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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Waxahachie Civil War Powder Mill and It's Mysterious Destruction

According to the book Ellis County: A Photo History, "Waxahachie was the site of a Confederate Gun Powder mill." The site is located near 306 N Rogers Street in Waxahachie. There is a Historical Marker,placed in 1936, 210 feet from the Powder Mill's location. Director of the Ellis County Museum stated "The mill was located on modern day N. Rogers St. (Lafayette St. if it had been named by Civil War times) not very far north past the railroad crossing."

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "..a report read in the Confederate Congress on August 18, 1863, Texas had four gun factories making 800 arms a month, two powder mills, and a percussion cap factory.." "Powder mills were established at Marshall and Waxahachie." Texas Governor Clark desperately searched for firearms from foreign countries. Firearms being such a scarcity, Texas began too encourage firearm and firearm munitions factories by subsidizing them. Waxahachie became one of the two sites in Texas to make gun powder.

The Historical Marker states "Erected in 1862 by William Rowen. On April 29, 1863 it was destroyed by an explosion and its owner killed. Also killed was Joshua G. Phillips." The Ellis County: A Photo History account says "Waxahachie was the site of a confederate gun powder mill. The mill exploded in 1863. Killing one man and injuring another. The cause of the explosion was never determined with certainty, but a stranger in town who had been though to be a Northerner disappeared immediately after the explosion and sabotage was suspected." The article goes on to speculate that maybe the fella left after the explosion because it was a good idea. Maybe he knew people would be thinking of him for a suspect.

A more detailed explanation of the Powder Mill and it's destruction can be found in the book Where Cotton Reigned Kingby Kelly McMichael Stott. It explains that the only direct contact the Civil War had on Waxahachie was when the gun powder mill exploded. Stott explains that the mill was "established in the town in cooperation with the Confederate State Government.." William Rowen was the owner of the mill.

Stott goes into the best detail I have found yet about the Powder mill and the explosion.
"The Confederacy's contract with the mill owner enabled him to make gunpowder on the halves with the southern government, but required him to supply all the sulphur and saltpeter. The owner, William Rowen, who had immigrated to Texas from Ohio, built the mill in 1862 on Rogers street (not far from where the first Baptist Church now stands) near a small branch of the Waxahachie Creek and next to the stagecoach stand. Using supplies requisitioned from an old horse mill and a blacksmith shop, the mill was powered by ten mules that worked on a treadmill, crushing and grinding the sulphur and saltpeter into hard cakes of powder.

In April 1863, less than a year after it began operating the mill exploded suddenly and without warning. The townspeople, hearing the loud explosion, came running and found debris scattered for hundreds of yards. William Rowden had been killed instantly. A worker J. G. Phillips, had been standing in the mill's doorway, and he died shortly afterward. Looking around for the third employee, the people found Dave Nance at the bottom of a nearby well. Nance, standing some distance from the mill, had been swept up in the fireball, but had kept presence of mind to jump into the well in an attempt to extinguish the fire ravaging his body. Although severely burned, Nance survived the incident.

Attempting to discover the cause of the explosion, local authorities came to believe the mill had been deliberately sabotaged. Nance reported seeing a man in the area just before the explosion occurred. The mystery man quickly became the sheriff's chief suspect. Townspeople claimed he was a northerner who had been staying with his wife at the Rogers Hotel. The man had disappeared directly after the explosion and was never seen again. At the time, rumors circulated that he was a spy sent to destroy the powder mill."

Stott's account seems to explain the seemingly different chronicles of the historical marker's and the photo history book's. The marker says two people were killed the photo book says one was killed and one was injured. Well they are technically both right. Stott says one died immediately while the other died later from his injuries. But bothe the marker and the photo book fail to report that Mr Nance cleverly survived. Nobody ever gives a name for the mystery person. You'd think if he was checked in at the Rogers Hotel they would have at least his mark. The mystery will live on!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Update:The County Farm History Found

Well I found some more detailed information on the County Farm. It appears in the previous post about the county farm, Blog for Ellis County Texas History: The County Farm ,that Guru Bob and I were both right. It was both a pauper's farm and they did send nonviolent offenders to work of their debt at the County Farm. The prisoners were sent there towards the end of the use of the property. Somwhere in 1960 they stopped using it. Thanks to the research of Ruth Stone in the History of Ellis County book. I have attached her article below.

