Sam Houston’s Three Brides

Most Texans are familiar with Sam Houston, and know him as a Tennessee Congressman who became Tennessee’s Governor, then resigned his office and moved to Texas just in time to join the Texas Revolution. Houston became the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto (the final battle in the war which freed Texas from Mexico.) He was twice president of the Republic of Texas, a Senator for Texas when it joined the Union, and two-time governor of Texas.

While this part of Houston’s history is reasonably well known, many Texans don’t know about Sam Houston’s earlier life or about his three wives, one of whom was a beautiful Cherokee.

Here’s some of what you might not know about Sam Houston. . .

Houston was born (one of nine children) on his family’s plantation near Lexington, Kentucky in 1793. When his father died in 1807, Sam’s widowed mother moved the family to Baker Creek, Tennessee, where she farmed and bought an interest in a general store. Two years later, at age 16, young Sam ran away from home to live with Chief Oolooteka’s large Cherokee tribe on Hiwassee Island, at the confluence of the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers.

Oolooteka, known to white men as Chief Jolly, took a liking to the young man who had arrived on the island with his rifle and a copy of Homer’s Iliad. The chief adopted Houston as his own son and named him Colleneh—the Raven. Houston was accepted by the tribe as a Cherokee and befriended by two tribal brothers. John and Joseph Rogers who were of half-European and half-Cherokee descent—sons of a prominent Scots trader. The two Rogers brothers went on to become rich and powerful forces in the Cherokee nation.

Houston stayed with the tribe until he left to fight in the War of 1812. During the war, Houston quickly moved up the ranks and became a protege of General Andrew Jackson. He was wounded in the war and following his recovery, was appointed as an Indian agent to the Cherokee. Houston left the army in 1818 and went on to study and then practice law.

Getting into politics, he served in the U.S. Congress from Tennessee between 1823 and 1827, after which he decided to run for governor, was elected, and then resigned the following year after an unfortunate and somewhat scandalous arranged marriage with a young Tennessee woman from a prominent family, Eliza Allen. Houston’s Biographer, Marquis James, wrote that Eliza had wept while donning her wedding gown, that she felt that she loved another and her affections had been pledged to someone else. Eliza left Houston. He followed and ask her to return to Nashville with him. She refused. He and his bride of less than three months parted. The reasons for the break up were never fully explained. This mystery continues to lead to speculation among historians today.

Heart broken, Houston returned to the Cherokees. Tiana Rogers Gentry, the half sister of Houston’s friends, the Rogers Brothers, had been only ten years old when Houston had first arrived on Hiwassee Island. Now Tiana was a young widow. Others described her as tall, slender, and beautiful. Her first husband, David Gentry, had been a prosperous, half-Cherokee blacksmith, who was killed during a border skirmish with Osage Indians.

Tiania’s Rogers family Cherokee lineage was prestigious and it was appropriate that the young widow marry a tribal chief’s son. And so she did. Tiana and The Raven were married in a Cherokee ceremony, despite the fact that Houston’s brief first marriage had not yet ended in divorce.

The two established a large log cabin and trading post named Wigwam Neosho near Fort Gibson, Oklahoma in Indian Territory. In 1832, Houston made a business trip to New York and Washington, D.C. While there, anti-Jackson Congressman, William Stanbery made a speech on the floor of Congress accusing Houston of misdeeds around the bidding for a supply contract for Indian removal. Irate, Houston wrote to Stanbery, who refuse to answer Houston’s letters. Houston confronted Stanbery on Pennsylvania Avenue and a fight ensued. Houston beat Stanbery with a hickory cane and Stanbery tried to shoot Houston, but the gun (pressed against Houston’s chest) misfired. Congress arrested Houston and charged him with contempt. Houston engaged Francis Scott Key as his lawyer. The trial in the Capitol building was high profile, lasted for weeks, and the galleries were packed with curious citizens. Houston was articulate in his own defense, quoting Shakespeare, Blackstone and the Apostle Paul. Although he was found guilty, his reprimand was a mere slap on the wrist. More than one rose was tossed at his feet by swooning ladies in the crowd.

Newspaper coverage and word of mouth sent his visibility and reputation soaring and he soon left for Texas—after asking Tiana to come with him. She demurred, saying she wanted to stay at Wigwam Neosho, their home and trading post. Some speculate that Houston left for Texas on a mission directed by his mentor, President Jackson, to encourage Texas to join the Union.

Years after Houston’s departure to Texas, Tiana married Sam McGrady, a whiskey runner between Ft. Smith, Arkansas and Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma.

Tiana Rogers Gentry Houston McGrady died of pneumonia in 1838, and was buried in Wilson Rock Cemetery, Indian Territory. In 1904, her grave was exhumed and her remains were laid to rest at Ft. Gibson National Cemetery (Oklahoma) in the circle around the flag among the graves of army officers and their wives. The formal funeral ceremony was attended by hundreds. In an error, the tombstone read “Talahina, Indian wife of General Sam Houston.”Her name was later corrected and a new stone erected.

Sam Houston, The Raven, married again, but not until his Cherokee bride, Tiana, had died.

In the summer of 1839, Houston made a horse-buying trip to Alabama where he was introduced to Margaret Moffette Lea at a strawberry festival. Following a year of courtship, the two were married on May 8,1840, despite the advice of Houston’s friends who believed the 19-year-old Margaret was too young for the 47-year-old Houston.

During their twenty-three year marriage, Margaret bore him eight children, caused him to moderate his drinking, and convinced him to join the Baptist Church. Margaret was at his side when he died in 1863. “Texas, Texas, Margaret,” were the final words of three-time husband and Texas hero—Sam Houston.

Hello Hico!

Hello Hico, Welcome back!

Some small Texas towns have prospered and grown during the decades. Others have boomed and then settled into obscurity.  Hico in Hamilton County appeared to be in the sad, second category, but determined citizens in Hico are bringing Hico back. Increasingly it is on the list of small towns to visit in Texas and (in my opinion) for good reason.

