Power of Black Women

Black women have received little attention for the critical role they have played in maintaining their families and contributing to their communities. After running across a brief reference to Rachel Whitfield (1814-1908) a “former slave who made it on her own as head of a household, subsistence farmer,” I found Rachel’s story in Women in Early Texas, an account written by her granddaughter, Lela Jackson.

In 1852, Rachel and Jim Whitfield lived with their six children in Arkansas, Missouri. Their master, a man named Whitfield sold Jim to a slave owner, and the family never saw him again. Rachel, age thirty-eight, and the children were put together on the auction block and purchased by Washington McLaughlin. He took them on a months-long trip to Texas, sometimes on foot and other times in an oxcart. They eventually settled on a site with deep, rich soil on the north bank of the San Gabriel River in Williamson County.

The slaves cut thick brush and a variety of trees to clear the land, built cabins, and prepared the soil for planting. Lela Jackson writes that McLaughlin “was not even-tempered and, at times, whipped the slaves.” At other times he gave them passes, which the law required for a slave to leave an owners’ land. If they were caught without a pass, they could be whipped for being away from their owner’s property.

Just before the Civil War soldiers rode into the plantation, took supplies, and before they headed south, one of the slaves heard McLaughlin read the “Proclamation of Freedom.” McLaughlin waited for several days until early one morning he gathered the slaves and angrily announced: “You are now free people. You are free as I am. You can go anywhere you want to. You can stay here if you wish, but I don’t need you.  I can do without you.”

They stood in silence, stunned, unsure of what freedom meant. Finally, the cook went to the kitchen and prepared breakfast for the McLaughlin family. After the master had eaten, he told all the slaves to leave, not allowing them to eat or carry anything with them.

They slipped along the river, finding places to hide, unsure of their safety, listening for any strange noise. Rachel’s oldest son Allen married that spring and helped Rachel and the younger children settle in a log cabin next to a creek. They foraged for wild plums and berries, ate pecans and black walnuts, and got permission to milk a stray cow in exchange for raising its calf for the owner. The milk, butter, and cream stayed fresh in a bucket they lowered into a well. They moved about as the seasons changed, picking cotton and vegetables for landowners. They gathered prairie chicken eggs and trapped birds, squirrels, and possums.

They ironed clothing for white people using flat irons that they heated on a log fire in the yard. Rachel made quilts and asked men to save their ten-cent Bull Durham tobacco sacks, which she ripped open, bleached and used to line her quilts.

The high point in their lives came on “pastoral days,” the Sundays when a preacher held worship services. People came from miles around, and for those who could not read, the leader “lined” out the words. They also enjoyed baptizings in the creek, sing-songs, camp meetings, and dances. When someone died, Rachel and her daughter, Demmie, prepared the body and laid it out on a board or a door that was balanced on chairs. Coffins were made from the plentiful local cedar and stained dark brown.  Rachel, who lived to ninety-three and all her children held the respect of both their black and white Williamson County neighbors.

Black Women in Texas History chronicles the lives of amazing black females from the days when they first arrived in Texas as both free and slave—during the Spanish Colonial Period—up to their present influence on Texas’ politics and education. One of those women was Lulu Belle Madison White who graduated in 1928 from Prairie View College (present Prairie View A&M University) with a degree in English. Before beginning a ten-year teaching career in Houston, White joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in which her husband had been active for several years. She resigned from teaching after nine years and devoted the rest of her life to bringing justice to the black community. She was an amazing fund-raiser and organized new chapters of the NAACP throughout Texas. Even before the Supreme Court in 1944 found that the white primary was unconstitutional, White had started organizing a “pay your poll tax and go out to vote” campaign. She was a strong advocate for using the black vote to force social change. She argued: “we cannot sit idly by and expect things to come to us. We must go out and get them.”

She sought to educate the black community by leading voter registration seminars, and she urged black churches to speak up about public issues without endorsing specific candidates. She pressed white businesses to hire blacks, using boycotts, protest demonstrations, and letter-writing campaigns to influence the change.