Ellis County Farm
by Ruth Stone
At the February term of the Ellis County Court, in 1882, a committee consisting of W. D. Ryburn, John Farrar, and M. B. Templeton was appointed to investigate the possibility of purchasing a farm to be used as the Ellis County Poor Farm, and to gain all information they could as to the practical workings of such a project.1
Investigations of various farms were made, which finally resulted in the purchase of one just east of Waxahachie. This farm contained 370 acres, 200 of which were under cultivation. The farm was established as a County Farm in October 1883, and became self-sustaining. The number of paupers usually averaged about 7 or 8, with more whites than negroes.
The first keeper was John Evans, who ran it for one year. Then Wm. Ralston took charge and kept it 4 years. E. J. Garrett held the position of manager for 1 year. Wm. Ralston again took charge of the Farm and was still holding the position in 1892.2
The Farm has been operated under much the same set-up through the intervening years. In 1959, the farm consisted of 470 acres. The manager for 17 years was Mr. Gene Rothrock, who operated it upon a paying basis. In 1961 he retired and A. J. Robertson succeeded him.
It is no longer considered a Poor Farm exclusively. It is rather, an extension of the County Jail system. The work on the farm is done by prisoners who are unable to pay fines for misdemeanors. There are usually anywhere from one to 20 prisoners, mostly Negroes and Mexicans. These prisoners are either sentenced by the County Judge because of being public nuisances, or to work out fines that have been imposed upon them. They are allowed $3.00 per day to apply on their fines. The prisoners work on the farm or on the roads, with an overseer for every 7 or 8 men.
The farm is county property, and expenses are paid out of the County general fund.3
*No longer used as county farm. Circa 1960. Ellis County Records, Vol A. Page 164, 356, 359-60. Memorial and Biographical History of Ellis Co. 1892, page 132. "Interview with County Commissioner, E. J. Kendall

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ellis County, where the Buffalo Roam?

No, it is not the wild buffalo of old. They are domesticated fenced in animals. But maybe it gives you an idea what it might have looked like in the early days of Ellis county when herds of Buffalo would cover the valleys. Of course you have to imagine 5 to 3 thousand in a herd. As an old timer said "Buffalo covered the prarie as far as the eye could see"

From the book History of Ellis County pg 90 Here is a couple recollections from Rev. R. M. White

"In addition to the grand scene presented to the view, were the vast herds of animals that roamed at will over the prairies, ruminating upon the luxuriant and succulent grasses, both wild and domesticated. Buffalo, cattle, deer and antelope were all fat and sleek as though kept in the stalls of some breeder of fine stock, and when they roam, either in play or from fright, it looked as if the whole surface of the earth was moving, the very ground seeming to tremble with their tread, the sound of their feet being as the sound of " many horses running to battle, " while the snort of horses and the grunt of cattle and buffalo formed a combination of sounds that were not altogether in harmony, nor calculated to inspire courage either in man or beast, for but few horses would stand in their pathway, especially of the buffaloes; and it was well for the bison of the plains never turned their course for anything, animate or inanimate, over or through which they could pass, neither branch nor creek."

"In illustration of their habits I will give an instance. A herd of buffalo was discovered in a valley near a creek and a number of men determined to have a chase and kill some of them; so they went out, some taking positions at the upper end of the valley, while others ranged themselves on each side; still others went below to bring on the engagement, which they did. The buffalo fled up the valley and the men in the rear following. When they came to the men stationed at the upper end of the valley in the path the buffalo they supposed would take, but which they did not, they found one of the watchers sitting on the ground at the root of a tree, with arms and legs around the tree, who asked as they came up whether the buffalo had gone, and if they had, that he would come down. Pretty badly scared, when he could not tell whether he was up the tree or not! The laugh was on the man for many year? afterward, and he was frequently asked to go buffalo hunting!"

"On another occasion a party of men went out on a buffalo hunt, and coming upon a large herd were making preparations for the slaughter, but the animals, scenting their enemy, stampeded. One man happened to be in their pathway and as his horse would not stand before them he ran off. There was a medium-sized branch in front of the fleeing horseman, and for this he made, hoping to cross and run up stream before the buffalo reached it; but in going down the bank the horse fell and the rider tumbled off. Before he could recover, the frightened herd came dashing toward where he lay and he expected every moment to be trampled to death by a thousand hoofs; but the buffalo, as is their custom, jump all small streams. This they did, and the man lay secure as the entire herd passed over him in the air. One failure of the beasts to make the leap would have been instant death. He tried to pray but could not think of anything to say, he was so badly scared."

When settlers first got here around 1844 there were Buffalo everywhere and their favorite "haunt" was on the lower Mustang Creek country. They watered on the land owned by W.H. Getzedaner and the Boren branch. By 1847 Ellis County had seen it's last Wild Buffalo. Their near extinction helped drive out the Indian's from the settler areas. Lots of money was made off their hides. Hides could fetch $3 and a heavy winter hide up to $50.