In 1856, a few years prior to the Civil War, the rush to Texas was on. That year, eight families arrived in covered wagons and settled on Honey Creek in the northern corner of Hamilton County. In 1860, John Rankin Alfred and his family, also traveling in covered wagons, rode into Central Texas and joined the Honey Creek settlement. Alfred started a small business selling goods he’d brought by wagon and engaged in the cattle business. When the community petitioned for a post office, Alfred became postmaster and named the now official (but not yet incorporated) town Hico (HY-koh), after his birthplace, Hico, in Calloway County, Kentucky.

When the Texas Central Railroad (which was part of the famous Katy Railroad) was built two and a half miles away, like so many Texas towns, the citizens decided that if the community was to prosper, they needed to relocate the town adjacent to the rail line. So they moved. Ten years later, two major fires destroyed downtown’s wooden buildings. The town rebuilt with big blocks of limestone.

The move to the rail line proved to be a smart one. By 1883, Hico was incorporated and became a major center of Texas trade. Hico’s grain market exploded. By the turn of the century, Hico was shipping more grain than any other location on the Texas Central rail line. By 1907, the cotton shipments through Hico were in the tens of thousands of bales.

Business was good and downtown Hico boomed with almost one hundred businesses—from hotels and grocery stores to both a broom and a candy factory. An 1895 opera house, a theatre, and tented roller rink offered fun and entertainment.

But by 1955, the trading boom—which had been fueled by train transportation—fizzled and the town’s business and population declined. A situation aggravated by major interstate construction bypassing the community.

But today, more than sixty-five years later, when one might have expected Hico to be a near ghost town, it is a thriving example of a historic small town creating a new history. From 2019 to 2020, the population grew by 12.5% to 1,780 people.  Not a big town. but a growing one with lots to offer. Main street is lined with handsome, historic stone buildings from more than 100 years ago—some structures sport old fashioned ads painted on their sides — the billboards of the past. A walk down Main Street is a trip back in time. Except—these old fashioned buildings now house charming inns and restaurants, boutiques, and various shops.  The newly restored 1896 Midland Hotel recreates the hospitality of the past in its fourteen guest rooms, while its Chop House restaurant serves up thoroughly up-to-date dishes with a flavor of Texas and the 1896 Saloon has drinks to help you “wet your whistle” as early Texans said.

A Texas-history mystery also beckons in downtown Hico. Was a Hico resident named William Henry “Ollie” Roberts, known as Brushy Bill Roberts, none other than the outlaw Billy the Kid? Many believe that he was. Brushy Bill claimed that Pat Garrett, the man who took credit for shooting Billy the Kid, really shot another outlaw named Billy Barlow and that he, Billy the Kid, slipped into the night and vanished, becoming another miscreant GTT—“Gone to Texas.”

The full story is an interesting one and there are lots of clues—from scars on Brushy Bill that match scars where it is known Billy the Kid was wounded, plus testimonials from other noted outlaws of the time that Brushy Bill was in fact Billy the Kid. Brushy Bill died in Hico in 1950 before he received the pardon he was hoping for from New Mexico’s governor—a pardon promised in 1879! He is buried down the road from Hico in a cemetery in Hamilton, Texas. Was Brushy Bill really Bill the Kid? Stop by the Billy the Kid museum in downtown Hico and decide for yourself. On the way out of town, check out Wiseman House chocolates in a 1908 red-roofed Victorian house on West Grubbs Street for a sweet end to a visit to Hico—a historic town writing a new chapter in its Texas history. 

High Society Comes to Texas

In February of 1892, The New York Times published its official list of the creme de la creme of New York Society— 400 individuals, a mix of “Nobs”— old money families such as the Astors  and “Swells”—the nouveau riche including the Vanderbilts. It was the Guilded Age in New York and the city’s influence helped city directories become popular across the country.

In 1890, the Census had revealed that Dallas was the most populous city in Texas with 38,067 residents. It was followed in size by Galveston with 29,084 residents and Houston with a population of 27,557.

Texas’ largest city caught the attention of Holland Brothers Publishing, a company looking to expand its market in high society lists of major cities. Dallas seemed ripe for its own list of who’s who in society and Voila! the Red Book of Dallas, Texas was born. The volume had the distinction of being the first Red Book published in Texas. And of course, the book’s cover was red. One can only imagine the buzz this created in the city.

To fill the book’s 137 pages, in what was still somewhat of a frontier town, Holland Brothers Publishing needed lots of filler content. But let’s start with the preface from the publisher.

“In presenting the [Red Book] to the public, the publishers feel they have supplied a decided need of an important element of the community. To facilitate the requirements of social life and place persons in direct communication with the representatives of the different phases of the best local society, this directory is intended. It is here also that new residents of this city may find the names of any and all persons whom they may desire to include in their visiting list, and whom they wish to meet in any social way.”

The small volume contained a high society list of 3,245 adults and children from Dallas, supplemented by 333 from Oak Cliff. If the household had a designated day for accepting in-person visits (or calls, the proper term), that was noted. Also included were the membership lists of eight local clubs, four for gentlemen and four clubs for ladies.

Based on the Red Book, Dallas in the late 1800s appears to be a “clubby” city.

The Dallas Club for gentlemen was by far the largest and owned its own building—a handsome four story, brick and stone structure completed in 1888 for $45,000 and located at the corner of Commerce and Poydras Streets.  The Dallas Club was central to the activities of business, civic, and professional men of the city: however, ladies were allowed for special receptions and parties for visiting dignitaries.

The Idlewild Club was a much smaller men’s club — about three dozen members— founded with the purpose of giving four grand balls each season, beginning with a ball during the State Fair of Texas. It’s hard to imagine that the wives of these men didn’t provide input for the planning of these events, whether they were asked to or not.

The Ladies’ Shakespeare Club, founded in1855, was for the sole purpose of studying Shakespeare’s plays. Membership was limited to 45 members.

The thirty-two member Ladies Pierian Chatauqua Club reported its object was mutual improvement of its members, the social aspects were a side issue. Apparently a serious literary group.

Not to be outdone, The twenty-one member Quaero Club adopted as its course of study “A new method for the study of English literature, which included reading current literature and a weekly review by critics.

Two other ladies’ clubs, the Standard Club and CLMA club, also existed to study literature.

The Phoenix Club for Jewish gentleman was for the mutual benefit and mental, moral, and social advancement for its members and had sixty-five members.