In 1946 when the NAACP began its push for integrating the University of Texas, there was only one state-supported black college in Texas—Prairie View A&M—and it did not offer training for professional degrees. White not only persuaded Herman Marion Sweatt, a black

Herman Sweatt in line to register at the University of Texas
The Daily Texan

mail carrier, to act as the plaintiff against the university, she raised money to pay his legal expenses. Years later Sweatt claimed that it was White’s encouragement that helped him maintain his resolve. When the state offered to open a separate black university with its own law school in Houston instead of integrating the University of Texas, White supported Sweatt’s rejection of the proposal on the basis that separate was not equal and only continued the status of Jim Crow.

The victory of Sweatt v. Painter before the Supreme Court in June 1951 opened the door for Brown v. Board of Education and the march toward dissolving the color line in education. A week before Lulu White’s unexpected death in 1957, the national NAACP established the Lulu White Freedom Fund in her honor.

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A 19th CENTURY WOMAN OF INFLUENCE

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau
Texas Historical Commission

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau was born in Troy, New York, in 1807. After a failed marriage and being named as Aaron Burr’s mistress in his divorce, she came to Texas in 1832 with her brother Robert McManus in an attempt to improve the family’s shrinking fortune. Although she received a contract to settle families in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she apparently lacked the funds to get the enterprise off the ground. The German colonists that she landed in Matagorda refused to go farther inland, which ended that adventure. It was not, however, the end of Jane’s land speculation and her interest in the future of Texas. She was a prolific writer, and one of the causes she trumpeted in her columns for East Coast publications was Texas independence from Mexico. She also tried to sway U.S. public opinion in favor of annexing the Republic of Texas.

Linda Hudson’s autobiography of Jane Cazneau

During the Mexican-American War, Jane served as the first female war correspondent and the only journalist to issue reports from behind enemy lines. She was sent to Mexico as an unofficial representative of the New York Sun editor Moses Beach’s secret peace mission, which was endorsed by President James Polk. Her expansionist interests showed clearly as she began promoting the annexation of Mexico as a way to bring peace.

Jane married William Leslie Cazneau––Texas politician and entrepreneur––in 1849, and lived with him for a time in Eagle Pass, a town on the Rio Grande where Cazneau opened a trade depot and investigated mining potential in Mexico. Jane wrote of her experiences in Eagle Pass; or Life on the Border, and she continued to write editorials championing U.S. expansion.

William Cazneau was appointed as a special agent to the Dominican Republic in 1855, and the Cazneaus settled there on their estate, Esmeralda. Jane continued writing her columns and books that advocated her expansionist philosophy, and the couple invested heavily in property all over the Caribbean.

Some writers, including Linda Hudson, author of Jane’s biography, Mistress of Manifest Destiny, credit Jane with being the first writer to use the term “manifest destiny.” It has been difficult to trace her use of the term since her editorials were handwritten, often unsigned, and she also used the pen names Storm, Cora or Corinne Montgomery. Nevertheless, she was such a strong advocate of manifest destiny that she bought into the New York Morning Star in order to use the publication to editorialize for the expansion of the south and the spread of slavery into Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. She was not in favor of the South seceding from the Union because she believed that the division would weaken the United States and slow its expansion. She also stood to lose on her land investments if slavery and its spread to the Caribbean came to an end.

Her influence was widespread; she socialized and corresponded with James Polk, James Buchanan, Jefferson Davis, and Horace Greeley. Former Republic of Texas President, Mirabeau B. Lamar dedicated his 1857 book of poems, Verse Memorials, to Jane Cazneau.

The Cazneaus fled to another of their properties in Jamaica in 1863 following the destruction of their estate after Spain returned to the Dominican Republic. However, when Spain left the island, the Cazneaus returned and assisted President Andrew Johnson in his efforts to acquire a coaling station at Samaná and President Grant’s effort to annex the Dominican Republic.

William Cazneau died in 1876, and two years later Jane, the woman who often used the pen name Storm, was lost in a storm while sailing from New York to Santo Domingo.

