equal over $95 million dollars in income for the oil producers and the landowners. And to think, this output came about through an attempt to drill a water well on a small farm south of La Grange in 1898.

Photo caption: Old wooden oil well derrick; photo courtesy of - public domain
Columbia Gas
Fayette County Record. May 1968
La Grange Journal. March 14, 1901; June 1903; September 21, 1911
Schulenburg Sticker. May 1943

Oral History: What It Is and Why It Matters

By Alice Rudersdorf

History is not only about what other people have experienced back then, over there, or even right here, long ago. Much of history is not written in our history books. The greater part of history is that which is written in our memories and the memories of our families, friends, neighbors and members of our communities.             

The events of today are the history of tomorrow. If ten different people witness the same event, there would be ten different, yet relevant stories about that event. Everyone has his or her own unique viewpoint and when pieced together, they begin to tell the whole story.

Oral history is a way of giving lasting voice to everyday people by recording their stories and placing those stories into archival records for future use in historical documents. Because oral history records human perceptions and experiences, it is a way of documenting a sense of place; the social, spiritual and cultural significance of a place, its people as individuals, and its community spirit. 

Everybody has a story and everybody’s story is important. The stories of the philanthropists and civic leaders, as well as the movers and the shakers are well covered in the history books and other documented sources. It’s the voices of everyday people that are too often overlooked and missing from the historical record. These are the voices that lend the human element to history, making it real and bringing it alive. Oral history is an ideal means of capturing and saving these voices and a great way to give historical voice to those who often are marginalized and left out of traditional recorded history. Not only does it record the human perceptions and feelings about a place, an event or the meaning of a place, but also how that place or event impacted human experiences.

Oral history draws unique experiences and viewpoints out of people’s memories, bringing more pieces of the puzzles of the past together so that a more complete story emerges.  It literally puts a human voice to the story. Hearing someone tell a story, with all the emotion that goes with it, brings a quality to history that connects us to the past in a way that is more personal than seeing words written on a page and not hearing the passion behind them.

Not once, as I was transcribing the stories of World War II veterans, did I fail to hear their pain, and even tear up, when I heard the voices of tough West Texas cowboys and oilmen choke up when recalling the loss of friends on the battlefield. That’s the power of recorded stories that can be heard. 

People of all ages can learn how to draw out and record the living history contained within people’s memories. Doing oral history is a way for people to contribute something of value to future generations by connecting with each other and across generations within their families and communities. Young people participating in an oral history project realize that they are an important link to something greater than themselves and develop a greater connection with the past, their roots and their community. A ten-year-old grandchild can interview a grandparent with a different perspective, which may reveal a new and different point in a story that may never have been mentioned before, bringing to light a unique piece of history. Grandparents come alive with purpose and renewed vitality in knowing they have something of value to share and are actively participating in leaving a legacy that will live on to inspire and enlighten future generations.  

In the field of history, there is factual truth and there is human truth. Factual truth gives us specific dates, locations, names and events. Human truth tells us how people individually, and sometimes collectively, viewed the world, and how they were personally affected by events. In human truth, accuracy of memory is not as important as lasting impressions. Accuracy can be verified through sources containing factual truth: county records, census reports and contemporary newspaper accounts. The date of a hurricane can easily be found in written records, but the impact that the hurricane had on those who survived it can only be heard through oral history. Years later, survivors may not accurately recall the date, but they will certainly recall the impression the hurricane made on them. Human truth is the unique contribution that oral history adds to the historical record. 

There are four types of oral histories:

  1. Life histories, which focus on the lives of individual people
  2. Topic histories (focusing on specific events, time periods, groups of people, cultural heritage, organizations)
  3. Theme centered histories (focusing on patterns or concepts like conflict, religion, education, music, food traditions)
  4. Oral histories documenting specific artifacts or locations

In each case, the stories of individuals who have had firsthand experience with the subject of the oral history project are recorded. That is the difference between oral history and folklore or legends. While they all bring forward stories from the past, oral history is an account of someone’s individual story of their personal, firsthand experiences. Folklore and legends are stories passed on from generation to generation, from which lessons can be learned, but they do not reflect the personal experience of the storyteller. 

Obviously, we can’t go back too far using oral history to add the human voice to the historical record, but we can go back as far as our narrators’ lifetimes, and go forward from there, making sure more voices are included in the historical records of the future. After all, today’s events are tomorrow’s history.

Even if our oral history interviews don’t make tomorrow’s history books, they can be preserved for future researchers as primary source documents. There is great value in knowing what life was like before. It is an important teaching tool of what did or did not work in the past.  However, the value of history is not limited to knowing what life was like in the past to hopefully avoid repeating the same mistakes. It is also about knowing where we come from, who we are, and feeling somehow connected to something larger than ourselves. Perhaps documenting oral histories for future generations is more important now than ever before. This can give our children and our children’s children a touch stone, a connecting point and a source of personal pride as we become more and more diverse, globalized and less connected with each other through advances in technology. 

As a child, I was embarrassed when my parents always waited until Christmas Eve to put up the Christmas tree. I thought it was because we had little money, and the trees were always cheaper and sometimes free on Christmas Eve. Then I learned that the tradition of putting up the tree on Christmas Eve came from my mother’s German heritage, and it became a source of pride.  This knowledge changed how I viewed my family and myself.

If it’s too late to record our grandparents or parents’ stories, it is not too late to record our own stories, and the stories of those around us. They can become more than interesting stories that give us a sense of what life was like before. They can become sources of pride and self-worth.

If the gems of wisdom, knowledge and understanding that are locked in people’s memories are not recorded and preserved, those gems will be lost forever. Don’t be guilty of one day saying, “If only I had asked those questions!”


Riding Into the Unknown:
Orphan Trains Come to Fayette County

By Katie Kulhanek

During a span of merely 20 years, from 1840 to 1860, the United States welcomed more than 4,000,000 immigrants. Just during those 20 years, the population of the United States jumped from about 17 million to 31.5 million – a 71% increase. Many of the immigrants who came settled in the areas where they landed. The 1850 census shows that 72% of immigrants were settled in the Northeast, and of that number, 50% of those immigrants could be found in only three states: New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Very few were found in the South. While good working wages and fellow countrymen in these areas at first attracted immigrants, problems soon began to develop.

In his presentation on Orphan Trains, Leo Kainer explains what this mass immigration caused in America. “Cities in the East quickly became overcrowded, and jobs were hard to find. Financial depression occurred throughout areas of dense population, and poverty became a huge issue amongst immigrants. They left poverty, political unrest and oppression in their homeland, and unfortunately, many of them discovered that conditions in the states were not much better. Without an extended family (like grandparents, aunts & uncles) to help out in times of need, young immigrant families soon fell apart and found it very difficult to provide for their children. Food became scarce, and lack of job safety caused many men to be killed in work place accidents. To make matters worse, disease from living in unsanitary conditions led to early deaths of overworked mothers, leaving many children orphaned, often at an early age. Because of difficult conditions in the large cities, and for various other reasons, many more children were given up by unwed mothers and local couples who could not provide for them. Orphaned children suffered terribly, and in desperation, some turned to the streets to sell newspapers, matches, and even rags. Others had to beg for food, or even steal to survive. Many depended on cardboard boxes, vacant warehouses, and the sidewalks of the city for shelter, and it was apparent that they were in dire need of help. Police, faced with this growing problem, were known to arrest vagrant children, often locking them up with adult criminals. In 1853, estimates put the number of homeless children, in New York City alone, at 34,000.” But what does all of this have to do with Fayette County? Well maybe we should ask the some of the older folks who might remember the Orphan Trains that came down to Texas during this time.

In 1853, a philanthropist named Charles Loring Brace, along with some other influential businessmen formed the Children’s Aid Society – an organization that helped care for neglected children in New York City. Brace himself believed that orphanages were useless because they only “deepened the dependence of the poor on charity”, instead of solving the problem altogether. Brace had a vision, one that was unusual for its time, but nonetheless successful. He wanted to move children out of the slums to live with Christian farming families in Western and Southern states. The idea was supported by many, especially the wealthy who contributed greatly to the cause. In fact, Mrs. John Astor gave the first $50 to the organization in 1853.

In 1873, the sisters at the New York Foundling Asylum of the Sisters of Charity (which had been created in 1869 and is now called the New York Foundling Hospital) joined in the crusade when they created the Adoption Department for their organization. This department aided the Children’s Aid Society and helped with the adoption of the children they had been taking care of. Many of the children who were at the Foundling Asylum were babies that had been left on their doorstep of the Asylum building overnight.

Brace’s plan was to take children out of alleyways and orphanages (basically children who were orphans) and place them into loving families out West or down South who needed help on their farms or who just wanted children. At a time when railroads were growing into one of the greatest methods of transportation, it seemed logical and inexpensive to move the children this way. Adoption contracts would be signed, and these orphans would become members of the family.

In more detail, here is what happened: agents would plan ahead, sending letters, flyers, and general announcements to small towns along railroad lines that told of the Orphan Trains coming. The trains were also commonly called “Mercy Trains” or “Baby Trains” due to the amount of babies that would be adopted. Children were then grouped into sets of 10-40, all under the guidance and care of one agent. These agents would serve as caretakers of the children – handling the babies, feeding and clothing the children, and watching over the older children. Many times, the children would keep in contact with the agent long after they had already left their guidance, thus proving how close their relationships were. These groups of children, along with the agent, traveled on trains and stopped at the certain places that had been previously selected. But before the trains stopped, “screening committees” had been created for each town where the train was to stop. They consisted of reputable townspersons (teacher, store owner, doctor, clergyman, etc.). This committee helped select appropriate parents for the children, and they would be one of the ultimate factors in the final adoption decision. At the stopping places, families were waiting, sometimes on the platforms where the trains stopped. The children would often be (as Kainer notes) “paraded in front of the crowd of onlookers”.

While at first the idea of “Orphan Trains” seems caring and fitting, there were a few problems. Many times, siblings were orphans together; they had only each other and were often the only family they had. When the children were taken on the trains to these various towns, it wasn’t uncommon to see brothers and sisters become separated – often for the remainder of their lives – many times being too young to remember that they even had a brother or a sister. Rarely, there were times when families would adopt children, but not treat them right. If an instance like this occurred, many measures would be taken to remove the child from the unwelcoming environment. Fortunately, most of the children found loving homes. In 1910, the Children’s Aid Society issued a report assessing that 87% of the children adopted through the Orphan Train program had done well.

From 1854 to 1929 these Orphan Trains traveled across the United States bringing cars of children – some confused, some afraid, others excited, and many anxious with anticipation as to who they would belong to, what family they would become a part of, and who would give them the love they so desperately needed since it had been so harshly denied.

During those years, nearly 200,000 children were given new homes and new families through Brace’s Orphan Train program. Nearly 3,000 – 5,000 of those children found homes in Texas. A conclusive number is unknown. In our immediate area, Orphan Trains stopped in Schulenburg, Flatonia, and Weimar – all towns with dominant railroad lines. It is known that the trains made two stops in Schulenburg, first in 1906 and then again in 1910. Many farmers from the surrounding area came to adopt the orphans as the trains rolled through. The Sisters who brought children from the Foundling Hospital wanted the children to be placed in Catholic families – not just Christian families like Brace’s program. Because of this particularity, many children were taken into this area of Texas due to the large population of Czechs and Germans, many of whom were Catholic. Local priests and nuns aided in the adoptions.

An article from The Victoria Advocate dated May 16th, 2004, follows the story of Mary Christ Jackson, an orphan train rider who grew up in High Hill:

“When she was only about a year old (1905), she arrived in Texas on one of the orphan trains from New York and was adopted by Heinrich and Carolina Dreitner Christ of High Hill near Schulenburg . . . According to Maggie Christ of Goliad (Mary’s great niece), the Rev. Henry Gerlach, a longtime priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church at High Hill, went to New York to bring back a number of children on one of the baby trains, including little Mary . . . Heinrich and Carolina Christ had one child when they adopted Mary. “They had just lost a baby, Alfred, and wanted more children,” Mrs. Christ notes. “They had heard about the priest coming with the children. They met the train and got her from Father Gerlach.” . . . She knows nothing of her real parents . . . “But,” she [Mary] noted, “I pray for them. And for the ones that adopted me, I pray too. So they’re all happy in heaven.” At a meeting of orphan train riders some years before in El Campo, a woman thought Mary might be her sister, pointing to a face in a photograph that she was holding. There is also speculation that she might have had a brother...”

In another article from The Victoria Advocate dated May 28th, 2004, several Orphan Train Riders from the local area are pointed out. One name in particular that looked very familiar to me was Sister Bernadette Volny, whose name I thought I had seen before in my mom’s book on the Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Plum. Volny was only two years old when she rode the train and was adopted by a family in Taylor in 1909. She was born Catherine Lestly at the New York Infants Home in 1907. She later became a sister at the convent in Shiner. She proceeded to teach at many different Catholic schools in our local area, including the Catholic school in Plum. Furthermore, the same article goes into detail about the experience of a Schulenburg resident who witnessed one of the trains coming in:

“Walter Krenek never forgot what he had seen. He was only about six years old at the time . . . around 1910 or 1911, when he witnessed children being adopted off one of the “baby trains” at Schulenburg. [He] had walked several miles down the railroad tracks to get a bucket of beer from the Palace Saloon at Schulenburg for workers in the family’s gin at Engle. ‘This particular trip made a lasting impression on him because he witnessed the “baby train” at Schulenburg,’ his son says.”

Leo Kainer, who I mentioned at the beginning, gave some very interesting information about his father, who was an Orphan Train Rider, in a presentation he gave on Orphan Trains:

“He was born in Manhattan, New York on October 7th, 1902 to an unwed mother who gave him the name of Jean Berrier. When he was only three weeks old, his mother brought him to the New York Foundling Hospital, where she signed a document giving all rights to the child to the Hospital. She was asked to return the next morning to complete the remaining documents; however, she never returned . . .He arrived in Schulenburg on the Orphan Train in 1906 when he was less than four years old. He was adopted by Ferdinand and Anna (Wick) Kainer, who were farmers in the Middle Creek area. He passed away in 1982 and is buried in the High Hill Catholic cemetery. On his gravestone is a tiny placard indicating that he was an Orphan Train Rider.”

Only a handful of these “Orphan Train Riders” are still alive today. Some may have been babies and don’t remember at all the long ride from the Eastern states. Others may very well remember the trip and the fear and the excitement. Their journeys may have been difficult and trying, but despite the hardships, they persevered. Their stories must not be forgotten; it is a touching tale of love and hope, of fear and desperation, but most importantly, of life in a most peculiar and compelling circumstance.

Footprints Chairman, Bruce Collins, noted: When we received this article, I forwarded it, as usual, to the Footprints Committee members for review. I also asked if they knew of any orphans that arrived in the area via these trains. Most members have relatives or knew of someone who came to Fayette County on the Orphan Trains. The long range impact of these new citizens must have been, and continues to be, incredible.

Henry P. Overbay

First Doctor in Southern Fayette County

by Norman C. Krischke

Henry P. Overbay, born 13 June 1822 near Rome, Georgia, was the first doctor of record in the southern part of Fayette County, specifically in the Town of Lyons. He made his rounds by buggy to manage the health of 200 to 300 people.

Lyons was founded in 1842, upon the establishment of DeWitt Clinton Lyons' stage station, trading post and post office.

Dr. Overbay first married Jane Ragsdale on November 26, 1848 and then P. Nina Henderson on November 25, 1856. P. Nina may have been a daughter of Alfred Henderson, first Mayor of Schulenburg. It is probable that his first two wives are buried in the Navidad Baptist Cemetery about 3 miles south-southeast of Schulenburg. He married Ruth (Garrett) James, as his third wife on November 17, 1870. He had six children: Eugene, Lamar, Vattell, Aroma, Henry P. Jr. and Rebel Lee.

Lyons Lodge #195, A. F. & A. M. was founded in 1858 and Dr. Overbay was elected first Worshipful Master.

When Schulenburg was founded in 1873, the doctor moved to the new town and established his office and residence in buildings on Upton Avenue on the north edge of the alley immediately north of the Ignac Russek Mercantile Building, space now occupied by City Hall. The Russek Building and the Overbay Buildings were destroyed in Schulenburg's great fire of 1893.

Dr. Overbay had an advertisement in the "Schulenburg Argus", the town's first newspaper published by P. E. Edmonson who also published the "Flatonia Argus". Dr. Overbay announced in the paper that he was a "Physician, Surgeon and Accoucheur"; "Accoucheur" meant that he delivered babies.

The doctor purchased a large piece of land on the western edge of Schulenburg between Babylon Land and the railroad tracks and offered it to the city as the Overbay Addition. The land was never developed and sold to private interests.

Dr. Overbay died January 23, 1880 and is buried in the Old High Hill Cemetery under a broken tombstone. After he died, his wife, Ruth, married William B. Robertson (1855-1901). Both William and Ruth are buried in the Schulenburg City Cemetery.

There is a picture of Dr. Henry P. Overbay on display in the Lyons Lodge Building on College Street in Schulenburg.

Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons' Gravestone - A Mystery Solved

By Samantha Holub
Submitted by Ed Janecka

Rachel Parson's GravestoneThe old city cemetery in La Grange holds a world of mysteries; many of these have never been solved. One such mystery concerns the grave of Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons. In a circle on her gravestone etched into a circle are the nine letters "F N D O Z B T K C".  For years, the meaning of these letters remained a mystery. No one seemed to have an answer.

Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons was born in July 1792, only 11 years after the Revolutionary War had ended; she was born Rachel Ross. Although she was born in Virginia, her family later moved to Greene County, Tennessee. It was there that she met and married her first husband, Robert Gregory. She was married in 1808, when she was only sixteen years old. She had her first child during this marriage, David G. Gregory.  However, this marriage was short-lived when her husband died five years later, leaving her a widow with a son to raise alone.

A few short years later, on May 10, 1817, she met her second husband, George Parsons, a veteran of the Revolutionary War.  It was during this marriage that Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons had her second and last child, Julie A. Parsons.  Her son, David, had become a doctor and left Tennessee to live in Texas with his family. His first wife was Mary Fant, who would give him ten children. During this time, Texas had just been annexed to the United States.  It was in 1850 that George Parsons died, leaving Rachel a widow once again.  A few months after her husband’s death, at the urging of her son, Rachel Ross Parsons left Tennessee and moved to Texas to live with her remaining family.

Fayette County was Rachel's final home. She was in Fayette County for only a short while when she took ill. For eight weeks, she suffered through her disease, but then passed away in July 1852 at the age of 60. Her son, David G. Gregory, would become a prominent citizen of Fayette County. He not only was a physician and druggist, but was also an ordained minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, sat on the Board of the Texas Monument and Military Institute at Rutersville, was involved in the local Masonic Lodge, serving as an officer in the Grand Lodge of Texas, and was one of the incorporators of the La Grange Collegiate Institute, the name of which was later changed to Ewing College. Dr. Gregory was also the creator and editor of the first Fayette County Record in the 1870s. He passed away on January 1, 1890 and was buried in Alleyton, a community near present-day Columbus. While living in Alleyton, he was also known as a noted horticulturist and proprietor of a nursery and fruit farm.

Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons’ gravestone still sits in the old city cemetery with that circle containing nine letters. The passage of time has taken its toll on her gravestone, but those letters remained a mystery that for many years was seemingly unsolvable until an emailed correspondence that revealed their meaning was sent to the Fayette County Archives.  According to the sender, a descendant of Rachel Parsons, it was a rarely-used custom for female relatives of Masonic Lodge members to have those nine letters inscribed on their gravestones. The letters stand for “Fear Not Daughters of Zion, Behold the King Cometh.”, which was taken from John 12:15.  Sometimes the center of the circle also contained secret signs.  Thankfully, another mystery in our local history has been solved.

Photo Caption: Tombstone of Rachel Ross Gregory Parsons with the cryptic inscription of nine letters; courtesy of Carolyn Heinsohn
Texas Digital Newspaper Program, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Texas Monument Newspaper; July 21, 1852

Fayette County and the State Penitentiary

by Gesine (Tschiedel) Koether

Texas State Penitentiary

Prison yard at Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, TX in 1870s
Source: Texas Historical Association online public domain photograph

The older I get the more interesting I find the connections between people, places and events.  A simple discussion with some friends led me to begin my research on just what did Fayette County’s William Menefee, William G. Sansom and the first Texas State penitentiary in Huntsville have in common and just what happened to bring about this connection?

William Menefee (1796-1875) was the Fayette County Texas State House Representative of the Fifth Legislature in 1846. Born in Tennessee and admitted to the bar in 1824, he and his family moved to Texas in 1830. He was a landowner, politically active and at the 1836 convention, he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.

In 1848, a few years after Texas became a state, the Texas legislature passed a bill to establish a state prison based on the need of a place for convicted felons to serve their time. The law stated that the prison would be strict and require the inmates to work so as not to be a burden on the state’s taxpayers. Of the three committee members selected to find an appropriate site for this new institution not to be over 100 acres and costing no more than $5 an acre was William Menefee of Fayette County. The committee stayed under the $500 limit and with the local support for the institution, found Huntsville to be a good choice.

Meanwhile, a gang led by John Short had a history of keeping ahead of the law as they traveled and lived in numerous states.  Staying on the move, John Short settled in Texas by the mid-1800s with his family that included his sons, William and Thomas, and his son-in-law William Sansom. Settling in Fayette County near La Grange, they farmed and traded, but also participated in illegal activities. These activities led to William Short being publically hung for his part in cattle rustling. 

