The Cosby Creed Rush Family
By Alice Rush and Daughters
Cosby C. Rush was born near Berryville, Arkansas, Feb. 6, 1879. Two years later, about 30 miles away, Mary Alice Farris was born in Batavia, Arkansas, May 22, 1881. Cosby attended the schools in Berryville, and Alice started in a one-room school in Batvia. Later, a new one was built with two rooms and two teachers but went only through the elementary grades.
When Alice was about fourteen, her mother took her, Newt, Martha, and Syd to Carrollton to attend school. They lived the first winter at Uncle Charlie Redden's who was at Green Forest at the time. Another winter, just Alice and Newt went to stay with Aunt Ollie and Uncle Charlie.
When Alice was about eighteen, they rented a house. This time Sarah had several others staying with her and going to school. Among Sarah's "roomers" were Clara and Elsie Rush, Alta Chapman, Mildred McCurry, and Altha Naples. The household also included the three Farris girls, Newt, and Joe. Carrollton was widely known at that time as an educational center, and it was not unusual for families to make similar arrangements so that children would receive greater educational advantages. William and the older boys stayed at home to look after the farm, and frequently joined the family for weekends.
One winter Syd took smallpox. No one else in the house had had it, so Maria Martin, who had already suffered an attack, came to live with them and to look after Syd. The parlor was turned over to them. Sarah cooked their meals, put them on the front porch where they were picked up by the Martin girl and taken into the parlor.
When Alice was in high school at Carrollton, she sang in a girl’s quartet with Grace Kirkpatrick, Mildred McCurry, and sister, Syd. Both Syd and Alice say that Newt was the most watchful and strictest chaperon three girls ever had. He laid down many rules of conduct and strictly forbade kissing. Alice was given the leading part in a play. The role called for Newman McCurry to kiss her and the director kept saying, "Kiss her, kiss her!" Alice had visions of Newt walking in and stopping the whole thing. Once Marcellus New came to call on Alice. He stayed longer than Newt thought he should, so Newt went outside and turned his horse loose. He walked in and said innocently, "Marcellus, your horse is loose."
Cosby Creed Rush
In the meantime, the Rush girls had started to school at Carrollton, living at first at Mrs. Crockett's. One weekend Cosby came to visit his sisters. Alice, Newt, Syd, and Martha came into church after Cosby and his sisters were already seated. Alice was a petite five foot, 90-pound, blue-eyed, brunette. That morning she was wearing a red dress trimmed in black soutache braid and wearing a red sailor hat. Cosby kept whispering all through the service, "Who is the little girl in the red dress? I want to meet the little girl in the red dress." Cosby insisted that his sisters invite Alice to Mrs. Crockett's for Sunday dinner. Later they all went to the "bluff" near the picnic grounds, popular gathering place for the younger set.
The first time Cosby came to call (unannounced,) was during the summer when Alice was back at the farm. She was on the front porch playing with Joe. She had taken off her shoes and was on her hands and knees chasing him. She looked up in great embarrassment to see Cosby with horse and buggy, stopping at the gate.
Alice would have graduated from high school in the spring of 1901, but she and Cosby were married February 18th. Cosby was proud that his bride could stand under his outstretched arm. He had rented a nice house in Berryville. After the ceremony, the bride and groom started for their new home with Syd, Martha, and Fred accompanying them. Cosby's horse was inclined to balk, and the long ride to Berryville was longer than usual. Syd and Martha spent the night at the Joel Rush home. It snowed and they made snow ice cream. The two girls returned to Batavia the next day by train.
Cosby had a little grocery store in Berryville and also rented horses and buggies to salesmen. He later went into business with Albert Shaffer buying and selling horses. Albert owned some land in Texas, so about 1903, Albert and Cosby cam to Texas. They shipped their horses and household goods by train and Cosby rode the freight car down. Alice's mother had typhoid fever, so she stayed to look after her, and came to Texas several weeks later by train.
The first Rush home was a small box-house just outside of Devers, Texas. Once Cosby butchered a pig, hung it in the attic and went to Liberty. When he came home, he found buzzards sitting on the roof, Cosby's first hint that Texas and Arkansas weather was different.
There was much mud and no sidewalks in the small towns in this area. Alice remembers that Cosby once picked her up to carry her across a mud hole. Alice got tickled, so did Cosby. He said if she didn't stop laughing, he was going to drop her. Alice didn't, so Cosby did. Cosby taught first in Liberty County and Alice taught in Reavis school near Raywood and rode horseback back and forth. One day the fog was so bad Alice got completely lost. Alice was frightened but gave the horse his bridle and he found the way to the school. In Alice's school were two families of Reavis children (fourteen) and three cousins from another family. They were completely without previous training or home discipline, so the next year, she and Cosby traded schools. Alice made $33.00 a month, and Cosby made $40.00. In Texas, Alice suffered from chills and malaria. She also lost two babies through miscarriages.
Cosby was offered a school near Eureka Springs, so they returned to Arkansas. They boarded with the Vaughn family. The food was so good that it made the change worthwhile.
Texas called again, and Cosby and Alice came to Anahuac. They lived first in a small building that adjoined the hotel.