To find the location of the Maypearl Buffalo click this link Maypearl Buffalo

All these pictures were taken in Maypearl, Texas July 29th 2007
Here are links to more pictures Buffalo Head
Buffalo side
Buffalo ready to charge

Monday, July 23, 2007

~ ~ ~ ~ROCKY FALLS ~ ~ ~

Walking to the creek. Through the trees in the distance, Rocky Falls

~~~From the South bank ~~~~

~~~From the the middle of the creek~~

~~~~Looking up Rocky Falls~~~~~

Rocky Falls is a place that is dear to all who grew up in Ovilla. If you spent any of your youth in Ovilla you probably ventured down Red Oak Creek and had an eye opening experience when you came upon this wonderful place.

When taking these pictures and video, I only walked to a certain point. Reason being there is a high wire with a sign "Posted No Trespassing" that crosses the creek. Didn't know anyone could keep someone from walking down a creek. (Especially a major tributary of the Trinity.) I also recall back in the 80's on the other side of the falls down the creek there was a sign driven in the actual white rock stating "No Trespassing."

I wanted to get to the spot to the right (looking upstream) of the falls. That is where you'd see a lot of the old timers take their picture with the falls and the high white rock wall on the other side of the creek in the background.

There are many out crops of white rock on Red Oak creek. And they usually have a deep spot or hole just upstream and then a shallow stream where the white rock starts and many times they will empty into a hole after the white rock. They make a slide-like falls. This is by far the largest and most scenic outcrop of white rock on Red Oak Creek. (That I know) It widens to a pool that is still white rock bottom but not very deep. This was a perfect day because the wind was blowing off the creek into my face. Very refreshing!

You can see a house on the North side of Red Oak Creek. I believe their land ,which goes all the way to Water street behind Mr Pickard's store, was or is a Pecan Grove.

I can't reference the source, but I remember reading that the Indians felt this place was of significance to their religious beliefs. The Anglos also felt the religious ambiance of Rocky Falls for it was the site of many a baptism. Memories of Mrs Ressie White (Waddle) from the 1920's in the Ovilla History book included Rocky Falls being a place where the "Church of Christ and Baptist Churches" baptised folks.

Before air condition , Rocky Falls was a way to cool down. Even on the banks the breeze can cool you. A common result of playing at Rocky Falls was wearing out your pants or shorts from sliding down the rocks. It happened to me, Mrs Ressie,Charlotte Collier (who stayed with her grandparents in Ovilla one year in the 30's), and many other inhabitants of Ovilla who took on the white rock playground.

Another one of my memories of Rocky Falls were my two rafting expeditions. I was probably 11 or 12 the first time with my friend Brad Norman. We took a raft from his Dad's sailboat. The little kid next door saw us get it out. Brad told him to keep his mouth shut. I can't remember our casting off point. But we went down Rocky Falls like Will and Holly from Land of the Lost. Except for the water was kind of low and it got stuck a few times and ripped a hole in the raft. We nearly sank the raft in the swim'n hole below. At the time there were kids playing in the swimming hole below the falls. I believe one of the kids was a red headed boy named Ross. When we got home Brad's mom was waiting to confront Brad and Brad new right away that the little kid had told on him. I think Brad went after him but his mom stopped him. That happened a lot.

My other trip was with Joel Miller. His Dad ,the Chemistry teacher, dropped us off at the Water street bridge. He told us to obey "Murphy's Law." There is deep water on the upstream side of the bridge but it turns into shallows with a slippery white rock bottom downstream. So we had to drag our raft until we found deep waters. Which the deepest were probably max 8 feet. We flipped the raft over a few times and slipped on the rocks we traversed. I remember thinking that parts of the deep creek reminded me of the Sixflags canoeing ride. They had mechanical Indians and fake canons that fired across at the Indians. I was waiting to see a mechanical Indian pull his bow back at us. I remember seeing a hose going into the water and trying to move it. Might have been a sump pump. Also before Rocky Falls on the North side of creek, Mr. Harder kept his bees near the creek in those white cabinets. Seems like Joel and I slid down the Falls in the raft with more success than my first time. Rocky Falls isn't really deep enough for a raft it was better to just lay in the water and let the water cool you off. But you know kids that want an adventure they'll try anything.

You can get to Rocky Falls by going behind Heritage Park, site of the old Cotton gin, and at the back behind the park was the pump hole in the creek where many Ovillians learned to swim. Rocky falls is about 300 feet or so upstream from the pump hole. But I can't recommend you trespass. When I was down there 07/23/07 I saw quite a few small bass swimming and a channel cat came up from the bottom. Probably the biggest game fish maybe 2lbs. Also plenty of large carp swimming around. Reminds me of a true story about a friend of mine named Chris. In the early 90's, we went bow fishing in this same spot but we were on the other side of the creek . Save that story for another time.

