Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Aunt Cattie Hopper Davenport

Back in the late 1920’s, my grandma, Clara Hopper, hired a couple of friends to drive her and my great-grandparents up into the Jane, Missouri area to visit the Hopper connections. Clara was interested at an early age in kinfolks and wanted to see all the old homeplaces and visit family. (She passed her interest and information on down to me.) My great-grandfather’s oldest sister, Catherine (Hopper) Davenport (she was known as Cattie) was getting on up in years at that time, and I understand they spent a couple of days at her house. This snapshot was taken during that trip. It shows my great-grandmother, Ora (Evans) Hopper on the left, my great-grandfather, Meredith Hopper, and Aunt Cattie. I have a number of other pictures taken on this trip, including one of Clara with Aunt Cattie’s spinning wheel. My grandma said that Aunt Cattie continued her spinning during most of the time they visited, and she was almost blind. I have another picture my grandma took of her grandson, Bluford Davenport, who lived nearby.

This post is for my newly-found distant cousin, Carol, who was also the first follower on this blog. Thanks, Carol, and I hope you enjoy seeing this picture.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Monday, September 29, 2008

Small Town Connection: Rising Star, Texas

Below is a brief history of Rising Star from The Handbook of Texas Online. My great-grandparents, Oran Datus and Martha Viola (Lawhon) Watson, farmed a rented place out in the country near Rising Star in 1907-1908. Their second son, Oran Delbert Watson who was born in 1908, had his baby photographs taken in a Rising Star studio. If you haven’t been through Rising Star, you really should go. It’s a beautiful, classic Texas town. This photo is an old real photo postcard from about 1908 showing The Star Trading Company in Rising Star that was in business at the time my great-grandparents lived nearby.

RISING STAR, TEXAS. Rising Star, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 183 and State Highway 36, fifty-six miles southeast of Abilene in southwestern Eastland County, had its beginnings in 1876 when six families moved west from Gregg County and settled on the site. When the post office opened in 1878 with Hendrick H. Osburn as postmaster, the settlement was called Copperas Creek. In 1879 Tom Anderson bought a tract of land from one of the original settlers, and in 1880, after the old post office had been closed, he opened a post office and general store in his home. D. D. McConnell of Eastland suggested a new name for the town when he said that the area must be a "rising star country" because it produced crops when other areas were barren. In 1889 Rising Star had five businesses and three doctors and by 1904 had added a bank, a hotel, a school, five churches, two newspapers, and dry goods and drug stores. The economy of the area was based on agriculture, primarily the cultivation of corn, cotton, oats, and fruit. The town's prospects were enhanced in 1911 when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad built through from Cross Plains to De Leon. The town's first newspaper was the Rising Star Record, later renamed the Rising Star News and still later the Rising Star X-Ray. The Rising Star Signal was another early newspaper.

Although the first oil found in Eastland County was discovered near Rising Star in 1909, it was not until 1920, close to the end of the Eastland County boom, that a major strike attracted attention to Rising Star. In an attempt to prevent the town from becoming a tent and shanty town, officials issued strict building regulations, but speculators and oilfield workers circumvented them by hastily building a town five miles to the west. In just over a year that town was gone and the boom finished. By the 1960s some oil was still being produced near Rising Star, and pecans and peanuts had replaced cotton as the main crops. The 1980 census found 1,204 people living in Rising Star. The town was incorporated and had a bank, a post office, and twenty-seven businesses. In 1990 the population was 859. The population was 835 in 2000.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oran Datus Watson of Washington and Milam Counties, Texas

Oran Datus Watson (the name Oran was pronounced as “Iron” in the family) was born about 1814 - 1816 in South Carolina and was the son of James and Rhoda Watson. He accompanied his family to Bowie County, Republic of Texas in December 1836 and was awarded a second class land grant. Since he was an unmarried man, he received 640 acres. This land was located near the Bowie-Cass County line, adjoining his father’s 1280-acre grant. In 1853, he sold his land grant to his brother-in-law Azariah Moss, who married Christiana J. Watson.