Their first son, Jeff, was born there. When he was born Cosby's mother, Rosetta Caroline, and his sister, Effie, took charge of the hotel. Syd Denton remembers that there was an organ in the parlor and there were lots of good times there. Ettie Rush and Louie Miller were married in the parlor.
Cosby later bought the hotel and Alice cooked for the boarders. Alice remembers that she cleaned and cooked so much fish that it forever ruined her taste for it. She relished crabs even less after hearing son, Jeff, attempting to be helpful to a fisherman saying, "I can tell you where you can find a whole lot of crabs. Just go down to where there is an old dead cow . . ."
Before the bulkhead was built, the bay was a place of real beauty. Its water provided hours of pleasure for swimming and sailing. It was, and still is, excellent fishing water. The man standing in front of the 3rd umbrella from the right is Cosby Rush. Normie Sherman (87 years old in 1967) told of the various types of boats used and of supplies being brought to Anahuac from Galveston. He recalls that a motor boat belonging to the Wilcox boys brought mail and supplies. Earl Broussard, brother of Desire Louis, bought the Zelda and Eva and obtained a four year mail contract. They made three trips a week from Wallisville and Galveston. Normie piloted one of the mail boats. Effie Broussard recalls that sailboats, like the one pictured were the principal means of transportation for freight of all kinds. Small launches carried mail and passengers to and from Galveston, serving all the towns and communities along Trinity Bay, Turtle Bay, and Trinity River. "Some of the happiest times for the young set of Anahuac were when we would take picnic boxes, along with musical instruments, and sail and drift for hours on one of the Sherman schooners on the glamorous, moonlit bay. Along the tree-shaded banks of the bay, picnics and fish fries were frequently held. The famous old Fort Anahuac has now been turned into a national park where giant live oak trees, festooned with yards of Spanish moss, sway in the breeze." In this restful setting people from all over the state still gather for picnics and fish fries. It is an unforgettable experience to inhale the tantalizing aroma of outdoor cooking of huge kettles of fresh fish and hushpuppies, and to enjoy the delectable flavor of these southern specialties which are always served in great abundance.
Ice and most of their supplies came by boat from Galveston. Before the bulkhead was built, Anahuac was a popular resort for fishing, boating, and swimming. Cosby and Alice built a nice, two-story house near the edge of town on the bayshore. Jeff, Eloise, and Theodore were born there.
Forgot to say when Cosby had the hotel and was teaching school, he also was the town barber at the barber shop. His philosophy of life always seemed to be . . . if you think you can do it . . . you can do it . . .
Uncle Ed came from Arkansas to live with them.
There was a large "negro town" on one side of Anahuac and the white citizens had plenty of inexpensive help. However, Alice was not accustomed to them and always kept a white hired girl. When the children were small, Hannah, a Russian woman, kept house. She took so much food home to her hungry family that Alice finally had to let her go.
The flat land around Anahuac was excellent for ranching and lent itself equally well to a new industry, the growing of rice. Cosby began contracting for the digging of irrigation ditches which were essential to rice crops. He used mules to pull the digging machines and other equipment. Shorty Meneley from Kansas bought into the business and the Rush family moved to Stowell.
The Alice and Cosby Rush Home on Trinity Bay ~ Eloise, Jeff, & Caroline ~ Ed Rush on Side of porch
Smoke stacks and the pump house which pumped water from Turtle Bayou to the main canal carrying water to the thousands of acres of rice lands. Effie Broussard and Syd Denton recall that the warehouse was used for a roller skating rink. "Every time the rice warehouse (on right of the pumphouse) had a space large enough to skate, the young people in town would flock there in the evenings. It was great when the barges were loaded for shipment and the warehouse would be two-thirds empty. Some fifty or sixty boys and girls would skate wildly about. One might fall and start a chain reaction that would cause us to pile up like a football squad, and it would take several hilarious minutes for us to untangle ourselves." Syd recalls a time when she and Ettie Rush went rowing on the bay an stayed so late that he sister, Alice, was worried sick. Syd also remembers going up the river in a small boat to deliver a piano to the Sherman home. Syd taught school for a time three miles down the bay shore at Round Point.
Cosby began rice farming on "shares" furnishing seed, supplies, and funds necessary for planting and harvesting. It was fun for us children who often accompanied him as he went about to inspect his holdings. We loved it at threshing time as we got to eat with the hired hands and the food brought to the fields by the women was abundant and savory. The fresh haystacks looked inviting but were avoided after a try or two because the rice chaff was irritating and continued to cause an intense itching until the last bit had been washed from the body and clothing.
The president of the Winnie Bank left rather hurriedly, taking most of the deposits with him. Cosby had an interest in the Winnie Bank, as well as being a stockholder in the Anahuac Bank. He bought the home formerly owned by the Winnie banker, and moved his family to Winnie. He became president of the bank. Clyde, Ward, Hugh, and Alice were born in Winnie. When the banks failed, Dad was president of the Winnie Bank and a director of the bank at Anahuac. Joe Farris said that Dad had no legal obligation to make good the depositors, but that he felt a moral obligation to do so, which he did, to his own financial ruin. Many of those same depositors owed him thousands of dollars when he backed their last rice crops. They still owe it – morally.