Coordinates for Rocky Falls at the no trespassing high wire n 32 degrees 31.533' W 096 degrees 53.316'

Coordinates for the pump hole (I believe) n 32 degrees 31.522' W 096 degrees 53.207'

I filmed this video with my digital camera so forgive the shakiness. No, at the end of the video it is not Bigfoot and his dog or Elvis and his hound, but a fella named Jarvis. He and his German Sheperd, Crocket, enjoy walking the creek. Mr Jarvis also just happens to be on the planning and zoning commission for Ovilla. He said he would look into the "Posted No Trespassing" signs. Listen to the cicada. My Grandma called them locust. Pretty cool all you can really hear is the Rocky Falls water, the cicada, and the wind blowing.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

-----The Ovilla Observatory----

n 32 degrees 32.226' w 096 degrees 52.451' elevation 712 feet

Back in the early 1950's the Texas Astronomical Society decided to build an observatory. Without the interference from the city lights, Ovilla was a prime spot to view the starry night sky. . So they chose a nice field in Ovilla to build it. It's believed the land was donated for the Astronomical Society's use by the land owner who at the time was Clarence Hosford. The Dallas Times Herald referred to the land as "Hosford Hill." The area chosen in Ovilla also has an elevation equivalent to Cedar Hill(The highest point in Dallas County.) My etrex GPS says it's around 712 feet above sea level.

President of the Texas Astronomical Society, Ernest M. Brewer, designed the building. In March of 1956 Mr Langford and Mr Brewer broke ground. The members built the observatory under the Mr Brewer's guidance. The lower body is made of what looks like cinder blocks laid in a "circular pattern." The blocks were supported by a concrete floor. Roof was a conical shape and rested on a metal rail that allowed the roof to rotate. This was needed to view different parts of the sky. It had a door for the the telescope that they could close for protection against the elements. It also had some complicated counter balances and gears to allow the roof too move according to the earth's rotation so the heavenly bodies would stay in view of telescope.

This was a watershed time for Astronomy in US History and World History. Sputnik would be launched October 4, 1957. In the movie October Sky you could see the inspiration and wonder of the people who saw Sputnik cross their sky. Some feared this Soviet triumph. My mother remembers fearing a Soviet attack from outer space. So this observatory was built in an inspirational time for astronomers, professional and amateur alike. This was the begining of the Space Race.

Now the property is owned by Wade and Marilyn Reed. It is called the Bright Star Ranch. They have preserved the building but it has a shingle roof now and there are no inner workings. I imagined it to be a little bigger.

It is being used to store feed. It is private property, but can be viewed from the road in front of a rod iron gate with a longhorn image on it. There is enough room for two cars to park in front of the gate. Carolyn Miracle, President of the Ovilla History, allowed Mr Reed to scan the Ovilla History Book's story on the observatory where all my information was obtained. I encourage you to read it. Just click on the Bright Star Ranch link above. Very interesting part about a Dallas Times Herald article that reported "15,000" people came to Hosford Hill to view Mars through multiple telescopes set up in the field. I also encourage you to buy the Ovilla History Book. There is a link on this blog on the sidebar on how to get the book.

Note: I would like to thank Jeff Johnson for taking the pictures for this post. He also brought to my attention that the top picture has the moon at the top. Looks like a star. Good Job Jeff!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The incident in Ovilla that gave Squaw Creek it's name

1843 Ovilla, Texas. Mr Mitchell was watching over his heard of cattle. (His land was one mile north of the Billingsley settlement(also called Shilo then.) All the sudden there was a disturbance in the herd. INDIANS! The band of Indians brought down his cattle with their bows and arrows. They slaughtered Mr. Mitchell's cattle and began to eat the beef raw! (When I read that part, I flashed back to "Dances with Wolves" when Dunbar ate the raw Buffalo liver .) Mr Mitchell sent a runner to the Billingsley settlement. The Billingsley's hid their family in the creek bottom and told their family "to make no noise and answer no calls until Sammy came for them." (I assume Referring to Samuel Billingsley who would have been 50 years old at the time according to the book "The Peters Colony of Texas" pg192.

After boarding up their homes, 10 riflemen one by one in the night came to Mr Mitchell's aid. In the morning they confronted the Indians demanding payment for the slaughtered cattle . Indians hightailed it and took their stolen beef. They headed to the Brazos. The settlers had also sent a runner to Ft Worth to get the Texas Dragoons. The Dragoons ,also known as Texas Rangers, showed up too late for the confrontation but soon picked up the Indians' trail. They ambushed them on the Brazos river bank. The remaining Indians took flight to a cave on a small creek 5miles from the ambush. The Indians were found and all killed except for one Squaw who had ran down the creek only to be caught. The Dragoons named the creek, Squaw Creek after the Indian Squaw. Squaw Creek flows into the Paluxy River near the the Paluxy's intersection with the Brazos just East of Glen Rose, Texas. A canoe web-site shows a good map . It also is dammed for the Comanche Peak Nuclear plant. The Comanche Indians referred to the Peak as "Que-Tah-To-Yah" or "Rocky Butte".