The Social Ethics Club was open to any unmarried gentleman over the age of twenty-one and its purpose was to promote the social, musical and dramatic culture of its twenty-seven members.

Fleshing out the Red Book was a section on Etiquette.  While it contained much that was perhaps less relevant in Dallas than in NYC, the seven pages were—no doubt—still of interest to many Dallasites.

Here are some examples:

Regarding the handshake: “The custom of shaking hands is gradually disappearing from society.  . . .A lady is not expected to shake hands upon introduction. A gentleman has no right to extend his hand first to a lady.”

Gentlemen’s Attire: “Evening dress is always in order after dark, never in the daytime. Either white or black ties may be worn with full dress; for balls a white tie is better.” 

This advice conjured up an image for me of formally-dressed men and women dealing with Dallas’ dirt streets in the late 1800’s. While it’s true that in 1882, the city began to experiment with unseasoned wooden blocks set into some dirt streets, with no underlying support, heavy rains simply caused them to sink into the mud and created  more problems than the mud alone had. Even wooden sidewalks (where they existed) would not fully alleviate the problem of ankle deep mud! It was 1899 before Main Street had asphalt paving.

As for calling cards, the Red Book revealed special etiquette.

And it involves secret messaging that only those in-the-know, would know.

“One must remember when visiting, to turn up a corner of their calling card.

The upper right corner indicates a visit.

The upper left corner signals congratulations.

The lower right corner says adieu.

The lower left corner expresses condolences.

Turning the entire left end indicates a call on the whole family.”

Most of the remaining etiquette in the Red Book illustrates forms of invitations and proper responses for wedding announcements and invitations to special events.

What I found especially interesting about the Red Book were the advertisements.  The six story Oriental Hotel billed itself as having the largest and most luxuriously appointed rooms in the state and featured an impressive line drawing of its facility.

The Parisian Millinery Company promised the very latest in hats and bonnets in season.  And reported receiving goods, direct from New York, every week. Also a hairdressing department with one of the finest eastern hair dressers.

You’ll find ads for steam carpet cleaning, fancy groceries, the largest moving wagons in the state, fine footwear, fine commercial printing, pianos, the Dallas Natatorium, Turkish baths, dental parlors, photographers, fine diamonds and watches, druggists, banjos and violins, gents furnishings and hats, all paper and artists supplies, mineral soda pop, an ice factory and cold storage, sheet music, sewing machines, tents, awnings and mattresses, horse shoes, plumbing, wine, typewriters and rubber stamps, railroads, Havana cigars, and more.  And of course, an ad for the largest retail store in the South —Sanger Brothers—whose Dallas store ad boasts of  118,500 feet of floor space and 250 employees ready to serve you. Plus mentions their branch in Waco with 125 employees. And the convenience of mail order. The Dallas Red Book is more than a social register. It is an interesting look at some aspects of life in one Texas city in 1895.

1831 Letter From Texas

Mrs. Mary Austin Holley, a cousin of noted Texan, Stephen F. Austin, was a keen observer of daily life on the Texas frontier, before the Texas Revolution. In letters back home to Connecticut, she reported her astute observations. What follows are comments from three of her letters written in 1831 from Bolivar, Texas.

. . . The people of Texas, as yet, have little time for [business]. Everybody is occupied with his domestic arrangements and plans for supplying his immediate wants. It is found to be easier to raise or manufacture such articles as are needed [by] the family or to do without what things may be desired, than to obtain them from abroad, or to employ an individual to scour the country in search of such. . . . People live too far apart to beg or borrow often, and few trouble themselves to send anything to market, though they have much to spare. They had rather give to you of their abundance, if you will send someone to their doors [to get it]. . . . If they want any article of first necessity, coffee for instance, which is much used, they will send some of their chickens, butter and eggs, to a neighboring family, newly arrived, and propose an exchange, as most newcomers bring with them some stores.  There is much of this kind of barter, provisions being so much more [plentiful] than money. . . .

In no country, with the usual attention to the arts of life, could more luxuries to the table be furnished. At present, vegetables, fruits, butter, eggs, and chicken sell very high in Brazoria; though they are yielded in every season of the year, in a profusion unexampled in any part of the world. The newcomer has to but plant his seeds in the ground, and collect a first supply of livestock to begin with. They need but little or no care afterwords, and the increase is astonishing. He brands his cattle and hogs and lets them run. They require no attention, but to see that they do not stray too far from home and become wild. A field once planted in pumpkins, seldom needs planting again. The scattered seed sow themselves, and the plants are cultivated with the corn. These pumpkins, often as large as a man can lift, have a sweet flavor and are very palatable.  A field of them is a curiosity, as they are in such numbers and so large. Sweet potatoes, also are cultivated with almost equal ease, and yield at times, five hundred bushels to the acre. Some of these potatoes weigh from four to seven pounds. Yet they sell at Brazoria at the enormous price of seventy-five cents a bushel. Corn is obtained in the prairie cane-breaks [during] the first year, when there is no time to prepare the land with the plow, by merely making a hole for the seed with a hoe. Cows and horses get their own living. The trees at this moment  (17th of December), are loaded with rich clusters of grapes, not very large, but of a delicious flavor. . . .

During my stay at Bolivar, we might have had every day, the finest of game, could anyone have been spared to take to the field with his gun. Our neighbor at one hunt, brought in three bears, a Mexican hog, a rabbit and two bee-trees. Our carpenter, without leaving his bench five minutes, killed several wild ducks, the finest I have ever tasted. . . .

Housekeepers should bring with them all indispensable articles for household use, together with as much common clothing (other clothing is not wanted) for themselves and their children as they conveniently can. Ladies, in particular, should remember that in a new country, they can not get things made at any moment, as in an old one, and that they will be sufficiently busy the first two years in arranging such things as they have, without obtaining more. It should also be done as a matter of economy. Where the population increases, beyond the increase of supplies, articles of necessity are dear. If on arrival you find a surplus on hand, it can be readily disposed of to advantage; for trade, by barter, is much practiced, and you buy provisions with coffee, calico, tea-kettles and saucepans, instead of cash. 