One of his good friends was Frank Smith of Dallas. Frank made many talks throughout the states. After Frank’s death, his wife sent one of his talks in which he used one of Dad’s phrases to illustrate the need for financial security.
Rain of the Roof
“Many years ago in Beaumont, Texas, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a fine gentleman, C. C. Rush, who had been a pioneer of East Texas, and had endured untold hardships in those early historic days when life was primitive indeed. The years passed, and with them came success and a wonderful family. When I first met him, he had just built a lovely home and, in discussing it, he said, “Smith, as I lay in bed the first night in my new home it was storming, and as I listened to the howling wind and the rain beating on the roof, it gave me a sense of warmth and security, for this home was my castle from which no one could eject me, and the years of hardship seemed like a dream. Yes, Smith, it’s nice to hear the RAIN ON THE ROOF, when the roof is yours.”
The town doctor was A. C. Cole. He and big, fat, Auntie Cole were dear friends to the whole family, as they were to everyone in that area. Mr. Christianberry owned a General Store. Cosby bought and operated that. Uncle Charlie Farris later took over the management and lived upstairs with his family.
The Palms Hotel at Winnie, Texas was built by Mrs. J. Lynn Evans and her son, Lynn, from St. Paul, Minnesota. The Palms was an imposing structure set in the center block or more of beautifully landscaped ground. Fruit-bearing palms, oleander, cape jasmine, and other semi-tropical shrubs and flowers added to the beauty and grandeaur of the place. At the time the hotel was built Theo Koch and Herbert Roedenbeck were bringing in many families from the northern states who bought land and planted fig orchards. As this fruit grew in abundance, a fig preserving plant was built in Winnie. This along with the rice and cattle industry made Winnie into a thriving village. The Palms was built with an eye to the future. During World War I the hotel was a meeting place for the ladies of the town who came there to knit, sew, and make bandages for the soldiers. The Stewarts managed the hotel for a time. Stewart was superintendent of the Sunday School of the First Methodist Church. The Saxons were the last ones to manage The Palms. Many German families had come to this area, led by glowing accounts of the richness of the land and its suitability for orange groves. Theo F. Kock and Mr. Rhodenbeck were the promoters. They were honest in promoting the situation as they saw it, but they had not tested the capricious Texas weather over a long enough period of time. After a few seasons, a violent freeze destroyed the beautiful groves in spite of smudge pots and other precautions that ordinarily are protective. The Dutch and German families who came from the north lost their life savings, so their daughters worked for other families in Winnie and Stowell. They were treated as members of the family and loved and respected for the fine people that they were. Three of our most beloved girls were Gertie Stobbs and Lizzie and Kate Creamer. It was Kate, trying to teach Eloise to make fudge and protesting her too generous use of vanilla, who said, "Eloise thinks if enough is good, too much is better."
The droughts and freeze also brought an end to the fig industry and many of the farmers returned to their former homes. Winnie almost vanished from the map. The beautiful Palms Hotel was allowed to deteriorate and was finally razed. Had the Evans lived until today (1968) they would have seen that their faith in the future of this area was justified. Because of the discovery of oil and of the renewed rice and cattle growing, the Winnie-Stowell are is again a thriving one.
Cosby Rush and William Campbell helped build the Winnie School. When it was demolished in 1945, Cosby's and William's grandsons did the work. Rush and Farris children and descendants attended school there. and E. Ray Smith taught there.
Effie Rush Broussard taught music in an impoverished room with piano on the stage. She also helped with school programs and plays and acted as choreographer when dance steps were needed. Some teachers were Ethel Graham, Miss Snoddy, Norman Banta, and Eula Mendenhall.
Eula said she was nineteen and teaching in Beaumont when the Winnie principal quit suddenly in 1913. Mr. Jenkins, our neighbor, went to Beaumont to see professor Triplett and ask if he could recommend someone. He said he knew someone who was competent, but he doubted if Mr. Fuqua would want to let her go. Eula was making $50 a month, but quit to take the Winnie job as principal and also teach German and other subjects. The new salary was $90 a month. She coached basketball and helped with county meets at Anahuac as well as plays and programs held in the auditorium which was made by pushing aside a folding wall. Stage and dressing rooms were at one end. Light was provided by mantle lamps which had to be pumped with something that resembled a bicycle pump.
When Mama was in her prime, I don’t think anyone could beat her cooking. Alice and Eloise remember coming in from school and eating half an apple pie each. Mama knew how to bring her brood home in a hurry. Her pies were not the skimpy little ones either. The crusts were crumbly except on top where the thick syrup had bubbled out making a mouth-watering trim. I have seen her stand and fry mounds of doughnuts, especially those with marshmallow centers (anyone seen or heard of those before or since?) potato chips, pies of all kinds, cheese aigrettes, (sp?) WOWIE! No one ever reprimanded or got his hand slapped for grabbing and gobbling them us as she cooked them and while they were at their still burning-hot-best. Her chocolate cake was unforgettable. She had huge oblong pans and she baked her cakes in one large slab with unbelievable thick fudge icing. I don’t think she ever measured anything, so she passed along little of her skill to her daughters. Her instructions of “a little of this” and “a generous portion, but not too much of that” were difficult to follow. Sister Alice said that where most cools “beat for three minutes,” Mama mixed her chocolate cake for two verses of “In the Garden.” Doubtless Mama was unaware of this, but Alice Lenore could tell it was ready to bake by the end of that second verse. Only once can I remember her denying food to anyone or hiding it out. Paul and Howell were dearly loved, but no one had a bigger appetite than Howell. He would frequently come by and “clean out the place.” Once Mama was expecting Sunday night company. We went visiting that afternoon, but before we left, Mama took all the food, packed it in a large roasting pan and slid it under the bed. Howell came by, half-starved as usual, and couldn’t find a crumb. He never let Mama forget her mistreatment of him.
