Sophia Suttenfield Auginbaugh Coffee Butt Porter
The following is a transcript of Podcast #6
Listen my children and you shall hear of the late night ride of Sophia Suttenfield Auginbaugh Coffee Butt Porter—The woman known as Texas’ female Paul Revere!
Her story is a fascinating one, full of truths and lies. The only problem is—we don’t know which are which.
As Sophia told it, her father, Colonel William Suttenfield, fought in the War of 1812 and met her mother, after the war, while sailing on the Great Lakes. The two married and settled in Ft. Wayne. Indiana.
Sophia says she eloped in 1833—when she was 17—with the headmaster of her school, Jesse Aughinbaugh. Three years later she claimed he abandoned her in Texas.
Historian Graham Landrum says, “Not so.” His version is that Sophia’s father was a laborer in Ft. Wayne and Sophia’s first husband was Myron Berbour a druggist and teacher in Ft. Wayne.
Which ever version of the story you choose to believe, Sophia was friendly with Sam Houston and she claimed to be the first woman to reach the site of the San Jacinto battlefield after the final battle for Texas independence in April of 1836. This quick arrival may give some credence to the gossip that she was a camp follower. Sophia is also one of several women who claimed to have nursed Houston back to health after he’d been wounded in the leg during the battle.
Back in the town of Houston, following the Texas Revolution, Sophia met Holland Coffee. Coffee had established a trading post on the Red River in the early 1830s and subsequently moved it from Indian Territory to the Texas side of the river in 1837. Coffee traded with the Indians and was responsible for ransoming several white captives and returning them to their families. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and spent time in the new capital of Houston, where he met the beautiful and buxom Sophia.
Eager to marry Coffee, Sophia petitioned the courts for a divorce from the missing Auginbaugh without success. She then petitioned the Republic’s legislature to intervene on her behalf. After several failed attempts, Sophia turned to Sam Houston who used his influence and Sophia’s petition for a divorce was granted.
After a 600-mile honeymoon on horseback, the newly married couple settled at the trading post on the Red River. Coffee’s wedding gift to Sophia was one-third league of land, or about 1,476 acres.
Constant threats of Indian attacks caused the new republic to build a line of protective forts along the western edge of the frontier. A new military road connected the forts, ending at Ft. Johnson near Coffee’s trading post. Coffee developed a ferry crossing over the river and expanded his land holdings. In 1845, Coffee hired Mormans, traveling from Illinois to Central Texas, to build a home which the Coffees named Glen Eden. Over the years, this house became the most impressive house in North Texas. and the scene of lavish entertainment for VIPs crossing the river.
As the story goes, an 1846 visit to Glen Eden by Sam Houston sparked a fight ending in Coffee’s death at the hands of his niece’s husband, who reportedly insulted Sophia by commenting negatively about her former relationship with Houston. Prodded by Sophia, Coffee started an “Indian duel” with the man. It ended in Coffee’s death.
Now a widow, Sophia managed the 3000 acre plantation, tended her gardens and orchards, raised peacocks, and hosted parties for the officers traveling to the line of military forts. She also entertained other notables crossing at her ferry. By this time, Texas had become a state and the forts were manned with federal troops. Guests at Glen Eden included Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.
On a visit to New Orleans to sell her cotton, Sophia met Major General George N. Butts, who returned to Glen Eden with her to manage the plantation. Together they enlarged Glen Eden, furnishing it with beautiful things from New Orleans.
During the Civil War, Butts was murdered while returning from a cotton-selling trip to nearby Sherman by one of the rogue Confederates in William Clark Quantrill’s gang of lawless raiders
There are several versions about what happened soon after. A frequently told story reported that James Bourland, commander of a Texas frontier regiment, stopped at Glen Eden—on his way to Fort Washita in Indian Territory— and warned Sophia that Union troops were pursuing him.
When the Yankees arrived, Sophia welcomed them, probably greeting some officers she had entertained before. Sophia hosted a dinner for them, and then took them to her wine cellar where they proceeded to get drunk. Locking them in her cellar, she mounted a mule and forded the Red River to warn Bourland and disrupt the Union plan to invade Texas. Another version says she stripped to her underwear, swam the river, and whistled to capture the Confederates’ attention. I’ll leave it to you to choose the version you prefer. As a result of her warning, she is credited by many with providing information which allowed the Confederates to stop the threat of a Union invasion into Texas. I have no idea how she explained being locked in her wine cellar to the Union officers.
Near the end of the Civil War, Sophia questioned the safety of living on the border. So, she hid her gold in tar buckets hanging under her wagon and left Glen Eden for Waco in Central Texas. There she met Judge James Porter, a Confederate cavalry officer from Missouri. In the summer of 1865, Sophia Suttenfield Auginbaugh Coffee Butt married her cavalry officer and added Porter to her name.
Returning to Glen Eden, the Porters increased their land holdings and in 1869, Sophia “got religion.” She attended a camp meeting and threw herself at the feet of the preacher who refused to accept her into the church. However, the Methodist minister in Sherman welcomed her into his congregation.
Sophia and Judge Porter began making substantial donations of land and money to area churches, including a section of land to Southwestern University (a Methodist school in Georgetown, TX). They also donated land for a Methodist Church at Preston Bend.
By this time, her neighbors had become more accepting of the flamboyant Sophia. She was the first speaker at The Old Settlers Association when it was was founded in Sherman in 1879.
James Porter died in 1886. On August 27, 1897, the woman many credit with stopping the invasion of North Texas by the Union army—Sophia Suttenfield Auginbaugh Coffee Butt Porter—died quietly at age eighty-one at Glen Eden with the Methodist minister by her side.
Today, the sites of Glen Eden, Coffee’s Trading Post, and the original town of Preston are underwater in Lake Texoma on the Texas-Oklahoma border. An historical marker just outside the Preston Bend Cemetery, located on a peninsula in Lake Texoma, gives Sophia credit for her late night trip across the river to warn Confederates of the threat of a Union invasion into Texas.
And so goes the story of Texas’ female version of Paul Revere. Another colorful tale of a strong woman and a unique Texas personality.
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