Reference for this is "The Ovilla History Book" pg 14-15. "A Letter from Aaron Billingsley outlining the settlement of Ovilla"

Reading "The Peters Colony of Texas" by Seymour V. Conor I have found a David Mitchell who was involved in the Peters colony. He had a land certificate in Johnson County and in Ellis County. It also says he migrated to the colony a family man before July 1 st 1848. Maybe this is the same Mr Mitchell in our story who lost his cattle?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The County Farm

Participating in a hand held GPS club, Geocaching, I ran across a very interesting hide Southwest of the community of IKE on Farm Rd 878.
According to geocacher Gurubob
"This site was once an African-American prison farm. Many men lived and died here paying their debt to society. They worked this (some 300+ acres) and several other County farms. I surveyed the property a couple of years ago. During the survey an old man that had grown up on an adjoining property told me he had seen several men buried on this farm. Only a few of the graves have been established but, many are still unlocated."

Well the fact that Gurubob thought it was an African-American prison farm, may be a case of mistaken identification. According to a cemetery historical marker(N 32degrees 23.335 W096degrees 47.552) on 879 directly Southeast of the County Farm building ,
"ELLIS COUNTY FARM CEMETERY, "This fenced area marks the boundaries of what has sometimes been called the pauper cemetery, one of possibly three burial grounds on old county farm land that served as the final resting place for some Ellis County's poor farm residents. County officials purchase 450 acres between 1893 and 1895 to create the farm for the support and employment of the needy. The earliest death recorded at the facility was that of Albert Estes in 1890; the last was Dave Madison in 1946. Iron pipes driven into the ground once identified the graves of some of the other 73 individuals whose names are recorded in county records."

So I'm thinking that maybe there were poor blacks that work the fields but not any prisoners. Or maybe it is possible that some of the not so dangerous criminals were given the option to work on the farm. Whatever the case the site of the hallowed ground is in a tall grass field with a white rod iron fence boundary about 50 yards by 30 yards.

The building is made of brick and had electricity at one time. It has a main entry room and around ten small rooms. The small rooms are small. Like 10 feet by 6 feet but about 10 feet high. The bricks say "standard" on them. It appears the roof had a brick wall around it but is crumbling. It has a hallway that cuts the building in half longways. That does make it appear like a jail walkway. Above the doors is a wood rectangular frame. probably window you could open. The first time I had visited the place it seems like I remember seeing iron bars over one end window opening. If I ever find the picture I will post. It may be a faulty memory.

I ran into a nice guy (even though he is an Aggie fan) on a 4 wheeler while I was touring the building. He said his family has lived on the surrounding land for years and that his brother and him had camped in the dilapidated county building as kids. He always believed it was a prison farm. Apparently there were more buildings to the farm. It is still owned by the County because I read a "letter to the editor" of the Waxahachie Daily Light by Jimmy Simmons. Mr Simmons suggests that an alternative to the Ellis County's 53.875 million dollar facilities bond could be partial solved by building an "adequate facility" "on the county farm, for instance, for a relatively small amount." I found Simmons Letter to the Waxahachie Daily Light on Joey Dauben's Ellis County Observer.
UPDATE LINK: Blog for Ellis County Texas History: Update:The County Farm History Found

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hang'em High

Vigilante mob justice ruled the Pioneer days. Even as court systems were put into place, public opinion and brute strength were more than jailers could handle. Though the use for Vigilante justice has passed, it was probably necessary to survive in the wild lands of Texas. A horse was equivalent to what a car is to us today. But much more important in the sparsely populated Texas of the 1800's. A horse was essential to survive in the rough land. The horse's value and necessity made it a serious crime to steal it. An old belief back then was that
"a man coveted his possessions in the west in this order: first his horse, second his rifle, third his dog, and fourth his wife. Steal his wife but beware of the wrath rendered if one was to steal his horse"

I found the Odom graveyard once again through the GEOCACHING web-site. A fella with the handle pipesville placed this virtual gps hide. Pipesville seemed to believe that even though there are two grave markers
"they are both for the same man."
But they have different years for the hanging(s). Maybe they buried Horse thieves in the same area of the cemetery. It's a very quaint cemetery right off FM916(N 32° 17.192 W 097° 07.266). Technically it is in Johnson County but maybe a mile East, the way the crow flies, is Ellis County. According to the older looking headstone the Big Oak hanging tree would have been in or very close to Ellis County. If the tree is still there it is on private property because there is no public road 1/2 mile due East of the graves.

