The Fraternity of the White Heron was one of three organizations created in 1944 to promote both the Trinity and water conservation. Chambers County Judge, Guy Cade Jackson Jr. (1905-1980) was a moving force behind all three.
The Texas Water Conservation Association and the Chambers-Liberty Counties Navigation District, a governmental authority over the Trinity, each tended to the legislative and legal matters of the Trinity River Project. On the other hand, The Fraternity of the White Heron drew attention to the project by promoting a spirit of camaraderie.
Other founders included Liberty Mayor E. W. McLendon, Anahuac businessman Grover C. Chambliss, Liberty businessman J. M. Rich, as well as Dean Tevis, whom by this time had retired from the Beaumont Enterprise.
I have read two different accounts of how Arabella got her name, both being very similar. The following was written by Kevin Ladd.
“Commodore Basil Muse Hatfield, the colorfully rotund character, first noticed a white heron following his cypress scow in 1932 as he traveled down the Trinity on his way to Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition. Hatfield traveled down the Trinity to its mouth, then took the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway over to the Mississippi, which he followed up to Chicago. His ambition was to draw attention to the Trinity as a navigable stream, and so he gave little thought to the solitary white heron.”
“On his trip home, after traveling 9,000 miles and making 434 speeches along the way, the bird followed him back upstream. What appeared to be the same white heron followed along on two other trips by the Commodore in 1938 and 1939. By the time Hatfield died in 1942, the bird had become a local legend. Someone had even dubbed it Arabella, The Mystic White Heron.”
The other tale, told in 1938, credits newspaperman, C. L. Douglas of Fort with first naming of Arabella. Whatever the source, Arabella has become the “Mystic White Heron of the Trinity.”
It is likely the birds are merely after the fish stirred up by the passing boats, but that explanation does not hold near the mystique!
The Fraternity quickly parlayed the legend and the elusive bird of the Lower Trinity as its own.
Membership in the Fraternity was open to anyone for a dollar a year. Members were called Herons and were expected to have performed some service on behalf of the river. Anahuac became known as the home rookery as members were sought from other towns and counties along the river. Judge Jackson, the club’s secretary, became known as the high Egret.
The group embraced developers, conservationists, politicians, and businesspeople. The number of members eventually reached approximately 4,500.
The Mystic white Heron of Trinity Bay
Is an enchanted bird, so they say!
She reigns with charming grace and poise,
A GLAMOUR GAL to the HERON boys.
Symbol of the White Heron Fraternity,
Existing from now until eternity.
“What is its object?” do I hear you say,
“Why, this annual event of White Heron Day?”
It’s the SPIRIT of FORWARD PROGRESS, a force
With teamwork directed in the upward course,
Of the natural resources here on hand –
Making good use of the water and land.
The day of fellowship and of good will
And dreams of future plans to fulfill.
This meeting on the shore of Trinity Bay
Renews that fine spirit of White Heron Day!
Mrs. Ethyle White, Anahuac artist and poet, who wrote the poem, Arabella, created fine white china figurines of the mystic bird to sell at the 1950 White Heron Fish Fry. The figurines stood 6 inches in height with the name, Arabella, inscribed inside the base as a trademark of Ethyle’s Anchor Ranch Studio. Her daughter, Patsy Ruth Angel, said she remembers her working for months molding, painting, glazing, and firing the figurines as well as Arabella coffee mugs to sell at the fish fry events. Ethyle had several hundred on display at Fort Anahuac Park during the 1950 fish fry.
Although, at one time ceramic Arabella’s lined the shelves of Ethyle’s art studio, her daughter, Patsy Ruth shared with me the sad fact that she has NOT one single figurine her mother created.
The fraternity staged “the world’s biggest fish fry” each year at Fort Anahuac Park, elaborate affairs that drew folks from across the state. Attendance sometimes ran as high as five to six thousand people. A phalanx of men, chiefly from the Anahuac area, cleaned, dressed, and fried the catfish for hours beforehand. Local women served the crowds that descended upon the historic park.