Those who must have a feather bed, had better bring it, for it would take too long to make one; and though the air swarms with live geese, a feather bed could not be got for love or money. Everybody should bring pillows and bed linens. Mattresses, such as are used in Louisiana—and they are very comfortable— are made of the moss which hangs on almost every tree. They cost nothing but the case and the trouble of preparing the moss. The case should be brought.

Domestic checks are best being cheap and light, and sufficiently strong.

The moss is prepared by burying it in the earth, until it is partially rotten. It is then washed very clean, dried, and picked. Then it is fit for use. These mattresses should be made very thick; and for those who like a warmer bed in winter, put layers of wool, well carded, taking care to keep this side up.

Every immigrant should bring mosquito bars. [A quick note—today we would call this item mosquito nets]  Since the middle of October, I have not found them necessary. They are indispensable in the summer season and are made from a thin species of muslin, manufactured for the purpose. Furniture, such as chairs and bureaus, can be brought in separate pieces and put together, cheaper and better, after arrival, than they can be purchased here, if purchased at all. But it must be recollected that very few articles of this sort are required, where houses are small and buildings expensive. . . .Tables are made by the house carpenter, which answer the purpose as well where nobody has better, and the chief concern is to get something to put upon them.

The maxim or [general truth] here, is—nothing is for show, but all for use. . . .

The common concerns of life are sufficiently exciting to keep the spirits buoyant, and prevent everything like ennui, [listlessness, and dissatisfaction]. Artificial wants are entirely forgotten in view of real ones, and self—eternal self—does not alone fill up the round of life. Delicate ladies find they can be useful and need not be vain. Even privations become pleasures: people become ingenious in overcoming difficulties. Many latent faculties are developed. They discover in themselves, powers they did not suspect themselves of possessing. Equally surprised and delighted at the discovery, they apply to their labors with all that energy and spirit that new hope and conscious strength inspire. . . .

A side note: Mrs. Mary Austin Holley’s letters indicate she was writing from Bolivar.  Where was Bolivar?

In 1830, Henry Austin, first cousin of Stephen F. Austin, established a cotton plantation in Brazoria County, on the Brazos River, 25 miles south of San Felipe and north along the Brazos River from the Gulf of Mexico. Austin established one of the first cotton gins in Brazoria County. He named his plantation Bolivar and established a town site with the same name. According to a contemporary account, “The land around Bolivar is the best in the Austin colony; clothed with heavy timber, with peach and cane undergrowth to the distance of six miles from the river. The bank of the river in front of the town is a high bluff of stiff red clay. At Bolivar, the timber tract is five or six miles wide and the road to the prairie is walled in with tall cane filling all the space between the trees.” It was from Here that Mrs. Mary Austin Holly penned her letters, a year later.

Comanche Attack!

As the story goes . . .

Nestled in a small clearing close to the woods and the Leon River, about seven miles northeast of the small settlement of Hamilton in Central Texas was a rustic one-room school house. The Leon River School was a simple square of loosely stacked logs with large spaces left between the logs to allow for ventilation. School was taught in the summer when the children had more free time from tasks on their family homesteads.

It was afternoon that day in July of 1867, and a small group of students had settled in for their lessons. Their teacher, Miss Ann Whitney, a heavy-set 32 year-old who had left Massachusetts and travelled to Texas to teach, was instructing the children when a young student, Amanda Powers, yelled that horsemen were approaching the school. At first, teacher Ann Whitney was unconcerned as she had been told a parent and his cowhands would be visiting the school that day to see his daughter who was boarding with another family in order to attend the classes. But Amanda Powers continued to watch the approaching riders between cracks in the logs and was soon convinced the riders were Indians, She pushed her little brother out the schools only window and quickly followed him. Both ran for the bushes along the river and hid.

Amanda’s departure and the sound of pounding horse hooves told the story—a Comanche attack!  Barring the door and gathering the children, Ann Whitney began pushing her students out the small window on the north side of the cabin with instructions to hide in the brush along the river. At the last minute, loose floorboards were pulled up and two students, Louis Manning and John Kuykendall took cover under the school.

With blood-curdling cries, the war party began firing arrows into the school, wounding Ann Whitney more than a dozen times. A third student still in the building, Jane Kuykendall, was wounded, but survived because the Indians apparently assumed she was dead.

Wounded and dying, Ann Whitney spread her skirts over the floor boards where Tom and Louis were hiding. The Comanche broke the door down, found the two boys cowering under the floor, and dragged them up.

Among the dozen or so Comanche raiders was a red-headed white man who asked the two boys if they wanted to join the Indians. Young John Kuykendall said yes, and was taken. Louis Manning said no. He later said he thought he was about to be killed when the leader of the raiders called for the rest to leave.

As they were leaving, the red haired Indian saw Olivia Barbee, captured her, pulling her onto his saddle. When he was distracted, she jumped down and escaped into the thick underbrush.

By chance, two women out for a ride saw the commotion as the attack began. Seventeen year old Amanda Howard and her sister-in-law Sarah Howard realized they needed to warn others that the Comanche were raiding. They reversed their horses and raced toward the Baggett’s cabin about a half a mile away. A few of the Comanche hurried to stop them. In the rush, Sarah was thrown from her horse while jumping an eight rail fence. An Indian captured her horse, but but Sarah was uninjured and able to make it to the Baggett home. Amanda charged ahead of the pursuing Indians, managed to outrun them on the young, spirited colt she was riding, and was able to spread the alarm to other neighboring cabins and alert the citizens of Hamilton.

While one group of Comanche had attacked the school, a second  group found the Stanaland family traveling nearby. Mr. and Mrs. Stanaland and their two children were killed.

Armed men from Hamilton gathered and pursued the marauders.

John Kuykendall, who was taken in the raid, was traded back about six months later. His wounded sister Jane recovered from her wound. All of Ann Whitney’s students had survived the attack!  Teacher Ann Whitney who had died trying to save her students was heralded as a hero.

School children in Hamilton County raised money to place a monument in Graves-Gentry Cemetery in memory of the Leon River school teacher. It reads: “In memory of Ann Whitney, a frontier school teacher; born in Massachusetts about 1835, killed by Comanche Indians July 9, 1867. Resting in hope of a glorious resurrection. Erected by the school children of Hamilton County.” A Hamilton elementary school is named for Ann Whitney.