I have heard that tramps have a code by which they mark and identify the houses that are “good pickings.” None missed our house, and none went away hungry. There was one who once tried Mama’s patience. He asked for food and she brought him a sandwich. He asked for coffee and she brought it, he asked for cream and she brought that, then he asked for matches.
Mama never would let her children “roam the neighborhood,” but we could ask or bring home as much company as we wished . . . and we had plenty – food and company. Doubtless many came as much for the food as for our companionship.
Dad worked hard and continued to prosper. He had said many times that when he made enough to retire, he wanted to live in Portland, Oregon.
The people in Winnie gave us an unforgettable farewell party. There were silver spoons with individual initials engraved for each member of the family. We went to Oregon by train.
Mary Alice Farris Rush
Dad had bought a beautiful two and a half story, grey, cement brick house on the corner of Garfield and Sumner in the exclusive Kenelworth Addition. Mama, accustomed to hired help, inquired about a laundress, and was surprised that all the ladies did their own laundry in their own basements. We had neighbors who seemed to like us and who tried to show us a happy time.
In our yard were bushes of purple lilacs and two huge cherry trees. Dad bought a beautiful Chickering concert grand piano which fit beautifully in the large living room with its circular window corner. Snow covered Mt. Hood stood directly in line with our front windows. Dad delighted in loading us all into the family car for long drives to view the waterfalls and other gorgeous sights around Portland. He shared our delight in cherry picking when we brought along our own buckets, weighed them as we entered the orchard, and weighed them again full of cherries when we left. Mama always said the owners should have weighed the children. They didn’t care how much we ate. We paid 2 1/2¢ a pound when we picked them ourselves and they were only 5¢ at the market. It was a gay, happy experience that ended all too soon.
When the “crash” came, Dad finally returned to Texas to try and pull things together. Mama stayed in Portland so that the children could remain in school. I got the mumps, and we were all quarantined for two weeks. The other children caught them too, of course, and about the time we all got well, Mama took them. She didn’t tell it at the time, and no one suspected it. She thought we had been out of school long enough.
It soon became evident that the crash was a nation-wide thing. Mama fixed up the third floor as an apartment and rented it to a love librarian and her mother. Mama smelled gas one day. She ran upstairs and had to force the door to find the mother sitting on the floor with her head in the oven and the gas jets on. The little woman was unconscious, but Mama saved her life by quickly opening doors and windows and dragging her to fresh air. They moved shortly after that.
When Dad realized that there was to be no immediate recovery, Mama packed our clothing, left all the lovely furnishing, dishes, and most of our personal belongings, thinking we would be back, and returned to Texas. We returned to Winnie for a while, but because Mom and Dad wanted us to have greater educational advantages, we moved to Beaumont about 1924. Dad went into the trucking and produce business. He bought and sold cattle and did everything else he could think of to make a living. The boys helped him or took paper routes. I gave piano lessons, worked part time in the music store, hat shop, dress shop, and whatever. At no time did we ever hear Mama complain and Dad never lost his spirit of optimism. Because so many people were in distress, Dad, in spite of his own financial problems, managed to find an increasing number of people to look after. I recently picked up a magazine that had a short article written by someone about his father:
“After his terrible loss, he carried not an ounce of bitterness, of apology or defeatism. Right up to the time he died, he continued what he had always done – to plunge into life, the bitter and the sweet, with nothing held back, without protecting himself with suspicion, reserve, or emotional caution.”
I can scarcely believe those words were written about another man. They so accurately describe C. C. Rush.
Even in the worst depression days, Mama and Dad did everything they could to make them pleasant days for us children. They continued to encourage us to invite all the friends that we wanted. There were popcorn parties, candy pulls, and dances, dances, dances. Not public ones, but dances at home with the Victrola. It was especially nice on Franklin St. where we had the large living and dining room connected and opening into a wide central hall. There was also much singing and piano playing, which Dad loved.
Dad bid on and got the mail contract which provided a small but steady income for several years, but there were always a dozen other deals going at the same time. He got in on the second big Spindletop boom and made a fortune, but learned, long before there were penalties for it, the practice of cross-drilling and the double pay roll where big operators paid the drillers of the smaller operators to “drop a wrench” or otherwise sabotage a well and put their competitors out of business.