In August of 1848, William G. Sansom was apprehended and held for local crimes until the next circuit court was to be held. Prior to his trial, Sansom confessed to being part of this band of thieves and robbers.  This confession included tales of horse thieving, cattle rustling, helping to sell stolen land certificates, dealing in counterfeit money, the killing of two hogs, as well as other crimes.  His fear of being killed by the clan for divulging anything about them must have weighed heavy on him, but he still confessed to participating in what this clan had done. Having their horses, cows and/or other livestock stolen could put families in dire straits for survival. For these crimes, Sansom was convicted and sentenced to three years’ punishment.  It is interesting to note that Thomas Short was implicated in many of these same crimes, but was acquitted due to his young age of sixteen. Sansom was escorted to Huntsville in 1849 by the sheriff and five citizen guards on horseback, as outlaws had declared they would attempt to rescue Sansom, but did not do so. By September 1850, Sansom was pardoned by Texas Governor P. H. Bell, returned to his family in Fayette County and moved on to Kendall County, Texas.

So there it is, the first prisoner of the first Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas was William G. Sansom of Fayette County.  What other interesting historical stories are waiting to be rediscovered? Our local Fayette County Library and the Texas State Historical Association’s website provided the information needed for this article along with so many more details including the full confession of William G. Sansom.  Feel free to go spend some time browsing through the library or the historical site for more about our history in Fayette County. I know I will. Keep watching for what I find to write about next. 

Lich, Glen E. “John Short”; Handbook of Texas online
Kemp, L.W. “Texas State Penitentiary”; Handbook of Texas online
Walker, Donald. “William Menefee”; Handbook of Texas online
“William G. Sansom”. The Texas Banner, Huntsville, Texas; October 6, 1849; Texas
    State Library

The Peter Family of Dubina, Texas

by Carolyn Heinsohn

In the fall of 1856, a group of Czech emigrants arrived in Galveston, Texas from northeastern Moravia in the Empire of Austria (now the Czech Republic) after a difficult thirteen- week journey on a sailing ship from Bremerhaven, Germany. After an arduous trip by oxen-pulled wagons, the group arrived in Cat Spring, Texas, where they heard some woeful tales from a fellow countryman preceding them who told about his difficult life in Texas. According to one source, this resulted in one family in the group moving on to Iowa. However, another man had more hopeful news and convinced the remaining group of sixteen families to remain in Texas. Four individuals in the group acted as scouts at some point and brought back favorable reports about an area on the east side of the Navidad River in southern Fayette County.

After a three-week stay in Cat Spring, Konstantine Chovanec and his family chose to stay near Fayetteville, while the others went to La Grange for a week. At that point, the group decided to divide in two with some families choosing to go to the already-established Bluff community. Eight men, who were interested in the Navidad River location, negotiated with Edward Brookfield to purchase tracts of land in the league of land that had been granted to his father, William Brookfield, located 16 miles south of La Grange. They were Joseph Peter, Valentine Haidusek, Ignatz Sramek, Valentine Holub, Ignatz Muzny, Joseph Kalig, Joseph Janda and Franz Marak, who later moved away and founded the town of Marak in Milam County. The date for the actual deed transactions for all of their land acquisitions was December 6, 1856, shortly after their arrival at their new home.

However, after Joseph Janda purchased 30 acres, he then decided to join the group going to the Bluff area. The remaining six families and four individuals who were in the “Navidad” group contracted Charles and Joseph Brasher to take them in two wagons to their chosen area adjacent to the East Navidad River. The group arrived at their destination in late November just as a norther blew in with rain and sleet. The weary emigrants took shelter in a grove of large live oak trees. With sheer determination, they worked together and managed to survive that cold winter, but were further challenged since they had very little money left to buy supplies after paying for their voyages and land. The following year, many were ill with diseases such as diphtheria and cholera, which was caused by contaminated drinking water from shallow wells. Collectively, they only harvested enough cotton for one bale during that first year. The community that they founded, which was the first settlement founded by Czechs west of the Colorado River, was first called Navidad, then Bohemian Navidad, then Moravia, and eventually Dubina, which is a Czech word for “oak grove”, commemorating the site where they first stayed upon their arrival.

One of the families in the group was the Peter family from the village of Ticha, Moravia, where the family name was spelled Petter or Petr, which is the Czech spelling. Some family members in later generations changed the name to Peters. Joseph Peter, Sr. the patriarch of the family, was one of the men in the group who selected the land on the Navidad River that was to become Dubina. Joseph, Sr. purchased 70 acres of land for $202 from Edward Brookfield located in the immediate area of what would become the town of Dubina. He paid $170 at the time of the purchase and owed the remaining $40 with 10% interest within two years. Eventually he built a log cabin with a stone chimney, and this humble abode would continue to be his home for the remainder of his life. According to family tradition, Joseph, Sr. sold his property and possessions in Moravia before immigrating to Texas for approximately $300, which he undoubtedly used to pay for traveling expenses and to purchase his first tract of land.

In the early years of the community, Catholic church services were held in the Peter family’s log cabin whenever the traveling priest, Father Victor Gury of Frelsburg, arrived in Dubina. Religious services continued to be held at the Peter home until 1877 when the first church was built. The Peter family believed in religion and education, which was evident in their lives, as well as their descendants. In later years, the log cabin burned to the ground, but the stone chimney is still standing as a solitary reminder of those days. Joseph Peter, Sr’s property is still owned by his descendants.

Joseph, Sr. and Rosalia had six children who were born in Moravia; however one son died at age three before the family emigrated. Another son, Frank, died in 1867 in Dubina at age 15. The remaining four children who reached maturity were: Jan, Rosalie (Janda/Steffek), Joseph, Jr. and Mary Ann (Kocurek).

Rosalia Peter died in 1872 at age 57 and was buried at Dubina. Two years later, Joseph Sr. married Veronica Vrana, the widow of Jacob Vrana, who died of cholera in 1866 and was buried in the Praha Catholic Cemetery. Veronica and Jacob had three children when they emigrated from Moravia in 1860: Veronica, Barbora and Frantisek. They had three additional children in Texas: Joseph, Theresa and Marie, who was only three months old when her father died. Life after Jacob’s death was very difficult for Veronica, who was left with six children, ages 3 months to 13. She and her oldest daughter, Veronica, worked as farm hands, and daughter, Barbora, worked for a German family in High Hill. Her daughter, Veronica, died in February, 1870 at age 17. However, in spite of her losses, Veronica was able to purchase 93 acres of land approximately sixteen miles south of La Grange in May, 1870. Another misfortune occurred when her youngest daughter, Marie, died in 1873 at age six.

Oral family history indicates that the marriage between Joseph Peter, Sr. and Veronica Vrana more than likely started out as a marriage of convenience – they both needed a partner to make their lives easier. There were two households with land and a kitchen to manage, both of which were difficult to manage single-handedly with children. Joseph and Veronica had a son, Felix, when Veronica was 48 years old. Felix was almost three years old when he died in May, 1880. Veronica’s son, Frantisek, age 20, predeceased Felix in January, 1880, so she lost four children. Joseph Peter, Sr. died on August 21,1881 at age 63. Veronica died 15 years later on August 25, 1896 at age 67. Both are buried in the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Cemetery at Dubina.

Jan, the eldest son of Rosalia and Joseph Peter, Sr., was conscripted into the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After basic training in Austin, his unit was sent to Brownsville for duty. Since many Czechs left their homeland to avoid conscription into the Austrian Army, which involved many years of service and fighting wars that meant nothing to them, they were not particulary enthusiastic about serving in the Confederate Army. Hence, Jan Peter joined a group of men who escaped across the Rio Grande River into Mexico. Eventually, the group was taken by boat to New Orleans, where most joined the Union Army after being unable to find work. After engaging in many battles, Jan’s company was sent to Brownsville, which had been captured from the Confederates by the Union. Ironically, Jan came back full circle to where he left the Confederate Army, but unfortunately died of dysentery in a post hospital in Brownsville, Texas in 1864.

Joseph Sr. and Rosalia’s second oldest son, Joseph, Jr., who eventually owned the majority of the businesses in Dubina, received some early education from a Mr. Jungbecker in High Hill, Texas, since a school had not yet been established in Dubina. He eventually learned the trade of blacksmithing in La Grange, and had his first job in that trade in the vicinity of Weimar. He was too young to serve in the Civil War, but did help his father haul cotton with ox teams to Brownsville and Mexico for the Confederacy. They had some exciting and dangerous encounters with robbers while engaged in this hazardous undertaking.

Joseph and Barbora Peter

Joseph and Barbora Vrana Peter

In 1871, Joseph, Jr. married Barbora Vrana of High Hill, the daughter of Veronica Vrana, who later married his father. He may have met the Vrana family when he was studying in High Hill. Joseph and Barbora settled in Dubina, where Joseph, Jr. worked as a blacksmith, began acquiring land and establishing additional businesses. By 1885, he was appointed the first postmaster of Dubina. Joseph Peter, Jr. would eventually own and operate the local grocery store, which housed the post office, a meat market, saloon, blacksmith shop, cobbler shop, cotton gin, grist mill, dance platform, and a telephone exchange. He even had a small zoo with a variety of animals and birds to entertain the locals. Newly-arriving emigrants were invited to stay in a room in the rear of the Peter store until they could find a farm to rent or purchase. They were provided with aid and advice to help them start a new life in Texas and were never charged for their room and board.

A devastating fire in 1912 destroyed the gin, mill, blacksmith shop and store. The store with a post office was rebuilt, but the volume of business never again was realized, perhaps because the other businesses were no longer there to draw potential customers.

Peter Dance Platform

Peter Dance Platform, circa 1900

In 1890, the Fayette County Democrats were a split party. Two slates of candidates were chosen at two county conventions. At the urging of his childhood friend, Judge Augustin Haidusek, whose family was one of the original group of Dubina emigrants, Joseph, Jr. agreed to be a state representative candidate for District 70. Since Joseph, Jr. was a businessman, who knew both English and Czech and was well-known in southern Fayette County, he won the election to the Texas House of Representatives of the 22nd Legislature. He served on committees on Examination of Comptroller’s and Treasurer’s Accounts, as well as Mining, Minerals and Agricultural Affairs. He was re-elected to the 23rd Legislature where he served on committees on Roads, Bridges and Ferries, Claims and Accounts, and Labor. After serving in the 23rd Legislature, Joseph, Jr. returned to private life in Dubina.

Joseph Jr. eventually acquired over 1,000 acres of land where as many as 20 families lived as either farm hands or tenants.  His first home burned before the 1912 fire, so he eventually built a home adjacent to his new store. He also took the initial step towards building a permanent church building by donating five acres of land to the San Antonio Diocese for the church and cemetery.  The iron cross that was placed on top of the steeple of the first church was crafted by Tom Lee, a former slave, in Joseph, Jr’s. blacksmith shop.  After an inland hurricane destroyed the church in 1909, the undamaged cross was rescued and placed on the new church.


Joseph Peter Jr. Courtyard

Courtyard behind the Joseph Peter, Jr. home and store, Dubina;
circa early 1950s; persons unidentified

Joseph, Jr. and his wife had ten children, eight of whom lived to maturity: Frances (Riebe), Mary (Sobotik), Emil, Emilie (Vacek), Josephine (Mikeska), Leo J., Julius and Wilhelmina (Miculka).  Joseph died in March, 1924 at age 78 of pneumonia and pleuresy after being exposed to cold, wet weather in his fields. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in that area of Fayette County with an estimated attendance of 750 to 1000 persons.  Barbora died in 1938 at age 84.  Both are buried in the Catholic cemetery at Dubina.

Their fourth child and oldest son, Emil, became an outstanding musician, first learning to play the piano and violin at the Catholic school in Dubina.  When his father went to Austin to serve in the Legislature, Emil, age 14, went along to attend Capitol Business College and continue his music lessons.  He then attended St. Edwards College where he took organ, piano, violin, cornet and vocal lessons.  Upon returning to Dubina, Emil began playing the organ in the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in 1896 and continued to do so for 54 years.

He also served as the cornetist for the Army band with the Texas National Guard in Brenham from 1904 to 1907.  During his enlistment, he traveled to Manassas, Virginia to play in a concert with 40 Army bands, as well as for President Theodore Roosevelt.  He was invited to join the John Phillip Sousa Band as a cornetist, but unfortunately he developed an infection in his jaw, which necessitated surgery to remove part of his jaw that was replaced with a metal plate.  This ended his career as a cornetist.

Like his father, Emil served as the postmaster of Dubina for five years until a rural mail route was established, requiring his resignation.  He and his wife, Adriana Miculka, had two children, Rose (Filip) and Edwin.

The seventh child and second son was Leo J. Peters, who became a prominent physician in Schulenburg, Texas and served the people of that community for over 50 years. He was among the first four graduates of Schulenburg High School in 1905.  The family decided that Leo would attend St. Edwards College in Austin and study for the priesthood.  However, Leo decided instead that he wanted to become a doctor. After graduating from medical school in 1909 at age 21, he completed his training under Dr. I.E. Clark in Schulenburg, in lieu of a traditional internship, until he moved into his own practice.

Dr. Leo, as he liked to be called, had a large practice that continued to grow because of his ability to communicate in four or five languages, plus the fact that he was an excellent diagnostician.  He was especially proud of the fact that he delivered over 2,500 babies in the area, and with his excellent memory, could recall the time of delivery and the details of each event in the last 25 years of his practice. His interest in new technology led to the study of radiology and the acquisition of the first X-ray machine between San Antonio and Houston.  He was the recipient of the Texas Family Doctor of the Year Award in 1951 and was one of the first four recipients of the Ashbel Smith Distinguished Alumni Awards from The University of Texas  Medical Branch in Galveston in 1965.  In addition, he was a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Schulenburg for 44 years.  Dr. Peters and his wife, Alma Baumgarten, had two children: Leo J. Peters, Jr. and Hazel Peters Shaller.

From their meager beginnings in a log cabin, members of the Peter family became successful, contributing citizens in Fayette County. They were like so many other emigrants who came to America seeking freedoms that were not available in their countries of origin.  Because of their willingness to work and their faith in God, they were able to overcome great odds and eventually reaped the rewards of their efforts.

Fayette County Deed Records, Vol. L, pp. 408-416.
“Fayette County, Texas Heritage” Vol. II. The Fayette County History Book Committee; Curtis Media, Inc., 1996
“Historical Sketch of One of This Section’s Oldest and Most Respected Families (The Peter Family)”. Wemar Mercury, March 25, 1938, pp 1-2.
“History of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Catholic Church, Dubina, TX.”, Second Edition. Dubina Church Committee; John Janacek, Publisher; 1979
Hudson, Estelle and Maresh, Dr. Henry R. “The Czech Pioneers of the Southwest”; Western Lithograph, Houston, TX; reprinted 1996
The Schulenburg Sticker, Vol. 30, No. 30, Ed. 1; Friday, April 4, 1924
Welch, Millie Jean Pechacek. “Country Cousins”; self-published, Farmers Branch, Texas; 1997
Joseph and Barbora Vrana Peter photo courtesy of Edwin Peter
Peter Courtyard photo courtesy of Ed Janecka

The Pliska Aeroplane

Built by a Former Fayette County Resident

by Carolyn Heinsohn

The Pliska Aeroplane, one of the first aircraft built in Texas, was constructed in 1911-1912 in Midland, Texas only a few years after the Wright Brothers first successfully flew their aeroplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This feat was accomplished by Gray Coggin, a chauffeur and auto mechanic, and John Valentine Pliska, a master blacksmith, who had emigrated to Fayette County in 1897 at age 18 with his family from Tyn nad Becvou, Moravia, near Lipnik, which is now in the Czech Republic. He was the third oldest of eight children of a blacksmith, Frantisek and wife Marianna Lesana Pliska.

The family followed the oldest son to America, landed in Galveston, and eventually settled near other Czech families at Flatonia, Texas. After working as a blacksmith and machinist in Flatonia, Moulton and Meeks, John Pliska left Central Texas in 1903, in search of a place where there was more opportunity. He had heard stories of fortunes that could be quickly made in Mexico, so he decided to try his luck. Traveling by train on a circuitous trip to Mexico City to “make his fortune”, he stopped in Midland, Texas where he visited a blacksmith shop. Supposedly, something on the town water well had broken, and no one had been able to repair it. After Pliska successfully repaired it, he was offered a job at the blacksmith shop, which he accepted, and his dreams of Mexico were put aside. He also took a six month leave from the blacksmith shop to work at one of the largest ranches in West Texas, the C.C. Slaughter Ranch outside of Midland, where he made branding irons, repaired windmills and cared for Arabian stallions.

In early 1905, John Pliska returned to Flatonia at age 26 to marry Louise Hundle, age 22, the daughter of Albert and Annie Elick Hundle. Both of her parents were born in Netolice, Bohemia, and emigrated to Texas with their families - the Elicks came in 1867, settling in Frelsburg, Texas; the Hundles came in 1875, settling in Praha, Texas. Louise was born in Praha, but her family moved to another farm closer to Flatonia when she was a young child.

After their wedding, the couple returned to Midland. Pliska was the first person in Midland County to become a naturalized U.S. citizen on October 12, 1905. He and his brother-in-law, John Hundle of Flatonia, decided to open their own blacksmith shop in Midland in 1908. The two of them began talking about building an aeroplane shortly after opening their shop, worked on drawings and began collecting materials for the plane in 1909. However John Hundle decided to move back to Flatonia less than a year after arriving in Midland. John’s oldest brother, Frank, then moved from North Dakota to work with John in his blacksmith shop.

Pliska had studied in a balloon and glider school in Bavaria while serving in the Austrian army and had considerable knowledge about the rudiments of lighter-than-air craft. When Robert Fowler landed his Wright Flyer II in Midland in 1911, Pliska’s dream was rekindled. He enlisted the help of Gray Coggin, who was an experienced automobile mechanic, and together they studied Fowler’s plane and made plans to create their own aeroplane. They thought that they could fly their plane at towns and cities around the country, charging enough money to view the event to help pay for their expenses, plus provide a sufficient profit. Few people at that time had ever seen an aeroplane fly.

The Pliska Aeroplane, which was 26.5 feet long with a 33-foot wing span, was built by the two men in the evenings after their normal workdays with the simplest materials Pliska had in his shop – wood, piano wire and canvas. They hired out as helpers on a cattle train in return for a free train ride to Sandusky, Ohio, where they purchased an aeroplane engine, which was a modification of a marine engine, for $1500. They had to order expensive high-test fuel, a combination of lubricating oil and benzene, from New York City. The biplane framework was made of wood. The ribs in the wings were made of thin pieces of straight-grained wood, glued together into a pre-formed, curved structure. Pliska made many of the metal couplings and fittings for the plane in his shop. The engine was mounted in back of the pilot’s seat, far enough back so that the attached propeller would not touch the rear edge of the wings. They developed a system of cabled aileron controls that was not common to most aircraft at that time. Their controls were far in advance of those used by other aircraft builders and have become universal in aircraft design. The pilot could control the movement of the ailerons by leaning his body to the right or left, as was necessary to bank the plane in turning. A wheeled control stick in front of the pilot was moved forward or backward to gain or decrease elevation of the plane. The propeller was made by gluing pieces of straight-grained wood together, and the curved surfaces were formed by hand with a draw knife and rasp. To remedy damage encountered by brush and mesquite while landing, Pliska attached a metal sheath to the tips of the blades, creating the first metal-tipped propeller ever made. Thereafter, the metal-tipped propeller became standard equipment on most planes until replaced by all-metal propellers in the 1920s. Since balloon silk, which was usually used on aircraft wings, was expensive, Pliska decided to use canvas. After experiencing problems with too much “drag” on the air passing under the wings, which caused difficulty in keeping the plane off the ground for any appreciable length of time, Pliska and Coggin shellacked the canvas, which helped considerably. However, the treated canvas made the plane heavier than it would have been had silk been used on the wings. They discovered that their engine, which was supposed to reach 1,400 r.p.m., was only guaranteed to do so at sea level. Since Midland had an elevation of 2,800 feet, the engine was never able to reach the maximum speed. Therefore, the aeroplane, which operated perfectly with the exception of the motor, had problems reaching the elevation needed to travel any distance. They were only able to fly for a maximum of two miles on any test flight.

Pliska and Coggin wanted to return their engine to the factory and secure a larger one. However, in the meantime, there was no hangar in which to store the plane, and because of lack of funds and the protests of Pliska’s wife, who thought the project was a foolish folly, the plane was dismantled and stored in the rear of the blacksmith shop, where it remained for a period of over fifty years. When the blacksmith shop was torn down in 1962, the plane was given to the City of Midland by the seven children of John Valentine and Louise Hundle Pliska, to be restored and housed in a suitable building. Today it proudly hangs in the Midland airport terminal, permanently suspended in the air where it was meant to be, an example of the inventiveness of an ingenious Czech-Texan, who once lived in Fayette County.

Political Rivals Come to Flatonia

by Katie Kulhanek

In May of 1892, the small town of Flatonia became the talk of Fayette County when two prominent Texas politicians chose to visit, campaign, and speak there. On May 13th, Governor Jim Hogg came and he was soon followed by Judge George Clark on May 22nd. Both men were close contenders for the Texas gubernatorial race that was to be held for 1892.

Governor Hogg had already served one term as governor beginning in 1890 and was now running for a second term. Forty-one year old James Stephen “Big Jim” Hogg was born in Rusk, Texas and had attained titles of lawyer, doctor, statesman, and 20th governor of Texas – and the first Texas Governor to have been born in Texas. His nickname “Big Jim” was attributed to his weight – Hogg weighed 350 lbs. After the Civil War in 1865, Hogg became a follower of the conservative New South Creed which advocated several ideas: that the South follow the North’s example of industrialization, that diversified and efficient agriculture will help the economy grow, and that vocational training would prompt material success. Running as a Democrat, Hogg became governor of Texas in 1890 with the support of small merchants, farmers, and ranchers. During his first term, he persuaded the Texas legislature to create the Railroad Commission, in an attempt to regulate the powerful railroad industry in Texas. When Hogg decided to run for a second term in 1892, he ran on five positions: to uphold the state constitution, to support the Railroad Commission, to stop the railroads from issuing watered stocks, to regulate the issuance of county and municipal bonds, and to regulate alien land ownership. One interesting rumor which is true is that Hogg had a daughter whom he named “Ima Hogg”. Contrary to popular belief, he did not have another child by the name of “Ura”.