“A Happy Home Without Husbands”

“Charismatic, religious, smart-as-a-whip, trouble-maker”—descriptions applied to Martha McWhirter, who moved into Belton after the Civil War with her husband George and their twelve children. George opened a mercantile business, they built a large limestone house and the

George and Martha McWhirter.

couple, active Methodists, attended the non-denominational Union Sunday School.

McWhirter Home

Martha organized a weekly women’s Bible study and prayer group. In August 1866, after two of her children and a brother died, Martha attended a revival and felt it had failed to offer comfort for her losses. Afterward, she reported to her Bible study group that she heard God speak and experienced a “Pentecostal baptism,” which may have included speaking in tongues. She believed she had been sanctified, set apart by God for a special purpose.

With the zeal of the newly converted, she emphasized the importance of dreams and revelations as the source of spiritual guidance rather than the sacraments and baptism. She encouraged the women in her Bible study to pray for sanctification and to share their dreams and revelations to arrive at a group consensus for their guidance.

The women prayed about trials of everyday life such as authoritarian husbands, dishonorable business dealings, drunkenness, and physical abuse. One of their early group decisions—the sanctified should not have sexual or social contact with the unsanctified—may have resulted from already having more children than they wanted. Whatever led to the decision, it spelled the beginning of some high-profile divorces and angry outbursts from townspeople. The new theology also resulted in the removal of five Baptists from their church rolls and several others being elbowed out of their denominations.

In addition to refusing to sleep with their husbands, the women refused monetary support except as payment for work. In the beginning, they sold eggs, butter, and hooked rugs. They placed the profit into a common pot, enabling them to help a sister whose husband denied her money for necessities. Later, they used their funds to hire a lawyer for divorce proceedings.

Distraught women came with their children to Martha’s house, escaping angry and often abusive husbands, filling the house beyond capacity. George McWhirter, believing in Martha’s sincerity, did not understand her behavior, but he never publically criticized her. Eventually, he moved into a room above his downtown store.

One woman inherited a large house, which they turned into a boarding house for lodging members and the public. Townspeople watched in amazement as wives of prominent men showed determination to make their way financially by taking in laundry, a chore traditionally relegated to black women of the community. Recognizing they were no longer accepted in polite society, the women took any work offering financial gain.  Two women chopped wood and delivered it to homes. Others worked as domestics, seamstresses, home nurses, and one became a cobbler.

Hard work paid off, and the group prospered, allowing members to rotate working four-hour shifts and take turns caring for and teaching their children.

The Sanctificationist code did not exclude men. In later years the women told an interviewer no man ever stayed with the group longer than nine months because “they want to boss, but they find they can’t.” In 1879, two young men from Scotland who belonged to a similar group at home, came to Belton seeking membership. It was one thing for the men of the town to put up with women being “Sancties,” but quite another for males to join. A group of men took the newly arrived gentlemen from their home at midnight and whipped them severely. When they still refused to leave town, they were declared insane in a district court hearing and sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in Austin. They were released very quickly, after agreeing never to return to Belton.

A hotel operator in nearby Waco hired some of the women in 1884 for one dollar a day and was so pleased with their industry, that he asked for more workers. Besides offering a good income, the women learned the hotel business. They opened the Central Hotel across from the

The Central Hotel

railroad depot. At first, townspeople boycotted the place, but after George McWhirter died, and it became obvious the hotel was the finest in town and offered the best food of any establishment, it became popular for locals.

The community’s attitude changed toward Martha. Maybe it began when she became a widow, no longer separated from her husband. Perhaps Martha’s donation of $500 to bring in the railroad spur or her contribution for building an opera house caused a change in the attitude of the community. She became the first woman to serve on the Belton Board of Trade—a precursor of the Chamber of Commerce.

Believing the women should see more of the world, Martha rented a house in the summer of 1880 near New York’s Central Park. She divided the members into three groups, each staying for six weeks. They traveled to the city by rail and returned by ship to Galveston. Martha estimated the total cost at $3,000.

By 1891, when the group incorporated as the Central Hotel Company, they owned several pieces of the local real estate, three farms providing food for hotel guests and feed for their livestock. Their net income reached $800 a month.