At the very depth of the depression on Nov. 7, 1928, Vera Irene Rush, the eighth child was born. Jeff, the oldest son was married, and he and Mabel were expecting their first child. I was in college and Alice was ten years old. As Irene tells it, “Suddenly, ready or not, there I was. The reaction of the rest of the family is a story in itself. My friends today find it difficult to believe that the whole family was taken completely by surprise. Most say, ‘Now, you know young people are not that naïve.’ Well, my family was. Clyde was playing football for South Park High School. When he left for school, Dad was taking Mama to the hospital. Clyde asked Coach Gray if he could miss practice that afternoon as his Mother was in the hospital. Coach asked what for and Clyde said he didn’t know.” I, Eloise was in college. My closest friend, Wilda Wells had recently told me that, after all these years her mother was going to have another baby. I thought it rather crass. Mama and Daddy always went to hear me sing if it were at all possible, and I was quite put-out with Mama for giving some poor excuse when I asked her to go to some special programs. When I insisted, she had to tell me that she was expecting. I think I went into shock. Wilda says she will never forget my expression as I came into the choir practice that night and told her mama was going to have a baby also. Irene arrived in less than a week. As many surprises often turn out, this was probably the greatest thing that could have happened to our family. Irene was loved almost to the point of worship. Out of my teacher’s salary, I dressed her like the adorable doll that she was. Out of eight children she was the only one with curls. When she cut off two golden front locks, I cried hysterically. She bound us together and made us a more tightly knit family than ever before. She should have been spoiled rotten, but friends and family attest that that was never the case, which just foes to show that “a lot of loving never hurt nobody.”
Mama remained active. Alice remembers when we lived in South Park and Alice was about twelve, that Mama could outrun her. No doubt she had to stay active to keep up with Alice. However, she had a way of managing everyone without too much visible effort. This included Sparkle, the eleventh member of our family. The rest of us would chase, sneak up, and use every trick we knew to catch that pesky horse. Mama would come out, call to him, and he would come, meek as a lamb.
Top: Jeff, Cosby, Theodore ~ Middle: Hugh, Alice, Ward, Clyde Front: Eloise, Irene, Alice, Lenore
After Dad became really ill, the doctor ordered him to bed. He told me, “What some people don’t realize is that it hurts some folks to stay in bed, and it hurts me. In April a hard freeze was predicted. I ran to the house to check on Dad. Mama said he had gotten worried about the cattle and had ridden his horse to Pt. Arthur. He died a few weeks later on May 3, 1947.
For about nine years after Dad’s death, Mama continued to occupy an upstairs apartment and look after the other five apartments on Emile. She was not only working and worrying herself to death but trying to look after all the neglected kids in her apartments, failing to charge or collect enough rent and even loaning the tenants money. Clyde was able to make a satisfactory sale, and Eloise and Mason built a small efficiency apartment adjoining their house. Shortly afterwards she had a serious heart attack. She appears to have completely recovered from that. She had also recovered from a bad shock when she fell from our back porch. She made an even quicker recovery from a broken arm about a year ago. She has spent several enjoyable sessions of the Older Adult Conferences at Lakeview, the Methodist Encampment and always went loaded with her home-made aprons and shirts which she sold to other “campers.” About four years ago, she was voted Queen of the Encampment. For years she collected pitchers. When she showed them at the South Texas State Fair, she won a blue ribbon in the hobby department. In 1966, she displayed an assortment of old post cards and won another blue ribbon. She attends Wesley Sunday School Class and services at the First Methodist Church almost every Sunday. She enjoys the XYZ Club, sponsored by the church, and the Golden Years Club, sponsored by the YWCA. She hasn’t sewed in a couple of years, but frequently joins friends for a lively game of dominos or forty-two. She visits with friends and relatives, especially her six children, twenty grandchildren, and twenty-one great-grandchildren.
Written January 24, 1967
Monroe White Recalls Pioneer Days on Range
July 2, 1933
Veteran Gulf Coast Ranch Owner Still Getting Thrill From Riding Ponies at 76
Sturdy Old Gentleman Cattleman Is Eldest Of Third Generations of Whites In Lone Star State
By DEAN TEVIS
This is the story of a man, who, born on what was southeastern Texas' greatest cattle ranch, whose feet grew in stirrups and whose legs came quickly to fit the salt-grass bellies of mean little bundles of Texas horseflesh, will end his days aboard them. At 76, Monroe White, tall, straight, active, throws a nimble leg up and over the big plains saddle which old "Mike," his range mate wears, wheels the pony swiftly with an imperceptible motion of loosely held reins, and is off on perhaps his fifteen-thousandth ride across the far reaches of White's ranch under the almost motionless gulf clouds of lower Chambers county.
He has ridden the ranges between the Neches and the Trinity since he was 4 or 5. "Mike" himself, snow-white pony in whose escutcheon is written the story of the tricky little Castillian, which Cortez brought to the new world, and in whose blood is a trace of the big Arabian introduced in Texas by U. S. Grant--"Mike" himself has seen more than 30 years of hard service.
To those Texans whose pulses race at the thought of the new disappearing open cow range, who thrill at the dimming pictures of vast herds of moving longhorns, or who will sit late while gray ashes heap themselves like flaky sea-shells at an open fireside while old-timers tell of days when a fence was a novelty, well--that sort of Texan looks upon this man as his seventy seventh birthday approaches, with a deep respect . . . Monroe in the saddle or out is the old Roman of the range.
