Grit, Gumption & Grace

TEXAS INDEPENDENCE DAY 2021: Historian Ruth Crawford offers a glimpse in the life of enduring spirit of the Texas pioneer women of Bosque County

As we celebrate the 185th birthday of the Texas, the history of the Lone Star State conjures up frontier images of solitary riders on the plains, brawls in saloons, and an occasional wagon train – led by men. But behind every good man there stood a great woman. Without the women, the West would have never developed further.

Embodying this strength and spirit of the pioneer woman, the following quote serves as the inscription on the base of Texas Woman’s University’s Pioneer Woman – the historic symbol for TWU, a university known for being a pioneer in the education of women.

Marking a trail in a pathless wilderness, pressing forward with unswerving courage, she met each untried situation with a resourcefulness equal to the need. With a glad heart she brought to her frontier family her homeland’s cultural heritage. With delicate spiritual sensitiveness she illumined the dullness of routine and the loneliness of isolation with beauty and with awareness of her value to civilization. Such was the pioneer woman, the unsung saint of the nation’s immortals.

Jessie H. Humphries, Dean of Texas Woman’s University

The statue faces westward, wearing a blouse and full skirt, her long hair pulled back and secured at the nape of her neck, striding off into the unknown, with only her gumption, grit and grace to ensure her survival.

Picture a young woman, sitting in the dark on a crude wooden stool facing the door of a one-room wood cabin, two young children sleeping under her grandmother’s quilt. Hair tied back with a cloth ribbon, sweat beads in her neck, her fingernails dirty from harvesting some corn, her apron covered in soot smears from cooking over an open fire. In one hand she is holding a fussing baby, in the other she has the shotgun ready, and at her feet a skinning knife and her daddy’s revolver.

She strains her ears for any sound, her eyes scan for any movement outside. She hopes the horses and cows will alert her to anything out of the ordinary. The hunting dog is away with her husband and eldest son. A coyote howls at the moon. The noise of crickets seems deafening.

And in the stifling, oppressive heat in the dead of night, she thinks of their former home, the family they left behind, the treasured heirlooms sold off, the sanctuary she found in her church, her dearest sewing group, the weekly visits to the mercantile. She was surrounded by things and people that made her happy, things she loved. Until her husband said, “Pack the wagon, we’re going to Texas.”

Why would her husband want to go to Texas, of all places? For the opportunity to start over and maybe a better future; maybe to escape an old grudge? Some came to escape debt. Others came to speculate on increased land prices with all that immigration

Anglo-Americans from Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, packed up their belongings, left everything behind and their newly-issued land grant titles and headed out West. Settlement managers, or empresarios, such as Stephen F. Austin, Green DeWitt, Haden Edwards, and Martin de León, found the areas around the Brazos, Colorado, and Trinity Rivers to set up the first colonies.

But, as Charles Goodnight quoted one Pioneer woman in Palo Pinto County: Texas is great for men and cattle, but hell on horses and women! And this woman’s new home was a one-room log cabin much like the Olsen cabin at the Bosque Museum – no water close at hand, just searching for firewood to cook or to heat the home was a major chore. One day, her husband might build out to make it a two- building structure cabin with a middle breezeway – a "dogtrot" cabin.

She, like other women pioneers had to have great strength of character, courage, resolve, resilience and ingenuity. Without these qualities, they could not survive the harsh frontier in the Heart of Texas.

And with that, there was the strange contradiction. On one hand, the women at the time were completely dependent on their men. In Texas, these women were not allowed to vote, couldn’t transact business without male assistance, could not go into a bank or the courthouse unless accompanied by a man. Yet, on the other hand, they were independent overseers of farms and family while husbands were out hunting, chasing Indians or waging war against Mexicans or later the Yankees.

Whereas the Tonkawas generally lived in peaceful coexistence with the new settlers – only stealing livestock from time to time, it the Comanche the young woman was anticipating. Recently, the raiding hordes were coming down from the North wreaking havoc and suffering.

She, like the other pioneer women, was expected to hold down the homestead during Indian raids or other threats, protecting harvest, livestock and family, with guns and ammo. The women bled, sweated, and cried; they managed in hardships.

The women lost children at childbirth, to disease, famine, being killed or kidnapped by Indians and. They lost their husbands to wars and Indian expeditions. And on that lonely night, the young woman waited for her husband and son to return home.

But if the husband did not come home, marriage to another man was often the only way to survive in this frontier. Sarah Creath, for example, in her lifetime married McSherry, Hibbins, Stinnett and Howard – not because she flitted from one to the other, but for pure survival and protection of her babies –  more about this pioneer heroine later.