In 1958, a grey granite stone memorial honoring Ann Whitney was placed on the Hamilton County Courthouse lawn

Ann Whitney’s bravery in saving her students and Amanda Howard’s heroic ride is also memorialized by Eltea Armstrong on a Texas General Land Office 1972 illustrated map of Hamilton County. In an ornate block of calligraphy and around the edges of the map, is the illustrated story of the two brave pioneer women, Ann Whitney and Amanda Howard. Just two examples of strong women who helped to settle Texas.

The Legendary XIT Ranch

The Legendary XIT Ranch (largest in the world).

In the previous podcast, I talked about how the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin was financed by raising funds through the sale of 3,050,000 acres of vacant land in the Panhandle of Texas. The land purchase was conducted by a Chicago firm, which created the Capitol Syndicate purchased the land in 1882. An immediate decision was made to use the land for cattle ranching until they could see an opportunity to break it into parcels for sale. This podcast looks at the famous ranch that grew out of that decision—The legendary XIT Ranch.

To fund the new ranch’s development, one of the Capitol Syndicate’s major investors, John V. Farwell traveled to England, set up The Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company of London and sold bonds to wealthy British investors. The funding resulted in the successful creation of the XIT Ranch.

The ranch was huge, stretching more than 220 miles north-to-south along the New Mexico border and measuring from 20 to 30 miles east-to-west. A common belief is that the name XIT stands for “Ten in Texas,” referring to the 10 counties it covers, As you might guess, the ranch chose as its brand the letters XIT. The land, rich with grass, was fenced and  in July of 1885, stocked with 2,500 longhorn cattle.

According to a 1929 book —The XIT Ranch and the Early Days of the Llano Estacado—by historian J. Evetts Haley,the XIT brand was conceived by the Texas trail driver, Abner Blocker, who drove the original herd of cattle from Fort Concho to the XIT. Blocker also branded the first XIT cow. According to Haley, ‘She was not an animal of high pedigree, but a Longhorn from South Texas. Her color, gauntness, and perversity were historic.’”

To run the mammoth ranch, Farwell hired Colonel Burton Harvey “Barbecue” Campbell of Wichita, Kansas as general manager. Campbell’s “Barbecue” nickname came from a cattle brand he used at his ranch along the Kansas-Oklahoma border—on land rented from the Cherokee—A bar with the letters B and Q below it.

Now, if you think of Texas cowhands as rough and rowdy, ranch manager Campbell had other ideas for the XIT. He published a booklet with a list of twenty-two rules aimed at creating well-behaved cowpunchers. And there were a lot of cow punchers. One hundred and fifty cowboys rode 1000 horses and branded 35,000 new cows during one year on the ranch.

Here are a several random examples of Campbell’s expectations for well-behaved cowhands:

  • Six-shooters or other small firearms will not be permitted to be carried on the ranch.
  • Card playing or gambling of any kind is strictly prohibited on this ranch.
  • All persons having the care or use of animals belonging to the ranch will be required to handle them carefully and treat them kindly.
  • Horses are furnished for the care of cattle and for other useful purposes, and they must not be used to run wild horses, or buffalo, or antelope, nor to run races.
  • Beeves will not be permitted to be killed unless the force is large enough to consume the meat before it becomes unfit for use, or other provision be made to salt and preserve it.

By 1888, “Barbeque” Campbell had been fired over rustling allegations and replaced by Albert Boyce, who was active in management on the ranch for eighteen years and published his own list of ranch rules. At its peak, the ranch handled 150,000 head of cattle secured by 6,000 miles of fencing.

By 1901, the last of the bonds sold to English investors were maturing and the ranch began selling off parcels of land. The last of the cattle were sold in 1912 and the remaining parcels of land were put up for sale. The XIT Ranch faded into legend.

However . . .Today, the legendary XIT Ranch is back. Drew Knowles, the great grandson of investor John V, Farwell and Knowles’ wife, Abby, have brought the XIT Ranch back to life. Today the ranch breeds Quarter Horses and 100% grass-fed Black Angus and American Wagyu cattle on XIT land in Southern Colorado and on some of the original XIT Texas Panhandle land near Channing, Texas.

According to their website, “The ranch keeps with age-old traditions of roping calves and dragging ‘em to the fire for branding. This is an important way for the XIT to preserve our heritage and to pass it on to the next generation.”

Knowles, working to revive his family legacy, says “Ultimately, my job is to take care of the land so it can take care of my family and me, to honor the past and all the sacrifice and hard work, and to bring it into the future.”

NOTE: To learn more about the historic XIT Ranch:

  • Consider visiting the XIT Museum and famous “Empty Saddles” monument, both in Dalhart TX 
  • Dalhart is also the site of the annual XIT Rodeo and Reunion, usually held in late July or early August.
  • You’ll find a restored XIT General Ranch office in Channing, TX.
  • And, The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum keeps memories alive with thousands of XIT Ranch records. You’ll find the museum on the grounds of West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX.

Thanks for listening. This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong, the best little podcast in Texas. Subscribe for notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted.

Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical, Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

A Capitol Idea!

Nestled in the rolling Hill Country Region of Texas, in the city of Austin, sits the Texas state Capitol building. Today’s sunset red granite building is a far cry from the Republic of Texas’ 1839 log-cabin Capitol building. A key feature of this early national Capitol was an eight-foot high stockade fence offering protection during Indian raids.

By 1853, the State of Texas had joined the Union and constructed a limestone State Capitol. The boxy building (with a roundish dome stuck on top) was a functional improvement; however, one publication of the time called it an “architectural monstrosity.” Nonetheless, it served as the Texas seat of government for over twenty-five years.

Following the Civil War, a Texas representative from Comanche, Texas proposed the state set aside five million acres of public land to raise money for a new capitol building. Ultimately, the Constitution of 1876 authorized the allocation of 3,050,000 acres of land in the Texas Panhandle for the project. A team of surveyors was dispatched to survey and divide the land into Spanish leagues—the measurement commonly used at the time. The huge swath of land selected stretched more than 220 miles north-to-south along the border with New Mexico and the width measurement from, east-to-west, varied from 20 to 30 miles. This land, to be set aside for fund raising, covered all or part of ten Texas counties.