Only he and the handful of his gray-haired contemporaries--Perry "Mac," Uncle Steve Pipkin, and a few others--can tell the tales of the fenceless range days, of unbelievably large herds, of solid seas of longhorns, and a multitude of famous Texas brands and the trail drives.
West of the sleepy little cow town of Winnie, where the highway curves to make its takeoff for Anahuac, is Monroe White's home under the oaks, Here is a long, wide gallery--a veranda to an easterner. The shade is deep, cool. It is the hour for coffee--a custom which crossed the Sabine with the pioneers in the 30s.
A sturdy old figure rises from the recesses of a large wicker chair, two of White's tanned young grandsons, 12 or 14, retain their reclining positions on the soft cushions of the porch divan. What is, they retain them for some few moments . . . But grandfather is in a mood to talk . . . grandfather is telling the story of James Taylor White, his own grandfather, who came to south Texas in the misty days of 1819 . . . The mail was to have been brought from the village. That is a delectable chore, for you saddle the ponies and ride in. But somebody else goes for the mail today, somebody who isn't the great-great-grandson of the first rancher between the Sabine and the Trinity--the first man to brand a cow, to drive the trail, to build a ranch home . . . to form a cattle dynasty. In fact, nothing is said about the mail this afternoon.
Monroe White, son of the late James Taylor White the second, builder of White's ranch to its once great position, leans back, recalls clearly the story of his grandfather, and then traces the tale of White's ranch on through the days when he, himself, built the first fence in the territory--21 miles long--and ran a bellowing, nervous, colorful herd, numbering fully 20,000, long horned herd.
The tale he tells is the word picture of a moving epic in south Texas' story.
It begins as the tradition has been handed down to White, in 1819, when his grandfather, sturdy, far-looking, fearless alike of Indian and Mexican, bore across the reaches of the little-known Mississippi valley from Mississippi. There were ox-teams. The picture is not unfamiliar. But in this caravan were cattle that the Elder White, at the head of a pioneering family, had picked up in Louisiana and was driving into then Spanish governed Texas.
Histories tell you the year of the coming of James Taylor White was 1829, but White fixes it, from the tale his father told him many times, as a full decade earlier.
In this old-school rancher, eldest of the third generation of Whites in Texas, you think you see James Taylor himself. James Taylor White had four sons and four daughters. He settled on what came to be called White's Bayou, built a home, was frugal and ambitious, and accumulated two leagues of land, about 400 acres in Stephen F. Austin's first colony.
There he established the "W" brand of the Whites. At first there were no neighbors save the people of the village of Liberty, and for years the nearest house was miles off. Wolves howled and attacked his cattle at night on the prairie as even a few do today. He often saw droves of deer, a hundred head, trailing off in the distance. He saw the last of the cannibalistic Karankawas and met the Alabamas from Tyler county when they came to hunt there. One of the children married into the Jackson family of Double Bayou, and thus the then two most famous cattle brands of the curving coast of Texas were joined.
The cherished tradition of the Whites is that General Santa Anna spent the night at James Taylor White's ranch house on his way into the United States. When the self-styled Little Napoleon was captured by Houston, he was held prisoner in Texas. Upon his release he made his way to Washington, D. C. Under escort the reduced Mexican hero traveled overland from Houston, heading, in all probability for New Orleans, where he probably took ship.
It was then a long day's travel or two from the Texas capital to the capital of the ranges--White's--and so he remained there the night, it has been handed down, and the next day made his way across the prairies and marshes, creeks, and rivers, to Beaumont.
On the site of the first White home James Taylor built a second where Monroe was born. It still stands a quarter of a mile off the High Island road at the flag-stop marked "White's Ranch." Off in the distance in every direction, seemingly stationary brown, and gray dots on a veldt of soft green, graze the White cattle, as they did a century ago. James Taylor died some years before Monroe was born.
White's ranch fell into the hands of Monroe's father. He began accumulating more acres, for he inherited his father's ambition to build. Constantly had the first White, so old newspaper and other accounts give it, put his profits back into cattle. He probably failed to add to his land because there was little incentive for that. The prairie, to the horizon and beyond, was open--free to every cattleman to graze his herds who would live up to the primitive, but hide-bound code of the open, virgin country.
James Taylor White the second, first added 1280 acres. He purchased lands adjoining from the T. and N. O. Railroad--known as school lands. Presently the name of White and grown in importance. The son of the pioneer had accumulated an eve 100,000 acres and presently 20,000 beeves were wearing the White "W" and "JW" on their flanks.
Here was a prince's domain in truth. On the south lay the gulf beaches. On the horizon were white sails. On the east was Star lake in the peculiar green marshes where wild birds set up a din at dawn. The north boundary was East Bay bayou.
For years the White's, these old kings of the range--with Monroe getting ready to assume charge--knew no boundaries--no fences. They trod the earth and looked at the sky, fearing only the gray prairie wolves and storms. Then Monroe White, who just here steps briskly into the picture, riding a stout Spanish pony, reins in hand, rope on the saddle pommel, built a 21-mile-long fence, under the direction of his father.
