The Heritage Corner
February 21, 2016 - Although very few citizens of Shelby County know that there were once rural communities in their county named Dolce, Halfway, Thurman, Nettle Ridge, and Star Spring, the community of Cedar Yard is still known by some because they have loved ones buried there. Located only about five miles north of Center, there are the graves of some of our ancestors, dating back to 1848. Those families, represented by more than one grave, are Adams, Anderson, Armstrong, Atwood, Bittick, Chandler, Corley, Hayden, Howard, Humphries, Hussey, Moore, Norwood, Parker, Plain, Richardson, Roye, Scates, Smith, Todd, Walling, and Watlington.
The cemetery was only one indication that Cedar Yard was a thriving rural community. A school was also located there as well as a post office. Still, it seems that however flourishing it was in the early settlement days of Texas, the community of Cedar Yard had probably begun its decline soon after the Civil War. This is suggested by the information available today about their post office. Isaiah Richardson was appointed the one and only postmaster in 1875, but the post office ceased operation the following year.
But before that, we get a glimpse of the activity in an around Cedar Yard (probably at its “zenith”) during the Regulator/Moderator conflict (1839-1844) by reading Middleton’s “History of the Regulators and Moderators.” From this source, the fact that Cedar Yard was the location of a major crossroads should not go unnoticed.
Hilliard's Fort (ed: important to the war’s history), was located some twelve miles north of Shelbyville, ten miles north of Jerry Beecham's, and some four miles north of Dave Strickland's where occurred the "School House Fight" (the Battle at Hilliards). The current state marker alleges the Battle at Hilliards took place near Cedar Yard Cemetery, but Middleton's directions would have Hilliard's Fort on the north side of the North Fork of Flat Fork of Tenaha Creek rather than at Cedar Yard. Cedar Yard Cemetery is situated at about the center of the David Strickland Headright.
During the period of the Regulator-Moderator War, the main road from Shelbyville to Pulaski (ed: now Panola County) and Taylor's Bluff in (ed: now Harrison County) passed north through Strickland's land, where it forked, the left fork leading toward Buena Vista and the right fork to Taylor's Bluff on the Sabine. (ed: This was probably not just a fork but a crossroads—Shelbyville to Buena Vista and Pulaski to Nacogdoches. There was also a wagon trail in the area (nearer to Buena Vista) that led to Logan’s Ferry. Of course, Center was not in existence at this time, but White Cottage (Newburn) was up the wagon trail toward Nacogdoches.)
In summary, Cedar Yard was a rural community in Shelby County, with a rather short and relatively undocumented history. It was probably vibrant in its day, its “day” starting as early as the 1830’s, with little remaining but a cemetery by the end of the 19th century. It is clear that it had most if not all the ingredients necessary to be considered a community of at least moderate size. Those ingredients included a short-lived post office, a 19th-century school which must have been privately established, and a cemetery, with possibly a church in close proximity. Perhaps the most important feature, however, was its location—at an intersection of roads connecting larger villages that must have been well travelled.
January 24, 2016 - As we gather documented information about our family history, it is not uncommon to discover that our roots are not what we thought they were. This observation is reflected in a popular Ancestry.com commercial aired recently on TV. There we see a person delighted to find, through DNA evidence, that his ethnicity is primarily Scottish. “I used to envision myself dancing with my traditional German costume. Now I know that I am not German at all, so I traded in my Lederhosen for kilts.”
DNA testing for gaining genealogical information is becoming more and more common because it is difficult to doubt DNA evidence. That is the positive side; conversely, you will not gain some of the specifics you might have expected. That is because DNA results are even more complex than a genealogical chart covering many generations.
While a genealogical chart is a summary of historical facts related to specific family lineages (often questionable when based simply on secondary sources), DNA testing gives a broad, though accurate, reflection of ethnicity through genetic analysis. Here is one individual’s result that might be considered typical.
23% Western Europe
17% Great Britain
3% Iberian Peninsula
3% Eastern Europe
<1% Finland/Northwest Russia
<1% Southern Asia
1% Western Asia (Caucasus)
0% Other Regions of the World
Now, don’t take this lightly simply because the specific information you expected might be lacking; this is valuable information for those who want the broad picture of their heritage. At least, it serves as confirmation of other findings and sometimes points the researcher to new avenues for discovery.
Although easier to explain, a genealogical chart (or tree) is almost as complex. It is rather simple to recognize that the possible mix of identified ethnicities could double as past generations are added, although that is not likely to happen. For example, many of us know (or know about) our ancestors two generations back—our four grandparents. Depending on a particular situation, our grandparent’s generation could go back in time to around mid-20th century, more or less.
But, what if we went back 120 years before that, when some of our forefathers were thinking about “goin’ to Texas” or were even already first-generation Texans? Those additional years would encompass about four generations. Those of us who are not heavily involved in genealogy probably don’t know (or care) much about these gggggrandparents; maybe we should, however, since such information tells us a lot about who we are. Knowing this will confirm the complexity of our heritage; after all, there were sixty-four of them, all with exciting stories that could have been told.
If each past generation doubles the number of our ancestors in that new generation, then by going back in time to our forefathers who came to America—maybe early 18th century—we could number almost 2000 ancestors. These would be the first of their family lines to arrive in America.
Such a number of ancestors who contributed to our DNA seems mind-boggling. However, marriages in America since 1700 were often within the same ethnicity. This was especially true in rural areas (such as during the early years of Shelby County), when the choice of mates was slim, sometimes limited to neighbors or even, occasionally, to cousins.
Ethnic bonding is still common today although it is found to be progressively stronger as we regress into earlier centuries. So, while DNA results do not reflect countless ethnicities, there is good reason to find that nine ethnicities (as in the example above) is not uncommon. Indeed, most of us have a rich rather than a pure heritage.
December 9, 2015 - It is distressing that at least two of our national leaders publicly declared recently that “anti-Muslim” rhetoric is in some way equivalent to “Muslim-extremists” terrorism. However, such political posturing about the recent San Bernardino murders still registers a bit less on my personal “distress meter” than the related headlines of the New York Daily News on December 3: “God Isn’t Fixing This.”
There are countless times in history, even when we limit ourselves only to American history, that God has “fixed” even worse situations. The outcomes of the Revolutionary, Civil, WWI, and WWII Wars are just a few of many terrible situations that God has chosen to “fix.” The operative word is “chosen,” chosen to “fix” in behalf of America because, in my opinion, America functioned as a Christian nation from its inception through at least WWII.
We don’t know when His choice will stop being in America’s behalf, but early American history is full of examples of positive Christian-based and God-guided decisions in the political arena. It might be enlightening to site one of the first of such examples. It is well documented that May 17, 1776 (forty-five days before America’s independence was declared) was declared a day of “humiliation, fasting, and prayer” by the Continental Congress throughout the colonies.
“In times of impending calamity and distress, when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by open assaults of an insidious and vindictive administration (the British government), it becomes the duty of these hitherto free and happy colonies, with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God; to confess and deplore our offences against him; and to supplicate his interposition for averting the threatened danger, and prospering our strenuous efforts in the cause of freedom, virtue, and posterity.
“The (Continental) Congress, therefore, considering the warlike preparations of the British Ministry to subvert our invaluable rights and privileges, and to reduce us by fire and sword, by the savages of the wilderness, and our own domestics, to the most abject and ignominious bondage; desirous, at the same time, to have people of all ranks and degrees duly impressed with a solemn sense of God's superintending providence, and of their duty, devoutly to rely, in all their lawful enterprises, on His aid and direction, do earnestly recommend, that Friday, the Seventeenth day of May next (1776), be observed by the said colonies as a day of humiliation, urging citizens to confess...sins and transgressions, and by sincere repentance … through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness." (italics added by editor)
--from Journals of the Continental Congress (March 16, 1976); signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress
Unfortunately for Americans, such faith in God’s power seems to have become weaker in recent times. Otherwise, the headline in the New York Daily News on December 3 might have stated, “God May Choose to Fix This” and then asked that the next day (or later) be declared a day of prayer. It made all the difference for John Hancock and his governmental gathering; such requested mercy might still be available to modern-day America.
November 10, 2015 - As I prepare for a new topic for the 2016 issues of “We the People of Shelby County," it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our issues of 2015. Their theme was focused on our historic square, and the topic turned out to be as challenging as it was enjoyable.
Since I grew up in Center in mid-20th century, I recognized and loved the ambiance of our unique square and courthouse, but my research for writing about them provided a renewed appreciation of our history. In the process, I discovered some interesting facts I otherwise would never have known. Perhaps the most interesting were those that suggested how the particular site was chosen.
As many readers already know, the Texas State Legislature as early as 1848 gave a specific guideline about where county seats should be: as near as possible to the middle of the county. This set the stage for our square's establishment. It was not just Shelby County that would be affected; it applied also to Panola (Pulaski to Carthage), Sabine (Milam to Hemphill), and many other counties throughout the state. The fact is, then, starting almost twenty years before Sam Weaver and Judge R. L. Parker moved the county records in 1866, it was expected that the county seat would be moved.
There were at least five reasons other than being near the middle of the county that helped shape the choice of the site in its present location: 1) the combined expertise of Weaver (as surveyor) and Parker (as county official); 2) its location as a high point in the area; 3) a pending donation of fifty acres each for that purpose from Jesse Amason and William P. Wilson; 4) a major junction in the immediate area; and 5) a group of stores that the strategic junction had attracted. Less importantly, it has also been said that R. L. Parker owned some land very near, and that may have had something to do with it.
According to Joe Louis Jones, docent of our historic courthouse, the stake for the center of the county was actually driven at the high point very near our present post office. That particular rise is a bit higher than the one where the historic courthouse now sits; some of the reasons already given may have been why that choice was simply a passing thought.
Especially important was that the site chosen embraced a strategic location: at the junction of two active wagon trails—the route between the earlier towns of Buena Vista and Shelbyville, and the trail that led to Nacogdoches from Logan's Ferry. By 1866 these well-traveled trails were being used as postal roads, and also by then, merchants had been attracted by the junction to locate small stores there.
If we had assumed there were no group of stores or houses to cause Weaver and Parker to choose the particular plot of land now known as Center's historic square, we might have concluded they were simply attempting to identify the center of the county in order to start "fresh" with a new county seat. J.B. Sanders, however, states that there were stores there prior to Sam Weaver's survey.
"In 1869 there were only a blacksmith shop, the E. T. Smith Hotel, a log schoolhouse, and J. N. Weaver's Furniture Factory.” (J. B. Sanders: Students Who Have Attended the Center, Texas Public Schools, 1897 -1965). Also, Patricia R. McCoy in Shelby County Sampler suggests there may have been a few "shacks" used as stores around the area of the square even before the records were moved.
To further support the opinion that a few stores were in the area of the square even before it was laid out by Weaver, a 1900 photo of the north side of the square gives a subtle hint of that possibility. In it, the two stores on the left end are "free standing" and are reminiscent of 19th century architecture. They seem to have been built earlier than the row of attached storefronts continuing to the right.
And by the way, the assumption by some 20th-century writers that Center was first known as “White Cottage” was obviously based on the simultaneous closing of the White Cottage post office in favor of opening a new one in Center. This assumption is erroneous, since it was determined, even by 19th-century historians, that the White Cottage post office was in the area we now know as Newbern.
September 28, 2015 - We see major differences in life styles, transportation, and fashion even if we compare only in ten-year spans, just as we see in our local paper. Even more amazing, we who have lived over fifty years now may marvel at how different it was back in 1965, fifty years ago.
According to Mildred Pinkston, such a comparison was made in the Center Daily News on June 20, 1931, and this tidbit of information gives us a realistic glance at the life style and fashion (and yes, the absence of cars) of year 1881 in Shelby County.
Fifty years ago in 1881, women wore hoopskirts, bustles, petticoats, corsets, cotton stockings, high buttoned shoes, ruffled cotton drawers, flannel nightgowns, puffs in their hair—did their own cooking, baking, cleaning, washing, ironing—raised big families, went to church Sunday—were too busy to be sick.
Men wore whiskers, square hats, Ascot ties, red flannel underwear, big watches and chains—chopped wood for stoves—bathed once a week—drank ten-cent whiskey and five-cent beer—rode bicycles, buggies or sleighs—went in for politics—worked 12 hours a day—lived to a ripe old age.
Today women wear silk stockings, short skirts, low shoes, no corsets, an ounce of underwear—have bobbed hair, smoke, paint, powder, drink cocktails, play bridge, drive cars, have pet dogs, and go in for politics.
Men have high blood pressure, wear no hats, and some no hair, shave their whiskers, shoot golf, bathe twice a day, drink poison, play the stock market, ride in airplanes, never go to bed the same day they get up—are misunderstood at home—work five hours a day, play ten—die young.
Stores have electric lights, cash registers, elevators, never have what the customer wants—trust nobody—take inventory daily—never buy in advance—have over head—mark-ups—mark-downs—quota—budget—annual and semi-annual, end of month, dollar day, founder’s day, rummage, economy day sales—and never make any money.
September 15, 2015 - We know that, in 1885, our historic courthouse was built and, of course, we know its usual function and dominant facade. There are numerous photographs and drawings of it, from early to present day. And we take much pride that it has survived and has been maintained in good shape for more than 130 years.
But not too many people realize that, especially in its early years, its impact as the centerpiece of the town was much more significant than simply a place for holding court. It reminded the citizens that, not too many years before, there was not even a village called Center. Indeed, it provided a park-like setting for a new and bustling town.
Mildred Pinkston, in selected news clippings reproduced in “Shelby County: People, Places, and Happenings,” reflects a rich impression of our grand courthouse and grounds in its first ten years—not because of its obvious visual dominance but because it represented the heart and soul of a new community.
For example, in the early weeks of 1878, it became the venue for an annual "grand ball," serving as a back-up site when, for some unknown reason, the "Center Hotel" was not able to offer proper accommodation. (The identification of the little-known “Center Hotel” of 1878 is found in the next (Oct.) issue of “We the People of Shelby County.” Also, by 1890 such grand events were accommodated by Center’s Opera House, which is discussed in our present summer issue.)
Appropriately emphasizing the aesthetic sensitivity of our ancestors, three different observations in 1894 about the courthouse grounds have been documented by Mrs. Pinkston. In February, several shade trees were planted on the west side. It was expected that not only would they provide shade but "would give the square a most beautiful appearance." Three months later, it was observed that our square looked like a bee hive, with so many people moving around on it.
In August of that same year it was recorded that there was some talk of fencing in the courthouse square, possibly converting it to a pleasure park, complete with flowers and benches.
Our great grandparents must have been proud!
August 31, 2015 - Not too many stores on our historic square remained active for almost a half century. As an example, Weaver Dry Goods was established in 1930 but didn’t close its doors until 1976. The story of its success and the people responsible for it will be delayed until the fall issue of We the People of Shelby County, but those of us living in Center in mid-20th century remember it well.
One senior citizen of Center recalls an earlier day when an unusual but delightful event took place at Weaver Dry Goods Store. It was the day when Buster Brown came to town. He must have been quite an attraction as he positioned himself on the balcony roof which covered the walkway in front of Weaver's on Shelbyville Street.
Just about everyone in the country knew about Buster Brown since his introduction as the "mascot" for the Brown Shoe Company at the 1904 World's Fair. For the first half of the century, this boy and his dog, Tige, were instrumental in an extremely successful marketing strategy that made Buster Brown shoes a top seller for years.
Not only were Buster and Tige the centerpiece of the Brown Shoe Company logo, midgets were hired to play Buster in department stores, theaters, and shoe stores throughout the United States. It was shear genius, or at least good luck, that Weaver's in Center gained a spot on such a tour. And, whether it was in radio commercials or during the earlier years of television, his child-like voice was recognizable to young and old alike.
"I'm Buster Brown; I live in a shoe."
(soundtrack: bark, bark)
"That's my dog, Tige; he lives there too!"
We don't know for sure, but it seems reasonable that Buster Brown repeated that catch-phrase more than once as a crowd gathered in front of Weaver's Dry Goods Store.
July 26, 2015 - There is still one more upcoming issue of “We the People of Shelby County” about our historic square. After that, we’ll feature the many small communities in the county, some still in existence but all an historic part of the fabric of Shelby County.
For example, the tiny community of Bobo (four miles west of Tenaha) was established about 1885 when the Houston, East and West Texas Railway was completed near the northern border of Shelby County. Located near the tracks and its creation simply due to the railroad, it nevertheless had a post office and a general store at the end of the 19th century. We also know that, well into the 20th century, at least two cemeteries, a church, a sawmill, and a few houses were clustered in the area, even after the railroad no longer functioned. Now, it remains virtually unknown except for a song and a cemetery.
There are many of us in Shelby County who know Bobo only because Tex Ritter made it rather famous with his song. “Tenaha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair.” A few others, especially those who have ancestors named Bowlin, Brit, Brookshier, Courtney, Ferguson, Garrett, Green, Jolly, Nichols, Risinger, Roberts, and Wood, know Bobo as the location of the Bradley Springs Cemetery.
Even those of us who know Bobo because of Tex Ritter’s song don’t generally know as much of its history as we know about Tenaha, Timpson, and Blair. We know these communities are all on the same railroad and generally near to each other. But what is not so clear are the origins of their names.
Hearing the name Bobo brings an erroneous link to mind: hobo, a word which sounds very similar and has only one different letter (and the thought triggered by the fact that hobos hitch train rides). However, much easier to trace is Tenaha’s origin as a Caddo Indian term (meaning muddy water), also used to identify the much larger Tenaha District in pre-Republic times. And it is properly reasoned that both Blair and Timpson were family names.
Just by accident, one theory of the derivation of the name Bobo surfaced during my genealogical research in the Spartanburg (SC) Public Library. My wife and I were looking for South Carolina families who eventually moved to Shelby County, just a few of the many including the Cooks, Halberts, Penningtons, Collins, Thomasons, Ramseys, Pages, and Swanzys. As I breezed through the A-C surname folders, the name Bobo caught my attention.
Originally from France, the Huguenot (French protestant) family of Beaubeau moved to Maryland and Virginia by the early 18th century. Over the next century and after anglicizing their name, many of them moved to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. These states, then, are where the Bobo surname is found today. It seems reasonable, then, to assume that our Bobo community was named after a Bobo family, arriving as a part of the mix of many families who settled in the northwestern part of Shelby County in the last half of the 19th century.
June 11, 2015 - One of the five sections of the online magazine, We the People of Shelby County, is devoted to “People and Places of Shelby County.” In the upcoming issue, not only are well-known individuals from our past recognized, but also our almost-forgotten nineteenth century pioneers are featured as well.
It just may be that some of our almost-forgotten pioneers contributed just as much to the welfare of Shelby County as did those whose names are often mentioned in historical documents. It is rewarding, then, to search local history documents written prior to the 20th century and find such names that have gone unrecognized for over one hundred years. Such is the case of Joseph Burns, whose long life and contributions were touted in the January 1878 issue of The Laborer Champion. (Mildred Pinkston: People, Places, and Happenings in Shelby County)
“....Joseph Burns from the Buena Vista country is one of the early pioneers of Shelby County, having located his individual headright where the town of Buena Vista now stands, nearly forty years ago. This country was then a wilderness, comparatively, and Uncle Joe has seen it advance step by step, from its native wilderness, into all the embellishments of civilized life.
“He was here during the most critical and trying times in the history of our county, and he always stood high in the esteem of all who have known him. In the early days of Shelby County he could have filled any position of service to the people, but would never consent to be a candidate for any civil office. He served with distinction through the war with Mexico as a Lieutenant in Capt. E.M. Daggett's Company in the famous Ranger Regiment commanded by Col. Jack Hayes, and always to be found where danger was to be met.
“He now has in his possession his tax receipts, forty in number, for forty years past, and we doubt if there is another one of the old pioneers that can present such a showing as this. He has always been a liberal, public spirited gentleman. He possesses as kind a heart as ever beat in a human bosom.
“No one who was worthy or in need ever asked Uncle Joe for a favor in his power to bestow, but what it was granted, and we will venture the assertion that no one who has known this old veteran through his long and eventful life will ever say aught but kindness to him.
“The old pioneers are fast passing away, and soon they will be known only in the memory of a younger generation which should always cherish their memory with reverence and pride....”
May 21, 2015 - A good number of books on Texas History were written in the 19th century, some even before the State of Texas became a reality. Those writers were living during the time about which they were writing or, at least, shortly afterward. In these books is found valuable and first-hand information, sometimes conflicting with what more modern writers report as fact.
Such is the case with an 1893 book by Alfred M. Williams, “Sam Houston and the War of Independence in Texas.” It documents the initial name of the village of Shelbyville—Tanaha, with a population of 100—which I had already discovered in rare 19th-century maps and reported in an earlier article. Our various “official” histories, commonly reported in pamphlets, web sites and articles, miss that interesting fact. Perhaps that is because there was at the same time a district of Tanaha and a present but entirely different town named Tenaha. Below is that particular passage from the Williams book of 1893.
“In 1834 Col. Juan Almonte, by the direction of the Mexican Government, made a tour of inspection through Texas, to report its population, trade, and general condition….He estimated the total population of Texas at 36,300, of which 15,300 were Indians.
“Texas at that time was divided into three departments—Bexar, Brazos, and Nacogdoches…. The total population of Nacogdoches, the eastern department, was 9900. It had four municipalities, with the population as follows: Nacogdoches, 3500; San Augustine, 2500; Liberty, 1000; Johnsbury, 1000. The town of Anahuac had a population of 50; Bevil, 140; Tanaha, 100; Teran, 10.”
While I continue to use 20th century sources as needed, I am more inclined to seek primary sources that record events during or near the time they are happening. In some cases, time and poetic license have led to a distorted history of our county. Unfortunately, the initial name of the village of Shelbyville is not the only case in question. More findings from history books written in the 19th-century will be reported in future issues of We the People of Shelby County (www.shelbycountytx.com).