In 1880, Texas officials held a nation-wide design competition for the new Capitol building, offering a $1,700 prize. The winning architect was Elijah E. Myers of Detroit.

In 1881, as the plan for using the Panhandle land to finance a new building was being finalized, the old capitol burned to the ground, giving the need for a new building greater urgency. Luckily, the architect’s plans for new new capitol were rescued from the fire. While planning for a beautiful new capitol continued, an inexpensive, temporary capitol was built on Congress Avenue away from the Capitol grounds.

In early 1882, the legislature appointed a Capitol Board tasked with both finding a financier for the project and choosing a contractor. The winning bidder for the funding project was Mathias Schnell of Illinois. Schnell turned his interests in the project over to a Chicago firm, Taylor, Babcock, and Company which formed the Capitol Syndicate and purchased the land  for $3,224,593.45.

The new landowners quickly decided to use the land for cattle ranching until they could see the opportunity to break it into parcels for sale and proceeded to raise funds in England by selling bonds for the ranch’s development and to recoup the cost of the land. The resulting ranch was named the XIT—purportedly standing for Ten-in-Texas—the ten being the number of counties which make up the ranch. It was the largest fenced ranch in the world. The ranch’s cattle were branded with the letters XIT and B.H. “Barbeque” Campbell from Wichita, Kansas was hired as general manager.

Meanwhile, back in Austin, the building contractor, Gustav Wilke, a young Chicago builder, went to work. Construction of the foundation began using limestone from South Austin. But, construction was quickly halted when metallic particles in the stone caused it to discolor. Fortunately, the owners of Granite Mountain in Burnet county donated the required granite—188,518 cubic feet of Texas Sunset Red Granite delivered to the Austin building site from Burnett County’s rock quarries on a railroad constructed for the purpose.

A boycott by the International Association of Granite Cutters over the use of prison labor resulted in 62 granite cutters being imported from Scotland.

On March 2, 1885, about three years after construction began, a 12,000 pound cornerstone was laid during a city-wide celebration. Cut into the cornerstone was a niche to hold a zinc box containing mementoes selected by former Governor F.R. Lubbock, then serving as State Treasurer. (I’ve not found information on just what those mementoes were, but I’m sure curious to know.)

Problems with dome design resulted in a feud with architect Meyers—who was no longer on the project as of September, 1886. The sixteen-foot Goddess of Liberty statue was installed on the top of the dome in February of 1888 and the Capitol was dedicated during a week-long celebration that attracted more than 20,000 people the following May. The city built special streetcar lines to bring the crowds to the celebration which included military displays, band concerts, drill team competitions, and fireworks. However, the final construction details weren’t completed until December of 1888.

When finished, the new Texas Capitol was the 7th largest building in the world, it stood tall and proud and was more than fourteen feet taller than the U.S. Capitol. The newly completed structure contained 392 rooms, 924 windows, 404 doors, and 18 vaults. The building measures approximately 566 feet in length, 288 feet in width, and rises 302.64 feet to the top of the star on the Goddess of Liberty statue on the dome. It is still the largest of all domed state capitol buildings.

At the new Capitol’s dedication ceremony, Senator Temple Houston, son of Sam Houston, accepted the building on behalf of the state, saying “This building fires the heart . . .the architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity.” Senator Houston was right. The state Capitol, twelve years in the making, has become an important symbol . . .the public face of Texas.

As a final note, The Texas Capitol building continues to be improved. In 1926, a new terrazzo floor was installed on the first level and in January of 1993, the state unveiled a new underground extension which connects to the Capitol and four other state buildings. Lit by skylights, the extension contains hearing and conference rooms, an auditorium, cafeteria and even a gift shop.

If you haven’t been to the Texas State Capitol, this historic building is worth visiting. Entering it is stepping into 134 years of Texas’ history.

Thanks for listening. This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong, the best little podcast in Texas. Subscribe for notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted.

Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical, Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

There’s Something Nutty in Texas!

The old man sat with his nutcracker systematically working the lever, cracking, and shelling pecans. About every fifth nut went into his mouth as he worked.

The little girl climbed up on a chair beside him. “Can I crack nuts, too, Grandpa?”

He grinned at her. “Crack or crack and eat?”

Her smile was mischievous. “Both.”

“Well they are mighty good eatin’. I’ll tell you what, since we only have one nut cracker, I’ll crack and you can help me eat.” He set another nut in the cracker, pulled the lever, separated the shell from the nut inside and handed it to her. These are good Pawnee pecans. They’re big and have a nice buttery flavor.”

“Pawnee? That’s the name of a Native American tribe, right.”

“Yep. Almost seventy years ago a fellow named H.L. Crane suggested namin’ the different kinds of pecans after the native tribes in pecan growing territory. So we’ve got Comanche, Cherokee, Choctaw, and a bunch more pecan varieties—each a little bit different. The name pecan is an Algonquin word that translates—more or less—to “a nut requiring a stone to crack its shell.

“We call the original Texas pecan the ‘native’ variety. Pecans been growin’ in Texas a long time. Back in the 1500s, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote that the native people he met ate pecans. But pecans go back even further than that. Fossilized pecans found along the Rio Grande River are estimated to be 65 million years old.” He handed her another nut and popped one in his mouth.

“There are wild pecan trees and planted pecan orchards across most of Texas, ‘specially in the Hill Country. Some of the wild trees are 200 years old. Did you know, pecan trees can grow to 120 feet tall and measure four feet across?”

“Wow! That’s a humungous tree. You’d need a tall ladder to pick the nuts.”

“Well, nowadays, pickin’ is mechanical. A big machine puts its metal arms around a tree’s trunk and gives it a big shake for about a minute. The ripe pecans just fall to the ground. Some growers catch them on special sheets, others sweep ‘em up with mechanical sweepers.”

“We have lots of pecan trees around here.” She pulled a shelled nut from the growing pile.”There are even two in our front yard. But the squirrels beat us to most of the pecans.”

“Yep. Little rascals. We’re mighty lucky to live in the Texas hill country, especially in San Saba.”

“Because there are so many pecan trees?”

“That’s part of it. San Saba is known as the ‘Pecan Capital of the World’ and San Saba is the home of the ‘Mother Pecan Tree.’”