For the very earliest settlers in Bosque County, the nearest supplies were in Waco Village. Anything else was produced, made and developed at home.

And with all the daily chores and tribulations, the women started the building blocks of any new settlement - they also formed schools and churches. And out of necessity, without a doctor nearby, they learned general nursing skills.

Bosque Historical Commission archivist and former Bosque Collection manager Ruth Crawford presented histories of strong, resilient Bosque County Pioneer women that helped shape the county in its early days during a recent Bosque County Genealogical Society meeting.

Among others, Crawford highlighted the lives and times of women like Elizabeth Barnes, Nancy Scrutchfield, Mary Ann Mabry who were among the first women to settle in Bosque County, around the 1850s. Their chronicles of their lives lay hidden in diaries, letters, court deeds and census records in the county archives and museums.

“I loved to uncover their stories,” Crawford said. “I felt they became like friends. I got to learn their personalities through their letters.”

“If I could be anybody else in life, I would want to be her,” Crawford said of Elizabeth Barnes. “She had such an interesting life, making a home in the wilderness, without an established supply or mail chain, dealing with Indian raids, protecting the home when the men were away. She was such a go-getter.”

Elizabeth Barton – Naturally Astute

Born Elizabeth Oakes, her husband Albert Barton moved the family to Bosque Territory in 1850 on Steele Creek, across the Brazos from Fort Graham. There, Albert established a ferry, which was a vital link on “the Old Military Road” between Fort Graham and Fort Gates. The road was an important trade route in the Heart of Texas.

The Brazos River was prone to “rises” – sudden surges of water. One tragic day, a record rise capsized the ferry, spilling Albert, Elizabeth’s young brother, Pleasant Haney Everett, another passenger, a wagon and team of mules into the raging river. Pleasant managed to grab Elizabeth’s young brother, and get him to safety. But Albert drowned, his body never recovered from the surging water mass, leaving Elizabeth a widow.

Instead of giving up and packing up, Elizabeth stayed on the farm, raising her two children Josh and Tea, selling corn to the soldiers at Fort Graham.

In 1852, she remarried dashing, young Texas Ranger Robert Samuel Barnes, who was often away fighting hostiles and establishing Bosque County. In the course of their marriage, Elizabeth gave birth to eight more children – Andrew, Samuel, William, Jeff, Ann, Mollie, Sallie, and Robert Barnes.

The youngest child, Robert, was born after his father's death in 1865. Elizabeth also raised a granddaughter, Roberta, daughter of Tea. Tea died in 1880, leaving the infant.

Their home was located across from the fort, which was also a trade center for local tribes. One morning while doing laundry, she saw a friendly band of Indians pass by the house. One squaw with a papoose took quite an interest in the baby resting in a basket. After the Indians left, one of the older children yelled, “Momma,this ain’t our baby.”

Within seconds, Elizabeth grabbed the shotgun, and the Indian baby, told the older children to stay put, and marched off in the direction of the Indians. Showing her gumption and grit, Elizabeth returned with the correct baby sometime later.

After Robert was killed at the Battle of Dove Creek, Elizabeth used his pension money to build a rock house in 1888. A stone in one of the chimneys bore that date.

[Editors Note: The Battle of Dove Creek was a small engagement during the American Civil War that took place January 8, 1865, along Dove Creek in what is now southwest Tom Green County, Texas. Texan soldiers under Confederate captains Henry Fossett and S. S. Totten, misunderstanding which tribe occupied a discovered camp, attacked a tribe of peaceful Kickapoo Indians and were badly beaten by an organized defense.]

Soon after, the railroad received right-of-way through her property. As part of the right-of-way agreement, shrewd Elizabeth insisted that the train stop close to her home, and negotiated free passage on the trains for the remainder of her life. Imagine, she was able to ride a train to Waco!

Another story includes an unidentified party of Indians raiding the area, taking much livestock, including Elizabeth’s horses, which grazed on open range near her home. Instead of leaving it at that, she filed a suit against the Comanche tribe for stealing 13 head of horses, with a value of $40 per head, and $25 per head of colts. She died in 1899, before the case was settled. However, her sons were eventually awarded $520 from the Comanche tribe.

Elizabeth lays buried in the Kopperl Cemetery. Although neither of her husbands are buried there, all six of Elizabeth's sons are buried close to their mother.