One of the women became a self-taught dentist charging only the cost of the material because she did not have a license. One member moved to New York, setting up a business selling pianos. By the 1890s, they traveled extensively to New York, San Francisco, and Mexico City, subscribed to many magazines, hired tutors for their children, and no longer held prayer meetings. They continued gathering, discussing dreams and arriving at group decisions. Although Martha served as the leader, the group operated on feelings and consensus, often sensing when something was wrong, and relying on dreams to tell them what to do. The answer might be selling one of the farms or encouraging a “disloyal” member to get married.

In 1899 the group decided to leave Belton for a locale with a more stimulating environment. Group consensus settled on Washington, D.C. as the best place for pursuing their cultural interests.

It’s unclear how much the group received from the sale and lease of their Belton property. Some estimates claim $200,000. They paid $23,000 cash for a house in Mount Pleasant, Maryland, and spent another $10,000 renovating the property.

Martha died in 1904 and contrary to predictions, the group of aging women continued living in the house until at least 1918. Another account says a daughter of one of the members lived there until 1983.

By the time the women settled in the Washington area, newspapers and magazines from around the country took note of the unusual group of religious women who wore no identifying habit, lived a Spartan existence, and made “A Happy Home Without Husbands.”

The Sanctified Sisters

Three Women Legally Executed in Texas

Josefa “Chapita” Rodriguez lived in a lean-to shack near an ancient road that crossed the Nueces River north of Corpus Christi. She offered meals and a cot on her front porch to travelers along the route. During the Civil War, the trail was known as the Cotton Road because the Confederacy used it to move cotton to Bagdad, a Mexican port at the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Confederacy exchanged the white gold with mostly British ships for guns, ammunition, and medical supplies.

Near the end of August 1863, employees at the nearby Welder Ranch found the body of John Savage stuffed in two burlap bags on the edge of the river. His head had been split with an ax.

A few days before the discovery, Savage had arrived late in the evening at Chapita’s cabin carrying $600 in gold in payment for his sale of horses to the Confederate Army in San Antonio. A large man who traveled heavily armed with six-shooters strapped to his leg, Savage frequently stayed at Chapita’s house.

Most of the records in the case burned in a courthouse fire, allowing rumors and legend to fill in the blanks. Since Chapita was too old (probably in her sixties) and too small to stuff the bulk of Savage into two bags and drag them down river, authorities pointed to Juan Silvera who may have been her illegitimate son.

The sheriff who arrested Chapita and Juan Silvera served as foreman of the grand jury and foreman of the jury that heard the charges at trial. At least three grand jury members also served as trial jurors, and members of both juries had been indicted on felony charges that were later dismissed. Chapita’s only defense was her repeating “not guilty.” A few days before the trial began, the gold was discovered downriver from where the body was found.

Despite the discovery of the gold, Chapita was found guilty as charged. The jury recommended mercy because of her age and the circumstantial evidence, but the trial judge Benjamin F. Neal sentenced her to be hanged. Juan Silvera was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison.

Some accounts claim she was held for a time in the sheriff’s home; other stories say she waited in leg irons, chained to the courthouse wall in San Patricio. Children visited the courthouse, supplying Chapita with candy and corn shucks in which she rolled her cigarettes.

Many stories suggest Chapita’s silence was to protect her son Juan Silvera.  Whatever her reason, Chapita rode in a wagon to her fate while sitting atop her coffin and smoking a corn shuck cigarette. She stood to have the noose, dangling from a mesquite tree, placed around her neck. Local residents, many of whom believed her innocent, whispered among themselves that Chapita’s execution marked the end of San Patricio.

By the mid-1880s life began changing. The introduction of barbed wire closed the open range and the excitement of cattle drives through San Patricio came to an end. The railroad bypassed the town, the courthouse burned, and Sinton became the new seat of county government.

Despite Texas’ record number of executions, only three women have faced the gallows. Little information exists about the first woman legally executed other than she was a slave named Jane Elkins convicted of murdering a white man in Dallas County and hanged on May 27, 1853.