Hogg’s opponent, fifty-one year old Judge George Clark, was born in Eutaw, Alabama. He studied at the University of Alabama, graduating in June of 1861. Clark then enrolled in the Confederate Army and served in the Chancellorsville campaign, the battle of Gettysburg, and several other battles. He was wounded two times and eventually achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel. Clark came to Texas in 1867, settling in Waco. Nicknamed the “Little Giant”, Clark was also a Democrat and had helped his friend Richard Coke successfully run for Texas governor in 1874. Clark was briefly Coke’s secretary of state and was then appointed Texas attorney general. He was also appointed to fill a vacancy on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. After several other political careers, Clark retired to practice law in Waco and became a prominent railroad attorney. In 1887, Clark served as chairman of a campaign to successfully defeat a state constitutional amendment for prohibition. He chose to run for Texas governor in 1892 and was represented by the railroads in Texas. Both Clark and Hogg wanted the Democratic nomination, but Clark realized that Hogg would more than likely win. Thus, Clark and his supporters left the Democratic convention and formed a new party called the Jefferson Democrats; they nominated Clark for governor allowing him to run against Hogg.

The stage was now set for these two men to face off for state governor. Flatonia was one of their many campaign stops throughout the state.

On May 12th, 1892, people from all over Fayette, Lavaca, Lee and Gonzales counties gathered in the small town to see and hear Governor Hogg. Supporters of Hogg wore blue badges with the inscription, “Hogg and the Commission”. At 10:00 A.M., Governor Hogg went to the school and addressed the crowd with a short speech. It is said that the speech was “appreciated by the children”. The governor was then slated to give another speech around 1:15 P.M. Over 1,500 people waited to hear the governor to begin his two-hour long speech. A man from Weimar stood in front of the platform with a banner that had a picture of a hog on it.

Hogg began by bringing up the same questions and comments he had stated in his speech given at Seguin the day before. When the governor asked, “What will you do if you elect me governor?”, a man from the crowd replied, “We will have a mighty poor governor.” Despite the cries of Hogg supporters to kick the man out of the assembly, Governor Hogg appropriately said, “My friend, don’t pass judgment until you have heard me”. The dissenter agreed and stayed quiet. Hogg went on to explain his stances on various issues and set straight the misrepresentations set forth by his political rivals. He praised the German population for their position against gambling. Many in the crowd argued with Hogg over the power of the state commission. There were cries of both agreement and dissent in the crowd. Hogg voiced his opposition towards the railroad and big corporations as many cheered for him. After the speech ended, a Dr. Clark of Schulenburg went up to the news reporter from the Dallas Morning News and stated that,

“I came here with two Hogg badges on. When I had heard the governor’s speech I took them off and from now on I am a Clark man. I was one of the strongest workers he had in the county two years ago and have been this year up to this time. But I am tired of all this old stuff…Fayette County will go for Clark.”

After leaving Flatonia at the train depot and traveling through Weimar on his way back to Houston, Governor Hogg “kindly offered to kiss” one of the Weimar ladies gathered at the depot, but she declined.

On May 21st, Judge George Clark arrived in Flatonia amidst crowds of great numbers. A free bar-b-q dinner was prepared for all who came. Streamers lined the streets with the words, “Turn Texas Loose” – which was a call to reject Hogg’s Railroad Commission. There were many Confederate veterans there to cheer for Clark. Farmers from all over the surrounding counties “quit their fields, left their plows in the furrow to come and hear the doctrine of pure democracy and they heard and went away convinced”. After a large parade of 3,000 people and many wagons, bands from La Grange, Ruttersville, Weimar, and Dubina all played.

It is estimated that 4,000 to 5,500 people were in attendance for Judge Clark’s speech. He opened his speech by praising a group of ladies who had just presented him with bouquets of flowers. Not long into the speech a man cried out, “Hurrah for Hogg!” The crowd wanted the man to be taken out of the audience, but Clark smartly replied “Let him alone. I expect I’ll have to pardon him out of the penitentiary before next March”. He then calmed the applauding crowds by politely saying that “if Governor Hogg had been true to the principles of democracy then the people ought to re-elect him… But if this was not so…then we must save ourselves”. When the same Hogg man again shouted “Hogg!”, Clark calmly stated that “I’ve changed my mind about you, I think your friends will have to sue out a writ of lunacy for you.” Towards the end of his speech, he assured German and Bohemian voters that their voice would be heard and put down Hogg’s Railroad Commission. Judge Clark had a letter read that pointed out falsities in his campaign. He asked voters to be aware of the distortion of facts that had been sent forth from Hogg’s campaigners.

Both of these men’s trips caused much stir in the county. But from the articles taken from each of the visits, it appeared as though Judge Clark had far better support from Fayette County as well as from surrounding counties. At the end of the election, Hogg defeated Clark. But it was close; Hogg won 43.7% of the vote (190,486) and Clark won 30.6% of the vote (133,395). The Populist candidate, Thomas Nugent, came in third with 24.9% of the vote. This was the first time in state history that the winning Democratic candidate did not receive a majority of the votes. But in Fayette County, Clark took the most votes. This political blow decidedly ended Clark’s political career. He continued to practice law but after declining health, Clark succumbed to a six-week illness and died on March 28th, 1918. Governor Hogg went on to serve as governor until 1895. Ironically, he was injured in a railroad accident in 1905 while on a business trip. Hogg never fully recovered and died in his sleep in 1906.

Celia of Primm, Texas

“A Fayette County, Texas Love Story”

By David L. Collins, Sr.

This story began with the birth of William Primm in 1778, the son of English parents, in Stafford (Stafford County), Virginia, the boyhood home of President George Washington.   William Primm apparently spent his youth in Stafford, finished secondary schooling and medical school, and by 1810 (age 32) was living in Aquia, Virginia, just north of Stafford, where he may have begun his medical practice.

From 1810 to 1835, details about Dr. William Primm’s travels become murky.  Some say he moved to the Territory of Missouri and then to Mississippi and ultimately to Louisiana, where he remained for a number of years.  He apparently owned considerable property in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, which is located 200 miles northwest of New Orleans.

At the turn of the century, Celia, a mulatto slave, was born in 1802 somewhere in Kentucky, and the story continues. By 1818 Celia was living in Louisiana, where records show that on July 21, 1818, she was sold with a group of six slaves (a family of three and three others) in Orleans for a sum of $3600.  A review of Louisiana slave records indicates that she was then sold and inventoried in a mother and child group sale from Thomas Delery to David Duplechain for a sum of $1200 on January 4, 1819 at St. Landry Parish (Opelousas Post).  By January 20, 1819, Celia and her mother had been moved to Orleans Parish, (New Orleans), where she was sold by Sterling Allen to Honore Landreau for $1300.

In studying the above transactions, it appears that David Duplechain and Honore Landreau may have been representing certain slave owners, doing transactions for them. Landreau may have purchased Celia for Dr. Primm in 1820.  It was a common practice for slaves to be sold from one plantation to another, and the above transactions seem to confirm that this was the Celia that Dr. Primm purchased and subsequently married.

Apparently Dr. Primm was smitten by Celia, because in the same year that she was purchased, it is reported that he married her.  Based on Celia’s great granddaughter, Ethel E. Primm’s photograph, Celia was obviously a beautiful woman and could possibly have passed as white, and those qualities were passed down to her great granddaughter. In spite of the law against interracial marriages, Dr. Primm went against the grain, married her and stood by her side the rest of his life. Perhaps, her appearance made it possible for them to be married without questions. 

What is confusing about this story is that Dr. Primm’s first son, James B. L. Primm, was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1820, which would indicate that Celia may not have been his mother. James Primm could have been the progeny of another relationship just prior to the purchase of Celia.

By 1821, Dr. Primm and Celia were settled in Concordia Parish, Louisiana with a growing family. George Primm was born in 1821, Sophronia Virginia Primm in 1828, Galen Primm in 1829 or 1830, St. John Primm in 1834, and Mary Ann Primm in 1838.

In 1835, Dr. Primm made a prospecting trip from Louisiana into Texas, where he purchased from William Barton the head rights of a league of land in Fayette County that was located in the area where the Colorado River has its juncture with Barton Creek; it was said to be among the best plantations in the State.  After the Texas Revolution, Dr. Primm traveled back to Louisiana for his family, slaves and personal effects, and after returning to Texas, he obtained another head right from the Republic of Texas for one third league of land. 

It appears that Dr. Primm and Celia began to build their home in Fayette County, Texas and planned their move to Texas in 1836.  Based on deed records, all of the family had moved to Fayette County by 1840.  Between 1840 and 1860, the family grew and prospered in their new surroundings, even though they were subjected to some grief from the community over their interracial relationship.

Dr. William Primm died on March 20, 1865 on his plantation in Fayette County at age 88 and was buried in the Primm Family Cemetery, which was located on the old Sophie Elias farm between N. Kirtley Rd. and Barton Creek; that site is now a gravel pit.  A community known as Primm, Texas was eventually developed on his land; however, after a train wreck occurred decades later due to a mix-up with the name Plum, the community was renamed Kirtley. 

In the probate records of May, 1865, the will by William Primm states that all of his children were born to him by Celia, a free woman of color, whom he had set free and manumitted in the State of Ohio in the year 1817, and that all of his children were born free and had the right to inherit his estate.  His will further states that many persons condemned him for having children born of a woman of African descent, and that he regrets that their mother was not a free white woman, but that no condemnation or regrets could undo what had been done, and that it was imperative for him to provide for his children and that he hoped that "charity which is long suffering and kind will prompt others to approve this course". 

The statement made by Dr. Primm about Celia being manumitted in the State of Ohio in 1817 may have been a diversion by him to protect his marriage to Celia, a mulatto. He knew that his marriage to her was not legally recognized in Texas, so therefore, he wanted to legally declare that Celia was a free woman of color and that his children could inherit his estate.  Celia Primm died on January 12, 1868 in Primm, Texas at age 66. 

Ethel E. PrimmThe children and grandchildren of Dr. Primm and Celia carried on their family legacy for as long as they could even though there were continuous rumors that they were part African American.  Most of them eventually moved away to other areas in Texas or out of state.  Albert Lee Primm was the only family member who still owned land in 1948; it was located along the southwest bank of Barton Creek near the Bastrop County line.  A search in the Fayette County, Texas land records reveals that there are no longer any remaining landowners with the name Primm.

Further research reveals that almost all of Dr. William Primm and Celia’s children and descendants assimilated into white society, with the exception of their son, George W. Primm and his family.  An interesting discovery about the Primm family was found in the inventory list of black cemeteries in the Fayette County Library and Archives.   A hand-written note dated September 30, 1992 reads, “Primm Cemetery located about ¾ mile east of Highway #71 at Kirtley (Primm) at the gravel pit operation.  One of the men at the gravel pit took me to the cemetery which is only a few feet from one of their roads.  The place is overgrown with weeds, and all of the stones are overturned.  Several are legible including Galen J. Primm (son of William and Celia Primm), who died in 1864.  Alice, a child, died in 1898 at age three.  Several others are lying face down and can’t be read.  Galen is the best preserved and largest stone – marble - and easy to read.  He probably was my great, great, great uncle”.  Signed William F. King, MD, 508 E. Cherokee, Wynnewood, Oklahoma 73098.
Dr. William F. King, who is a descendant of St. John and Frances Primm, was courageous enough to leave a written historical note in the Primm Cemetery inventory, acknowledging that he was a descendant of Celia, a free woman of color, although his family had long ago assimilated into white society.

The story of Dr. William Primm and Celia and their six children is one of true love that transcended all of the obstacles in their lives.  Dr. Primm and Celia were not only married in an era when interracial marriages were illegal, but they also survived the condemnations of others to live a life of fulfillment in spite of all the odds.

Photo Caption: Ethel E. Primm (1900-1957), great-granddaughter of Dr. William & Celia Primm; courtesy of David Collins
Fayette County Deed Records
Fayette County Historical Commission Records
Fayette County League and Survey Maps
Fayette County Library and Archives Cemetery Records
United States Census Records

Dr. William Primm, an Early Fayette County Plantation Owner

By Carolyn Heinsohn

After living in several other states, Dr. William Primm, a descendant of an old, aristocratic and wealthy family of Virginia, traveled to Texas from Concordia Parish, Louisiana in 1835 on a land prospecting trip and purchased the head right of a league of land near the Colorado River in Fayette County west of La Grange from William and Stacy Barton for $6000.  After the Texas Revolution, Dr. Primm returned to his previous plantation in the Wildsville area of central Louisiana for his slaves and personal effects.  Upon returning to Texas, he purchased another one-third of a league of land on Buckner’s Creek in 1849 from Wm. G. Kingsbury for $1000 cash.  He continued to purchase smaller tracts of land and established a sizeable cotton and horse plantation that was extended into Bastrop County. He supposedly also had a large herd of cattle. Dr. Primm did not desire to practice his medical profession here in Fayette County, but if called upon by neighbors, he would always attend to their needs and never charge them for his services.

A small community known as Primm was eventually established alongside the railroad tracks on what was once part of his plantation. Its name was changed to Kirtley after a train wreck was attributed to a mix-up in the name with Plum.  All that is left at Kirtley are a few homes and a gravel pit. 

After Dr. Primm’s death at age 86 in 1865, his will stated that all five of his children were born to him by Celia (Seelia), a free woman of color, whom he had set free and manumitted in the State of Ohio in 1817, and that all of his children were born free and had the right to inherit his estate.  His will further stated that many persons condemned him for having children born of a woman of African descent, and that he regrets that their mother was not a free white woman, but that no condemnations or regrets could undo what had been done.  He also stated that it was imperative for him to provide for his children, and that he hoped that “charity which is long suffering and kind will prompt others to approve this course”.  The will also directed that Celia and their youngest son, St. John, should move to Mexico upon his death and that sufficient funds would be provided for their expenses. Mexico at that time was a safe haven for freed people of color. Previously in 1858, he had adopted his children, more than likely since their mother was a woman of color with whom he probably had a common-law relationship.  The adoption record states that “they are his children and are brothers and sisters and have always been recognized and treated as his children.”  No mention was made of their mother. He named those children as James B.L.; Sophonia, widow of David L. Wood; Mary, wife of Francis Reast, residents of the Republic of Mexico; St. John and Galen Primm.

At the time of Dr. Primm’s death, James B.L. was already engaged in business in Mexico, probably Matamoros, and was still in Brownsville at the time of the 1860 census.  The second oldest son, Galen, had died in 1852.  The two daughters, Sophronia and Mary Ann, were already married, so the youngest son, St. John, inherited his father’s entire estate, which included more than 8000 acres in Fayette County and an additional 5000 acres in Bexar, Matagorda and Live Oak Counties, because the will stated that the others had already been provided for. The value of all of Dr. Primm’s lands was listed as $51,000.

In 1870, St. John married Francis Faust Inge Muse, whose three sons were fathered by her first husband, Vinson Inge, who had owned a store in Primm.  St. John and Francis had an additional five children, all of whom were college-educated.  After St. John’s death in October 1880, his heirs had to sell thousands of acres of Dr. Primm’s land holdings to pay sizeable debts that St. John had incurred for some reason. St. John’s widow, Frances, married his older brother, James, in 1881; together they had one son, William Arthur. They continued to live in the large two-story Primm family home located on a hill overlooking what remained of their plantation, where they still had about 2200 acres under cultivation with 70-80 tenants, making from 600 to 900 bales of cotton annually. There are several shallow lakes on their old property, including one named Primm Lake.

According to Joe Cole’s Cemetery Survey in 1958 and Norman Krischke’s inventory in 1965, the Primm family cemetery was once located near Kirtley.  It was surrounded by an iron fence in the middle of a pasture on land originally owned by Dr. Primm.  However, Kathy Carter and Helen Muras, employees of the Fayette County Heritage Library and Archives, who were doing an updated survey of cemeteries in 1986, were unable to locate the site.  All they found was a large gravel pit.  Only the names of five burials were acquired from the two previous reports, but it is believed that there were many more burials in this cemetery, including Dr. Primm and more of his children.  Three of the known burials were Celia (Selia), Dr. Primm’s common-law wife, who died in 1868 at the age of 63; an unidentified two and a half year-old child, who died on the same day as Celia, and St. John Primm, who died at age 50 at “Spring Water” (?), Fayette County on October 11, 1880.  The other two were probably the grandchildren of St. John.  Unfortunately, the cemetery was destroyed by gravel pit excavations.

Interestingly, there was also a Primm black cemetery originally located near the family cemetery on the west bank of Barton’s Creek about 50 yards northeast of the old Anton Elias homestead.  It was the burial ground for the slaves of Dr. Primm.  However when Joe Cole did his cemetery surveys in 1958, it was nothing more than a recollection shared by a local black man, Doug Stoglin, who said that his grandfather, Lewis Stoglin, was buried there.  His grandfather had related that he had been one of Dr. Primm’s slaves and had been brought to Fayette County from Louisiana when he was a young boy.

There is more to this story that will be revealed in a future article – a very interesting twist of fate that ties this family to an infamous outlaw of the Old West. That connection was established through some orphaned children taken in by the Primm family.

“Cemeteries,” The Fayette County TXGenWeb Project
Fayette Heritage Library Archives, Freytag Files 

The Primms, The Richards and An Infamous Outlaw

by Carolyn Heinsohn

There is a theory that everyone is only six degrees removed from everyone else in the world, but there are only two degrees between some former residents of Fayette County and an infamous 19th century outlaw.  The story is convoluted, but it begins with Dr. William Primm, a pre-Civil War plantation owner in the Colorado River valley area of Kirtley. His story was previously published in the Footprints of Fayette column.

As mentioned in that story, Dr. Primm’s oldest mulatto son, James B.L., was living in Brownsville by the 1850s and was engaged in business in Mexico, probably Matamoras; his sister, Mary, and husband, Francis Reast, were also living in Mexico at that time.  Since slavery was not practiced in Mexico, it was a safe haven for freed blacks and mulattos.  Their brother, St. John, traveled to Brownsville to visit his brother, James, and possibly their sister in 1859.       

This is where the connection between the Primms, the Richards family and the outlaw begins - John Edmonds Richards, age 18, the son of a tavern keeper, married Mary Ann Davies Quarrill, age 16, in Christ Church, Marylebone, London in 1842.  Mary Ann, who was underage for marriage, required her family’s consent, but her affluent family opposed the union. They claimed a direct descent from the English poet Francis Quarles, so they felt that it was beneath their social standing for Mary Ann to marry a lowly servant boy.  Although her family reluctantly gave their consent, the young couple had to fend for themselves with no family support.      

When their first child, Reuben William Richards, was born on December 19, 1844, John and Mary Ann were living above a West London coffeehouse.  Sixteen months later, their daughter, Mary Phillipa, was born on April 3, 1846.  By the time a third child, Edward, was born on April 12, 1848, John Richards had become the owner of the coffeehouse.

However, the Richards wanted a different life, so in the fall of 1849, the family left Liverpool for New Orleans on the ship Sea King, arriving on October 19th.  They eventually settled in Brownsville, Texas, where the 1850 census shows John working as a teacher.  Another daughter, Isabella Louisa, was born on November 13, 1851.  Her godparents were the Mexican consul at Matamoros and his mother-in-law.  Exactly one year later to the day, Mary Ann died following an accidental fall.  John’s parents were unable to come help him with the children, so soon thereafter, Isabella’s godfather and wife adopted her.

Sometime in 1859, John Richards was murdered in San Fernando de Preces, 75 miles from Matamoros.  James B.L. Primm had somehow become involved and was keeping the two orphaned Richards boys, Reuben, age 14, and Edward, age 11.  It is not known what the connection was between James and the Richards family.  Edward continued to stay with James and his mulatto servant, but Reuben returned with St. John to live with the Primm family on their plantation in Fayette County. Mary had been placed in a convent until arrangements could be made to send her back to England.  In the 1860 census, Edward was listed as living in Brownsville with James B.L. Primm; however, he accompanied James back to Fayette County within a few years after the Civil War and the death of Dr. Primm in 1865, when James chose to end his business venture in Mexico.

After four years in Fayette County, Reuben had joined the Union Army as a private in Co. A, First Regiment of the First Texas Cavalry, USA.  He was part of their Rio Grande expedition, and then fought with his regiment in Louisiana.  He was mustered out of the army in November 1865. Sometime after returning from the war, Reuben left Fayette County for points west, pursuing a life of ranching. 

He ended up north of Fort Stockton, TX on the Pecos River, where he formed a partnership with Francis Rooney, an Irish immigrant who brought the first herd of cattle to Pecos County. Reuben took charge of Rooney’s cattle. 

At age 25, Reuben married 18 year-old Francisca Hernandez in Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico in April 1869 and took his wife to live in Pecos County. In 1883, Rueben obtained a patent for 160 acres of land near Fort Stockton and registered a cattle brand.  He and Francisca had seven children while living in Pecos County.

Unfortunately, the Lipan and Comanche Indians made frequent raids on the local ranchers, stealing their cattle and horses, so Rooney moved his cattle back to Fort Stockton, and Reuben had to decide upon his own future. 

By the late 1880s, Reuben relocated to La Union, Dona Ana County, NM, between Las Cruces and El Paso, TX, bringing along one of the largest herds of cattle to the area.  Reuben died at age 55 in 1899 in El Paso, where several of his children were living.  Francisca died at age 58 in 1909.  Many of Reuben and Francisca’s descendants continue to live in El Paso and southeastern New Mexico.  

Edward Richards remained in the Kirtley area, where he first worked as a tenant farmer on the Primm plantation. In December 1871, he married Margaret Keller, born in 1850 in Polk County; she had moved to Fayette County with her family by 1870.  Ed and Margaret had six sons, four of whom lived to adulthood, John, Reuben C., Robert, and Ralph; and one daughter, Bessie (Kinney).  From early 1905 to late 1909, they rented 591 ½ acres carved out of the Primm plantation from Estella Woods, the daughter of St. John Primm, for $800 per year.  In 1912, Edward paid off four notes totaling $1900 for 300 acres of land, originally part of the Primm plantation on the Colorado River in the Thomas Cochrane League in Bastrop County.  Edward died at age 72 in 1920 and is buried next to his wife in the Barton Creek Cemetery at Kirtley. Margaret died at age 53 in 1903.  Edward was the last known person to be interred in that cemetery.  Their sons eventually purchased additional property in Fayette County from the Primm heirs. 