Oran Watson left Bowie County in the late 1840’s and moved to Washington County, where his sister and brother-in-law, James and Mary (Watson) Holt lived. On March 3, 1850 in Washington County, Texas, he married Mrs. Minerva Margaret (Nunn) Gambill, widow of George W. Gambill, who died in 1849. She was the mother of three children: John T. Gambill, Hannah Eliza Jane Gambill, and Green P. H. Gambill. There were no children were born to Oran and Minerva Watson.

Oran Watson and his wife are recorded on the 1850, 1860, and 1870 censuses of Washington County, Texas and the 1880 census of Milam County, Texas. All of these census records show that Oran was “deaf and dumb.” He was probably born with this disability or perhaps acquired it as the result of childhood illness. Oran could not speak, read, or write, except to write his name. According to documents relating to the lawsuit described below, he communicated with others by “making signs with his hands.”

Land transactions in both Washington and Milam counties show that Oran and Minerva Watson purchased a number of tracts during the years 1854 - 1883, all of which were later sold at a profit. Many of these tracts were rented, bringing in regular income over the years. It appears that Oran and Minerva had a profitable partnership during their thirty-eight year marriage, in spite of the obstacles related to his deafness that they no doubt faced.

After Minerva Watson died intestate in October 1888, her children and minor heirs filed suit against Oran Watson in Milam County District Court. The suit was filed one month after her death and alleged that Oran refused to provide the Gambill heirs with their mother’s estate, both real and personal. Oran died sometime between January and April 1891, while the suit was still pending; his place of burial is not known. Prior to his death, he engaged his brothers, Cary and Rodger Watson, to act on his behalf in defense of the lawsuit and conveyed all his property to them. When the suit was finally settled in November 1891, one-half of Oran’s lands were awarded to his wife’s heirs and one-half to his brothers, Cary and Rodger Watson.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Touching Account of the Death of Anna McKinney Sloan 1834

This is a wonderful old letter addressed from James Sloan to his father and mother-in-law, Collin and Betsy McKinney. Collin McKinney was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence; the city of McKinney and county of Collin were named for him.

James Sloan’s wife, Anna (McKinney) Sloan was a first cousin to my great-great-great grandmother, Emily (Watson) Watson. At the time this was written, James was 41 years old and had several small children at home, some of them by his first wife who also died young. James and Anna had four children; the youngest was a daughter, Mary Ann, who was born September 13, 1834 and whose birth is described in this letter. James remarried after Anna’s death and had four children by his third wife.

Anna was only 25 when she died.

I found this letter while searching in the Milam-McKinney Family Papers, Special Collections Library, University of Texas at Arlington.

Addressed to Collin McKinney, Lafayette County, Lost Prairie Post Office, A. T. (Arkansas Territory)

Clark County, A. T.
October the 9th 1834

Dear Father and Mother
I take my pen in hand to direct a few lines to you to let you know something of our distressed situation - Anna is no more – she is gone to return to us no more – she was taken with a chill and fever and the most racking pains imaginable on the seventh of September and was in that way daily until the morning of the thirteenth of the same month – she then was delivered of her child and appeared like as if she was a going to do well although very low and weak but in a short time was taken worse again and continued a wasting away until she departed which was the thirtieth day of September. Six days before she departed I was setting by her she appeared to be a dozing but all at once she cried out glory to her god and continued shouting and praising of god for some hours – she told us often that she felt happy - said she I never felt such peace and happiness before that from that time it appeared to me like as if her mind was entirely _____ on her god – she took up the most part of her time in exorting her friends who stood around her to serve god and to try to meet her in glory. Not more than five minutes before she drew her last breath I could hear her distinctly say glory. She is gone and there is no doubt in my mind but what she is gone to glory where we may if we prove faithful meet with her where parting is no more.

We have had a good deal of sickness in the family this season but they all appear to be doing tolerable well at this time. The little baby keeps well. I feel very anxious to see you and I feel in hopes you will come to see us as I cannot leave the children at this time to go to see you. I hope I will have the opportunity of seeing you in a short [time] – so nothing more at present I remain your most affectionate son

James Sloan

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Oran Datus Watson Sr. 1789 Burke County, Georgia

Thanks to Crumpton Plats (see post below), I now have additional proof on Oran Datus Watson, Sr., son of Jacob Watson, and grandson of John Watson, all of Edgefield County, SC. Oran was shown as the chain carrier on three plats in Burke County, Georgia in 1789-1790. His name is shown as Aaron Watson, Oron Watson, and Orrindatus Watson. Assuming he was at least 20 years old at the time, these records would date his birth by at least 1769-1770. In the 1820 Pulaski County GA census, he was in the "age 45 and upwards" column. I still have a lot to learn about this man, including exactly how he was related to my ancestor, James Watson, who died in Bowie County, Republic of Texas, in 1842.