“Pecan trees have a mother?”

“Well, the folks at Texas A&M over in College Station tell the story of E.E. Risien. He was an Englishman who moved to Texas in 1874 and spent his life growing pecan trees near where the Colorado and San Saba Rivers meet. He gathered male pecan blossoms from pecan trees all over the area. Then, placed the pollen on the female blossoms of a special tree to create new varieties. His special tree gets the credit for creating many, many different pecan varieties—that tree is the ‘Big Mama’ of the pecan business.

“People liked his pecans. Customers from all over the world bought them. Queen Victoria and Alfred Lord Tennyson in Great Britain ordered his pecans. The Post Cereal Co. was another customer.

“By 1904, Texas had really grown and so many pecan trees had been cut down to make way for cotton crops or for use in building wagons, farm implements, and furniture, that the number of pecan trees was gettin’ thin. But in 1906, an interesting thing happened.

“Texas Governor James Hogg and his daughter visited Hogg’s law partner in Houston. That night, Governor Hogg commented that when he died he did not want a stone monument at his grave. Instead he said, ‘Let my children plant at the head of my grave a pecan tree and at my feet an old walnut tree. And when these trees shall bear, let the pecans and walnuts be given out among the plain people so that they may plant them and make Texas a land of trees.’ Doggone if he didn’t die the next day, and his wishes were followed. Sure enough,Texans took the nuts, planted ’em, and before long, pecan and walnut trees popped up all over the state. By 1919 the pecan tree was voted the Texas State Tree. Couple of years ago, Texans harvested more than forty-five million pounds of in-shell pecans to be sold. Guess we could say, Governor Hogg saved the Texas pecan.”

“That’s the same Governor who named his daughters Ima Hogg and Yura Hogg?”

“No. Don’t you fall for that old joke, honey. There was no daughter named Yura Hogg. Ima Hogg was named after a poem written by Governor Hogg’s brother. A nice gesture which created an unusual—some might say unfortunate—first and last name combination. Anyway, 63 years later the original trees at Hogg’s grave were replaced with new ones. Far as I know they’re still producing nuts.”

“Okay, Grandad, I have a new friend in school from Georgia. She says we should say ‘Peee-can, not pecan.”

“Nonsense! Now, don’t you dare tell your Mama or Grandma I told you this, but a Peee-can is what you pee in, a pecan is what you eat.”

The little girl giggled and pulled two more pecans from the pile.

The old man said, “Now let’s get these pecans to the kitchen. Grandma wants to bake a pecan pie for tonight’s dessert.”

As they scooped the pecans into a clean bowl, the little girl asked, “May I please stay for dinner?”

“Nothing your grandma and I’d like better, sweetheart. I’ll call your mom.”

NOTE: If you are a pecan fan, remember to keep your Texas pecans in a sealed container in the the refrigerator, or for up to two years in the freezer. You can pull them out of the freezer for immediate use. My favorite way to eat them? Toast them gently in a skillet with butter. Stir constantly, they’ll scorch fast. Salt them liberally and dry them on paper towels. Make a bunch because they will be consumed fast! And for your own sake, don’t call ‘em Pee-cans! You might get run out of the state.

If you plan a trip to San Saba, the pecan capital of the world, be sure to visit Risien Park a lovely setting with lots of pecan trees!

This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—The best little podcast in Texas. If you enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe for a notification when a new twice-monthly podcast is posted. Thanks for listening—Ya’ll come back.

Laurie is the author of the historical Texas-based novel GONE TO DALLAS, the Storekeeper 1856-1861.  Available on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and Ingram Spark.

The Battle of Plum Creek

The Battle of Plum Creek and the events leading up to it are famous in the annals of The Republic of Texas’ History. The famous Battle of Plum Creek was sparked by the unfortunate Council House Fight in 1840.

Early that year, The Penatekas or “Honey Eater” Comanches—suffering from attacks by Cheyenne and Arapaho, and from battles with the Texas Rangers, in addition to facing dwindling numbers due to smallpox—agreed to hold to peace talks with Texas. When the talks were agreed to, and before they were held, the Texas government representatives demanded return of all captives, and that the Comanche would pledge to abandon Central Texas, avoid white settlements, and not interfere with Texas incursions.

The following March 19th, twelve chiefs, twenty-one warriors, along with thirty-two other Comanches arrived in San Antonio for the negotiations. Only one anglo captive was delivered, a 16 year old girl who had been badly treated. She was covered with bruises and scars and her nose was burned off to the bone. She revealed that there were more than a dozen other captives which the Indians planned to ransom later.

The Texas representatives informed the chiefs that they would be held hostage until the remaining captives were delivered. The Chiefs let out a war whoop in response and reached for their weapons. A fight ensued and all twelve Comanche chiefs and eighteen warriors, three women and two children were killed, others captured. Several troops were killed or wounded. The situation enraged the Comanches who believed those engaged in peace talks were immune from acts of war.

As an aftermath of the Council House Fight, the Comanche launched a retaliatory raid, led by their remaining chief, Buffalo Hump. Estimates from the time are that there were probably 500 warriors and as many as 500 other members of the band, including families. On August 6th, the Raiders  began a two-day attack of the town of Victoria, killing a number of residents, capturing more than 1500 horses and mules, including a herd belonging to Mexican traders. The defending residents were able to prevent the complete sacking of the town and a group of Victoria men went for help.

Leaving Victoria, the Indians proceeded to the small port town of Linnville, killing three men along the way. On the 8th of August, the Comanche attacked the town, plundering the houses, stores, and a large warehouse. Fortunately the citizens fled oceanside and most were saved by boarding small boats and a schooner. A few citizens were killed and at least four hostages taken.

For the entire day the Comanche butchered cattle, gathered and loaded goods from the local warehouse onto horses and mules. Stealing an estimated $30,000 worth of merchandise which had been destined for San Antonio and the Mexican trade—clothing, hats, umbrellas, silk, and other goods. Attired in items they had stolen—wearing shoes, top hats, coats worn upside down and buttoned up the back, and riding horses draped in calico with yards of ribbon tied to their manes and tails, and carrying silk umbrellas, they fired all the structures except the warehouse and left. The final count of settlers killed in the two attacks was twenty three.  A small group of Linwood men followed to keep track of where the Indians traveled and a few skirmishes occurred.