Mary RichardsMary Philippa Richards had a very interesting life and provides us with the link to the previously mentioned outlaw.  After her father’s murder, she was eventually sent back to England to stay with Dr. Joseph Baylee, DD, who founded the St. Aidan’s Theological College near Liverpool.  His daughter, who was Mary’s age had died, so perhaps Mary was a substitute for her.  A prolific author, he home-schooled Mary, so she was well-educated and became proficient in several languages.  Since Dr. Baylee was from Ireland, he arranged for her to work as a governess for a Kennedy family in Dublin.

According to some sources, Mary corresponded with her two brothers and longed to visit them, which she eventually accomplished, possibly more than once. While visiting her brother, Reuben, in circa 1873, Mary ended up in El Paso for a visit with a family who knew the Richards family.  While there, she met Daniel Charles Casey, a friend of this family.  He was a carpenter from Wisconsin, who had moved to New Mexico, where there was a building boom associated with the mining business. Their chance encounter developed into a romantic relationship.  Mary was hired as a teacher for the 1874-1875 term in the public school at Silver City, NM while Daniel worked to earn enough money for them to be married.  Another source states that Mary came to Silver City from a ranch in central Texas, so apparently she also went to visit her brother, Edward, in Fayette County before starting her job in Silver City.

In the meantime, two brothers, Henry and Joe McCarty, had moved to Silver City with their mother, Catherine McCarty Antrim, who was sick with tuberculosis, and their step-father, William Antrim.  They returned to school on September 14, 1874 to a new teacher, Mary Richards.  Two days later, their mother died, and their step-father left them with a local family to pursue work in the mines. Henry McCarty soon became smitten with Miss Richards, a picture of refinement and beauty.  Perhaps, Henry developed a close attachment to his teacher because of the void left by his mother’s death.  Plus they were both ambidextrous, so he was sure that they were related, because she was the only other person he had ever met who was able to use both hands equally as well, even with writing.  Mary later recalled that “Henry was a scrawny little fellow with an artistic nature and delicate hands.  He was always willing to help with chores around the school and was no more of a problem than any other boy growing up in a mining camp.”  He was also one of the performers at the local Opera House, had a good voice and loved to dance. However, without parental guidance and discipline, he soon fell in with the wrong crowd and went down the wrong path. Who was Henry McCarty?  He later was known as Billy the Kid.  Here is the two degree connection – Mary was the link between her brothers, who ended up in Fayette County, and an outlaw!

Mary Richards and Her ChildrenMary proved to be a capable teacher and was praised by the locals for transforming unruly youngsters into conscientious scholars.  She taught at Silver City until October 5, 1875, when she married Daniel Charles Casey.  They had six children, Edith (Cramer), Simon, Blanche (Boulware), John, Patience (Glennon) and Daniel B.  Mary died of tuberculosis at age 54 in 1900, and Daniel died in 1912. 

A twist of fate can alter the course of one’s life, which is what happened to not only the orphaned Richards children, but also to Henry McCarty.  In this case, the loss of their parents were the deciding factors in the paths taken.  Since Henry rarely experienced a helping hand, his path was ill-chosen. The Richards children were definitely more fortunate.

Photos: (Top) Mary Phillipa Richards, circa 1870
(Bottom) Mary Richards and Her Children: Blanche, John, Edith, Mary holding Patience, and Simon, courtesy of Silver City, NM Library
“Chronology of the Life of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War, Part 2”;
Fayette County, TX Deed & Marriage records
“Freytag Files”, Fayette County Library and Archives, La Grange, TX
National Park Service, U.S. Civil War Soldiers 1861-1865 (database online)
Rooney, Frank. “Life of Francis Rooney”, online source
Silver City Museum/Library Research Staff, Silver City, NM
Texas Land Title Abstracts, 1700-2008 (database online)
The Civil War Archive – Union Regimental Histories (database online)
U.S. 1860-1920 Census Records (database online)



by Kathy Carter

The Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1919 and was more commonly known as the Prohibition Act. This act made it illegal to manufacture or sell any alcoholic beverage. As one might expect this well-intentioned piece of legislation was quite a blow to the German and Czech settlers of Fayette County. Most of them managed to find a way around the law. Stills and other spirit-making equipment were soon in evidence at many of the local farms. Some people went out of their way to hide the fact that they were making "moonshine" by hiding stills under haystacks or in barns. Others were brazen enough to have the stills right in their own house, assuming that no one would ever bother to check.

Federal prohibition enforcement offices were opened in cities around the country to deal with the problem of "bootleggers" and "moon shiners" on a local level. The nearest federal enforcement office to La Grange was located in Houston. The officer in charge of this district was Louis B. Manss. He became quite familiar with his territory as he and his officer made regular visits to Fayette County.

From the September 22, 1922 issue of the La Grange Journal " A force of five Federal prohibition enforcement officers arrived in town Wednesday morning and started rounding up men for whom they had warrants. They placed Frank Sassin, Louis Hermis and Louis Kusy of Engle in jail here first. These were arrested about seven thirty a.m. After these had been locked up they went to St. John and arrested Ed Mladenka. Then they went back to Houston. While here they stated that they knew a number of other people around here who had stills, and would come after them on the next trip. They are reported to have found a still in Frank Sassin's field and some tomato wine at his home. They also found a still and a pint of moonshine at one of the other places."

Many attempts were made to add provisions or changes to the Prohibition Amendment. One of the provisions that seemed to have a great deal of popular support was an idea first introduced by the American Party in 1920. This was the belief that "sick or weak men should be allowed to purchase wine or less intoxicating liquors for health reasons." La Grange had a branch of the American Party for several non-sequential years. However, this party never gained enough strength in Congress to pass any legislation to modify the amendment.

The federal officers continued to make raids in and around Fayette County until 1933 when much to the relief of local residents, the Prohibition Act was finally repealed.

Bootleggers and Stills in Fayette County

By Norman Wied

Presently, there are several old, weathered oak barrels located in a barn about 15 miles east of La Grange. Years ago, a grandfather stored shelled corn, which was used to feed the livestock, in these barrels.  Inquiring grandsons, asking about the origin of these barrels, were told that they had been used to store illegal, “bootlegged” whiskey during Prohibition times. Later, stories would be told about how some family members had been actively involved in the distilling and sale of this whiskey.  Tales abound, such as the storage of the barrels in a hog pen to escape detection, a late-night escape from the law, a round-up of “bootleggers” at Warrenton, and the subsequent sentencing to jail time of family members.

This tale has its beginnings in the early 1900s with the Temperance Movement and the subsequent passage of the 18th Amendment, almost 100 years ago. The passage of the Volstead Act, and the ratification of the 18th Amendment in January 1919 prohibited the production, sale, and transport of “intoxicating liquors.”  Under this prohibition, the illegal manufacturing, sale and transport of liquor, commonly called “bootlegging”, became more prevalent across the United States. In urban areas, where the majority of the population opposed Prohibition, enforcement was much weaker than in the smaller towns and rural areas. Fayette County would not be spared from this “bootlegging” and its lure.  A patient grandmother explained in this manner, “When that crash came, people needed money.”  She was referring to the stock-market crash and the ensuing Great Depression, which began in 1929 and ended with the U. S. entry into World War II in 1941.

The following, all taken from the La Grange Journal, describe some of these “bootlegging” incidents.  The March 7, 1929 issue states the following: “Sheriff Loessin arrested three young men…whose place of residence is unknown, for transporting liquor. The sheriff had been informed that these strangers were seen loitering near Oldenburg and were regarded as suspicious characters. Upon arrest and being searched, nineteen pints of whiskey were found in their car.”

In the June 27, 1929 issue of the Journal, the following appears: “You folks in this county may not know it, [but] the folks in other parts of the state have a habit of referring to Fayette County as the county ‘where good whiskey is made’.”  Furthermore, the article states that “XXX operated the still. He cleverly concealed it at his home, and the fact that there are about 400 gallons, perhaps more, of the liquid, and the further fact that he had two large copper stills and other appliances and adjuncts necessary for liquidizing the corn grain to whiskey… The fact remains, the man who operated the still has been arrested, the evidence has been secured, and the sequel to this activity is yet to be told.” The article concludes with the fact that the “product is apt to eat a hole in a man’s stomach,” this due to the fact that the product was “purified by the distiller’s use of lye.”

It should be noted here that while the use of lye may sound crude or even cruel, some distillers used old car radiators in the manufacturing of their brew. Because of the presence of lead in the manufacture and assembly of these radiators, drinking the brew could result in serious health problems, primarily lead poisoning.

In its January 16, 1930 issue regarding a raid by prohibition officers in Fayette and Colorado counties, the Journal states the following: “The stills comprised the smallest series ever seized by prohibition officers in this district, old time prohibition agents said… the agents captured 50 gallons of wine, 400 pints of beer, 35 gallons of whiskey and approximately 750 gallons of mash. All of the stills discovered were in farm residences.” The names were given of those arrested and the fact that all were released under bond.

The October 15, 1936 issue of the Journal states that “XXX is charged with violation of the liquor law, the officers took a 50 gallon still, some mash and distilled liquor.” The article further states that five or more stills had been reported to the sheriff’s office.

And finally, in the March 12th, 1942 issue of the Journal, under the heading, “There Are Still ‘Stills’ Found in Fayette”, an article describes how Deputy Bob Koenig, in search of a man suspected of robbery, stumbled upon a “still-warm” still in the Fayetteville area.  The article states that “when they arrived at a log house on the XXX farm, they found the 50 gallon still, [that was] still warm from recent cooking, 20 gallons of fresh whiskey, and a barrel containing 20 gallons or more, also 350 gallons of mash, which was destroyed.  Questioning by the officers revealed… [they were] living in Houston [and would] make scheduled trips to the place to cook off ‘the stuff’. “

The 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933 by the passage of the 21st Amendment. However, Section 2 of this Amendment gave broad authority over the regulation of alcohol to the states.

There are probably many stories that can still be told on this subject.  Many of the older generation in the county may still recollect that “bootlegging” was a fairly-common practice. There are certainly many who remember the effects of the Great Depression and the dire need to have the means to make money. And, there are probably other barrels and assorted apparatus, including a few undiscovered stills, sitting in old barns, leaving present-day owners to ponder, “What was that used for?”.

Photo caption: 
“Moonshine” still in the woods in 1931; photo courtesy of
The La Grange Journal

Prolific Progenitors

By Carolyn Heinsohn

It is a known fact that most families were larger in the earlier days when an agrarian lifestyle deemed it necessary to have as many helping hands as possible on the family farm. Utilizing family members to help maintain the farm was financially more practical than hiring farmhands, so large families were quite common. It was also a time when the needs of children were predominantly very simple – food, clothing and housing. Since most of the food consumed by rural families was grown on their farms, and the family’s clothing, which was minimal for each person, was handmade, there was very little expense involved in rearing children. Also, most leisure-type activities of that era utilized simple, handcrafted items that were not purchased. Few children advanced beyond the eighth grade, so monies were generally not needed for secondary educations. Therefore, large families were not considered to be a burden or especially unique.

However, there were two families with roots in Fayette County who must have set some kind of records. The parents could have won awards for being “Prolific Progenitors”, due to their sheer numbers of offspring. The first, which was described in the Weimar Mercury on July 8, 1893, was the family of Mose Williams, a black man who lived approximately five miles east of Fayetteville, Texas. Mr. Williams, who was 63 years old at that time, had been married twice. He and his first wife had three boys and 20 girls. After her death, most probably from absolute exhaustion, he fathered two additional boys and 20 more girls with his second wife, for a total of 45 children. His youngest child was five years old. That was quite an accomplishment for one man, but even more so for his wives, who must have been perpetually “with child”.

The second couple, Frank and Lizzie Shaw Carter, were both born and reared in La Grange, where they were married. They moved to Oklahoma in 1901 at the opening of the territory, where eventually Mr. Carter became a deputy sheriff in Lawton. The June 18, 1904 issue of the Weimar Mercury reported that the Carters, who had been married for 18 years, had 23 children: 15 boys and eight girls. Immediately, one begins to compute how 23 children were produced in 18 years. Then the article revealed that they had seven sets of twins, which was remarkable, considering the fact that most twins are born prematurely and have a lower birth weight, and that this was before the time of medical technology and expertise now utilized in caring for premature infants. Anyway, Mrs. Carter deserved accolades for 16 pregnancies during 18 years of marriage.

It was further related that 17 of their children had the measles at the same time. In order to supply them with water during their feverish stage, a hose was attached to a faucet and passed from one child to another, so that the parents would not have to be disturbed. It was also “a little trying on their nervous system when these 23 children all had the whooping cough at one time, and each was trying its best to whoop louder and longer than all the rest.”

The family resided in a five-room house, and because of the number of children, arrangements had to be made for sleeping and eating. In one room, all the boys piled crossways into a very large bed at night. The same arrangements were made in another room for the girls, although there was a little more room to turn over since there were only half as many occupying the bed. It was impossible to get a table that would fit in the house and at the same time seat all the children, but there was no “second table”. Instead the children drew lots each week to determine which ones would have seats at the table. The remainder would have to stand up to eat or sit out on the porch, depending upon the weather. Since the Carters did not live on a farm, it was probably more difficult for Mr. Carter to financially provide for his family. The newspaper article stated that some of the boys were old enough to work a little for themselves, which was a great assistance.

Looking at those numbers, it no longer seems quite so overwhelming to be rearing our much smaller families. Also, most of the children today would never consider sharing one bed, much less one room, with as many as 14 siblings, or drawing lots for table space. There would be anarchy on the home front!

Mary Crownover Rabb

by Donna Green

Mary Crownover was born in 1805 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. She met John Rabb while they were living just south of Jonesborough in the Arkansas Territory and were married in 1821. John and Mary departed the Jonesborough area for the new land of Texas on October 1, 1823. They had decided to move to Austin's Colony where John's father, William and two of John's brothers had established a homestead. John and Mary settled on the West Side of the Colorado River just north of the present site of La Grange at a place called Indian Hill. Initially, they stayed at Indian Hill with the rest of the members of the family, later deciding to move south to another colony on the Brazos River. When William Rabb received more land on the Colorado River to build a gristmill, John and Mary returned to the area to help with the mill. William died in 1831 and John assumed primary responsibility for the operation of the mill.

John, leaving Mary at home with four small children, joined the volunteer army of colonists who were fighting for the independence of Texas in 1835. During this time, Mary was forced to keep the homestead going and to deal with local Indians who often came to her home seeking food or medicine for illnesses. When Santa Anna's army marched east across Texas, Mary and the children were part of a group of colonists who were forced to flee in what is known as the Runaway Scrape. During this flight, Mary suffered the illness and death of her youngest child, Lorenzo.

After the war John and Mary returned to rebuild the mill which had been destroyed in a flood in 1833. They remained at Rabb's Prairie until 1860 when John decided to quit the milling business. In one of the county's largest business transactions up to that date, John sold all his property at Rabb's Prairie and moved to Austin. He and Mary purchased land in the current Barton Creek area. John died there in 1861. Mary survived him and died in 1882. Both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

The new Texas State History Museum in Austin features Mary telling of her experiences while an early Texas colonist. Mary wrote a compelling memoir that is considered the most juicy and vivid narrative of pioneer life ever written by a woman.

Life in a Wild Land (Part I & II)

by Katie Kulhanek

The following are excerpts from the narrative that Mary Crownover Rabb wrote concerning her journey into Texas beginning in 1822. The narrative is entitled, “Reminiscences of Mary Crownover Rabb”. She wrote the memoirs for her children and grandchildren, so they could come to understand how she and her husband acquired their land and made a living in a dangerous and wild land.

Mary Crownover married John Rabb in 1821 in Jonesborough, Arkansas. In 1822, John’s father (William) had moved to Texas with his wife and two unmarried sons and settled at a place he named Indian Hill located a six or seven miles up-river from the present town of La Grange. When it became certain that Mexico would honor land titles in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, William and one of his sons (Thomas) went back to Jonesborough to bring the rest of the Rabb family to Texas.

John and Mary Rabb left for Texas in 1822 shortly after the birth of their first child, Zebulon Montgomery (Gum). Also traveling with them was John’s father (William) who guided the party, John’s brother (Thomas), John’s other brother (Andrew) and his wife (Margaret), John’s sister (Rachel) and her husband (Joseph Newman) and their seven children. At this time, Texas was an untamed land that promised hardship, reward, and Indian problems. As a young mother and wife, Mary must have felt some anxiety along with the excitement about traveling to an unknown land. She was eager to go and start a new life with her family. They started out on their journey on October 1st, 1823 . . .

“After traveling about 150 or 200 miles, our cattle began to sicken and die and we had to stop driving them… We found a quantity of good grapes on the road, and we found one bee tree with good honey. I do not remember anything else that took place on the trip until we got to the Colorado. We came to it where La Grange now is, but there was no house there, nor anything but a wilderness – not even a tree cut down to mark that place.”

After fording the Colorado River to the southern side of La Grange, the family met up with John’s mother and brother, Ulisus (Ulysses) at Indian Hill on December 15th, 1823. Once settled, Mary described many different experiences, including seeing a drove of thirty buffalo crossing the river and the excitement of building their first house . . .

“Pa and he [John Ingram] built a house in a week. The house was made of logs. They built a chimney onto it and the door shutter was made of thick slabs split out of timber. The way we fastened the door [was so that] the Indians could not get in. We had an earthen floor in our house. I was now in my first Texas home! Andrew Rabb made a spinning wheel and gave it to me as a present.”

“Pa and John Ingram went to the rich Colorado bottom land to clear and make a field. They cleared about six acres, and returned to the house one Saturday evening leaving their axes and malls and iron wedges. They had made a good many rails, and the Indians thought it would be a good way to make a pen with them and catch our horses. So when Mr. Rabb and Ingram returned to their work, they found that their axes were gone and a pen had been built and our horses were also gone.”

After that incident, John went to the Brazos River near Richmond, Texas and acquired his headright, a league of land. Mary stated, “He was gone about ten days. I was left alone with my little babe, and I thought that the ten days and nights were so long! I could hear the Indians walking about the house many times at night.”

The family prepared to leave. The spinning wheel, two chickens, and the wheel bench were all tied to Nickety Poly. The Rabbs also had three young puppies. Mary asked if John could grab some leggings that had been left behind in their old house. John put two of the pups in the two leggings and tied them to Nickety Poly. He let the bigger pup walk . . .

“We went on some distance by moonlight without any further trouble. The two pups became tired confined in the leather leggings thrown across Nickety Poly, and they began to squirm and whine to get down. Nickety Poly thought he could not stand such whining, and he ran away – pitching and kicking until the leggings broke apart. One pup fell on one side and one on the other. Nick ran away and it was sometime before we could find Nickety Poly. I do not think we would have found him until daylight, but we had two chickens tied onto the top of the pack – a hen and a rooster. As it began to get the time of night for chickens to crow, our little rooster had scrabbled up on the wheel and gave a big crow. We found Nickety Poly.”

And so off they went to the Brazos. They traveled through the woods where the Indians watched them as they went. After making it to John’s headright located on the Brazos River and staying there for a few days, the family decided to visit John’s family who were living on the Colorado River about fifty miles away. However, John and Mary soon found out that John’s parents and other relations were packed up and trying to make an escape from Indian Hill. 200 Wacos Indians had come up and were preventing the Rabbs from leaving. John quickly went to see what was happening . . .

“They [John’s parents and other relations] had to remain in the house and stay there all that day and night. The Indians were all around the house, and sitting around the cow log spearing cattle just to see them jump. Shortly before night they killed the largest beef in the lot, ate it that night, and left the next morning . . . When your Pa returned, he got lost in the Bernard bottom three days and nights without anything to eat and without water. Your Pa looked as though he had been sick a long time when he returned home. He said that his horse almost died for the want of water and something to eat – as well as himself, and that there was nothing in the Bernard bottom. He had to hack his way through the bottom for himself and the horse. If it had not been for the big hack knife, they would have died and perhaps never been found.”

After John and Mary had visited his parents, they returned back to their land on the Brazos. The Rabbs didn’t have a shelter because the weather was warm during this time of the year . . .

“The mosquitoes and sand gnats were so bad that it was almost impossible to sleep. At last your Pa said, “Let us go to the river and sleep on the sand beach.” We carried the babe and bed clothes to the beach, made our bed, and the wind would blow the gnats away. I was afraid the alligators would come up out of the river and take my babe, and I could not sleep. And there was the danger of the river taking a sudden rise and washing us away.”

One day, the Rabbs decided to go and visit Mr. and Mrs. Newman (John’s sister and brother-in-law). After staying a few days, a flood occurred in which the water rose to inside the Newman’s house . . .

“Next day the men folks took Nickety Poly and hauled all the house logs out of the water and built the house on the side of the hill. I think we stayed there until March 1825 after which we went to the Bernard. There your Pa built a little house . . . Then your Pa left me and the children with the cows and swine and went over to the Colorado and burned off a cane brake. He raised five hundred bushels of corn that year . . . I stayed all summer alone – only my two little children were with me. So – I stayed on the Bernard while your Pa raised corn on the Colorado. I would pick the cotton with my fingers and spin six hundred threads around the reel every day, milk the cows, pound meat in a mortar, cook and churn, and take care of the children. One evening while I was at the cow pen and had Gum (oldest child) with me to open the gate, Washia (second child, George Washington Rabb) crawled away about 150 or perhaps 200 yards. I had difficulty finding him. When found, one of our dogs was standing over him licking his head. I did not whip the dog because I knew that he wanted to protect him. The dog was one of the pups that we had packed in one of the leather leggings.”