Nancy Scrutchfield – Earliest Bosque County Settlers

John and Lucretia Profitt moved their family to Milam County in 1851. Born in Missouri in 1835, their daughter Nancy Profitt also married a dashing young ranger at just 16. Nancy and her husband Lowry Hampton Scrutchfield first lived in one of the earliest log homes built in Waco Village

Lowry worked as a surveyor with George Erath. While surveying the beautiful river valley in what was then Bosque Territory, Lowry decided to settle along the Bosque River on the John C Pool survey. The Scrutchfield’s became some of the very earliest settlers in the territory, and lived in a home of hand-hewn logs.

Lowry continued surveying of the Bosque and Brazos Rivers while defending against hostile Indians, served as Indian scout for Texas Rangers, and later served as the first county judge, which kept him away from home much of the time. Nancy was left with a trusted farm hand to clear the land, plant crops, raise livestock, and care for children.

Let me remind you, there were few Anglos passing through this country, much less trying to make something of the land. So, Nancy had no other female to “gossip” with on the porch. Her nearest neighbors lived three miles away, which going by wagon was a half day’s journey. She only had the occasional time with her husband, everyday work along with a farm hand, and children everywhere.

George Erath and Texana were born by the time Bosque County was formed in 1854. Emily was born in 1855. Tom and Nancy Pool, orphaned family members, came to live with the Scrutchfield’s in the same year. Later, Lucretia and Mary Juno joined the family.

Can you imagine the amount of tedious and back-breaking daily chores? Food that had been harvested was preserved, bread was baked, and butter was churned. Additionally, wood was chopped, eggs gathered, water hauled. In Nancy’s free time – usually in the wee, quiet hours of night – she spun wool, knitted and sewed clothing for the children.

At one time, a “friendly Indian tribe” who camped nearby happened to think Nancy’s turkey eggs were a delicacy. So many eggs were “borrowed,” there was no turkey for Thanksgiving that year.

In spite of all this labor, Nancy raised her family with a strong, kind spirit, always helping newcomers get adjusted to the new land.

In December 1864, Lowry was called to go on patrol for a marauding Indian tribe. His trek took him away from home for over a year, ending in the Battle of Dove Creek. Nancy and several other women were left to tend and defend their own home-fronts, not knowing the fate of the men until the survivors returned.

Mary Gregg Wallis writes in her memories of her grandmother the following statements:

“My uncle George was a great hunter and would often bring a deer or wild turkey from his hunting trips. At one time he dressed the skin of the deer, making a soft chamois which grandmother made into a vest with her perfect button holes and pearl buttons. He never tired of showing it off to his friends, never failing to say his mother was the artist who designed and made every stitch of it.

“How there was time and strength for the many things she accomplished is only explained by her great courage and perseverance.”

The Bullock museum states about the daily grind on the frontier: “The "white gold" cotton and the staple corn crops had to be planted, tended and harvested. Chickens, pigs, cows and goats required care. Daily food had to be hunted and caught.

The frontier provided no linen or lace, so women sewed tanned deer hide into buckskin clothing. Those lucky few who had managed to strap a spinning wheel onto their wagons before leaving their U.S. homes spun their own cotton to make less pungent and heavy clothing. Any kind of trade with the other far-flung Texas settlements required weeks of hazardous travel on dirt track roads.

Settlers organized home schooling and church services, although both were haphazard and occasional experiences. For most settlers, rest and recreation, like coffee and cigarettes, were usually in short supply but greatly enjoyed when available.”

Sarah Creath – Four-Time Widow

If ever there was a true Texas heroine, Sarah Creath certainly represents just that. Her life is like something you read about in a novel, almost larger than life, facing seemingly insurmountable trials and tribulations.

Sarah Creath was born in Illinois in 1810. She married her first husband John McSherry (the “Mc” was dropped later) at the age of 14, and they headed off into adventure when they immigrated to Texas. The couple settled in DeWitt’s Colony, with the nearest neighbor 10 miles away. Her first born son, Joseph Lewis Sherry was born in 1829.

In that same year, John went for water and was killed and scalped by Indians, while Sarah tried to defend herself and the baby. After the Indians left, Sarah spent frightful hours alone, not knowing what to do. Fortunately, John McCrabb came and rescued her and the baby, delivering them to a neighboring family. Sarah and Joseph lived with this family until she married second husband John Hibbins.

When she learned of her father’s death, Sarah went back to Illinois to visit her family, and she brought her brother George back to Texas with her. John met them in an ox cart at Columbia on the Brazos.

But the journey home was to be a tragic one. John and Sarah with their infant son, accompanied by Joseph Sherry and George Creath started home on the old Bahia road. They got within 16 miles of their home when they were brutally attacked by Indians, an attack John and George would not survive. Sarah and her two sons were taken captive. This all took place around March 1, 1836. Sarah was but 25 years old.

During the grueling, four-day trek back to the Indian camp, Sarah and her son were beaten and starved. The young mother’s milk dried up. The distressed, crying baby was ripped from Sarah’s arms and killed – its head brutally smashed against a tree.

Sarah finally managed to escape, making the heart-wrenching decision to leave Joseph behind. Him being a healthy young lad, she hoped and prayed the Indians would keep him alive as they wanted to put him up for ransom. Sarah crept along the Colorado River banks, finally hiding within a herd of cattle. A friendly couple found her and took her in. They found a band of rangers willing to rescue Joseph and restore him to his mother’s care. Can you just imagine the anguish of the young woman during these trials and tribulations?

Not having much time to catch her breath, or grieve, or heal her wounds, she became part of the Run-away Scrape – the name applied to the flight from their homes when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna began his attempted conquest of Texas in February 1836.

In the time she left her home, Sarah married husband number three, Claiborne Stinnett in 1837. Claiborne became sheriff of Gonzales County. He too would wind up prematurely dead. On a return trip from the coast – the closest place to buy supplies – he was attacked by two robbers. Only the overturned wagon was found with the oxen missing.

His fate remained a mystery until one of the robbers confessed to another prisoner in a Mexican jail around 1842. Claiborne’s remains were found close to Victoria. Once again, Sarah found herself alone with her 11-year-old son.

She married husband number four, Texas Ranger Phillip Howard, in 1839. They moved to Halletsville, after several more harrowing experiences with Indians.

Phillip served as Lavaca County Judge until 1848. Phillip had bought property that had been part of the Nashville Colony along the Brazos River – now Bosque County. In 1855, the Howard family moved near Meridian, where Sarah could finally find peace and happiness, watching her family grow. Three daughters were born to the Howard’s in Bosque County – Eugenie, Minta and Susan.

Sarah lived out her final years in Bosque County. Sarah Creath McSherry Hibbins Stinnett Howard died March 28, 1870. But sadly, no one knows or can verify her final resting spot. Her descendents would love to place a gravestone or perhaps an historical marker in honor of this remarkable woman.

Christine Furuseth – Fearless Norwegian Hospitality

Seventeen-year-old Miss Christine Furuseth came with her family from Norway to Texas in 1852, settling in Van Zandt County. She had accompanied her aunt Anne Eriksdatter Brunstad to tend to six children ranging from age six months to nine years during their journey aboard the sail ship Arendal from Romedal, Norway to the United States.

Besides her parents, Christine left a brother and four sisters – Erik, Karen, Syverine, Karoline (Kari) and Anne Pauline. Later, Karen, Karoline and Anne Pauline followed their older sister Christine to America.

Christine would turn out to become a remarkable woman in many ways. A group of Norwegian men led by Cleng Peerson scouted the Bosque Valley, and the Brunsted’s decided to move their family with others to the beautiful hills overlooking the river.

Christine married Hendrick Dahl, who traded a brood mare for the land on which he and Christine built a log cabin as one of the 17 Norwegian families to settle in Bosque County. She had no knowledge of this new land, did not speak English or know the customs.

But Christine did not live in fear in her home in the west part of the county. Instead, she reached out to others. Besides feeding nine children, she fed new immigrants and neighbors. The local Indians left her alone, because on occasion she would feed them, trade blankets and quilts.

Hendrick fought in the Civil War before returning to Norway for a visit, persuading others to follow him to Bosque County. In his absence, Christine and the children did much of the work on the homestead. Christine sat at her spinning wheel until late hours of the night, and used the days for weaving and making clothing for her family. She used herbs and bark to get the coloring for dying her thread.

After Hendrick died at 45, Christine continued to manage the farm, raise the children, and she remained a caring neighbor. Christine, member of our Saviors Lutheran Church in Norse, served as president of the Ladies Aid, and was always there to lend a hand.

On certain days, Christine loaded her wagon and went to Clifton, where she sold eggs, corn and other items. She traveled alone with horse and buggy throughout the community seeking after the welfare of both her family and friends, bringing cheer and comfort wherever she went.

This she continued to do until shortly before her death on March 27, 1910, having reached the age of 75 years, seven months, and 27 days. She was known and "Madame" Dahl by her friends and associates, and affectionately called “Grandma” Dahl by many besides her grandchildren.

A tribute by Axel Arnenson said, “There was the Dahl farm which stands in the memory of old folks as the highest expression of cordial hospitality; it was the gathering point of friends and kindred for miles around. Everyone was welcome. They came on horseback and by wagon loads. The mystery is how there was always an abundance of the profuse table built under an arbor. The Dahl gatherings improved good cheer and a festive mood that tided over isolation and monotony.

Lucinda Everett – Bosque Pioneer Hospitality

Another pioneer woman famed for her hospitality was Lucinda Everett. She was also one of the earliest women to settle in Bosque Territory, a little northeast of Valley Mills. She opened her house to many travelers on their way up the territory.

J.C. Frazier was hired by the U.S. Army to deliver horses to Fort Graham around 1850, and he wrote about Mrs. Everett’s generosity and her family when he passed by their home. He was given a place to rest, fresh water for himself and the horses, and served a good meal. The Everett family supplied him with milk, eggs, butter, chickens and corn meal for their trip on to the fort.

Lucinda was also known to welcome all new settlers coming through the territory with a hot meal and a friendly place to bed down for the night.

Her son, Pleasant Haney, fought at the Battle of Dove Creek. She died in 1867 at Valley Mills.

Caroline Sedberry – Judge’s Wife

In the days just before the formation of Bosque County, William Rush and Caroline Alexander Sedberry settled at the junction of Meridian Creek, where they built a rock house.

It didn’t take long for William to become very active in the organization and politics of young Bosque County. He was elected the second county judge, then to the Texas State Legislature, and he served in the 15th Texas Regiment as 2nd Lt. in the Confederate Army. He lost his life in a battle in Arkansas. Caroline also lost a son in the war, and another son lost an arm.

Caroline was left to raise the other children alone. She drove her buggy to Meridian and Clifton to sell produce and eggs, and to bring back supplies. She raised very successful young men and women, with her youngest son becoming a medical doctor. The letters that William Rush wrote to his wife during the war are found in the Kilgore Collection at Texas A&M - Corpus Christi.

Louisa McCurry – First Woman Wed In Bosque County

The first woman wed in Bosque County was Louisa McCurry, who married Frank Gandy on June 13, 1854.

Her father, William McCurry was appointed by the State of Texas as Locating Commissioner of the newly formed county, built the first courthouse, and bought the one of the first town lots auctioned by the county on July 4, 1854. Her son J. M. was the first child born in Meridian.

Linda Weir, Honorary Member Bosque County Historical Commission, is a direct descendant of Frank and Louisa Gandy.

Martha Mabry – Never Complained

Martha Mabray was the first white child born in Bosque County to Jasper N. and Mary Ann Mabray. Jasper was the first County Clerk.

Martha married Thomas Jefferson Randall, who served as County Treasurer, and their son Homer served as Treasurer, and later as Sheriff. Homer married Mary Collier, they had one daughter, Martha. Martha married George Brooks, who served as County Judge from 1952-56.

Sarah Cutbirth – Every Inch The Lady

Sarah Cutbirth and James Mabray were married under a live oak tree in Bosque County in 1856. James was instrumental in the forming of this county, serving as the first elected County Commissioner. Sarah was left to the everyday running of the home-place and rearing two small children.

Like so many, James was killed at the Battle of Dove Creek in 1864, and Sarah and the children were left to their own devices. In 1869, Sarah married John Thomas, a widower with two children of his own. The family merged very successfully.

“Thomas' wife, every inch a lady, welcomed me with as much cordiality as if she were mistress of a mansion,” Noah Smithwick, around 1830. “The whole family were dressed in buckskin, and when supper was announced, we sat on stools around a clapboard table, upon which were arranged wooden platters. Beside each platter lay a fork made of a joint of sugar cane. And for cups, we had little wild cymlings [gourds], scraped and scoured until they looked as white and clean as earthernware, and the milk with which the cups were filled was as pure and sweet as a mortal ever tasted.”

Someone once wrote about Sarah: “Mrs. Thomas was a noble woman and one whose pathway was blighted by deep sorrow and grief, but she did not murmur nor complain. She was never able to accomplish great heroic events, but she did her full duty as a noble Christian mother and lived the life of a true heroine in this world of sorrow and suffering.”

This could have been written about every single pioneer woman, that stood by their men, and were determined to make a good life for their families in the newly established counties in Central Texas, in spite of the dangers and hardships they faced. Each and every one is a heroin and deserves to be remembered just as much as any founding father mentioned in the history books.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS & courtesy of BOSQUE COLLECTION & THE PORTAL TO TEXAS HISTORY

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