Morris Frank’s Houston Chronicle Column, Of Cabbages and Kings, writes of many familiar Chambers County families from the 50s who came together to make the event a success. See some of the excerpts below.
“Because some 5000 pounds of fried catfish will be served that day, everybody in Anahuac and environs work on the big day – even barristers like Judge Guy Cade Jackson, politicos like Jimbo Wooldridge, and ex-football stars like Ox Hinman and Joe Lagow.”
“Naturally, being a man who likes his catfish hot and free, the guy I want to brag on first – and No. 1 fraternity brother in the White Heron is the gentleman who is in charge of the fish frying, that splendid citizen – etc. – Link Nolte, Anahuac rice farmer. He heads the fish frying committee.”
“Of course, you have to catch the fish before you can fry them, so another stalwart of the day is that esteemed gentleman, Grover Chambliss Sr., who is in charge of the procuring of all supplies. Brother Chambliss and his committee really have a job getting all those supplies together -- but I have every faith in my good fraternity brother, Grover Chambliss, and his committee.”
“The president of our fraternity – and let us drink to his health – in water, I guess –is the efficient Liberty-rice farmer banker – he discounts the weight of every fish, no doubt. J. M. Rich.”
“A spirit of the White Heron – and by spirits I still refer to water – is the widely known, Guy Cade Jackson, who is secretary of the fraternity. Judge Guy Cade knows not only the men, women, and children of the area by name -- but even the fish.”
Annie Gibson, Holly Bell, Eula Mendenhall, Mamie Troy,
Nettie Chambliss, Clara Harvey, Alma Wallace, Edna Steele,
Margie Thames, Bertha Woodridge ~ 1954
” If you taste a bit of paper along with your fish Saturday, don’t be alarmed, for the chairman of the serving committee is the cordial Mrs. Jimbo Wooldridge. And, of course, her husband, my ole friend Jimbo, is running for re-election as county and district clerk. So, Mrs. Wooldridge will naturally roll some of Jimbo’s campaign cards in with the fish batter. Jimbo is chairman of the reception committee, and while he will be friendly to all visitors, he’ll naturally save his poll tax grip for the homefolks.”
“Hey, here’s a brother I should have listed before, he’s Otis LaFour, chairman of the fish dressing committee. Of course, I never went in much for formality. I don’t care if my fish is wearing a tuxedo or not -- as long as it is fried crisp.”
“R. T. Pinchback, Jr., is chairman of the grounds committee – I guess he sees that none of us fraternity brothers walk off with the grounds.”
“Mrs. Betty Simonton is chairman of the registration committee. And I know Mrs. Simonton will get all the names too. I am glad that they didn’t sign that task to Ox Hinman or Joe Lagow, both dignified citizens of Anahuac now, and both ex-football stars from Rice. Naturally, neither could have read the registrations after they got them. Ole Ox is chairman of the airplane committee. Ox is really up in the world -- up in airplanes all the time. In that way, his firm, Brown & Root, can’t ever reach him to call him on the carpet.”
“All the brothers head committees – Joe Ezer on water, ice, and tables (anything to go with that water and ice, Joe?) R. N. Dugas, the picture show man, the signs committee chairman; Liberty’s Jake Smyth, publicity; G. AT. Penick, gas equipment; even The Chronicle’s Chester Rogers, chairman of the photographers – and on. All those who are not chairman do the work, of course.”
“It’ll be a great day. And, oh yes, the Goose Creek Navy, as always, will send its fleet. They’ll fire 21 guns in all. I don’t care about that as long as they don’t fire any of those cooks frying that fish at hospitable Anahuac, Saturday.”
Former Rice football star, and Anahuac resident, Ox Hinman organized the so-called “Air Wing” of the Fraternity, lining up pilots from across the state to fly to the Chambers County Airport. Hinman welcomed 122 planes in 1955. In 1956 there were 134.