. . . And that was the first cattle fence in southeastern Texas, possibly the first in the domain known as south Texas--certainly the first east of the Trinity river. He built it with cypress posts, most of which still stand. Wire was high priced in those days, but White skimped little and they built it with four stout strands. That was in the year '83 (1883) Monroe and his father, big Texas hats shading large Texas faces, big frames erect, who could ride from sunup to dark, were the first to ride the fence. They were proud . . . and yet that was the beginning of the end of the range, and they probably saw in the splendid shadows of the cypress posts trailing far out of sight the thing that was to come--the settler, the farmer.
The famous fence ran from Big Hill, later to be known as the Dutch Joe country, and now under the domain of the McFaddins, cattle imperialists of today, clear to East Bay bayou on the west. It skirted the entire north line of White's ranch. It cost $100 a mile, and the White's thought the price was high.
So, the year '83 marked the closing of the big White pasture. Just prior to that through the 70s and the 80s, before the towns of Hamshire, Winnie, Stowell, and High Island had sprung up, fully 100,000 head of longhorns with some new bloods, roamed the flat reaches and the low rises from the salt grass to the summer pastures of the north line.
They ranged from the bank of the Neches, long before rice was dreamed of, clear to the Trinity. The second to fence their lands were John and Jim Jackson. All of the country under discussion was once included in Liberty county. Even the country east of Big Hill was open, free grass.
The principal cattlemen in those days were the Heberts, Barrows, McFaddins, the Jacksons, Burrells, and of course the White's.
Somehow the sketches of southeastern Texas along the coast fascinated the early cattlemen. For one thing their beeves liked the salt grass, to be found only near the coast. So began the long migration of the cattle, south in the fall, and north in the spring. The farthest north line of grazing country in Jefferson county now is just south of Spindle Top, though in Liberty county it extends farther north. For years there was no driving, as there was no dipping for ticks, but the big droves of beeves, through instinct, moved when the time came for them to change their feed.
The Whites and McFaddins and others could have gone into west Texas where the bulk of the cattle were grazed, and where lands were even freer, but they took to the lowlands and established the chief agricultural industry--if it may be put in that column--of the counties of southeastern Texas, with a population today of probably 200,000 head of animals.
"Generally," the old cowman said, "It was a pretty peaceful country."
"Yes, some, but not to the degree, or in the same way it was done further west. We had a family here who defaced brands. That, of course, was bad business. In fact, it created so much trouble for a time that we sent for the Rangers, and they sent one down here. Before the thing was done with, there was one killing."
"They'd slaughter the beeves and ship them to Galveston."
The fact of the matter is, though the thing's kept from the bright light of publicity, that there is more cattle stealing going on today, with less cattle in the country, than there was back in the palmy days of Monroe White, as he explains it.
The means of transportation were limited. Wagons and teams, as against automobiles of today. Today the cattle thief kills his beeves in the night, throws them in a truck, and is gone. Thirty minutes later you'd have a hard time catching him. The thing's simple.
Whiskey, in Monroe White's youth, was 50 cents a gallon. That was for good whiskey. He recalls that when they held the big dances for which the south Texas ranches were famous, when the belles came for miles perched up behind their boys on horseback, or rode alone, there was always a barrel of whiskey placed conveniently for the guests to help themselves.
"But do you know," he said, "that there was no drunkenness. I remember one party at White's ranch which lasted four days. They held it that long, I guess, because they came from so far away. Way up north of Liberty, and from Beaumont, and down at Moise Broussard's. One fellow got--well, a little one sided, but that's the only case of the kind I can recall."
Mrs. White, listening to the conversation, shuddered to think of what would happen today at a party where they left a barrel of whiskey for anyone to help himself.
He himself rode 40 or 50 miles to many a dance. He was a guest at the affairs at Broussard’s on Sabine Pass ridge. The old house, with the peacocks painted on its wooden walls, is still there.
Monroe White doesn't like the big, bully looking Brahma with the funny hump. Oh, yes, he tolerates him, but give White another breed. You feel that he thinks back to the great herd of what they called native cows, the Longhorns or Spanish cattle.
The first longhorns in Texas were a pair left by De Leon the conquistador, on the banks of either the Brazos or Trinity in the year 1689 when he marched far into east Texas. These and the wild Spanish ponies, famed in stories and songs for generations, were found by the first Americans across the Sabine.
Monroe White gives his favor, among the cattle breeds on the ranges here, to what he calls the Devon, a red critter with a white tail. When he was a youth his father bought a Devon bull.
“Uncle Steve Pipkin,” said White, “used to cut the Devon calves out of the herd without looking at their brands. He could tell them by their color alone.”
Who rode the free grass with Monroe in the old days? A legion of riders, many of whom have taken their final departure from the range. There was Seth Davis, Perry McFaddin and his father Bill, S. W. Pipkin whom they called Steve, J. J. Burrell and James Jackson and his brother John, now 83 years old, the cowman patriarch of Double Bayou.
Nope, no chaps in those days. Ropes and ropers, for a certainty—the best this side of the Pecos—but no chaps. They used them mostly, in the early day, in the sagebrush country, and where there was a likelihood of meeting up with a rattlesnake. Pistols? Yes, some carried them. You can check on that from my friend Tenau Arceneaux of Hamshire, who will tell you how the cowboys parked their artillery on a bed while they danced the night away at Moise Broussard’s place on the ridge.