Both headstones seem sympathetic towards the "alleged" Horse Thief.



Monday, July 9, 2007

1890 Crossing

A mixture of history here. The old bridge was moved from Chambers Creek in 1981 and has a sister bridge on Waxahachie Creek in the South part of downtown Waxahachie near the walking trail. According to Joe Bento of Ellis County the bridge was purchased by a developer and placed here. It was loved by the community but Txdot decided a modern bridge was needed to take it's place in 2005. They have left the old bridge there but can not be driven on. The Bridge was built by the Iron bridge company of Canton, Ohio and completed in 1888.

To see how the bridge looked when it was functional at the 1890 crossing go to Mr Joe Bento link at Texas Escapes web-site.

The 1890 crossing of Spring Creek is where the early settlers crossed the low water spot. I'm guessing part of a trail. I have heard that wagons would leave shallow ruts in the white rock. It looks like there are perpedicular lines across the creek under the bridge but I don't know if they were from wagons. (I was told by an old timer in Ovilla that somewhere down on Red Oak Creek, maybe off Westmoreland, that there are visible wagon tracks.) I believe there was a concrete path that went into the creek when the old bridge was functional. That maybe what the lines in the creek's white rock are from.

coordinates n 32 degrees 25.737' w096 degrees 48.691'

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Why was the first marriage in the Ellis County area so important to the City of Waxahachie?

According to Mr Robert F Mayfield whose father settled in Reagor Springs in 1844,
"The first marriage ceremony in what is now Ellis County"
did not take place in Waxahachie but Ovilla, Texas. This is important to Waxahachie because the first groom of the future Ellis County, James Sterrett, indirectly convinced Emory W Rogers to visit the Ellis County area. How? Well getting a marriage license and a JOP in the Texas Frontier of 1844 twern't no easy task. During Stephen F Austin's Old Three Hundred days many times the groom had to draft and sign a contract that stated he would officially get married as soon as a preacher was found. If he didn't he would pay a penalty to the government. Well in this case, James Sterrett had to travel to a town named Franklin in Robertson county. Sterret "procured" the license and a preacher. While there Sterrett sold some folks in Franklin on the opportunity of the Ellis County area. The town sent some "prospectors" a month later to investigate this land of James Sterrett. Among the "prospectors" Emory W. Rogers. The rest is History. It is on Mr. Rogers land that Waxahachie was given it's birth.

-Hanbook of Texas Online
"Waxahachie was established as the seat of the new county in August 1850 on land donated by Emory W. Rogers, a pioneer settler"

The first church building was constructed in 1851 on land owned by Rogers.

Marvin College,
"was built in the northeast part of town on forty acres donated by Emory W. Rogers."

Waxahachie City Cememtery was started by Emory Rogers donation
The original 4.16 acree tract was given in 1858 to trustees of the Methodist Church by Emory W. Rogers (d. 1874), who was Waxahachie's first settler (1846) and donor of land for the townsite.

The Rogers Hotel was
"Named for the founder of Waxahachie, Emory W. Rogers, who built his log cabin home in 1847 on this site and donated land for the Ellis County Courthouse in 1850."

Book Resources:"The History of Ovilla" and "Memorial and Biographical History of Ellis County"

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Newton Cabin

The Newton Cabin in Midlothian, Texas is one of the surviving Peters Colony structures. The Larkin Newton family came from Neosho, Missouri to receive their 640 acres granted from the Peters Colony. Hanbook of Texas says
"The William Alden Hawkins and Larkin Newton families were the first to obtain permanent land titles at the site, under the authority of the Peters colony in 1848."
The contract agreement required them to be on their land and to have a home built by July 1st 1848. Mr. Newton found timber for the house in Dallas County. Hauled it back to Midlothian. The Newton cabin is built with a technique called The Half-Dovetail Notch. It is a very reliable structure when built properly. According to the Historical marker at the Cabin in Downtown Midlothian(N 32 29.032' W096 59.658), the cabin was originally built approximately 3 miles Southwest from it's current location. So I cranked up my etrex garmin gps and drove until I found 3 miles Southwest from the Cabin. N 32 27.039' W097 01.535' is exactly 3 miles SW of the current cabin location.

It is in the middle of Water works rd at MT Peak. It's near some quarries. Chaparral Steel warehouse is near that location. Since it's an approximate location I figure it was probably built at one of the higher points. I wonder if the quarry company or Chaparral Steel had the Cabin moved and preserved for a gesture to the community or maybe a tax write off? Can you imagine Mr. Newton hauling that wood across wild country? Tells you how valuable Oxen, Horses and mules were back then. That's why they hung you if you stole one.

Here is a quarry near the area.
I wonder what the Newton family's water source was? There is a pond near the area but looks like the Quarry folks built it.
Couldn't tell if a creek fed it. If they had a well I can't imagine getting through all that rock. I don't think they invented dynamite until mid 1860's? The Newton Branch runs through the area but doesn't seem to hold that much water. Maybe it held more back then or enough for what was required to live on. Of course their was Hawkins Spring right down the road/trail.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Where did the name Midlothian come from?

Originally Midlothian was called Barker after C. H. Barker who had this first post office on his farm. It appears according to Brian Bennett from Waxahachie that
"By January of 1881 a railroad line had been surveyed through Barker and a depot "on the square" was expected. The company had purchased from G.W. Hawkins six hundred acres of land, his residence and spring for the depot ground. Barker residents felt that the railroad would make Barker a large city. By June, Barker was referred to as Midlothian (the first instance of this name appearing in the Waxahachie Enterprise was June 3, 1881)."
So apparently Barker name change to Midlothian happened June 1881. The Post Office was still named Charles Barker ,then
"by May of 1882 citizens had sent a petition to Washington to seek a change in the name of their post office from Barker to Midlothian (it is undetermined when this change became effective)."

I have heard and believe that Midlothian, Texas was named by a Scottish train engineer who thought the town reminded of his home county Midlothian, Scotland. It may have been another Scottish man, maybe a guy who worked on building the rail line, because according to Brian Bennett's article the railroad wasn't completed or completely running until
"between November and January"
"the tracks had been completed to Cleburne and passenger trains were running."
I wonder if 6 months was enough time to get a train running to Midlothian. Because the survey for the lines were completed in January of 1881 and the name Midlothian appeared in a paper in June of 1881 that is according Brian Bennett.

If you have ever looked into how Texas towns get named it usually comes about by Native American names, Settlers names, Mexican names,Politicians names, War hero names, or whatever the Post Office or Rail Road decided to call the area.

Where did Ellis County Indians get there Flint?

If you live in Ellis County and especially in the Ovilla-Midlothian area you realize the only main rock you find is white rock or chalk rock. Good for writing hopscotch on sidewalks and to consume for upset stomachs (a little natural cure that my geology teacher told me. I assume he knows what he is talking about.) Articles I've read about flint used by Indians in North Central Texas say that though some flint is found in the area, trading was another way they got it. I've read that there was much trading of goods between Indians of the Panhandle and North Central Texas Indians. Due to the lack of flint quarries in North Central Texas it appears that it was a valued commodity which the Panhandle seems to have plenty. The Alibate Flint has been traded all over the United States. An article by Wes Phillips says
"Other trade routes may have extended both north and south as seashells from the Gulf of Mexico and Catlinite pipestone from Minnesota have been found in the Antelope Creek villages. It is felt that many of the quarries were originally excavated by the Plains Village cultures. Certainly, these people were sedentary dwellers of the High Plains at a time when it is known that Alibates Flint was being traded in abundance. Furthermore, much flint is associated with these village sites, which indicates an intense use of the quarries at this time."
Now we are talking mainly about pre-historic Indians.

Also the Handbook of Texas says
"The Alibates blades and quarry bifaces were used as trade items by the Panhandle Aspect peoples and were traded for Puebloan ceramics from the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico, obsidian from the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, catlinite from Minnesota, and olivella shell from the Pacific coast. Frequently caches of Alibates blades or quarry blanks are found, but only a few are reported and described in the literature."
Doesn't imply that Panhandle natives traded with the North Texas natives but they had a really good range of trade for their abundant flint. Those native people's Albiate quarries were like Arabians having all that oil. Everybody wanted and needed it.

I did here from an old timer that off of Joe Wilson Road South of it's crossing of Red Oak Creek there is some land that rises to a hill like "Indian Hill" but it was or is owned by the Gormans. Now back on their property on Red Oak Creek he said there is an outcroping of Flint. Would probably be a Honey Hole for artifacts. I took a picture of the private road (N 32degrees 32.610' W096degrees 55.534')that leads to the land up above. This property is probably in Midlothian but maybe Cedar Hill.

Crude Arrow Head found below Indian Hill by me

Probably found late 1980's early 1990's. Very crude and I've had "experts" tell me that maybe it was a point that was turned into another tool. Who knows? I have found better in other places of Texas. I've only seen mainly crude arrowheads from Ellis County. There is a guy I met once that had found some really nice points in the cotton fields of Avalon and Bardwell. In fact, when the Super Collider was coming SMU put out an add for people to bring artifacts they had found so that the Federal government could document Archeological findings in Ellis County. That was before the SSC tore things up. This guy I met showed them a huge fossilized shark tooth that Indians had converted into a knife. The SMU archeologist's jaws dropped to the floor.

Monday, July 2, 2007

What tribe of Indians were in Ovilla when settlers came?

I grew up in Ovilla and in my High School days was able to find a little bit of Ovilla History at Sims Library in Waxahachie. There is a book in the archive area that has many recounts of early Ovilla History. From what I remember the Indians in the Ovilla area were friendly. Probably remained in the area because, although it may be hard to believe, Buffalo were plenty in Ellis county at one time. Tonkawa indians are the name of the Indians I have heard about in Ellis County and Ovilla. What the Handbook of Texas says about the Ellis County Indians is
"the Tonkawa Indians were the earliest inhabitants of the future county, though parties of Wacos, Bidais, Anadarkos, and Kickapoos often hunted in the area. Spanish missionaries worked with the Tonkawas, and as the American settlers began to move into the region in the middle of the nineteenth century, the Indians offered little organized resistance. By 1859 the Tonkawas had been removed to Oklahoma."

Comanches had squeezed the Tonkawa out of their land so the Tonkawa became Anglo friendly against a common enemy.

The Hanbook of Texas says about the allegiance,
"The Tonkawas often aided their new Anglo allies against the Comanches."

Growing up in the early 1980's my friends and I would ride our bikes to fishing ponds. We rode down water street, across the old wood bridge (not there now) over Red Oak creek, and to Bryson lane then at the Y split to Montgomery rd. If you kept riding until the road turns right 90 degrees(3 way stop there now) and goes down hill to a bridge you will find a flat field. To the back of the field (Northerly) runs Red Oak Creek. The east side there is a small tributary (where the bridge crosses). All along the West side of the field is a hill covered with trees. I have been told and have read it is called "Indian Hill". The naming of the hill I guess is because of the obvious. Old timers tell me that they found artifacts and arrowheads in the field. I personally have found a crude arrowhead in the field. But it has been picked over pretty good and houses are in the area now. My friends and I would also venture there to fire shotguns and rifles. Occasionally we rode three wheelers or motorcycles in this low land cul-de-sac we called "Sheeps bottom". I think it was named after the fella that owned the land. I believe he also owned the old Gas station near the old Cotton Gin in Downtown Ovilla. It is also reported that "Indian Hill" is a Texas Ghost Town. But the only time I did venture up there I did find some old wood but no structures to speak of.

I had talked to a police officer that said in the 70's he had arrested a bunch of naked hippies down in "Sheeps bottom". Apparently it was a "parking" spot for teenagers for sometime. I remember there being a dirt car path all the way around the field. Maybe the wild spirit of the Indians exist there?

I've posted three pictures I took of "Sheeps Bottom" and "Indian Hill" today. Two pics are at At Montgomery and Ashley Circle. First picture on top is straight down the middle of the field where Red Oak Creek is behind the houses to the right and straight behind the house is more of the field. The second is facing the West side of "Sheeps bottom" where the trees go up Indian Hill. There is a distinctive house with columns closest to Montgomery in the field but I didn't get a pic of it. The third picture is farther West up Montgomery (up the Hill). (My etrex gps coordinates are N32degrees 31.916' W096degrees 55.022'.) The land pretty much stays this elevation on the north side of Montgomery all the way to Joe Wilson Rd. If there was an old town here it probably was along this whole stretch. It is in ideal place for an Indian camp. High ground to defend against enemies and near a water source.

Note:07/12/2007 Since posting I have that Lester Lindop was nicknamed "sheep" because of his snow white hair according to the Ovilla History book page 125. He ran a restaraunt called Star Cafe and the Co-op and Gin for 25 years in Ovilla. I think his place is where we got green apple bubble gum. For some reason Pickard's didn't sell the green version.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Ellis County Named for...

Ellis County

1936 Centennial Highway Marker

Location: U. S. Hwy 77 about 5 miles north of Waxahachie

Created December 20, 1849 from Navarro County. Organized august 5, 1850. Named in honor of Richard Ellis, 1781-1846 a Virginian by birth and education jurist and statesman in Alabama 1813-1825. Moved to Texas in 1825. President of the Constitutional Convention, March 1836. Member of Congress of the Republic of Texas. Waxahachie, the county seat.

Yes, Ellis County was carved from what was originally North Navarro County. The man it is named after was a Virginian by birth named Richard Ellis. Quite a politician's resume! Ellis was selected as one of 5 delegates from Pecan Point, Texas to join the world changing Texas constitutional convention of 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Then,
Ellis was unanimously elected president. On March 2, 1836, he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence as president of the convention.
It also appears his wife was related to two First Ladies. But it doesn't appear he ever lived in Ellis County.