“The first of April 1826 we went to the Brazos. Then one day while traveling on, our oxen became so warm that they ran to the shade of some trees in spite of all that your Pa could do to stop them. He was caught between the body of the cart and a tree. As soon as I saw the trouble he was in, I took my babe under my left arm, jumped down and ran to him . . . after getting in the shade the oxen stopped with the cart on your Pa. They fell back a little to pant, and your Pa dropped from between the body of the cart and the tree. By this time John Ingram and I had got to him, and your Pa asked us to hurry and cord his arm. As your Pa always said, - my garter never failed! His arm was soon corded, and you Pa took a little old pocket knife and bled himself.”

The Rabb’s finally made it to the Brazos River where their league of land was. John built a good house, but the family didn’t stay there long because they had no neighbors closer than eight miles . . .

“So, during the first of September (1827) we left our house, loom, and garden – potatoes and all, and went to Egypt (land located in the Colorado River bottom near Plum). There your Pa bought one hundred acres of land from your uncle Andrew and built a house, and made a field . . . There the Indians were a trouble again. They killed our cattle and hogs. I was so afraid of them when your Pa was away from home at night. Sometimes I would blow out the candle and run to bed with my little ones for fear the Indians would shoot us through the cracks of our log cabin! At other times as night would come on, I would be so afraid I would take my little ones between sundown and dark and go nearly a mile to your uncle Andrew and stay the night.”

“One morning Gum and Wash went to the road a few yards from the door and they took their puppies with them. We had a grown dog and he went with them to watch. It was a few minutes when I saw seven Indians coming toward the children. I called to the children to run into the house so I could shut the door. Gum left his pup and ran inside, but Wash would hang onto his pup. By the time he got his pup to the door, the Indians were in the house. But when the Indians got pretty close to the children, the big dog stripped the old chief of his buffalo robe and left him nearly naked! The Indians begged for everything they could see that was fit to eat, and that which was not fit. (A few days before the Indians had come) It happened that the dog had treed one of those wild leopard cats close to the house, and I took the gun and went and killed it. When your Pa came, he brought it to the house to look at it. On the day before, your Pa chanced to kill two deer near the house. He brought them whole to the house to dress them. He hung the haslett up to keep the hogs from getting them. The Indians took the haslett, rolled them in the fire and ashes, and ate them with the blood working out of their mouths. This was during the winter. They got that wildcat to eat and almost all the deer meat, and some beef bones.”

“After this there was a Karankaway camp found on the river. The Tonkaways were in partnership with them. They were so troublesome that your Pa and your uncles and as many others as they could get, drove them away from the frontier . . . I think we lived there five years. We then moved up to Rabb’s Prairie where we had a mill on the Colorado River. I think the mill was built in 1831 and we moved up in 1832. Then in 1833 that high overflow came. We stayed in the house until the water was over the floor . . . then we had to hurry to the hills. You Pa and a Frenchman by the name of Baptiste hurried back to try and save our goods, beds and clothing. They got to the house and pulled the things up in a cedar tree that was in the yard . . . After your Pa and Baptiste got the goods put up, they tried to go to your uncle Andrew’s house which was about half a mile up the river. They had to swim nearly all the way – sometimes catching onto limbs and twigs of the tops of bushes. Your Pa got to the house, but Baptiste took the cramps and could not swim. He caught a cedar limb and pulled up in the tree and stayed all night. You Pa made a hole in the roof of the house (Andrew’s house) and went down on the upper floor. There he found a cloak and churn of cream that had been set up out of the water. So, he had cream to drink and a cloak to cover him. But poor Baptiste was in the cedar tree a swinging back and forth as the water would swell and heave against the tree. Every once in a while your Pa would call to Baptiste through the night to know if he was still alive, and if he still felt able to hold onto the tree. He would answer, ‘mighty cold!’. As soon as daylight came, your uncle Andrew went to work making a canoe. He worked hard all day trying to get it done so he could go and see what had become of Pa and Baptiste. Just before sundown we saw a vessel coming in Rabb’s Prairie going towards the house. It was Mr. Castleman. He went to the house and got your Pa and then went to the tree and got Baptiste and brought them out to the hills where we were. We were all safe and out of the over-flow.”

After staying for a few days at Rabb’s Prairie, John decided to move his family to Pope’s place. Andrew chose to join them there and built his house about 300 yards from John’s house. Though they had moved, the Rabb family was still harassed by the Indians.

“I have gone many times with my gun and lay in the corner of the fence and helped your Pa watch for Indians. One time your Pa and I were away up above here hunting bees. I got tired and sat down near the horses. Your Pa went off some distance, and after while your Pa came to me in a great hurry and said, ‘We must be off! Hurry! I heard the guns firing and the smoke is just rising. The Indians have done some mischief not far from here, and they have set the woods afire. We are in danger. Let us be off!’ I said, ‘Help me on my horse, and give me my gun’. We went on – hardly ever spoke, but when we did we would talk low. We had not got home but a few hours until word came that the Indians had killed Mr. Alexander on the Gocher trail.”

“In the summer of 1835 the Indians and Mexicans were so bad we had to go to La Grange. All the settlement had to go to John H. Moore’s and fort. There we stayed some time. I do not remember how long as I was very sick while we were camped there. However we did get to come home in the fall and stayed until the first of February 1836. Then we were all driven out of our homes with our little ones to suffer from cold and hunger. Little Lorenzo – not three months old when we started, died on the road when Mexicans were invading Texas.”

Mary states that John served in the volunteer Texas army during the Revolution, as did his brother, Thomas. Many times, Thomas tried to warn Sam Houston that if the Mexicans would cross the Colorado then most of Houston’s men would have to leave the army and go remove their families from danger. Mary comments that Houston was afraid and wouldn’t fight . . .

“Old Sam told your uncle that the Colorado would run with blood before they would cross. Your uncle said that before daylight next morning the Mexicans were crossing the river. Your uncle Tommy got on his horse and went to his family to move them on before the army. They lived in Egypt. We always called the invasion of Texas the runaway trip. Your uncle Tommy’s wife only lived one day after they got home. There were many births and deaths on that road while we were running from the Mexicans.”

After the Texas Revolution, John Rabb came back and continued his life as a miller. John and Mary were staunch supporters of the Methodist church and they sponsored the first religious services held by that denomination in Austin’s colony. John also donated land for the establishment of the town of Rutersville in 1838 and for Rutersville College. The college opened on February 1st, 1840 and was the first institute of higher education in Texas.

The first Methodist church in San Antonio was built with the help of John. He donated the lumber from his mill at Rabb’s Prairie to San Antonio by ox cart. But in 1860, at the age of sixty-two, John quit the milling business. The work was just too much for him to keep up with, and, as he stated in an ad for the sale of his mill, the mill was just “too far from church” and he couldn’t “get enough time to pray”. The sale of John’s mill was the largest business transaction ever made in Fayette County up to that time.

The couple had nine children, two of which died in infancy. After selling all of their property in 1860, John and Mary moved to Austin and purchased twenty-nine acres of land on Barton Creek. John passed away at the age of sixty-three in 1861 and Mary followed in 1882. Both of them are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.

This footprint was based off the files of Walter P. Freytag. The entire document can be viewed at the Fayette Public Library. Another source used was “The Rabb Odyssey” by Victor C. Wegenhoft – which is a family history of the Rabb Family beginning with the biography of John Rabb’s grandfather.

The Killing of Robert Ragsdale

by Norman C. Krischke

Robert Ragsdale was killed by cattle rustlers on June 23, 1880. He left a wife, Susan P. (Robinson) Ragsdale and six children: Annie, Susie, Bessie, Charlie, James W. and Robert, Jr.

It was very early in the morning of June 22, 1980 that Searcy Secrest, Hamilton "Vic" Dickson and Short Day started out from the Secrest home on Mulberry Creek (near present day Baumgarten Road) to round up stray cattle, drive them home, butcher them and sell the meat to butcher shops in Flatonia and Schulenburg. When they passed the Ragsdale ranch house located about a mile west of Moravia, Lavaca County, they entered Ragsdale's cattle pen and stole four beeves. Unknown to them, James Ragsdale, 10 year old son of Robert, saw the men and could testify as to their identity. The men rode about 20 miles west and returned late in the evening driving 20 or more cows and calves before them. They drove them past what is now the Dennis O'Rourke's house to a point a little south of Bob and Jean Durkee's house, which at that time was the Josef Staha home. O'Rourke's house is across the road from the William Waddell house. Waddell was a witness to the killing. About 200 yards east-northeast of the O'Rourke house is a tree; Ragsdale died very near this tree. Between the Waddell and Staha houses was a public pen for holding cattle. Robert Ragsdale had been in Hallettsville for a few days on business and arrived home too late on the 22nd of June to go after his stolen cattle.

The next day Ragsdale rode toward Schulenburg to report the theft to the constable. He rode upon his cattle near the public pen and demanded their return. Searcy Secrest refused to give them to him and gunfire erupted. Ragsdale's horse, a fast Spanish pony, was shot in the front shoulder and Ragsdale made a dash toward St. John's where he knew some men were working on a house. The three men raced after him and shot him out of the saddle; he had suffered six bullet wounds. As he was on the ground, Searcy's brother, "Bud", named Thomas after his father, rode up, and was told by Searcy to shoot him also so they would not take all the blame for the killing. Bud shot Ragsdale, the seventh shot, in the temple and "split the frontal bone all along". Ragsdale's body was loaded on a horse that was led toward a ravine in a dry wash. The body slipped of the horse and he was dragged by a rope around his ankles about 200 yards to the shallow ravine where he was concealed. It was mid-afternoon before he was found.

The four men then split up and rode in four directions. There were twelve people who witnessed the murder: William Wadell, the Revered Thomas Glass, his two sons, Lee and Gee; James and Marcella Robinson, uncle and aunt of Susan (Robinson) Ragsdale; Bill Miller, Dan Garmon, John Jurica, Barbara Kalmus, Josef Staha and Joseph Zapalac, yet the murderers were never convicted. The two Josephs above were high in a tree picking Mustang grapes. They pressed themselves close into the grapevines for fear of being shot out of the tree.

Even though not convicted, all four men died violently. Bud Secrest hid out in a cedar break on Sandies Creek, south of Weimar. He had just married and could not accept the stigma of being tried in court. At night, he put a pistol to his forehead and pulled the trigger. His wife, the former Emma Smith, daughter of Joseph and Prudence (Murchison) Smith and a work hand, John Walk, drove a wagon to the Sandies to pick up her husband's body. He was buried in the Smith plot in the Mulberry Cemetery not far from where Ragsdale was killed.

Short Day fled to Mexico and was killed in a knife fight at a dance in a Mexican cantina. Hamilton Dickson, of Moulton, was later installed as sheriff of Wharton County by Shanghi Pierce. A man by the name of Dee Braddock of Flatonia had shot a man, fled to Egypt, in Wharton County, and hid out in a cedar break. Sheriff Dickson of Wharton County and Sheriff Light Townsend of Colorado County went after him. He had stuffed a yellow slicker with Spanish moss and placed it behind a log with a stick over the log to represent a rifle. Dickson came upon him first, stepped out of the bushes and shot the slicker. Braddock fired from another direction and killed Dickson on February 7, 1894. Townsend then shot Braddock.

Searcy Secrest was to be tried in 1912 in La Grange but they could not find key witnesses, so the case was dropped. He teamed up with Pancho Villa and was trying to cross a swollen river loaded with bandoleers of ammunition when he drowned. Robert Ragsdale and his wife Susan are buried in Flatonia Oakhill Cemetery.

The Coming of the Railroads to Fayette County

By W.O. Wood

Fayette County was settled by immigrants as an agricultural center during the mid-1800s. The problem was getting the overflow of crops they produced, which were not used on the farm or bartered in the community, to the outside markets. The Colorado River was too unpredictable for drayage, so cartage by teams of oxen and equine became the norm.  By 1860, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railroad had extended its line westward and established a railhead at Alleyton in Colorado County.  During the Civil War, cotton from plantations, mostly west of the Brazos River, was transported by rail or hauled in by wagons to Alleyton, which was also the beginning of the “Cotton Road” that enabled wagon trains to carry cotton to Mexico in order to bypass the Union blockade of Texas ports.

Glidden to La Grange trainIn 1868, during Reconstruction, a group of Columbus businessmen extended the rail from Alleyton to Columbus with the hopes of building to Austin via La Grange, proposing to call it the Columbus Tap. Grading was commenced to build towards La Grange, but was abandoned shortly. Due to bankruptcies, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway Company was formed to continue with the construction, but San Antonio became the focal point. Twenty years later, a spur line was completed from Smith’s Junction (west end of Glidden) to La Grange on Dec. 31, 1880.  The line went through Ellinger and Joiner. This gave La Grange a means of shipping cotton and other goods to market.

Prior to this, however, another line touched northern Fayette County at Ledbetter. The Houston and Texas Central Railroad bought the short line Washington County Railroad and completed the line to Austin by 1871.  This then was the first railroad coming into Fayette County through Ledbetter and Carmine.

In 1887, the Taylor, Bastrop and Houston Railroad built a line into Fayette County out of Smithville near Primm (Kirtley), through West Point and Plum, into La Grange down Lafayette Street, then through Halsted and Fayetteville, ending at Boggy Tank (Pisek) near the Colorado County line, where an Armstrong turntable enabled the engines to be turned for the return trip north. When the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (Katy) reached Taylor, its southernmost point, it purchased the TB & H line.  By 1892, the Katy had completed its line to Houston. Spur tracks continued to spring up for gravel, cotton, feedstuffs, cattle, chicks and passengers.

The La Grange depot, a station stop for passengers, was built closer to the center of the business district around the courthouse; however, trains could not meet there, because there was no siding. Instead, a siding was developed on the west side of the Colorado River at Wendt to allow for trains to pass one another. That siding, designated as the LA (La Grange) Yard, was another station in the time table.  Most railroad depots sat between the siding switches. The cotton compress, cotton oil mill, lumber yards, grocery wholesaler, feed mills and other industries alongside the railroad in La Grange thrived.

In 1887, The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad built its line through Henkhaus in western Lavaca County and then through southern Fayette County to Flatonia, Muldoon, West Point and Winchester, onward to Giddings and Waco. The SAAP Railway was built “poor-boy” style, going through creek beds and avoiding cuts and fills. The Southern Pacific Railroad purchased the SAAP in1892, and the line is still in operation under the Union Pacific auspices.

With the coming of the railroads, Fayette County was dramatically changed.  Schulenburg, that was founded with the relocation of High Hill, thrived with the cotton compress and oil mill. Later the Carnation Milk Company built a plant there that operated into the 1950s. Today, the American Dairy Farmers company still has a spur line and receives about eight carloads per week.  BWI unloads 10 to 12 cars of seed and turf products for distribution each week. American Muffler unloaded four cars of coil steel a week until the company closed approximately two years ago. Contec still unloads coil steel for making culverts.

Flatonia, relocated from Oso, was also founded on the railroad that served local industries that included feedstuffs for Cal-Maine, fertilizers and drilling muds. Fayetteville still receives carloads of stock feeds. Today, the largest receiver of rail-hauled products in Fayette County is LCRA at the site of old Biegel, which now lies under the Fayette Lake.  A trainload of coal is burned daily to supply electricity to the surrounding communities and Austin.

Not bad for this county of Fayette in central Texas. Of course, much has changed over the last one hundred years, but the trains are still running. The last passenger train came through La Grange in 1957. Amtrak still operates passenger service through Schulenburg and Flatonia with a station and stop at Flatonia in the planning stages.  At one time in the 1990s, a bullet train was planned to run through Fayette County to Houston.  Let us sit back and watch - one day in the future, a public rail may return.

Photo Caption: Southern Pacific train on route between Glidden and La Grange; courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives
Handbook of Texas Online, Donovan L. Hofsommer, “Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad”, accessed February 4, 2017
George C. Werner, “Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway”; “Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway”; “Houston and Texas Central Railway”“Railroads”; “Southern Pacific System”; accessed February 4, 2017
Jack Becker and Matthew K. Hamilton, “Wartime Cotton Trade”, accessed February 21, 2017
Jeff Carroll, “Alleyton, TX”, accessed February 21, 2017 
Nancy Beck Young, “San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway”, accessed February 4, 2017
Memories of W.O. Wood, Retired MKT Engineer

The MKT Railroad Through Fayette County

By W.O. Wood

Railroads of the United States are laid out with Mile Post markers, much like those on the interstate systems. The main line of the MKT Railroad is measured from St. Louis, which is Mile Post 0.0. As the train moves down the main line from St. Louis, the mile post numbers increase, with a new marker each mile. Smithville, Texas is MP 969, hence 969 miles from St. Louis. La Grange is MP 988, which is located off the south end of the Colorado River Bridge, the railroad being laid out in a north/south direction.  The La Grange depot is at MP 988.3.  This story of the railroad is intended to take you on a trip in the 1940s from the Bastrop County line to the county line of Colorado County, a distance of 34 miles. Some of the landmarks that were evident in the mid-20th century no longer exist.

The MKT, also known as the Katy, enters western Fayette County at MP 973 on the flat between Shipps Lake and Kirtley, Texas.  At MP 973, there once was a gravel spur towards the river called Wa-Tex to a pit where gravel was loaded and shipped to Houston. The train keeps rolling across flat track to MP 974 at Kirtley, Texas (originally called Primm), which has a depot and a spur track running beside the Anton Elias Gin for loading cotton. The main line then drops downhill to Barton Creek to begin the ascent of Kirtley Hill (Lady Bird Hill) to MP 975 halfway up the hill, which the engineer must be ready for, so that a train hauling rock can get completely on the hill before hitting the crest at MP 975.6.  A cut was made into the top of the hill to lower the elevation to make it easier to get over, but there are bad mud slides when there are heavy rains, resulting in 2-3 feet of mud covering the rails.

Proceeding downhill to MP 976, which is the trestle bridge over Cedar Creek, carcasses of rail cars are evident under the bridge from early derailments. At MP 977 at the bottom of the hill is Robinson Creek; then as the train moves slightly uphill, it is shoved forward by the momentum. A gravel spur called Tamarillo, located at MP 978.8, went back into the pit on Will Moore’s present ranch; this gravel was also sent to Houston to gravel its streets.

West Point DepotThen there is a straight track to the West Point Interlocker with the Southern Pacific Railroad.  The interlocker located at MP 979 is an automatic interlocker - first come, first one to get through the crossing, like a red/green light at a highway crossing. In the early days, it was controlled by an operator in the tower. The MKT depot sits on the southeast side of the crossing between the mainline and the SP transfer track. There is a siding on the river side of the mainline that extends about 4,000 feet south. It will be removed in the late 1950s.

Proceeding southbound from West Point, the track is slightly rolling to MP 980, where the Western Switch is now located. Drilling sand and mud will be unloaded here in the 1980s and 90s during the drilling boom.  At the Prairie Valley Road crossing is MP 981, where the train starts up the hill to Plum. MP 982 is at the top of the hill in the curve. At this point, there is a switch that runs all the way to a gravel pit near the river. Some of the rails from that switch line to the river will still be evident for decades.

In the 1980s, Tex-Ark will build a plant near Plum that will later be used by Jimmy Greene to cleanse the inside of tank cars for loading chemicals. The Plum depot sits in front of the Morgan Mercantile west of the mainline, and the Plum siding switch sits at MP 982.3. The siding runs for 4500 feet; its pilings will still be seen in the creek for more than a half century.  MP 983 is located just before going into the curve toward Lad Kovar’s property. The terrain is still rolling, and MP 984 is north of Huelsebusch Road.   Rolling south to MP 985 behind the future site of Boening’s wrecking yard is a wye switch for the Vasek Gravel Spur, which also runs all the way to the river. This pit will be discontinued in 1969. 

MP 986 is south of Trinity School Road where a hot box detector sits; it signals the train if it has a hot journal, which is a brass-lined box filled with oil-saturated cotton packing. The wheel axles revolve in the journal box.  If the brass wears out, the steel axle rotates on steel, becomes hot, melts or breaks and causes derailments. A detector is required every 30 miles. Trains will eventually evolve from friction bearings to roller bearings, so hot box detectors will not be as common as in the past.   

Railroad milepost 987 west of La Grange is located at Roitsch’s Lake, where there is a siding called Wendt for passenger trains to meet. Oil cars will be stored here in the 50s. Going around the curve is the Colorado River railroad bridge built in 1906 at MP 987.5.  Coming into La Grange at MP 988 is the Schuhmacher Curve, which is the first crossing in town located near the future home of Arnold Romberg on North Main St.  Lafayette St. was the main street into town from the ferry on the river, so the railroad was built down the middle of that street.

The La Grange siding is called the LA Yard with its north switch being MP 988.7. Off the siding are tracks for the cotton compress and Falstaff Feed. MP 989 is at the north end of the curve from the old GH&SA turntable.  The Short Pass and Long Lumber tracks are west of the main track. A spur track to the gin, the Stolz Memorial Company and La Grange Feed and Egg comes off these tracks. The Butler Spur is at the south end of the siding, which Halliburton will later use for unloading drilling mud. The South Switch is just south of Eblin Street, where Texas Timbers will later be located.  MP 990 is behind Woodrow Hoffman’s home at Green’s Creek.

MP 991 is between Blue Hole and the High Hill Creek Trestle; that trestle always has trouble with fires because of hot brake shoes throwing sparks. Going up through Dead Man’s Cut, behind Hank’s Place, the crest of the hill is topped at MP 992, which is adjacent to the Mischer farm before reaching Rocky Creek.  At MP 993, there is a large grove of McCartney roses that were planted to stop erosion alongside the track. Coming out of the curve is the Fritsch farm looking towards Halsted. The Halsted siding ran from MP 993.3 to MP 994.5, which was where the Halsted depot sat. A gravel loading facility was at Baumbach Road where mules and slips were used to load gravel onto railcars from an overhead ramp.