In June of 1954 it was said, “The gathering of planes belonging to members of the Fraternity of the White Heron each Fish Fry Day at Anahuac is the largest single day’s aggregation of airplanes in the nation and is exceeded in numbers only by the national convention of the Flying Farmers.”
From a 20 June 1952 article: Garland 'Ox' Hinman of LaPorte, squadron commander of the air wing of the Fraternity of the White Herons, paid an aerial visit to Baytown early Friday morning.
He flew low over the city in his plane that has two big herons painted on the sides. His trip was to publicize the annual White Heron Fish Fry at Anahuac, Saturday.
Admiral Thad Felton and the Goose Creek Navy will make the trip to Anahuac in at least 10 boats tomorrow. At least a dozen planes from the Baytown and LaPorte area plus scores of autos will make the trip.
Some 5,000 persons are expected for the annual fish fry, called the nation's largest.
The Goose Creek Navy
Excerpt from the 29 Sept 1952 edition of the Baytown Sun.
The Goose Creek Navy was organized in 1947 under the command of Admiral Thad Felton. The first maneuver made by the Goose Creek Navy was a cruise to Fort Anahuac to attend the White Heron Fraternity in June of 1947. Only one boat and seven admirals made the trip. On the 1952 “maneuver” 11 boats and 85 Admirals made the cruise.
The Navy’s primary purpose is to build good will for the city of Baytown and is the brainchild of Admiral Thad Felton, who when he was president of the Baytown Chamber of Commerce, decided that some such vehicle was needed for that purpose. He also felt that some means of preserving the name “Goose Creek” should be provided as, at that time, Baytown, Goose Creek, and Pelly were in the process of consolidations and the old city of Goose Creek faced extinction.
It is also the purpose of the Goose Creek Navy “to protect and defend the shores of the ship channel, Galveston Bay, and Trinity Bay, from the San Jacinto River to Fort Anahuac, from foreign and or federal encroachment or invasion.”
Unknown, Myrtie Hall, Mrs Martin Grigsby,
Bertha Louise Barrow Willcox, Waurine Pepper, Unknown.
Back, L-R: Ulla Ray Hinman, Katherine Jackson,
Esther Lou Townsend, Jewell Sheffield, Annie Gibson,
Bertha Wooldridge, Front: Tolbert Devillier, Holly Bell,
Eula Mendenhall, Bertha Ezer, Mamie Troy.
Allaray Hinman, Unknown, Dorothy Hill, Lucy McAllister, Hilma Wilcox,
Loda Gibson, Catherine Jackson.
Eula Mendenhall, Betty Arnold, Paula White, Mrs. White, Rilda Kirkham, Unknown, Edna Steele, Margie Thames, Margaret Ezer, Margie Nelson, Rena Nelson.
Irene Herrod, Holly Bell, Eula Mendenhall, Alice Hughes,
Florence McWhorter, Alma Wallace, Maggie Nelson, Clora Harvey.
Margaret Ezer, Thelma Fannett, Maggie Nelson, Margie Nelson,
Mrs. J M Rich, Paula White, Eula Mendenhall, Annie Gibson.
Bertha Ezer, Mrs. White, Villa Mae Williams, Mary Jean Abshier, Mrs. Naylo,
Alpha Nolte, Evelyn Evans, Eula Mendenhall.
Link Nolte, Jesse Moss, Corwin G. Mendenhall, A. R. Merritt, Bub Turner, Red Cardwell.
Back L-R: Mary Lou Tierney, Mrs White, Thelma Fannett,
Eula Mendenhall, Thelma Martin Front: Gladys Crumples,
Annie Gibson, Dorothy Hughes, Kathleen Boyt.
Jesse Moss, Link Nolte, Calvin Walker, C. G. Mendenhall, Ray Merritt
Wilma Merritt, Lavergne Nelson, Ann, Mrs. White, Mrs. Keeling,
Evelyn Evans, Eula Mendenhall, Maggie Nelson, Annie Gibson,
Bettie Chambliss, Ivey McAllister.