The latter-day cowboy of southeastern Texas, not to be outdone by his more colorful brother of west Texas, not to mention Montana and the Dakotas took on the chap. The high-heeled boot, however, was always an appurtenance of the cowman.
Before ’67 when the Southern Pacific, in its second and successful attempts to negotiate the coast country, came through Beaumont, marketing cattle was no small job. When the average person thinks of the Texas cattle trail, he thinks of the famed Chisolm. There was the El Paso-New Orleans trail, coming through this country. Buyers came from New Orleans and other points in Louisiana, bought the cattle, and drove themselves to various points east of the Sabine. Many central west cows were driven through here.
Jefferson and Chambers county ranchers drove many a herd across the Neches and Sabine themselves, swimming them most frequently at Collier’s ferry just north of Beaumont. In the El Paso-New Orleans trail through Beaumont there is a story to be written.
In the story of his life Monroe White sees few thrills. It’s been a work-a-day one to him, but to one who observes it in swift panorama as he recites it on the cool, shady, gallery at Winnie, it is a moving, picturesque tale, this tale of a man who has spent more than 75 full years in the saddle, who knew the ranges where deer were plentiful and when the Redman still trekked south to the salt grass country for his venison. He remembers the Civil War, Spindle Top hill as a Confederate cantonment, Beaumont as a village, and southeastern Texas as a country with barely 2000 people.
You could, if you wanted to, caption this as the story of the man who drove cattle down Calder avenue in bunches of a thousand or more. Picture that! A thousand head of longhorns destroying the azaleas on the M. F. Yount lawn or trampling the grass of such estates as that of Mrs. Frank Keith.
Of course, that was before he roped “Mike,” who bore no name then, from a half-wild pony herd years ago, and tamed him to his will and made him like it. “Mike,” incidentally, came originally from the Mayes stock.
We heard the story of the time Monroe White, as a youth, roped an alligator in Elm bayou.
One of his grandsons, all ears on this particular afternoon, wanted that story to come out.
It seems that his elders had cautioned Monroe against attempting to rope ‘gators from the bayou. He couldn’t see it their way. There was too much fun involved. One day, alone with his pony, he cast his rope about the middle section of a big fellow. But he couldn’t get the ‘gator out and had to tie the rope on the bank and finally cut it.
You see, the trouble was that ropes in those days were indeed ropes—scarce and costly.
Probably the greatest fear held by the White’s and their fellow ranchers along the coast were the fierce gulf storms. Monroe White recalls one in ’75, and another in ’86. The historic blow of 1900 at the turn of the century, and then the worst so far as the White’s were concerned in 1915. In every one of the storms, they lost cattle, but in 1915 there was a loss of a thousand head. Dead beeves littered the prairies for miles on miles. Many of their carcasses were floated out to sea and then back again.
Charbon has taken its toll, so have the wolves, and cattle thieves, but the most feared enemy—the one which took heaviest tolls, were the hurricanes from the Caribbean.
A ranch like the White’s had from 10 to 12 “hands,” or cowboys. Some were negroes, but majority were white men. Any ranch in the territory could have put on its own rodeo. West Texas held no monopoly in good riding and roping.
Recreation! Plenty of it, and of a sort that men would travel far to participate in. There were the big prairie wolf hunts, and deer kills, the round-ups themselves, the dances. Life wasn’t dull then.
The White ranch proper today has 24,000 acres. It is in charge of nephews of Monroe, J. T. and Kyle White. He holds 7000 acres himself, and he has a nice string of beeves on it. You think that Monroe White couldn’t very well live and breathe, unless he had a horse to ride, miles of unfenced country to ride him on, and beeves to look at, and brand and sell, and doggies to speculate over.
No, sir, Monroe White’s a poor walking man. He likes to trot—aboard “Mike,” and then, with the good feel of leather under him, to wheel and cut a critter from the bunch, just as the first James Taylor White did, as his father did, as his son does today, and as the two husky grandsons will—unless they cut the ranges into smaller and smaller pieces until cattle raising becomes a sort of inflated parlor pastime.
You don’t think he wants to be here when that time comes. He is very fond of looking at the fine picture of his father, in his living room. You think he feels that his father was the greatest cowman southeastern Texas ever produced. You feel that way when you see him looking at the picture.
To him the long years seem to be condensed in just a little space of time. It was but yesterday that he helped drive a thousand head of bellowing, figgety, hair-trigger longhorns across the Trinity and as far west as the Indian Territory—the Oklahoma of today.
He knew the glorious free range when it was open from Bolivar Point clear east to Sabine Pass; when it was open country from the McFaddin ranch house in Beaumont to the gulf—when the horizons of southeastern Texas were unbroken lines—when roads were narrow little dust trails—when the scene, if done in oil, would have had its foreground just above a frame of gold-and-red blanket flowers, and when the sole figure in the picture would have been a lone cow puncher on a Spanish pony.
. . . Incidentally like as not that figure would have been Monroe White, and the pony one of “Mike’s” mean little ancestors of the salt grass prairie.