MP 995 is between Baylor and Wertzner Creeks at the farm later owned by Harvey Smith. At MP 995.5, there once was a gravel spur running into the Roitsch’s farm. In 1974, LCRA and the City of Austin will start construction of the Fayette Power Plant, and a switch will be put in at MP 996, which will still be used in the 21st century by coal trains. MP 997 is at the Cedar Creek trestle; this creek will be damned to create a cooling reservoir for the power plant. At MP 997.7, Brown and Root will put in a spur track towards the lake to unload limestone rock to be used in the construction of the plant. At the same spot, but across the track, was Tamburg Switch, where gravel was again loaded for the City of Houston.

MP 998 is at the front gate of the Henry Zapalac Farm. Going through a dip and S-curve, the train starts up Fayetteville Hill, which is the ruling grade of the Houston Subdivision. MP 1000 is half way up the hill before reaching the Knippel place. At the top of the hill is a little crossing at MP 1000.5.  The next milepost is 1001 in front of the Fayetteville High School, where there is another hot box detector. MP 1002 is at Eugene Michalsky’s locker plant. Fayetteville has a 10,000-foot siding with no crossings, so this is always a good place for trains to meet. Also, it is a good place to grab beans at Marvin Tiedt’s Café, or one of the other eateries.

Train Leaving Pisek, TexasThere is a gravel spur at MP 1003 called Klimek; MP1004 is at the Bull Creek bridge; and MP 1005 once had a gravel spur called Toesenburg. At MP 1006 at Cummins Creek, there is a water station for steam engines, in preparation for attacking New Ulm Hill. MP 1007 was located at Boggy Tank, also called Pisek, where the railroad originally ended. There once was a strong-arm wooden turntable there where Ted Schultze helped turn engines as a boy.

The MKT Railroad once served Fayette County by transporting large amounts of gravel dug locally to Harris County primarily for the building of streets. Most of the spur tracks are gone, and only the roadbeds through pastures remain, as well as the memories. Now trains hauling coal from Wyoming, rock from New Braunfels and Georgetown, automobiles from Mexico and goods from China via the West Coast are plying the rails today. No longer is our county dependent on the rails for passenger transport or to generate a living for our local citizens; however, the railroad continues to be a vital part of our county, as well as its history.

Photo captions:
Top: The MKT Depot at West Point, Texas; courtesy of Jon Todd Koenig
Bottom: Train leaving Pisek, Texas; courtesy of Fayetteville Heritage Museum
MKT 1947 employee timetable
Memories of W.O. Wood, retired MKT engineer.

Happy New Year - Railroad

by Donna Green

On New Years' Eve, 1880 a very special event took place in La Grange. That event still influences life in La Grange on a daily basis. That event was the arrival of the first train of the La Grange branch of the Galveston, Houston and San Antonio Railroad. Crowds of people gathered all day at the old depot to view the first train. The intense excitement caused business to be suspended almost entirely for the day. In the evening more than one hundred guns were fired. One gentleman said that it was, in his eyes, the finest ever built. Everyone seemed to be in agreement with his assessment.

It was not long before La Grange felt the effects of the railroad. According to the January 6, 1881 issue of the La Grange Journal : "Already our town is taking on a new appearance, dozens of new and strange faces are to be seen on the street, and the hotels are full of guests from everywhere. Now is the time for business men to show what they are." It seemed that everyone was talking about the railroad. One of the more humorous stories that circulated at the time concerned an old lady who became quite irate when she witnessed the engineer back the train a short distance. According to the rumor, "she caught hold of the locomotive and told him she had paid her money to help bring that thing here and he shouldn't take it away." According to the Journal, a diligent inquiry was made of all the bystanders and no one witnessed such action. The editor felt quite sure that no one in our community would behave in such a manner but that the report was generated by some " jealous denizen" at the other end of our branch.

Nevertheless, the county thrived. The trains often shipped more than 500 bales of cotton in one day. Farmers who would never have considered coming to La Grange until this time were pouring into the city with products to be sold. Cotton prices went up and goods prices went down. Emigrants arrived from other states and other nations. Sometimes as many as fifty in one day. The editor noted that they all looked like "good, hard-working people who will make first class citizens of the area." Jobs became readily available. La Grange was on its way to becoming the thriving enterprise that it remains today.


Recollections of a Fayette County Locomotive Engineer

By W.O. Wood

Do not ever say “never” because that word will come back to haunt you. Sometimes things take one back to his upbringing, resulting in a career choice, or in this case, the recollection of my memories of growing up on the railroad as a railroader’s son. 

I was born in 1948 in the old La Grange two-story hospital with its screened porches, delivered by Dr. J. C. Guenther. My Dad, W.O., Sr., was a fireman for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad, working out of Smithville, Texas on the Extra Board, which was the location where new hires without enough seniority to hold regular jobs, who wanted extra work, would hang out waiting to cover a job when someone was laid off.  He had hired out on the MKT in 1946 after coming out of the Navy and then married my Mom, Bernice, in the Fayette County Courthouse with the open-air atrium. Her parents, Louis and Lena Keilers, had moved to La Grange from their farm at Walhalla. Dad’s parents were living on a farm at Roznov. There were no telephones, so Dad walked to Fayetteville to take his call and catch a train to Smithville to work his job. Steam was still running on the Katy, but the passenger trains were beginning to run diesels.

As my due date approached, Mom rode the passenger train to La Grange to be near the hospital and her parents. Employees and their families could ride the passenger trains on a pass, a card bearing their name to be shown to the conductor for free passage. During the late forties and early fifties, there were daily passenger trains running, sometimes as many as four a day, plus four to six freights.

Smithville was a home terminal for railroad employees with a yard, roundhouse and back shops where engines and cars were serviced and maintained. It was a large complex with over four hundred employees. As the railroad dieselized, employees were cut back and had to relocate or find other employment. We had to move to Bellmead, Texas across the Brazos River from Waco. Dad held a job as a hostler, the fireman who moves engines for utilization, at the Bellmead Roundhouse. This is where I could ride with him as he took the engines to their designated trains, be it in the yard or the depot in Waco. I sat in the engineer’s seat and blew the horn over the many street crossings. Oh, how I was riding in high cotton! Thought I was a big man at four years old. Then I got to ride the new diesels and switch engines.

In 1953, when the big tornado hit Waco, Dad handed me to the depot agent to be taken to the depot basement, as he was on a switch engine pulling industries to re-spot cars for loading and unloading. Afterwards, there was such devastation and death everywhere. The tornado had come right up the Katy mainline on Jackson St.

In 1955, Dad was offered a job in Smithville on the Extra Board, so we moved again. Shortly thereafter, the railroads lost the mail contract, so the passenger trains ceased to run through Smithville, but there were still plenty of freight trains. The Smithville Extra Board also covered jobs in Houston, San Antonio, and Bellmead. Dad would get sent to San Antonio frequently to fire a passenger train to Waco. This is when I learned to drive his pick-up truck. I was a tall seven-year-old and could reach the pedals. I would drive the back roads to Seguin while he slept. Then I would get to ride the head end of the passenger train to Waco. Some of the engineers were so old, we would have to boost them up the ladder into the cab, but oh they could run those engines to stay on the advertised timetable.

By the time I graduated from high School in 1967, the Katy passenger trains were all gone. I swore I would never work on the railroad, because Dad was never home, never saw us play ball, never was at our graduations. So, I went to Southwest Texas State College to be a school teacher.

By the summer of 1968, my funds were all spent. Clyde Johnson, who was married to Fulton Moore’s sister of West Point, talked me into working for him at the Eureka Houston Roundhouse for the summer. Using a shovel and broom, I had to clean out 50-foot train gondolas that had previously carried gravel.  The gondolas were then sent to the Port of Houston where they were loaded with pipe that was sent to Bellmead where the pipe was used to make bombs for Vietnam. I worked weekends and holidays through my sophomore year in college, making good money.

After my spring semester of 1969 in college, Charlie Taylor, who was the Eureka Roundhouse yardmaster, wanted to hire me as a switchman, to work the summer, weekends and holidays, as that was when the regular switchmen wanted off.  So, I worked through my Senior year at San Marcos. By the time I did my student teaching and graduated, I was disenchanted with how the school systems had changed. I could teach school for $400 per week, or keep railroading for $400 per week. I had my eye on a piece of property in Fayette County that was up for sale. So, I transferred into engine service as a fireman and bought the farm.

I would get called and drive to Smithville to go to work.  I was working as a fireman for the old head engineers who were hired before WWII. Nepotism was very strong on the railroad, so everyone was like family, looking after each other. I got forced to go to the San Antonio Sloan Yard on a daylight switch engine for the winter of ’71-72. But other than that, I always held regular jobs out of Smithville, running to Houston, Waco, San Antonio, Austin and Georgetown. There were many Fayette County men working on the railroad. I worked with Engineers Jim Brown, Arnold Janda, Billy Bowles, James Logan, Kenard Washington, Oscar Robinson, Izae East, Clarence Chovanec, Maurice Baldwin, Marvin Tiedt, Kermit Koepke, Mr. Blakey of West Point, Richard and Dan Gardiner, Freddie and Louis Bertsch, Chris Janca, Robert Clarkson, Sherman Jackson, Melbin Jackson, Leroy Jackson, David and Edward Machala, and B.J. Kalina.

We were supposed to get an hour and half call prior to the departure of our train. Sometimes I would only get a thirty-minute call - my drive was twenty-five minutes, twenty-five miles. In forty years, I only got one speeding ticket. I always drove a car that was good for a hundred miles per hour. Someone always had to be around the telephone. At one time, there were only seven turns on; at another, there would be thirty-seven on, which means the number of jobs at the time, depending on the time of the year. It would be slow from Thanksgiving to Easter. That was when the young men would get laid off and would have to find other employment. The railroad would then call them back in the spring. However, many men did not come back; they had found more steady work elsewhere. I was fortunate; I never got laid off, my seniority allowed me to stay put. Also, the railroad man had to have a strong wife. He could be gone for a week at a time. She had to raise the kids and take care of the household, feed the stock, whatever was required. Divorce rates were high. When pagers came out, that took some of the pressure off, and then cell phones gave instant contact.

As the crew size dwindled from five to only two on a train, responsibilities increased. Technology advanced and made the job easier, but we had more to do. We never had air- conditioned engines, although the heaters were pretty good.  Once, I stopped on a rock train at Sealy and went to Western Auto and bought a thermometer, because it was so hot in the cab. The thermometer broke at 126 degrees before we got to Brookshire. However, when computers began running the engines, air conditioning was essential to keep the computers cool enough to function.

During the grain rushes of the seventies, the track conditions were so bad that we had a ten mile per hour speed limit from Smithville to Houston - 110 miles with not much time left over for delays. Our work day was limited to 12 hours per 24. When I first went to work, it was 16 hours per 24; then it went to 14 and finally to 12 hours per day.

Rules and regulations have been everchanging over the years. I always enjoyed teaching, so I have taught about twenty firemen to become engineers. I was always a “stickler” for rules, because that was the best way and the safest. Safety has always been a large part of the job. Classes, alerts, orders, bulletins, tests, whatever it takes to keep one on his toes. I have been retired nine years now. I miss the comradeship of the fellow railroaders. But, I do not miss the phone ringing at three in the morning to drive in the sleet to take a train out. That is for the young and hardy. I put in forty years on the railroad. I saw so many changes. I watched families grow up along the tracks. I watched homes being built. I watched land being cleared, fields plowed, crops made, communities grow, communities die. I saw Mom and Pop stores, where we could stop to get a sandwich, replaced by antique stores. So much has changed, but I am told that is progress.

Photo Caption:
Top: W. O. Wood inside an engine on the Katy Local; courtesy of W. O. Wood
Bottom: W. O. Wood beside a caboose; courtesy of W. O. Wood


John T. Rankin

Sheriff, U.S. Marshal, Fayette County Clerk and Accused Murderer

by Ed Janecka

John T. Rankin was born in 1853 to Dr. Calvin and Mary Rankin of Round Top. It seemed that even as a young lad, excitement and controversy followed him. The following is dated from an article taken from the Brenham Enquirer dated September 1st, 1869:

The Germans gave a ball; Walter Holt, Patten H. Rankin and John Rankin, sons of the late Dr. C.P. Rankin, of Round Top, were in attendance. It seems that little Jonnie was teasing Holt, when Holt asked him to behave and on a repetition of the act, Holt slapped little Jonnie. Patten Rankin interfered. Holt left the room, and Rankin, anticipating the cause, placed himself, when Holt returned with a double-barreled shot gun, [he, Holt] received a wound in the abdomen as he entered the gate, from a six-shooter in the hands of Patten Rankin. Holt was still enabled to fire on Rankin, the charge taking off one side of his [Patten’s] head, when he fell dead. Holt, though dangerously wounded, there was still hope of his recovery when last heard from.

Such are the results of that too common practice of indiscriminately carrying six-shooters.

Several years later on February 26th, 1875, John married Olivia Perkins. But married life was no different than before – for the same excitement and controversy would begin to follow Rankin once again. Because of the above incident or in spite of it, the young Rankin decided to enter law enforcement, and in 1882, he was elected Sheriff of Fayette County defeating N.T. Risen by 75 votes. He was only 28 years of age when he took office and by all accounts did a great job - which would be indicated by this newspaper article from the La Grange Journal dated May 10th, 1883:

Dick King Captured

Most everyone will recollect that about ten years ago, a quiet and peaceful old German, Dietrich Mueller, while riding along in the prairie in the neighborhood of Rock House was suddenly met and accosted by four intoxicated Negroes, and without any provocation whatever was cruelly and in cold blood murdered by them. Of the four perpetrators of this horrible and dastardly crime, one, Offer Alexander, suffered the death penalty, Henry Williams was sentenced to the penitentiary for life, and Ike Smith, to the penitentiary for 20 years, while the one, Dick King, who according to the indictment, really did the shooting, evaded justice until now, by fleeing into Mexico. To our young and efficient sheriff, Mr. John Rankin, it is due that at last this fugitive from law and justice has been caught and is now lodged in our jail awaiting his trial at the next court. Mr. Rankin left here some time ago for Mexico for the special purpose of catching the above mentioned, Dick King, and on last Saturday evening he returned with the prisoner, after an absence of eleven days. He caught his man in Santa Rosa, Mexico, about one hundred and fifty miles the other side of the Rio Grande, where the same was working in a mine. Mr. Rankin is full of praise for the Mexican government and its officials, stating that as soon as it was known to them that he was an officer, they did all in their power to assist him in his mission, by furnishing him wagons and teams, four soldiers to guard his wagons, letter of introduction to other officers and prominent citizens, and aiding him in every way possible; but then he also says there is considerable “red tape” to be unwound, and this makes it extremely difficult to get a criminal out of Mexico. Mr. Rankin also states having seen Jake Wise, who was sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary two years ago, and who made his escape, but not having the necessary papers he could not bring him back into the arms, or more properly speaking – the walls - of Huntsville.

In June of 1886, an unusual circumstance occurred; US President Grover Cleveland appointed John T. Rankin to the office of United States Marshal for the Western District of Texas. It was unusual because it wasn’t supposed to happen. There were clearly 25 other applicants. There were four congressmen bidding for the new Marshal to come from their own districts; Samuel W.T. Lanham, who represented the West Texas area; Congressman James Francis Miller from Gonzales; Congressman Roger A. Miller from Corsicana; and Congressman Joseph D. Sayers from Bastrop. The two senators, Richard Coke and Sam Bell Maxey, washed their hands of the matter and left it up to the Congress to decide. The president urged the Congress to come up with some agreement, or he would have to make the decision himself. The President finally agreed to send the name of Jones from Gonzales from the Department of Justice to be the New US Marshal for the Western District of Texas. Jones’ name was being prepared to be sent to the Senate for approval. But in the meantime, friends of Rankin started to send letters and wires to the President on Rankin’s behalf.

President Cleveland’s decision changed with the arrival of W.S. Robson, an attorney from La Grange, who was deeply involved in democratic politics. In 1885, he was elected messenger to carry the presidential note to Washington. It is interesting to note that President Grover Cleveland was also a Democrat. Robson was later elected County Judge of Fayette County. He was also very involved with the A.O.U.W., a workers union of sorts. Later in 1898, he was elected Supreme Master Workman of the A.O.U.W. of the US and Canada, which had over 340,000 members in 1895. I am sure that Mr. Robson was a very persuasive man, and after Cleveland visited with Robson, the President instructed his private secretary to call the Attorney General’s office and withdraw the appointment of Jones and instead appoint Rankin.

By all accounts, John Rankin made a fine US Marshal. In an act that would seem appropriate to his character, Rankin seemed particularly interested in apprehending train robbers. Taken from a July 23rd, 1887 issue of the Flatonia Argus is the article that follows:

Flatonia Train Robbers

“Three Alleged Members of the Gang Arrested and Identified at San Antonio. San Antonio, Texas., June 22 – United States Marshal Rankin came in to-night from Flatonia with J. Otho, Ed Clark, and A. Smith, three of the parties charged with robbing the train last Friday night. It is claimed that their identity is fully established. Miss Sarah Tivis has been arrested and held as an attached witness in the case. This afternoon the sheriff and his deputies arrested one John Hall, charged with being one of the principals in the McNeil robbery. He was arrested in this city north of Government Hill.”

From Marshall to County Clerk

The following is taken from the La Grange Journal dated October 4th, 1888:

Marshal Rankin Kills Bill Whitley, One of the Train Robbers

The Journal last week simply announced that Marshal Rankin had killed Bill “Whitney,” one of the train robbers, but gave no particulars, as none had been received. Since then the details of the killing have been published in the daily papers. The following is about as correct a report of the affair as we have seen:

Since the attempted robbery of last Saturday night Marshal Rankin, with a corps of deputies, has been in pursuit of the desperadoes. He had reason to believe they would seek refuge at the home of Will Harrell (now under indictment for harboring robbers) in the eastern suburbs of Floresville. About dusk last evening United States Marshal John T. Rankin, with Deputies West, Van Riper and Yglesias went to the house of Harrell. There was nobody home but a colored boy, whom the officers held in custody, and secreted themselves in a rear shed opening into the front of the house. About 6:30 o’clock Harrell and Whitley rode up, hitched their horses and entered the front room and lighted a lamp. Harrell opened the door to the shed in which the officers were riding and called for someone. At that juncture Marshal Rankin appeared before the opening and Harrell stepped to one side without making any remarks. Whitley had seated himself on a chair in the middle of the room and was facing the officer who raised his gun to his shoulder and said: “Throw up your hands!”

Marshal Rankin says he did not have time to even tell the desperado that he was an officer, or anything else, for no sooner had Whitley seen him than he drew his revolver and both men fired almost at once. The shot aimed at the marshal passed over his head and embedded itself in the back wall, while Whitley received the shotgun charge in the head and breast, one buckshot going in his right jaw and plowing completely through his head . This brought him to his knees, or he squatted and the marshal fired again into Whitley’s head. Both shots were well aimed and both took effect in the vitals of the desperado. But so determined and vicious was the robber that he made the most desperate fight after his head was thus riddled. At best with the wound already inflicted he could have lived not more than ten minutes, but instead of surrendering he rolled under the bed and fired indiscriminately at the officers. After he had emptied his shotgun Marshal Rankin, according to a previous understanding with his deputies, stepped out of the door and the battle was continued by the deputies. Many shots fired were fired on both sides, but Whitley had already received mortal wounds and died in a few seconds with his pistol cocked, clinched in right hand and resting on his right shoulder. The man Wm. Harrell, in whose company and at whose house Whitley was found, must not be supposed to be a train robber. His only offense is the harboring of the outlaws, for which he is now under bond. He took no part in the fight and was not arrested.

Bill Whitley was one of the most desperate characters ever known in southwest Texas. He is known to have participated in the McNeill and Flatonia robberies, and about one year ago waylaid and murdered Deputy Sheriff Stanley, of Williamson County. The Cisco bank robbery is also charged to Whitley, as well as countless stage hold-ups. He is said to have remarked on several occasions that he would never be taken alive, and his desperate struggle last night, when there were but a dozen breaths left, shows that he was a man of daring and foolhardy courage. He had a Winchester rifle, a six-shooter, sixty-one dollars in money and a silver watch and chain on his person at death. He rode to Mr. Harrell’s a fine horse, and in his saddle bags was found a hatchet, probably for use in cutting barbed wire fences.

Bill Whitley was raised in DeWitt County, and at one time drove a stage from Cuero to Goliad. His brother-in-law, a Mr. Cox, lives at Lampasas, Tex; besides this little is known of his family connections. Whitley had outlived his day, and, like others who preceded and men who are to follow him, he went over the divide with his boots on, for which the community at large have to thank our courageous United States Marshal Rankin and his corps of brave deputies.

A Shooting on the Courthouse Lawn

John resigned from the Marshal service in 1889 for reasons unknown. The position was known to be unfruitful financially and extremely hazardous and arduous. In 1890, John Rankin defeated John P. Ehlinger and Frank Lidiak to become County Clerk of Fayette County. Unfortunately, it was difficult to shake his prior profession and perhaps old enemies that he had made. An attempt to assassinate Rankin was made in May of 1891. Taken from the La Grange Journal is an article dated May 7th, 1891:

An Attempt to Assassinate

A diabolical attempt to assassinate County Clerk John T. Rankin was made Wednesday night of last week about 9 o’clock. He had just returned from the post office and as he was entering his door the shot was fired, but fortunately without effect. His escape from instant death was miraculous, as nearly the entire charge of buckshot crashed through the glass door which he opened as he went in. It seems that the door opened inward and that he opened it with his left hand, as he stepped inside closed it with the same hand without turning around, which made it necessary for him to step to one side, thus taking him out of the range of the deadly missiles. Had he turned around to close the door, he would have received the bulk of the shot in his breast and would have been killed. The would-be-assassin was not over fifty feet from his intended victim when he fired, and report says he did not seem to be in a hurry to get away, as he walked leisurely across the street and never increased his gait until Mrs. Rankin commenced calling for assistance. He was seen as he moved off in the dark by Mrs. Rankin from a window, and also by a Negro woman, but neither, on account of the darkness, could give a description of him.

It was but a short time after the alarm had been given, before a large number of citizens assembled at the scene but under the circumstances they could accomplish nothing. Dogs were brought with the hope that they might aid in discovering who the perpetrator of the dastardly deed was, but without avail. Some suggestions were made as to what ought to be done but were not carried out. So the whole thing remains wrapt in the mystery for the time being. There are of course, as there are in all such cases, many theories and surmises in regard to the affair, but so far as The Journal has been able to learn, nothing tangible in the shape of a clew as to who committed the deed, has been developed.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Rankin to determine who he felt was the culprit, and a week later, John Rankin shot Fritz Homuth on the Fayette County Courthouse lawn approximately in the location of the present Veterans’ Memorial. Taken from the La Grange Journal and dated May 14th, 1891 is an account of how the murder occurred:

On last Thursday morning at 6 o’clock, Mr. Fritz Homuth was shot and killed by County Clerk John T. Rankin. The weapon used was a double-barrel shot gun loaded with buck shot, some fifteen of which entered the right side of the deceased passing through the lungs and heart. Death must have been instantaneous, in fact it is doubtful if Homuth, after receiving the charge in such a vital part, was able to realize what had happened to him, or who had shot him.

He was buried the following day his remains being followed to their last resting place by a large concourse of our citizens. It is said that the funeral procession was the largest, with the exception of two, that has ever been seen in La Grange.

The deceased leaves two brothers, one sister and other relatives to mourn his death, who have the sympathy of this community.

Homuth had been acquitted for shooting a man in Weimar, Colorado County on November 18th, 1878. In an act that Homuth declared was self-defense, he had killed a Lavaca County man named James C. Reynolds by shooting him in the head with a shotgun. It is unknown if Rankin knew Reynolds or not, but it is likely that he became aware of the event and Homuth’s reputation at some later date. Upon Rankin’s arrest, Rankin himself expressed concern that Sheriff B.L. Zapp would not do the utmost to protect him. Rankin was a good friend of Sheriff Zapp earlier in his life, because he had hired him to be a deputy along with his own brother, William A. Rankin. B.L. Zapp’s father, Robert, was a friend of John Rankin’s father in Round Top. The Rankins and the Zapps both attended the Florida Lodge Presbyterian Church. During the campaign for Fayette County Sheriff in 1888, John Rankin’s brother William ran against Zapp. The campaign turned nasty and because of this, John Rankin and B.L. Zapp became enemies.

At the request for a change of venue, Rankin’s lawyers said that he couldn’t get a fair trial, because Zapp and his deputies were spreading discord against him in the community. Zapp agreed that he was not a friend of Rankin’s, but that he would act professionally all the same and protect his rights. In the meantime, Fritz Homuth’s two brothers and others were walking the streets of La Grange armed with shotguns, and Zapp did not stop them after they claimed that they meant no harm and had only intended to defend themselves. Recorded below is an article taken from the La Grange Journal dated July 9th, 1891:

An Appeal to The Governor

It was currently reported on the streets of Flatonia last week that more trouble was hourly expected in La Grange growing out of the Rankin-Homuth killing and that parties interested were arming themselves, and that the sheriff was not taking any steps towards disarming the hostile parties. Believing that such a state of affairs should not be allowed to exist, a request was forwarded from here to the Governor, signed by our most prominent and influential men asking that he send a man to La Grange to ascertain if possible the exact state of affairs and to report whether or not it is necessary to station a squad of rangers there for the purpose of maintaining the dignity of the law.

The Argus would regret very much the necessity of asking the aid of outside parties, but the dignity of the law must or at least should be preserved, and when local officers fail or refuse to perform their duties, it believes that the Governor should be asked to take a hand in time to prevent trouble and not wait until more blood is shed.

Now the Journal would ask, if it would not have been more becoming for the “most prominent and influential men” of Flatonia to have sent some one of their number here to ascertain whether the reports circulated in their town were true or not? Had they done so they would have discovered that there was no foundation in fact, to base such reports upon. Not a citizen of La Grange armed or paraded the streets with arms, nor did any one of them contemplate doing so. Mr. R. S. Homuth appeared on the streets at different times carrying a shot gun, claiming that his life was in peril, but he is not a citizen of La Grange. He and every other citizen of the land has the constitutional right to bear arms. And had every male citizen of La Grange strapped a gun on his back and carried it about with him, neither Sheriff Zapp, nor a squad of rangers would have had the legal right to disarm them.

No, the Journal thinks the prominent and influential men of our sister city acted with undue haste in making their appeal to the governor. They did not treat the citizens of La Grange, than whom there are no more law-abiding in the State, with that friendly courtesy they were entitled to.

 The case of John T. Rankin caused the county to become divided with almost everyone having an opinion on his guilt or innocence. John Rankin charged Sheriff Zapp to be his bitter and relentless enemy and accused him of using his influences as sheriff to defame him throughout the county. Rankin himself asked for bail, but it was denied. He then asked Fayette County Judge Teichmueller to be moved to another jail. This time the request was approved and Rankin was moved to the Colorado County jail. Rankin tried to appeal the request for bail and once again Teichmueller denied him. But this time, the court overturned Teichmueller’s decision and Rankin was released. Despite being released, Rankin claimed that he could never return to his home or place of business for fear of losing his life.

Rankin then presented 22 prominent citizens, who explained their concern to the Judge on how Rankin could not get a fail trial in Fayette County. Interestingly, 15 of these citizens were from Flatonia, which is where Rankin was very popular and Zapp (equally) was not. Thus not surprisingly, the four times Zapp ran for Fayette County Sheriff (1886,1888,1890, and 1892) he was never able to carry Flatonia. Zapp finally retired in 1894 when August Loessin was elected. In December of 1892, Judge Teichmueller granted Rankin his request for a change of venue. Rankin was acquitted after a change of venue to San Antonio where he may have had connections.

After the trial, Rankin and his brother William left La Grange and opened a livery stable at 5th and Trinity in Austin. In November of 1897, after some sort of alleged dispute with an Austin police officer by the name of Jim Grizzard, Rankin was shot by Grizzard as he crossed the foot bridge in front of the First National Bank at the corner of 6th and Congress in downtown Austin. The newspapers reported at the time of the shooting that Rankin was involved in city politics in Austin. But it is not known if he was running for office or supporting someone else. This was the time when Austin had an Alderman form of government and the outcome of elections would certainly have an effect on city personnel, especially the police.

John T. Rankin is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Austin.


The Unpredictable Mr. Ratigan

By Charles Hebert

The City of La Grange in the last decade of the 19th century was changing.  New opportunities with thriving business establishments had become more of the norm.  Electricity was being introduced, along with the inventions of the telephone and those related to manufacturing. Still some people clung to the past and did not embrace the changes of a new era. The introduction of the automobile offered adventure. A new courthouse began the decade, and the pride of citizenry was reflected in the fraternal and church organizations that embraced this new direction. Public hangings and rowdy saloon fights became less frequent and were replaced with cotillions, along with ice cream socials. However, not all was a bed of roses as the United States became involved in The Spanish American War in 1898. A new sense of nationalism was sweeping the country, and it was into this environment in Fayette County that Tom Ratigan entered.

Ratigan arrived in Texas sometime in the late 1880s from Kenosha, Wisconsin, having served as a police officer in Chicago and St. Louis before coming to Texas “to become a party to many of the exciting scenes of the state”. His volatile personality did in fact get him involved in several dramatic incidents after he arrived. He was unceasing in his hatred when one injured or sought to injure his feelings and nursed the thought that he was always right. In a book of his recollections, B.F. Harigel, an editor of The La Grange Journal, described Ratigan as “a showman”.

Not long after arriving, the quick-tempered Ratigan of Irish descent found confrontation easily. On January 6, 1887, he and R.E. Holloway fought in Weimar, with Ratigan being cut on the arm and Holloway being struck over the head with a posthole digger. Neither wound would prove fatal, but more than likely resulted in a great deal of pain for both men.   

Ratigan married a widow, Alberta E. Slack, in Bastrop on May 19, 1890. Slack, the former Alberta Woods, was the daughter of a prominent Columbus physician, Dr. Soleman Woods.  Her first husband, Thomas Slack, who died in 1885, owned a store and gin in Pecan, now Holman.  Life appeared to be going well as the newlyweds began to establish their new lives together near the small settlement of Pecan, along with their seven children from Slack’s previous marriage.

However, Ratigan frequently found himself in a number of affrays with his fellow citizens of Fayette and surrounding counties. One such incident occurred on May 16, 1891 in Pecan with a man named Lat Fisher. The dispute began with Fisher calling Ratigan a liar to which Ratigan caught Fisher and choked him. A deputy sheriff being present separated them both and disarmed Fisher who had drawn a pistol. Ratigan left and returned with his own pistol and allegedly shot at George Lewis, the store keeper where the incident began. He shot at Lat Fisher, but missed, and then at Tom Fisher, shooting him through the arm, shattering it with the round that also penetrated his chest.  Tom Fisher then got a gun and shot Ratigan with bird shot, slightly wounding him. Tom Fisher’s wound was fatal, however, so Ratigan was jailed. The parties were said to be related. [See note below]

Tragedy soon struck the young couple in February 1892 with the death of their eleven- year-old son, Thomas Slack, after a six-week illness. The Weimar Mercury noted in the March 5, 1892 edition, “It is hard to give up those we love and still harder for a mother to give up a beloved son. We extend our condolence and trust that the mother may find solace in Him who doth all things for the best.”  Ratigan, however, appeared to have adjusted to the loss and continued farming, raising prized hogs and buying two farm lots in La Grange from Frank Matula for $900. 

Ratigan moved his family to La Grange and opened a restaurant that was initially a profitable endeavor, probably because he had open gambling with homemade roulette wheels, thinking that it was nobody’s business but his. He finally gave up the gambling pursuit, perhaps due to legal pressure, and continued operating his restaurant that was a mecca to “show folks”. La Grange had a good opera house in the Homuth building on the north side of the square, so his restaurant became a gathering place for the theatrical casts and patrons once the shows were over. Ratigan befriended many of them. He was usually very accommodating, but for some reason, he became a bitter enemy of the City Marshall, John H. Riley, whose friend, Will Langston, also became an enemy of Ratigan.

Whether the small restaurant was beginning to lose trade, or whether his wife persuaded him to open a saloon is unclear, but Ratigan opened his own saloon on the east side of the city in a building that stood on Travis Street close to the present-day school grounds. Mrs. Ratigan took possession of the restaurant and continued to provide its patrons with a good lunch. A five-room cottage next to Ratigan’s saloon was rented by a woman that he placed in charge of several girls who “entertained the men”. So there probably was a steady stream of customers at both places. That business venture only lasted a few years, however, and his saloon and the house that was a “mecca for men” passed into oblivion.

Frank Mosig, who owned Mosig’s Saloon also located on the north side of the square in La Grange, hired Tom Ratigan to oversee and run his business as evidenced in a March 1899 memo from B.F. Harigel, editor and publisher of The La Grange Journal, who encouraged town folk to go by and see how Ratigan “fixed up the joint”. It would seem as though Ratigan had finally made some positive changes in his life. Things apparently had taken a turn for the better until June 2, 1899 at 9 p.m. when Ratigan was counting his cash and preparing to close the saloon. Will Langston walked in, and to all accounts, the visit by Langston was a friendly one on his part. However, Ratigan didn’t construe it that way and was on guard. Langston walked up to the bar, ordered a beer, paid for it and stayed at the counter. The two began to talk and before long both were engaged in a heated argument. Langston turned and hurried from the saloon. When Langston pulled his hand upward for some reason, Ratigan, under the impression that Langston was reaching for a pistol, grabbed his shotgun, fired and shot Langston’s arm. Langston, wounded, and with no weapon, climbed into his buggy and drove to Dr. Lunn’s to have him remove the shotgun pellets and dress the wound. Ratigan went back to counting money as if nothing had happened.

Langston was not in good humor over the incident, but he made no effort to cause further trouble. This lack of action caused Ratigan to believe “that something was going on” between Langston and the City Marshall. Ratigan carried a chip on his shoulder about the two men from then on. 

Ratigan, a known drinker, entered Mosig’s Saloon to drink with some friends on Monday, August 21, 1899. As was his habit when he had consumed a considerable amount of beer, he started to sing, which on this day proved to be a serious error on his part. The ladies from The Methodist Church were holding their ice cream social on the courthouse lawn that same day. Preparations began early and were well on their way when intoxicated Tom Ratigan arrived at their social and began singing, annoying the ladies who called City Marshall John Riley to take care of the situation.

Riley listened to their complaint, assuring them that he would act accordingly. With his pistol in his pocket, Riley found Ratigan back in Mosig’s Saloon, singing lustily, and informed him that he was under arrest for “disturbing the peace” based on a complaint by the ladies at the ice cream social. The unarmed Ratigan resisted the arrest, so Riley shot him four times, killing him instantly. The firing immediately drew, what The La Grange Journal called, a “vast crowd and before the smoke had cleared away the saloon was filled to suffocation”. Riley walked to the front door and surrendered to Sheriff Loessin.  Riley’s $6000 bond was fixed on Tuesday morning, August 22.  Several prominent citizens, who were acquainted with Ratigan, telephoned Riley’s attorneys, offering to pay his bond. These gentlemen, “whose aggregate worth was many thousands”, as stated in the August 23, 1899 edition of The La Grange Journal, promptly signed the bond. Several lawyers told Ratigan’s family that nothing would be gained from filing suit, so they yielded to the advice, and Riley was released.  

Sheriff Loessin ordered that Ratigan’s body be removed to the Harigel undertaking room, where the body was prepared and held in the room until the next day, when he was placed in a casket. Ratigan’s stepson, C.F. Slack from Smithville, arrived in La Grange to claim the body, and a small following witnessed his internment in a Smithville cemetery.  

After the tragedy, Mrs. Ratigan moved to Fort Worth with their son, John. She changed her name back to Slack and died there in 1908. A year later, a young lawyer from Wisconsin visited La Grange seeking proof of heirship for Tom Ratigan, informing Judge E.A. Arnim that there was a family estate that was awarding Ratigan’s son, John, several thousand dollars. John was working as a locomotive engineer by that time, but later was compelled to take a leave of absence from the railway company and enter a home for enfeebled employees. 

Unfortunately, Tom Ratigan was his own worst enemy; he lived a life of discord and died because of his unpredictable violent behavior that occurred episodically throughout his life.   

Rufus Latimus "Lat" Fisher was married to Mary Ann Slack, a sister of Thomas Slack (1843-1885), who was Alberta Ratigan's first husband. The identity of Thomas Fisher, mortally wounded in 1891, is unclear. His name may have been misreported.
Photo captions:
Top: North side of square in La Grange; the two-story building on the left with a center crown and iron columns housed the Homuth Opera House on the second floor. Ratigan's restaurant and the Mosig Saloon were located in the general vicinity. Courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives; Photo 1981.52.2
Lower: Ladies ice cream social on the courthouse lawn in 1894. Courtesy of Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives; Photo 1983.34.7
Fayette County Heritage Museum and Archives, Rox Ann Johnson
Galveston Daily News; January 7 & May 17, 1891
Harigel, Ben F. Leaflets from the Book of Life; La Grange Journal, March 1946
Kenosha Telegram Courier; September 7, 1899
Memo by B.F. Harigel, The La Grange Journal; March 1899
Schulenburg Sticker; October 27, 1898
The Dayton Evening News; August 23, 1899
U.S. Census, Fayette County Precinct 7; June 10, 1880
U.S. Census, Schedule 1 of Population; July 1900
Weimar Mercury; May 17, 1891


The Recknagels of Round Top

by Cynthia A. Thornton

Recknagel FamilyEdward Recknagel was born on September 4, 1851 in Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany. He was the oldest of four children born to Karl and Margaretha Riedel Recknagel. Edward completed his education as a pharmacist in Germany, and immigrated to Texas in 1878. He was the only individual in his family to travel to the United States.

Having crossed France and embarking from Le Havre, France, Edward landed in New York. He then boarded a ship to Galveston and rode by horseback to San Antonio. While residing in San Antonio, Edward learned there was a need for a good pharmacist in the German village of Round Top. Edward established himself as the leading pharmacist in Round Top until the family left to live in Burton, Texas in 1917.

On June 1, 1886 Edward married Friederike Caroline Elise Michaelis in the town of Round Top. Friederike (Fritzchen) was born on February 29, 1860 at the Nassau settlement near Round Top, Texas. She was the first of two daughters and three sons born to Theodor Wilhelm and Hedwig (Groos) Michaelis, both of whom had immigrated to the United States from Germany. On August 29, 1887 a daughter, Louise, was born to Edward and Friederike in Round Top.

On April 2, 1888 Edward and Mathilde Henkel sold to Edward Recknagel 14,625 sq. feet of land facing Live Oak Street in Round Top for $290.00. Edward paid $10.00 cash with a signed promissory note for $280.00, which he paid in full by January of 1889. Edward built two wooden buildings side-by-side on his land, which faced Live Oak Street. One building, The Apothecary, was for his pharmacy, and the second was his house. The Apothecary is standing today on Henkel Square Market in Round Top, and the Recknagel's house has been moved to Bybee Square in Round Top.

By the mid-1890s, Friederike was operating a photograph shop in the back of the pharmacy. She used glass-plate negatives to make images of buildings, events, and people of Round Top. Many of the buildings on the images are gone, such as the stone house and boarding school built in 1865-66 for Johann Adam Neuthard, then the pastor of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Another of her photographs reveals the original wooden courthouse built in 1888, which burned in 1924. Her photographs have been displayed in books, pamphlets, businesses, private collections, on post cards and at universities. The photographs were also exhibited in Frontier American: The Far West, a 1975 exhibition organized by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In 1917 Edward and Friederike sold their property in Round Top to Otto Koenig and moved to Burton, Texas. Friederike Recknagel lived alone a few years after Edward died on December 14, 1937. She then joined her daughter in Houston, where she died on December 31, 1956.

She is buried beside her husband in the Florida Chapel Cemetery outside of Round Top, Texas.

Photo Caption: Edward, Friederike and Louise Recknagel
Fayette County Deed Records, Vol. 32, p. 506, La Grange, Texas.
Round Top Area Historical Society, Inc., Edward Recknagel Files, Round Top, Texas.
Thornton, Cynthia A, The Times Of Round Top, Blooming, Indiana, Author House, 2013, pp. 29-303
Fayette Heritage Museum & Archives, Fayette Public Library, Florida Chapel Cemetery List,
La Grange, Texas

The Crowbar Kid

By Rox Ann Johnson

Edwin Reiss - the Crowbar KidThe Fayette Heritage Museum and Archives has thousands of interesting old photographs. The photo shown here is labeled, “Edwin Reiss, The Crowbar Kid,” and is accompanied by an amazing story that was first published in The Temple Telegram and reprinted in the June 26, 1912 issue of The Fayette County Record:

"If a crowbar a full inch in diameter were to pierce your abdomen about two inches to the left of and just below the navel, pass through your body, emerging an inch to the left at the backbone, and remain in that position for twenty minutes, what would you give your chances of recovery?

You would doubtless cash in for any offer made, and instruct your friends to send in a hurry call for the undertaker.

That was what Edwin Reiss, aged 18, thought when this experience befell him at LaGrange a hundred miles south of Temple, on Tuesday, May 21, but instead of furnishing a subject for a funeral, young Reiss will live to tell the story to his grandchildren, unless he should slip on a banana peel, swallow a carpet tack, or meet some similar end. He is now ready to leave a Temple sanitarium, and his case is a marvel in the experience of local surgeons, who all declared that its parallel has never occurred within their knowledge.

When this remarkable accident befell young Reiss, he was assisting in unloading a car of marble. It was necessary to move the car a short distance, and Reiss got under it with a crowbar, which he was using to "pinch" the car along. When the car was well started the lower end of the bar slipped from the rail and struck a tie. The upper end was against Reiss' body, and just at that instant the brake beam caught him in the back. The bar was not only forced through his body but several inches through the floor of the car.

Reiss cried out and the car was stopped as quickly as possible, and those with him were then confronted with the task of removing the bar from his body. This was accomplished by digging a hole under the lower end of the bar and driving it downward from inside the car, which operation required at least fifteen minutes' time, and the bar was so badly bent it required more than five minutes longer to remove it from Reiss' body.

Those who witnessed the accident did not think for a moment that Reiss could live longer than a few minutes, but O. E. Stolz, the man for whom he was working, thinking there might be a remote chance to save the young man's life, hurriedly arranged for a special train to bring him to Temple. Four hours later the wounded man was placed on the operating table in a Temple sanitarium. Surgeons who made an examination of the wound and heard the story of how it was received thought at first that the young man could not possibly survive the shock. He fooled them all, however, and within twenty-four hours after he was hurt the statement was given out at the sanitarium that he had a fairly good chance to recover. As the hours passed the chance improved, and it is now certain that Reiss will be able to leave the sanitarium within ten days, none the worse for this terrible experience.

‘I don't think I lost consciousness at any time,’ said Reiss, in speaking of the accident. ‘Of course, I suffered terribly, but as I think of it now it seems that I can remember distinctly everything that happened. I remember telling the boys it was all over with me, but they told me to keep my courage up: I might pull through. However, as I remember it now, their assurance did not seem to carry much force, for they of course thought I would be dead within a few minutes. The most terrible part of [the] experience was when the men were driving the bar down through the floor of the car in order to release me. I may have lost consciousness for a few moments then; but it seems now that I can remember and feel every blow that was struck, as well as the agony that followed. And then the pulling of that bar from my body, bent as the bar was, seemed even as terrible as the driving process had been. I don’t know how I ever came out of it alive, but I do know that I am very thankful that I surprised everybody by pulling through.’ 

. . . The surgeons say that since the bar was blunt at the point and passed through Reiss' body slowly, none of the intestines or other organs were torn or otherwise injured in its passage through the body, and that to this fact may be attributed his remarkable recovery."

Reiss' injury did not prevent him from serving overseas in World War I with Ambulance Company 2 of the U. S. Army Medical Department, during which he was slightly wounded in October 1918. In 1939, he re-enlisted for a three-year stint that meant he also served during the early part of World War II. He spent much of his life working as a salesman and died in Houston in 1967 at age seventy-three.

The Fayette County Record, June 26, 1912
Military records at
Census records and death certificate


Joel Walter Robison

By Connie Sneed

Joel Walter Robison, soldier and legislator, was born in Washington County, Georgia, on October 4 or 5, 1815, the son of John G. Robison.

He moved to Texas from Florida with his parents and one sister in 1831 and settled first near Columbia in Brazoria County. With his father, he served in Capt. Henry Stevenson Brown's company at the battle of Velasco on June 26, 1832. In 1833 the family moved to a farm on the west bank of Cummings Creek in Fayette County, and Robison became a volunteer Indian fighter in the company of Capt. John York.

He served at the siege of Bexar in 1835 and took part in the Grass Fight and the battle of Concepcion. According to William DeRyee, Robison was William B. Travis's last messenger from the Alamo; he bore a dispatch dated February 24, 1836. At the battle of San Jacinto, Robison was a private in Capt. William Jones Elliot Heard's Company F of Col. Edward Burleson's First Regiment, Texas Volunteers, and was of the party that captured Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Mexican general is said to have entered the Texan camp riding double on Robison's horse.

On December 14, 1836, Sam Houston commissioned Robison a first lieutenant in the Texas Rangers. In 1837 Robison married Emily Almeida Alexander, who was born in Kentucky in 1821. They became the parents of seven children. In 1840 Robison owned 6,652 acres in Fayette County, and on January 31, 1840, he was elected commissioner of the Fayette County land office. His brother-in-law, Jerome B. Alexander, was killed in the Dawson Massacre in 1842. Robison became a prosperous planter and was elected in 1860 as a Democrat to the Eighth Legislature, where he favored secession. He served until 1862. From 1870 until 1879 he owned a store in Warrenton in partnership with one of his sons. At the end of the Reconstruction period he was elected to the Constitutional Convention of 1875.

Emily Robison died in 1887, and Joel died at his home in Warrenton on August 4, 1889. Both were buried in the Florida Chapel Cemetery near Round Top, but in 1932 their remains were moved to the State Cemetery in Austin. Robison, an active Mason, was second vice president of the Texas Veterans Association at the time of his death.

My Name is Joel Robison

By Richard Tinsley

Note: Joel Robison, originally from Georgia was a Fayette County resident for many years. The letter is from “An Early History of Fayette County”.

Let me tell you about a letter I received asking about what happened between me and Santa Anna, as we rode together on my horse to gen. Sam Houston’s camp. I wrote the report on August 5, 1881, from Round Top. I continued to live in the neighborhood of Warrenton, in Fayette County, until I died in August of 1889.

“It was as follows; on the morning of the 22nd, the day after the battle, a party was detailed and sent out under command of Gen. Burleson. This party proceeded in the direction of the bridge on Vince’s Bayou. One object was to pick up any Mexicans we could find who had fled from the battle the evening before, and particularly to search for Santa Anna and Cos. When we reached the Bayou we divided into squads of five or six persons in each, and went in different directions. The party I was with consisted of six, all privates, as far as I know. Their names were as follows; Miles, Sylvester, Thompson, Vermillion, another whose name I do not recollect, and myself. From the bridge we started down the bayou. After traveling about two miles we saw a man standing on the bank of a ravine, some five or six hundred yards from us. He, no doubt, saw us first, for when we started toward him, he sat down on a high place and waited till we came up. It proved to be Santa Anna. I was the only one of the party who spoke the Mexican language. I asked him if he knew where Santa Anna and Cos were. He said, he thought they had gone to the Brazos. I asked him if he knew of any other Mexicans that had made their escape from the battle. He said he thought there were some up the stream in a thicket. I told him we would take him to the American camp. He was very willing but complained of being very tired. I asked him if he was an officer. No, he said; that he belonged to the cavalry and was not accustomed to being on foot; that he was run very close by our cavalry the other day and was compelled to leave his horse. When we started with him one of our party dismounted and went up the ravine to look for the Mexicans spoken of by Santa Anna, and Santa Anna rode his horse some two miles up the road. The man that went up the road, finding no Mexicans, then came and told Santa Anna to dismount. He refused to do it, and the man then leveled his gun at him, when he dismounted and asked me how far it was to camp. I told him eight or nine miles. He said he could not walk so far. The young man then wanted to kill him, and I told him so. He then said he would try and walk but would have to go slow; so we started for camp , and the man got behind and the man would prick him in the back with his spear and make him trot for some two or three miles. Santa Anna then stopped, and, appealing to me, said if he wanted to kill him to do so, but could not walk any further. I then took him up behind me and carried him to camp, some five or six miles further. After he got up behind, we entered into a general conversation. He asked me if Gen. Houston commanded in person at the battle; how many we killed, and how many prisoners we had taken, and when they would be shot. I told him I did not think they would be shot; that I had never known Americans to kill prisoners of war. He said the Americans were a brave and generous people, and asked me what I thought would be done with the prisoners. I told him that I did not know, but the Americans would like the younger ones for servants. He said that would be very kind. He asked me how many were in our army at the battle. I said, some six or seven hundred. He thought I was mistaken; that there must be more. I said, No; and that two hundred Americans could whip the whole Mexican army. “Yes” he said, “the Americans are great soldiers.” I asked him if he was not sorry he came to fight the Americans. “Yes,” he said, but he belonged to the army and was compelled to obey his officers. I asked him, if he was back in Mexico if he would come to Texas any more. He said, No; he would desert first. This brought us to camp, when the Mexicans immediately announced his name. He asked to be taken to General Houston, and was taken to him. If you think these facts are sufficient interest, you can put them in such shape as you think best. I am yours

Very respectfully,


Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf                                                                      

Artist for the Adelsverein

by Neale Rabensburg

Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf, who was a respected European artist, came to Texas in 1847 with a group of naturalists.  Later that year, he was hired by the Adelsverein, the German Emigration Company, to sketch landscapes and townscapes in and around its Texas colonial settlements of New Braunfels and Fredericksburg.

Rohrdorf was born in Zurich, Switzerland on November 26, 1800.  He studied art at several institutions of distinction and, in time, became a noted landscape artist, lithographer and conservator and was also a recognized engraver, taxidermist and naturalist.  As a naturalist, Rohrdorf left Antwerp, Belgium for Texas and arrived in Galveston on January 11, 1847.  He and several other naturalists were active at Dickinson Bayou and Galveston Bay, where specimens were collected and packaged with descriptions, observations and drawings for shipment to Prussia for display in museums and private collections.  After completing their coastal review, these naturalists traveled inland to central Texas.   However, their funds began to wane, and complacency and despair soon replaced their initial enthusiasm.

Alwin H. Soergel, a journalist and Adelsverein staff member, noted that these vagabonds “collected bills, filled up on food, soaked their heads with spirits, bedded down in blankets and preserved their hands and explored the nature of laziness”.  This assessment may have been an exaggeration, but Rorhdorf was ready for a change and joined Alwin on his sojourn across Texas.  Rohrdorf was eventually hired as the official artist for the Adelsverein. 

In the fall of 1847, Rohrdorf was drawn into a land dispute over Nassau Plantation, which was an important asset of the Adelsverein and located in northeastern Fayette County.  News of the dispute reached New Braunfels via Ernst Soergel, who was an assistant overseer at the plantation and a cousin to Alwin H. Soergel, the journalist.  Ernst reported to the Commissioner General, Hermann Spiess, that a group of men, posing as law enforcement agents, had removed him from the plantation.  Ernst also noted that Dr. Schubbert (an alias), who was a former official of the Adelsverein, had immediately taken possession of the property.  Realizing this had been a ruse, Ernst attempted to confront Dr. Schubbert the following day, but was met by armed resistance.  Fehrmann, a German Texan, who accompanied Ernst, was brutally knocked to the ground by Dr. Schubbert’s men.

Hermann Spiess organized a contingent of seven men including Rohrdorf.  This group set out for Fayette County to restore the possession of Nassau Plantation to the Adelsverein.  Spiess traveled by wagon, and Rohrdorf rode horseback with his sketch books attached.  During the early morning hours of October 29, 1847, Spiess and his men gathered at the Round Top House (RT House), which was owned by Alwin H. Soergel and managed by Ernst Soergel.  The RT House and its 100 acres were adjacent to the plantation and, thus, in a strategic location.  The Adelsverein men formulated their plans and then set out for the plantation’s manor house, but made an intermediate stop at the quarters of the slaves, who were given instructions to leave. 

An initial gunshot was presumably fired from Spiess’ men, who had positioned themselves on the grounds near the manor house.  Captain Frederick Somers, a member of Dr. Schubbert’s occupying force, fell to his death on the porch veranda with a charge of buckshot lodged in his spine.  Return fire was immediate, and Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf was tragically hit in the head with a spray of pellets with one piercing his temple.  Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the Adelsverein men made a hasty retreat.  Hermann Spiess escaped on Rohrdorf’s horse, and Ernst Soergel most likely returned to the RT House where he was later arrested, taken to La Grange, charged with murder, incarcerated and then released after posting a bond.

Rohrdorf at the age of 46 years died of his head wounds on the grounds of Nassau Plantation.  He was survived by a wife and daughter in Europe.  His burial location is unknown; however, it has been speculated that his body was taken to Ernst Soergel at the Round Top House and then buried nearby along the banks of Soergel Hill.  If this was indeed the case, then Rohrdorf may have been the first burial at the Soergel Hill Cemetery (now called the Richters Cemetery) located along FM 1457.  Today, Richters Cemetery’s stone signage notes a beginning year of 1847, which is the death year for Rohrdorf.  Recent contact with the Richters Cemetery Association found no burial information for 1847.

Following Rohrdorf’s untimely death, the Adelsverein paid off his debts, sold his personal belongings and sent the overage to his family in Europe.  Among his personal items were forty-five drawings, a vast collection of plants and about 350 bird specimens presumably stuffed and mounted.  Rohrdorf’s sketch books may have fallen into the hands of Dr. Schubbert; however, Rohrdorf’s Texas art collection was considered a loss except for one that surfaced in Europe as a lithograph.  This artwork depicted a panoramic view of New Braunfels in 1847.  Fortunately, one of these lithographs is now on display in the Sophienburg Museum and Archives in New Braunfels.

Had Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf lived and presented his Texas artistic expressions, then he too might have attained the same degree of recognition as was given to two contemporary counterparts, John James Audubon and the Englishman John Gould.

Photo caption: "Rohrdorf, the artist for the Adelsverein, has only a moment to live"; a reenactment photograph courtesy of David Kennard Photography
Carl Rohrdorf, Artist for the Adelsverein. A Letterby James Patrick McGuire; The Institute of Texan Cultures, 1987
First Known View of Early New Braunfels, An Entry by Myra Lee Adams Goff, “Around the Sophienburg”, July 28, 2009
Kearny, James C. Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Slave Plantation; University of North Texas Press, 2010

Johannes Romberg, German Poet of Texas

by Arnold Romberg (great-great-grandson)

Friedrike & Johannes RombergJohannes Christlieb Nathanael Romberg was born in northern Germany in 1808, the only son of a Lutheran pastor. He had a happy childhood and was educated at home and at school. As a youth he had to give up his studies because of a family financial disaster and a serious eye infection as a result of a haircut. He avoided haircuts for the rest of his life. He was apprenticed to a merchant. He continued literary studies with Friederike Bauch, the daughter of his master, and married her in 1833. He set himself up as a merchant, but he never liked that profession. He was exposed to and participated in discussions of liberty and democracy, of which there was very little in Germany at that time. Many Germans emigrated to the United States – during the nineteenth century more U. S. immigrants came from Germany than from any other culture.

In 1847 Johannes brought his wife and seven children to Texas to give them a chance at a better life. A last child was born in Texas. Since the child was native born and thus qualified to be President, he was given the nickname “Presidente”, later shortened to Dente. He dropped the nickname later, but used “D” as his middle initial all his life. The family settled initially near Cat Spring on a farm with sandy soil, but moved to better farmland in the Black Jack Springs area (near O’Quinn) on the Navidad River in Fayette County in 1853. Shortly after that Johannes became a United States citizen. His naturalization certificate was signed by Nathanael Faison, who was Fayette County Clerk at the time. Johannes lived on his farm the rest of his life.

At first, life was primitive – not at all like the life they had left in Germany. The first Christmas there were no decorations for the Christmas tree, so Friedericke hung sweet potatoes on the tree – the custom has continued in the family into the present. The Rombergs had brought a number of carefully selected things with them to Texas. Johannes brought a large collection of books, including a forty-volume encyclopedia. Friederike continued the educations of all her children. Johannes’contribution was limited to regular encouragement.

The Rombergs, like almost all of their friends and neighbors, made a living with farming and cattle raising. Johannes did not care for business, but he had a life-long love of philosophy and literature. The community included numerous cultured families. A few years before the Civil War, Romberg founded the Prairieblume Society, a literary circle for the local young men and women. (The community and the Society were the subject of a previous Footprints article by Donna Green). Each member was supposed to write something for each meeting. The submissions were collected and copied as a journal before being circulated, so that the other members could read and critique them without identifying the authors. Copies of four issues of the journal have survived. Memoirs written much later by several members comment on the monotony of farming life and the enthusiasm with which the Society’s meetings were welcomed. The Society was very vigorous for a few years, but faded with the onset of the Civil War. Johannes later founded a reading club.

During the last third of the nineteenth century, Johannes Romberg’s interest in philosophy and literature continued unabated. All but one of his children married and left home, though all stayed in central Texas. It is likely that he wrote many poems in this period. The names of a few mention a year.

Johannes C. N. Romberg died in 1891 at the age of eighty-two. A few years later, one of his grandsons showed a friend visiting from Germany a number of poems that Johannes had written over the years. The visitor persuaded the grandson to let him arrange for the poems to be published in Germany, and the printed volume was issued in 1899. It includes about fifty poems, running to 294 printed pages. Only a few of them contain references that allow them to be dated. However, judging from the volume and the variety of subjects, Romberg must have written poetry throughout most of his adult life. References to other unpublished works suggest that the published volume represents only a part of his actual output. The titles of his poems indicate the wide variety of matters that attracted his comments; some examples: The Devil and the Poet, To a Pessimist, Winter in Texas, Victory of Spring, Thoughts of Homeland, At the Grave of a Friend, Choosing a House-Place, Bacchus and Prohibition, Genius and Talent. Some of them are narrative, but more are philosophical. Descriptions of the world around him are used as vehicles for observations about nature, people and life.

The introduction to the volume of poems, the subjects and phrasing of the writings, and the family reminiscences all clearly indicate that Romberg was happy, optimistic, skilled in his relations with family and friends, peace-loving and conscientious. After the death of his wife in 1883, he was somewhat lonely and sober, but always cheerful. There is practically nothing of depression or dissatisfaction in any of his poems. Even when his verse reports a sad event, he ends his narrative on a cheerful note. He accepted life as it was.

Some of his poetry must have circulated informally during his lifetime, and he became known as the German poet laureate of Texas. A 1946 article in the American-German Review declared that although there were other German-Texas poets of note, there are only two (Clara Matthäi and Hulda Walter) whose compositions are of the same consistent merit as Romberg's, and no other German Texas poet equaled him in variety of subject matter, of form and metre.

In 1990, Johannes C. N. Romberg’s great-grandson, Frederick Ernst Romberg, made a complete English translation of all of Johannes’ published poems. He described the translations as “into verse, but not poetry” so as to adhere closely to the original meaning.

Most of Romberg’s poems are of considerable length, running to a printed page or more. Here are two short ones (translated from German) that suggest the depth of his musings and his humor.

Blossoms of Song
All the songs, who knows them,
The old ones and the new?
They resemble Prairie Flowers,
Giving joy to only a few.
Cattle feed on grass, not flowers.
Prose is grass, we store it up.
It makes the best of fodder.
Flowers only make their show.
They provide no butter.
Then, though, calls up kindly Nature
Thousands of them into life.
So they give our prosy pastures
Taste of beauty and of grace.

Pasture of the Critics
Now and then, in winter days,
We turn the cattle in the fields,
Let them graze the fresh-grown clover,
Not to let it grow too lush.
So, I think, it would be well
If we drove the herd of critics
Out into the fields of authors.
Let them graze and eat with love,
In their appetite and hunger,
All the overgrown wild urges.

The Weikel Family and Roznov

by Lillie Mae Brightwell

As you drive North from Fayetteville on FM 1291, you will come to a sign that reads "ROZNOV". Watch on the right hand side of the road and you will see a stone building and a stone fireplace in the pasture on private property. This is what is left of what once was quite a large settlement active before, and during the civil war through the early 1900s.

George Weikel, born in 1820, married Helena Weinert in Austria. They had two sons: Joseph and Peter. In the early 1840s, the family, a niece, Theresa Weikel, their own team of oxen and a fully packed ox-cart, crossed the ocean in a schooner. Several days from port, Peter was ill and died. He was buried at sea. It took the group nine weeks to get to Galveston. They moved their ox-cart up the Brazos River bottom eating wild berries. The Indians introduced them to tomatoes.

Eventually, they settled in what is now Roznov. George built one of the first gristmills located in Fayette County. Later he built a sawmill and a cotton gin. The seeds were removed from the cotton by running it over iron and steel pegs by hand. The slaves of plantation owners brought logs to be sawed. There were large posts at the gate entering the mill yard. Often at noon the slaves were given their food by their owners as they entered the gate - a cup of water handed out from the top of the post and some "hoe cake" from the other.

George and Helena's son Joseph married Mary Brandtstatter who came to Texas from Vienna, Austria. Joseph and Mary built a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor in what was to become Roznov. Putting a post near one corner of the cabin made the bed. Ropes were stretched from the post to the wall and woven to form a kind of bedspring. The mattress was made of corn shucks with feather beds for under-bedding and covers. Furniture consisted of a home made table and a few chairs and in the corner there was the beautiful fireplace. George Weikel made a cradle out of native cedar for his first grandchild. Many a lucky little Weikel descendent was rocked in the cradle in the years to follow. The stone work on the still-standing fireplace had two very deep sides for cooking and two shallower sides for burning wood for warmth. The four sided fireplace and the stone building as well as Joseph's first log cabin was started before the Civil War and was recorded in place in 1863.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy kept horses in the Fayetteville and Roznov area. Prisoners were supposedly quartered in the stone building when they were taken from La Grange to other locations. It has steel bars in the windows behind the wooden shutters and a dirt floor. The Confederate camp near La Grange was used to pick up and move deserters.

Later Joseph and Mary built a house much larger than the first. This house was built around the original log cabin and fireplace. It was a rambling house with a large porch across the front. It had floors of cedar and an upstairs loft. The oak and cedar lumber used was sawed in their own mill. The stone building was used as a smokehouse.

Helena Weikel was bedridden with arthritis for two years before she died. Father Joseph Chromcik had many masses for her, for which she gave him very generous donations. The Fayetteville Catholic Church had a gold trimmed altar, which was built by her donations. In 1884, the gin caught on fire. Joseph tried to save his records, instead lost his life. He is buried in Florida Chapel. Mary remarried Peter Emil Faag in 1886.

John H. Halamicek named Roznov after his birthplace, Roznov, Czechoslovakia. Some of the earliest settlers were George Weikel, Joseph Weikel, John Halamicek, Fred Knutzen, Bernard Cordes, Joseph Orsak and Joseph Cervenka. In addition to the mills, Roznov had a molasses factory, black-smith shop (owned by John Rek and now relocated to La Grange), a general store, a beef club, post office, and a school. The school was named Jovornik after the SPJST Lodge #2. Dances were held in the schoolhouse. Families, including the children gathered and danced to music from a jukebox turned by hand. The general store was established by Halamicek in 1885 and served as the post office and drug store. Halamicek was a registered pharmacist. The passage of the railroad through Fayetteville contributed to the demise of Roznov.

The Runaway Scrape

Flight of Fear 1836

by Kathy Carter

After the massacre at Goliad and the fall of the Alamo word spread that Santa Anna's troops were on the move through Texas in pursuit of General Sam Houston's straggling band of Texian soldiers. Immediately there was a scramble of terrified women and children, old men and slaves heading toward safety across the Sabine River. They left most everything behind. Their sacrifice was great even though they lived a simple life

This tragic event is known as the Runaway Scrape. Texians had more to fear than just the Mexican army as Fayette County resident Lucinda Gorham remembers: "The fall of the Alamo was a great shock to all of us. We knew there was nothing for us to do but to run. We gathered and left from the Manton's house. We traveled along the Gotcher Trace and camped in a field. Before daylight twenty-five Comanches stampeded and stole our horses. Before we could get away, the Comanches came out and circled round us. They were as fine a looking set of fellows as ever I saw, each with a shining breastplate. We all went out, the men with their guns and the women with sticks to make a show, and took our stand. They circled around us and sometimes dashed toward us, but at last they went away. We rushed on and had made it as far as Washington County when we heard the news of the success of the Texian army at San Jacinto. When we returned to the Manton house we found the Indians had been there. Drawn or cut into the side of the house were twenty-five straight (perpendicular) marks, with a chief at each end. We supposed they wanted to show their strength."

Mary Crownover Rabb remembered: "We were all driven out of our homes with our little ones to suffer with cold and hunger." Mary's baby boy Lorenzo died during the flight and her sister-in-law died from the effects of the journey soon after they returned home.

While the settlers rejoiced at the news of the Texian victory, they returned home to find that the Mexican army had stolen or burned everything of value. Livestock had been driven off and wild game frightened from the prairies. Once again hard times came to the Texians, and once again they began home building on the frontier. Only now they were safe from Mexican armies; however, the Indian threat remained.