I am currently searching Pulaski County GA deeds and probate records, using microfilm at my local LDS branch library, for this Watson family. Will post an update soon on the results.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Crumpton Plats Online - Georgia, South Carolina

Here's a great new resource I found, thanks to Cyndi's List. Crumpton Plats is digitizing thousands of old plat records out of Georgia and South Carolina. They are available for a reasonable price (about $7 each); you pay online and immediately download the files to your computer and then print.


Be sure to read up on the abbreviations, as the search database returns all names contained within a plat. If the return shows AL, that means the person is named as an adjoining landowner. If it shows CC or CB, it means the person is named as a chain carrier (chain bearer). If the return shows PLAT, the person named was the landowner.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Monday, September 15, 2008

Did Cary Watson fight the Battle of San Jacinto?

Most of Cary Watson's descendants are raised from birth to know that Cary Watson served at the Battle of San Jacinto and I am certainly no exception. My grandpa Cully Watson taught all of his grandchildren this at an early age. However, Texas records do not bear out this tradition. There are several important considerations when studying this family story.

Most important, Cary Watson was not in Texas in April 1836 (when San Jacinto was fought). At that time Cary was only 15 years old. He came to Texas with his parents and family in December 1836. This is well-established, as his father, James Watson received a second class land grant from the Republic of Texas. Had James arrived in the Republic of Texas earlier, he would have been eligible to receive a significantly larger amount of land through a first class grant. A later affidavit of Susan (Watson) Wright also confirms a post-April 1836 arrival date.

There is no record of Cary’s service in the Texas State Archives or at the San Jacinto Battleground and Monument. Texas soldiers of the Revolution are well-documented, as they later received pensions and additional land (known as bounty grants) for service at San Jacinto. Cary Watson never applied for these benefits, even though San Jacinto soldiers were awarded upwards of 4,400 acres of land for their service, and I firmly believe that if he was eligible for this amount of land, he would have claimed it.

Cary did however, serve in the Mexican War of 1848, and he claimed and received a pension from the US government for that service. His wife Emily continued receiving the pension after his death. Cary also received a small bounty grant of land for serving in 1848.

It appears that, over time, the family story “grew” … from the Mexican War of 1848 to the Battle of San Jacinto. While the 1848 war is not as indelibly impressed in the minds of Texans as the Battle of San Jacinto, it was an important war in terms of establishing the boundaries of Texas and several western states, and it ended hostilities with Mexico over the Texas colonies. Cary was recognized by his country for this service and his descendants should be justly proud.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills

Our Haile Family of Jackson County, Tennessee

My great-great grandmother, Missouri Elizabeth Haile (she was known as Lizzie) was born in Jackson County, Tennessee in 1843. She came to Grayson County, Texas in 1867 and married James Coleman Watson (son of Cary and Emily Watson) in 1869. She was the third of twelve children born into a close-knit family of Southern Confederates. The Haile family (some branches spell it Hale, and many of the old records show that spelling) were settled in the community of Flynn’s Lick in Jackson County, Tennessee by the 1830s. Lizzie Watson’s father was Thomas Haile, who married Nancy Elizabeth Gibson of Kentucky.

Grandpa Haile, who was born in 1816, was a little old to serve in the army, but he was a leading Confederate sympathizer and organizer in his area. He did go on the military rolls, but I understand he played more of an administrative role. Several of his sons were also in the Confederate army, including Joshua, Elvis, and Thomas. He and his son Thomas were taken prisoners of war and ended up at Camp Chase, Ohio, an infamous Northern POW camp for Confederate soldiers. His son, Thomas, survived the ordeal and later migrated to Eastland County, Texas where he was a prominent citizen. Grandpa Haile died at Camp Chase and is buried there. According to family legend, Thomas was with him when he died and carved the inscription on his coffin. His grave is marked. Here’s an interesting link with lots of information about Camp Chase:


© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills