The Thing That Comes in the Night

A story, circulated since the 1830s in South Central Texas, contains enough truth to merit a Texas Historical Marker. Residents along the Navidad River bottom in Lavaca and Jackson counties began seeing strange footprints along the riverbank, and at the same time, they began missing small amounts of sweet potatoes and corn. On moonlit nights half the food in their cabins disappeared even though an intruder had to step over sleeping dogs. Tools vanished, only to be returned, brilliantly polished and sharpened. In fall around hog-killing time families stopped fattening hogs because a fat hog was invariably replaced with a scrawny substitute. Valuables such as gold or watches were never taken although they were plainly visible when the food disappeared.

Everyone speculated about “it.” Slaves believed it was a ghost and called it “The Thing That Comes.” Settlers, finding two sets of footprints, believed one of the intruders to be a man and the other a smaller companion, perhaps a woman or child.

Many people organized search parties trying to capture the “Wild Man of the Navidad.” Sometimes they found his camp among a thick growth of trees, but he never returned to the site while the pursuers waited.

Texas folk author J. Frank Dobie in his book Tales of Old-Time Texas concluded that the phantom figure had to be a woman because several well-documented sightings reported that “it” had long, flowing hair and facial features more similar to a woman. Dobie writes of a near capture in 1846 during an intense search when a rider heard rustling in the brush just before “it” ran in the light of the moon onto the open prairie.  “She ran directly across the prairie in the direction of the main forest. The man nearest her rode a fleet horse and it needed all the speed it had to keep up with the object in pursuit. As the figure neared the dark woods, the rider was able to throw his lasso. But, as the rope neared the woman, the horse shied away and the lasso felt short. The figure darted into the woods never to be seen again.”

Dobie said the rider claimed that the creature had long, flowing hair that trailed down almost to its feet and it wore no clothing. Her body seemed to be covered with short, brown hair.

“As she fled to the woods, she dropped a club to the ground that was about five feet long and polished to a wonder,” Dobie said.

Finally, in 1851, with the help of dogs trained to hunt down runaway slaves, local residents following their baying hounds found a black man in a tree. He wore no clothes and spoke no English. Some accounts say he was put in jail where he remained for about six months until a sailor wandered through who was familiar with the native dialect of the captive’s African tribe.

The captive said his father, a chief of their tribe, sold his son into slavery for the price of a knife and tobacco. The new slave and a companion escaped after their transport ship reached Texas. They settled in the Navidad River bottom because of the abundance of wildlife and fruit. His companion died from exposure.

The captured man, whom they called Jimbo, was sold back into slavery and lived in Victoria and Refugio counties. Freed after the Civil War, he reportedly died in 1884.

J. Frank Dobie writes, “Of course all of this happened many years ago and in the telling, you can always guarantee some build up in the information will take place.  If these things did happen, I cannot explain how.”

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Victoria, A Mexican Colony

Soon after winning independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico began issuing empresarial grants, contracts allowing men to bring settlers into Mexico’s northernmost state of Texas. Ironically, of the forty-one empresarial grants issued between 1821 and 1832, only one went to a

Don Martin De Leon

Mexican. Don Martín De León and his wife Doña Patricia De León were wealthy descendants of aristocratic Spanish families who had immigrated to New Spain in 1750. De León received his empresarial grant in April 1824 to settle forty-one Mexican families “of good moral character” on the lower Guadalupe River. He had been in Texas since 1805, operating ranches along and south of the Nueces River and driving huge herds of cattle to market in New Orleans.

De León’s land lay southwest of Stephen F. Austin’s grant, the first and most successful of the colonies. De León named his settlement Nuestra Señora Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria, after the first president of the Republic of Mexico. The families began arriving in 1824 and received a town lot, one league (4,228 acres) of land for grazing, and a labor (177 acres) for farming. Upon completion of the colonization, the empresario received five leagues.

One of De León’s sons-in-law platted the town of Victoria, and the empresario designated the main street “La Calle de los Diez Amigos” (The Street of Ten Friends) for the ten homes of citizens who were charged with the welfare of the settlement. Three of the ten friends were his sons-in-law and two were his sons. Not all the colonists were Mexicans; sixteen families, primarily Irish immigrants, also settled in the colony.

A devout Catholic, De León brought in priests from La Bahía (present Goliad), Nacogdoches, and San Antonio until the founding in late 1824 of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The colonists built a school and a fort, organized a militia, and started a courier service with its Austin Colony neighbor.

De León’s five-league ranch, which spread along Garcitas Creek in present southeastern Victoria County, probably included the land where the Frenchman La Salle built Fort St. Louis in 1685. Many claim DeLeón’s cattle brand, which he had

De Leon Cattle Brand

registered in 1807, was the first in Texas. It consisted of a connected E and J meaning “Espiritu de Jesús, the brand used by Jesuits for hundreds of years and adopted by the De León family in Spain.

From the beginning, De León, a wealthy and cultured man, looked with disdain at the Americans in surrounding colonies. His attitude and the preferential treatment he received as a Mexican citizen added to tensions among the neighboring settlements. The boundaries of his colony were not clearly drawn and in disputes with other colonies, the Mexican courts usually sided with De León. The ensuing squabbles led to hatred and mistrust between De León and Green DeWitt whose colony at Gonzales lay just to the north. And De León tried unsuccessfully to have the government annul the grant for an Irish colony to the south.

De León died at age 68 in the 1833 cholera epidemic, leaving his wife and ten children an estate of about a half million dollars. His sons completed the settlement, which made the De León and the Austin colonies the only two in Texas to fulfill their empresarial agreement.

The family members were strong Federalists and as troubles brewed with the Centralists government under the dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna, the De Leóns sided with the Texans who supported independence. The De Leóns took part in all the plans for the revolution; they served in the army or helped in other ways to aid the Texas cause. They contributed enough to the war that when Gen. José de Urrea occupied Victoria after the massacre at Goliad, the De Leóns were treated as traitors.

Despite their support, after Texas won independence, Anglo-Americans began coming into Texas looking for land and charging the De Leóns as Mexican sympathizers. After the murder of one son and the severe injury of another, the family, one of the wealthiest in Texas, left all behind and fled to safety in New Orleans. Three years later, the oldest son Don Fernando De León returned to Victoria and spent the remainder of his life in unsuccessful litigation for the return of the family’s property.

In 1972 a Texas historical marker was placed in Victoria’s Evergreen Cemetery honoring the De León family. Attendees at the dedication included Patricia De León, great-granddaughter of the empresario, and Dr. Ricardo Victoria, great-grandson of President Guadalupe Victoria for whom the town is named.

Waco’s Bridge Over the Brazos

After the Civil War, Waco was a struggling little town of 1,500 nestled on the west bank of the Brazos River. No bridges crossed the Brazos, the longest body of water in Texas. During floods, days and even weeks passed before travelers as well as cattle on the Shawnee and Chisholm trails could safely cross the river. Although money was scarce and times were hard during recovery from the war, a group of businessmen formed Waco Bridge Company and secured a twenty-five-year contract to construct and operate the only toll bridge for five miles up and down the river.

John A. Roebling and Son of New York designed the 475-foot structure, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world at that time. Waco’s bridge served as the prototype for Roebling’s much-longer Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883.

The fledgling Waco company ran into problems from the beginning. Work started in the fall of 1868 with costs, originally estimated at $40,000, growing to $140,000. The investors continued to issue new stock offerings. The nearest railroad stopped at Millican, over 100 miles away, which meant that coils of wire and cable, steel trusses, and custom-made bolts and nuts had to be hauled to Waco by ox wagon over rutted, sandy roads. The contractor floated cedar trees down the Brazos for shoring up the foundation in the unstable riverbed. Local businesses made the woodwork and the bricks.

The bridge opened to traffic in January 1870 with tolls of ten cents for each animal and rider; loose animals and foot passengers crossed for five cents each; and sheep, hogs, or goats crossed for three cents each. It was not long until residents on the far side of the river began complaining about the tolls. Businessmen who used the facility joined them in their protests.

Landowners along the river began allowing cattlemen, travelers, and local citizens to cut across their property to reach fords on the river. The uproar increased for the next nineteen years, until September 1889, when the Waco Bridge Company sold the structure to McLennan County for $75,000 and the county gave the bridge to the city.

Vehicles continued using the bridge, without paying a toll, until 1971 when it was converted to a pedestrian crossing. Today shaded parkland edges both sides of the river and the bridge enjoys a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and designation by a Texas Historical marker. In 2008 sculptor Robert Summers created “Branding Brazos,” the first of several bronze figures on the south side of the bridge that depict a trail boss driving longhorns on the Chisholm Trail.

Pompeiian Villa in Texas

Peristyle, Pompeiian Villa

The Pompeiian Villa, built in 1900 in Port Arthur, is a replica of a first-century Roman villa complete with a deep pink exterior, Doric columns, and ten rooms circling a grand peristyle. The unusual structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and bears a Texas

The Pompeiian Villa, Port Arthur

Historical Marker for its unusual design and because its heyday symbolizes an era of Texas history filled with surprising twists and turns.

The tale begins with Arthur Stilwell, an eccentric industrialist who, even as a child showed signs of unusual intuition. As a powerful businessman, he often raised eyebrows when he insisted on following a “hunch” when making decisions. Stilwell claimed a “hunch” convinced him to construct a railroad from the agricultural heartland of Kansas straight south for 600 miles to a protected inland harbor on the Texas coast. The problem with Stilwell’s port site was that there was no port there.

Stilwell believed his inland harbor would be spared the damaging Gulf storms and would sit at the terminus of a much more profitable route for Midwestern farmers to ship their grain exports than following the 1,400-mile trek to the East Coast.

A “hunch” also kept Stilwell from constructing his railroad to the already thriving seaport of Galveston. Instead, the Kansas City Southern Railroad reached Sabine Lake in 1898 where Stilwell’s Townsite Company had already laid out the village, built a hotel, a pleasure pier, grain elevators, and loading docks. Stilwell modestly named the new site Port Arthur. To allow access to ocean-going vessels he began the arduous task of digging a canal along Sabine Lake that connected with the Gulf of Mexico.

Port Arthur, protected inland harbor

Three wealthy investors––John “Bet A Million” Gates, who made his first fortune promoting barbed wire to skeptical Texas ranchers, Isaac Elwood an early developer of barbed wire, and James Hopkins, president of the Diamond Match Company––joined the railroad project and real estate development of Port Arthur. After delays and mishaps, Gates managed to shove Stilwell out of the Kansas City Southern Railroad just before it reached its terminus. Apparently, Stilwell didn’t get a “hunch” in time to stop Gate’s takeover.

The ambitious businessmen that had taken over Stilwell’s dream, decided the view overlooking Sabine Lake offered the ideal locale for winter cottages. Gates built a $50,000 Colonial-style mansion. Ellwood spent $50,000 building the Pompeiian Villa and then sold it to

John “Bet A Million” Gates home in Port Arthur

Hopkins, who wanted the lavish home for his wife and daughters.

Unfortunately, when Hopkins’ family arrived, they were greeted by the typical heat, humidity, and mosquito infestations of Southeast Texas winters. They refused to step from their carriage.

Meantime, Stilwell’s “hunch” about the best location for his railroad terminus proved accurate when the September 1900 hurricane struck Galveston only 60 miles down the coast, killing over 6,000 and devastating the thriving seaport known as the Wall Street of the Southwest.

On January 10, 1901, Spindletop the oil gusher, which ushered in the petroleum age, blew in a few miles north of Port Arthur. The little town sat perfectly positioned for the first oil pipeline in the world to deliver Spindletop crude oil to its dock facilities.

The oil boom brought vast wealth to the area and housing, especially handsome accommodations such as the Pompeiian Villa, were in high demand. James Hopkins rented his beautiful house to executives of Guffey Petroleum Company, present Gulf Oil. Then, in 1903 George M. Craig a local banker offered to purchase the Villa for ten percent of the stock in one of the new oil businesses called the Texas Company. Today, that stock in Texaco is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Craig family lived in the Villa for the next 43 years. When asked why he tossed away Texaco stock for the Villa, Craig explained that oil companies during the Spindletop oil boom were a dime-a-dozen––starting up and going broke overnight. Perhaps Craig didn’t listen to his “hunches” as well as Stilwell.

Home for Unwed Mothers

In a plan to redeem prostitutes and “combat the social evil of fallen women” in 1894, the Rev. J. T. Upchurch and his wife Maggie Mae organized the Berachah Rescue Society in Waco. One newspaper account claims he was “driven away [from Waco] by angry fellow Methodist church members who opposed his missionary work with prostitutes.” Regardless of the reason, the Upchurches moved in 1903 to the Dallas slums to continue their mission.

Portrait photograph of Rev. J.T. Upchurch and his wife, founders of the Berachah Rescue Work library.uta.edu

Portrait photograph of Rev. J.T. Upchurch and his wife, founders of the Berachah Rescue Work library.uta.edu

Sometime in 1903 Mrs. Upchurch’s father donated twenty-seven acres in Arlington between Dallas and Fort Worth, and the Upchurches opened the Berachah Industrial Home for homeless, often pregnant girls, from all over Texas and the surrounding states.

Although Upchurch held conservative theological views, his ideas for social reform were liberal for the time. His home, unlike others for unwed mothers, required that children remain with their natural parent and that the mothers learn to care for themselves and their children. He believed that there were no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents.

Upchurch published The Purity Journal for financial contributors who were primarily Dallas-Fort Worth businessmen. In the journal articles Upchurch wrote of the evils of brothels, saloons, and social corruption. His stories about the slums and the shelter included accounts of redemption and salvation. He also described the work being done at the home and detailed individual case histories. The residents worked in the home’s handkerchief factory, operated the press for the Purity Journal, and maintained the large gardens and orchards. Upchurch required all residents and staff to attend worship services on the premises and to refrain from using the phone on Sundays, eating pork, or consuming coffee, tea, or tobacco.

At the height of the operation in 1928, the home added an additional forty acres and expanded to at least ten buildings including a hospital/clinic, nursery, dormitory and dining room, handkerchief factory, school, auditorium, and barn. The home closed briefly in 1935 and Upchurch’s daughter and son-in-law Allie Mae and Reverend Frank Wiese reopened the facility as an orphanage that served until 1942.

Today the property is on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington, and the only physical reminder of the history of the site is the cemetery opened in 1904 that contains over eighty graves of unwed mothers, stillborn babies, children who died in measles epidemics, and employees and their children.

Berachah Home and Cemetery marker, Arlington, TX

Berachah Home and Cemetery marker, Arlington, TX

Lucy Kidd-Key, Tough Victorian Lady

Born into an old southern family in Kentucky in 1839 and given a genteel education in the classics and fine arts, the barely five-foot-tall Lucy Ann Thornton was a bundle of contradictions—a lady ahead of her time who believed women should be educated, also touted the need for women to hold home and family above all else.  After the financial burdens brought by the Civil War and her husband Dr. Henry Byrd Kidd’s long illness and death, Lucy was left with three children and mounting debts.  She immediately set about recouping the family’s financial stability by selling land she inherited from her husband and by bringing suit for $1,500 against a widow with three children who defaulted on a note due for some land.  Lucy won the suit.  Her husband had held part ownership in a pharmacy and to collect unpaid balances on customer accounts Lucy stationed a Negro servant at the front door of the pharmacy to halt anyone who owed money.  In this fashion, Lucy soon shored up the family finances.  She then took a job as presiding teacher of Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi, which with its outstanding music department, grew to be the largest college for women in the south.  During the ten years at Whitworth, she developed many of the principals for educating young women that she incorporated in later years.

Her experience led Methodist Bishop Charles B. Galloway in 1888 to recommend Lucy Kidd to bring life back to the North Texas Female College, which had been closed for a year. Despite her demand that the board of trustees come to her Sherman hotel for the interview, they were quite impressed with the educational credentials and recommendations from Mississippi’s governor and lieutenant governor.  They probably also thought that Mrs. Lucy Kidd, dressed in black widow’s weeds, would bring some of her personal wealth to the college since it was customary at that time for presidents of private schools to invest their personal funds in the institutions and to pay for construction of campus buildings.  In fact, Lucy Kidd had less than $10,000 and she carried it sewn into her underwear to keep anyone from knowing her financial status.

Lucy Kidd-Key

Lucy Kidd-Key

Lucy received a ten-year contract in April 1888 with the understanding that she would get the buildings back in shape and hire teachers to begin classes the following September.  She immediately contacted her old friend Maggie Hill with whom she had taught for years at Whitworth and offered her the position of presiding teacher at a salary of seventy-five dollars a month, payable only when the school started making money.  Lucy’s eighteen-year-old son Edwin withdrew from the University of Mississippi to become the secretary and financial agent for the college.  Her daughter Sarah, who had studied music in New Orleans, New York, and Paris, returned to teach voice at the school.  Lucy also hired four of the best teachers from Whitworth to join the faculty.

She moved her family, servants, and furnishings for the school in July and immediately began traveling to church sessions and camp meeting all over Texas and Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) to attract girls and money for the fall semester.  In later years Lucy shared stories of the hot, dirty, and exhausting horseback and stagecoach trips she took that summer and of the scary nights sleeping in remote cabins and listening to howling wolves.  She also told of one fund-raiser where she was preceded by a preacher who told the congregation that music and musical instruments were tools of the Devil.  Then, it was her turn to encourage attendance and financial help for her college that emphasized training in the arts, especially music.

By the time the North Texas Female College opened that September, Lucy Kidd had rounded up 100 students, including the daughter of the governor of Mississippi.  More challenges lay ahead.  The college consisted of only two buildings and when it rained, a creek running through the middle of the four-acre campus sent mud flowing into the front door of the main building.  By the end of the first year she used $850 of her own money to purchase four lots and had a three-story frame dormitory constructed, which was named the Annie Nugent Hall for the daughter of the gentleman who gave the first major gift of $10,000.  Over the next three decades the campus grew by another dozen buildings named for generous donors.  By 1892 the school boasted telephones, electricity, incandescent lights, zinc bathtubs, running water, and it was the first school in Texas to provide a nurse for its students. The library grew and the school became the only Southern women’s college with science laboratories and a $700 refracting telescope.

In 1892 Lucy’s marriage to Joseph Staunton Key, a beloved Methodist bishop, posed a name problem for Lucy who enjoyed an amazing career as Lucy Kidd.  She solved the dilemma in a daring way for the times; she hyphenated her last name to Kidd-Key. She was also ahead of her time in her educational philosophy.  Even as she insisted that “her girls” always be womanly, she believed women had brains and should think for themselves.  While she did not oppose women’s suffrage, she did not approve of the behavior of some of the women who were organizing for the vote.  She wrote that women should be able to take financial care of themselves and their children.  Yet, she insisted on surrounding herself with her notion of “womanly” things—flowers and lace in her home and wearing long, flowing dresses that extended into trains.

il_fullxfull.430594455_k2viTownspeople called the students’ excursions into town, “the string” because the girls, wearing their navy blue wool uniforms marched two by two with a chaperone at the head and another at the end of the line.  Austin College boys gathered at various sites along the route to watch the girls.

The students enjoyed tennis and basketball teams and calisthenics.  Lucy built a skating rink in the gym and in keeping with her ever-present eye for fund-raising, she opened the rink to Sherman residents.  When the kitchen staff went on strike in 1908 Lucy hired the older girls to run the kitchen and donate their wages to the new building fund. When the strike ended she treated the girls to an elegant dinner at a downtown hotel.

Lucy’s interest in music led to her search for financial backing that enabled her to hire the finest faculty from all over the world.  The Conservatory of Music auditorium attracted the top orchestras and singers of the day, including Victor Herbert, Campanini, the United States Marine Band, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  She insisted that students have instruments in their rooms, which led in 1910 to 120 pianos on campus.

Enrollment reached its peak in 1912 with more than five hundred students; however times were changing.  The were fewer girls who could afford or wanted to attend what President Roosevelt described as “the only finishing school west of the Mississippi.” Less-expensive state supported schools began operating and in 1915 Southern Methodist University in Dallas opened with financial support from the church that had previously gone to North Texas.  Lucy’s health began to decline as financial shortfalls forced her to pay faculty salaries herself.  The class of 1916 was the last to graduate as Lucy made plans for her retirement and to convert North Texas to an accredited two-year junior college.  On September 13, 1916, one week after the new school opened, Lucy Kidd-Key died.

Lucy’s memory was honored in 1919 when the school was named Kidd-Key College and Conservatory.  Her son and daughter continued running the school for several years before the depression brought new financial worries and at the end of the 1934-1935 term, Kidd-Key closed.

Today a Texas Historical marker is all that remains at the old school site but the legacy of Lucy Kidd-Key continued well into the twentieth century as her graduates made names for themselves as educators, writers, musicians, singers, and sculptors.

North Texas Female College

North Texas Female College

Saga of Sophia Suttonfield Aughinbaugh Coffee Butt Porter

Two official Texas historical markers sit on the shore of Lake Texoma, the enormous reservoir separating North Texas and Oklahoma.  One marker commemorates Holland Coffee’s Trading

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee's Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee’s Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

preston1Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma.  The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere.  The colorful lives of Sophia and Holland Coffee came together in 1837 probably while Coffee served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

Sophia was born a Suttonfield in 1815 on the remote military post at Fort Wayne (present Indiana).  As a beautiful dark-haired girl of seventeen, she ran away with Jesse Aughinbaugh who had been the headmaster at her school.  The twosome split up in Texas—Sophia said he deserted her—in 1836 and Sophia, who told many stories about herself, said she was the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Although there is no record of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia claimed she nursed the wounded general back to health, and they did remain friends.  Some historians believe she was a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved it to the Texas side of the river in 1837.  The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives.  Some historians think Coffee was out to make money and that, like many of the stories Sophia told of her exploits, not as many rescues took place as later generations have been led to believe.  Coffee did ransom a Mrs. Crawford and her two children by paying the Indians 400 yards of calico, a large number of blankets, many beads, and other items.  In later years, Mrs. John Horn wrote that when Comanches refused to trade for the release of her and her children, Holland wept and then gave her and the children clothing and flour.  Although he was accused by settlers of trading whiskey and guns to the Indians for cattle and horses they stole from the whites, his neighbors must have forgiven him because they elected him as their congressman.

14165345_114780775898Apparently Sophia and Holland met in Houston, one of the early capitals of the new republic.  When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf.  After several attempts to get a bill through the legislature that was more concerned with passing a Homestead Exemption Law, Sam Houston finally used his influence and the petition passed both houses with Holland Coffee as a member of the House of Representatives voting aye.

Coffee and Sophia took a 600-mile honeymoon on horseback through Anderson in Washington County, to Nacogdoches and along the Red River, stopping at several locales to attend balls in celebration of their marriage.  Coffee settled with his bride at his trading post, a popular place for Indians and for drovers heading north with their cattle.  Coffee’s wedding gift to Sophia was one-third league of land, about 1,476 acres—only the first of her many acquisitions.  In her later accounts of life on the Red River, Sophia said her nearest neighbor was twenty-five miles away and that to protect against Indian attack, Texas Rangers guarded their trading post, the horses had to be watched while slaves plowed the fields, and firearms were stacked nearby for easy access during preaching services.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Republic of Texas built a protective line of forts along the western edge of the frontier and connected them with a Military Road from Austin to Fort Johnson on the Red River near Coffee’s Trading Post.  The military base bought supplies, clothing, tobacco, gunpowder, and tools from Coffee, which injected new life into his business.  He opened a ferry at a crossing on the Red River and he and Sophia bought land and slaves.  New settlers arrived in the area, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots on his land for the new town of Preston.

In 1845-46 Holland Coffee hired Mormons traveling from Illinois to Central Texas to build Glen Eden, a home that expanded over the years into the most impressive house in North Texas and where Sophia entertained lavishly.

Glen Eden

Glen Eden

By her own account, she entertained such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists that either men were there), and Sam Houston.  Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory seemed always to be guests at Glen Eden.  Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846.  Some say it began when Sam Houston was scheduled to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffee’s at Glen Eden.  Coffee’s niece had married Charles A. Galloway who offended Sophia by commenting about her former relationship with Sam Houston.  She demanded that Coffee horsewhip his new nephew.  When Coffee refused to publically air the family problems, Sophia said she had rather be the widow of a brave man than the wife of a coward.  Coffee started an “Indian duel,” a fight to the death, with Galloway who killed Coffee with a Bowie knife.

A rich and charming widow of a brave man at age thirty-one, Sophia managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties.  On one of her regular visits to New Orleans to sell her cotton crop, she met Major George N. Butts, who returned with her to Glen Eden to manage the plantation. There is no record of a marriage in either Texas or Louisiana, but the relationship was Sophia’s happiest—Butts enjoyed the niceties of gracious living—and they paid for their lifestyle with the sale of their cotton and land.  They enlarged Glen Eden, filled it with fine furnishings and china from New Orleans.  She became known for her rose garden, an orchard of more than a hundred fruit trees, and grape and berry vines for jams and wines.  She grew a magnolia tree in the front yard from a seedling given to her by Sam Houston.  Albert Sidney Johnston brought catalpa seeds from California, which she planted, in a line down the driveway.

In 1863, William Clark Quantrill with his group of Confederate guerrillas from Kansas and Missouri moved into Sherman and began robbing and killing anyone who did not agree with his brand of Confederate support.  Although Sophia and Butts were southern sympathizers, Butts got into an argument with one of Quantrill’s men and was ambushed one night as he returned from a cotton-selling trip to Sherman.  Sophia garnered the sympathy of Sherman residents against Quantrill and got him arrested; he later escaped.

Some historians say the historical marker story calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate.  Several tales surround this claim, most of them encouraged by Sophia herself.  One says that when James Bourland, commanding a Texas frontier regiment, stopped at Glen Eden on his way back to Fort Washita, he warned her that federal troops were following him.  When the Yankees arrived, Sophia fed them dinner and then took them into her wine cellar where they proceeded to get drunk. She locked them in the cellar and then, riding a mule, forded the treacherous Red River to warn Bourland of the Union’s plans, thus preventing the invasion of North Texas.  Another version of the story says she stripped to her underwear and swam the river and then whistled to get the Confederates’ attention.

At age fifty, toward the end of the Civil War, Sophia found the Red River country too dangerous.  She packed her gold in tar buckets and took her slaves with her to the safer environment of Waco in Central Texas.  There, she met Judge James Porter, a Confederate cavalry officer from Missouri.  Rufus Burleson, president of Baylor College performed their marriage on August 2, 1865 and the Porters returned to Glen Eden.  With her slaves freed, Sophia’s net worth dropped, but she and James Porter began buying land at sheriff’s auctions and reselling it quickly to increase their holdings.

James Porter apparently influenced Sophia’s desire to “get religion.”  She attended a camp meeting and rushed forward throwing herself at the feet of the preacher.  In front of the entire congregation the minister said she must wait for twelve years because “the sun, moon, and stars were against her being a Christian.”  The Methodist preacher in Sherman, however, welcomed her into church.  She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a Methodist institution at Georgetown and land for a Methodist Church at Preston Bend.  “Aunt Sophia,” as she became known in later years, apparently earned the respect of her neighbors.  When the Old Settlers Association

in Sherman was founded in 1879, one of the speakers at the first meeting was Sophia Porter who entertained the crowd with the stories of her life as a pioneer woman along the Red River.

Glen Eden continued to be a social center, but Sophia no longer allowed dancing.  She and James Porter continued giving money or land to churches in the area until his death in 1886.  For the next eleven years Sophia and her long-time friend and companion Belle Evans searched the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogues new fashions that would restore Sophia’s youth.  Mrs. Evans also applied Ayer’s Hair Dye each week to maintain Sophia’s black locks that had attracted so many suitors over the years.  On August 27, 1897, when Sophia died quietly at the age of eighty-one in her fine home of fifty-four years, the man at her side was Reverend J. M. Binkley, the Methodist preacher from Sherman who had accepted her into his congregation.

Sophia Porter in later years

Sophia Porter in later years