As word of the Victoria/Linnville attacks spread, Texas Ranger groups and other Texans from all around began to gather at a ranch between Gonzales and Austin on the path the Indians were taking. Waiting for more men to gather they waited until they were concerned that the Indians would escape. They began to position themselves for attack at Plum Creek, just as Major General Felix Huston, head of the Texas militia arrived and took command. Fighting ensued, Chief Buffalo Hump was killed, the Comanche began retreating and the battle turned into a running fight which stretched for miles as the Comanche scattered. The Indians abandoned their plunder, killed all but one hostage—who was wounded in the chest, but was saved from death by her corset. When it was over, one report says 80 Comanche were killed. The Texans reported one man dead and seven wounded.

So ended one of the boldest Comanche attacks on Texas towns.*

*Historians may differ on a few details, but  much of this report from written reports of participants. including James Wilson Nichols in his Journal and  William Hall in his memoir Brazos.

A European Utopia on the Trinity River

Dreams of a agricultural socialist utopia began in Paris and spread to North Texas in the 1800s

A dream of a socialist utopia. . . It began in Paris in 1848, but who would have guessed it would soon spread to Texas to the limestone cliffs overlooking the Trinity River?

A wave of unsuccessful political revolutions swept across Europe in the mid 1800s. After the failed revolutions, Europe was no longer the place to try socialist theories. However, one socialist dreamer, Frenchman Francois (fr-ee-ay) Fourier was so inspiring with his utopian theories that America became dotted with experimental utopian communities.

A disciple of Fourier, Victor Considerant, became leader of the Fourier movement after Fourier’s death. Expelled from France in 1851, Considerant traveled to the US and on to Texas, motivated by a visit from the Peters Group which was promoting its land grant holdings in the state. Impressed by what he saw as a positive environment for starting a new utopian agricultural community on the Texas frontier near the tiny log-cabin village of Dallas, he returned to Europe and wrote a book, To Texas, in which he praised the potential of the state for settlement. “…The promised land is a reality,” he wrote. Within a year of the book, a company was formed with the purpose of setting up communities following Fourier’s communal principles. The company quickly raised $300,000 to support their first effort in Texas—a community named La Reunion.

On his first visit to the three forks of the Trinity River,  Considerant had seen land which he thought would lend itself to vineyards. He was encouraged that his idea would work when he met a French photographer in Dallas who successfully made wine from the state’s native mustang grapes. He instructed his agents to buy 2000 acres of the land he had identified. 

The initial group of 200 French and French-speaking Belgians and Swiss recruits left Antwerp and sailed for 60 days to reach New Orleans, sailed on to Galveston, then traveled to Houston. Believing they would then simply sail up the Trinity River to Dallas, they were shocked to learn that the river was not navigable due to the tangled knots of trees and brush which blocked clear passage. Instead the group rented oxcarts and drivers, loaded their possessions, and walked for 26 days from Houston to Dallas (About 270 miles), many wearing wooden shoes.It was a tedious, exhausting journey.

Upon arrival in Dallas in April of 1855, they discovered that the land Considerant had wished to purchase had not been available and the agents had bought 2000 acres on the limestone cliff overlooking the river, land that was not ideal for farming.  A few buildings had been constructed in anticipation of their arrival, but they would have to build more as well as plant their crops. Five hundred cattle, some sheep and pigs had been purchased and needed caring for. It was a daunting challenge for the colonists, only two of whom had farming experience, The others included artists, an architect, musicians, tailors, shoemakers, weavers, jewelers, a pastry cook, a hat makers, a dance master  watch maker, orchestra conductor, butcher, baker, a cabinet maker, and a stone mason—in short, they were mostly artists and craftsmen. Agricultural skills were sorely lacking. 

To make matters worse, Considerant’s overbearing manner and mismanagement resulted in complaints from the new settlers and feelings that they had been misled.

Dallasites took an interest in the community of foreigners and and socials and Sunday dances were held both in Dallas and at La Reunion.  But from the start, problems from bad weather, the fact that there was no transportation to take their crops to market, and  poor management decisions plagued the colony. One of the first to leave was Considerant who deserted La Reunion, slipping away to San Antonio, and then returning to Europe. Although new recruits came in, the colony slowly crumbled. Some people returned to Europe. Others drifted into Dallas. About 160 families moved to Dallas  and opened such businesses as bakeries, a brewery, a millinery shop, a brick and cement business, and a dance school.

When the Civil War started, a few men from La Reunion enlisted and served with  distinction; however, others did not feel this was their war. An incident, reported in The Lusty Texans of Dallas by John William Rogers shows the colonists creativity and reluctance to join the battle. Confederate soldiers accosted an elderly Frenchman on the road between La Reunion and Dallas, ordering him to stop.  Not understanding English, he didn’t obey and was shot in the hip. Citizens of La Reunion took this as a threat and prepared to defend themselves by turning one of their buildings into a fort. When Confederate soldiers appeared to press the men into military service, men and women of the colony soon had all of the building’s windows bristling with guns.  Assuming that at least 100 armed men were inside, the soldiers left. When a larger group of soldiers returned to seize the weapons, none were found. The colonists had buried them. Later, the Governor of Texas exempted the colonists from military duty.

Following the war, during Reconstruction, La Reunion colonists who had not served the Confederacy, were  eligible to hold city offices and other positions of authority, something from which Dallas benefited. Colonist Benjamin Long was appointed mayor during Reconstruction and was so popular that he was  subsequently elected twice by the citizens.

Today, La Reunion is remembered by a small cemetery in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood and by Reunion Tower, a 561 foot observation tower with revolving restaurant which commands Dallas’ downtown skyline and overlooks the limestone cliff where La Reunion was established.

Although La Reunion went bankrupt and dissolved, it had a strong impact on Dallas.  The European colony brought educated European citizens, culture, new trades, and an interest in things international to the small town. La Reunion helped lay the groundwork for Dallas’ to become a cultured, international city.

 This has been Laurie Moore-Moore with Texas Brave and Strong—Tidbits of Texas History you didn’t learn in School. Ya’ll come back.