The third execution of a woman occurred in 1998 when Karla Faye Tucker died by lethal injection fourteen years after being convicted in a pickaxe murder.

On June 13, 1985, Governor Mark White signed a resolution passed by the Texas legislature to absolve Josefa “Chapita” Rodriguez of the murder for which she was hanged 122 years earlier on November 13, 1863.

Woodcut
Texas State Historical Association

A Texas Frontier Woman

Elizabeth Ann Carter Sprague FitzPatrick Clifton knew tragedy long before October 13, 1864, when 700 Kiowa and Comanche warriors tore through Young County in what became known as the Elm Creek Raid.

At the age of sixteen in 1842, Elizabeth married a free black man in Alabama. She moved with his family to Texas where they eventually settled on her father-in-law’s ranch near Fort Belknap, ninety miles west of Fort Worth. Elizabeth was illiterate and epileptic, but those drawbacks did not keep her from working on the ranch with her husband and father-in-law and operating a boarding house. Both men were mysteriously murdered, and the ranch was left to Elizabeth’s children––fourteen-year-old Susanna and young Joe. Elizabeth managed the ranch and boarding house for her children. Then Elizabeth and Susanna both married.

Eight months later, her second husband disappeared. Elizabeth continued to manage the ranch. The boarding house prospered, especially after the Butterfield Overland Mail Route made a stop at nearby Fort Belknap. In 1862 she married her third husband––one of her ranch hands––named FitzPatrick. He was murdered eighteen months later.

Then came the horror of the Elm Creek Indian Raid. The men had gone to Weatherford for supplies, leaving children in the care of Elizabeth, her widowed daughter Susanna and Mary, wife of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who worked for Elizabeth.

When they heard the shrieks of the approaching warriors, Susanna grabbed a gun, ran into the yard, and fought until she was overpowered, stripped and mutilated as Elizabeth watched.

T. R. Fehrenbach says in Lone Star that two braves quarreled over who had captured Britt Johnson’s oldest son; they settled the argument by killing him. They murdered Susanna’s baby boy and then discovered eighteen-month-old Millie crawling out from under a bed in the burning house. The Indians divided the survivors––Elizabeth, little Millie and her five-year-old sister Lottie, thirteen-year-old Joe, and Mary Johnson and her two children––and rode away in separate groups. Joe was sick, and when he could not keep up with the pace of his captors, they killed him.

Before the raid of Elm Creek Valley ended, eleven settlers had been killed, eleven homes damaged or destroyed, and seven women and children carried off.

Elizabeth was held for over a year in northwest Kansas. Although accounts differ over who actually won her freedom, Fehrenbach writes that Britt Johnson, who had spent all that year searching for his wife and two surviving children, found Elizabeth. She begged Johnson to help ransom all the captives and promised to pay from her considerable land and cattle holdings whatever it took to gain their freedom. Johnson made four trips into Comanchería, paying “two dollars and a half” to ransom his wife and eventually rescuing all the captives except little Millie.

After Elizabeth was freed, she spent ten months in a mission in Kansas where she nursed, fed, and cared for other released captives, all the time demanding better care for those in her charge and begging for more to be done to find all those still being held by the Indians.

When Elizabeth finally reached home in 1866, almost two years after her capture, she was reunited with her granddaughter Lottie whose Comanche captors had tattooed her arms and forehead.

Elizabeth married her fourth husband, Isiah Clifton a farmer who still had four small children. They moved with Lottie to the ranch her mother had inherited. Elizabeth never gave up her search for little Millie, contacting the Office of Indian Affairs only a few years before her death in 1882, asking them to investigate rumors that Millie was living with a Kiowa woman.

Fehrenbach writes that Millie was found after being raised by a Crow family and “her life was not an unhappy one.” Another account claims that in 1930 a Kiowa historian began seeking the white relatives of his mother-in-law, Saintohoodi Goombi, who knew she had been captured by Kiowas when she was eighteen months old. Several elderly men, including one who had been a young warrior on the raid, confirmed the story of the capture of a toddler.

Apparently, Elizabeth had described Millie to government officials as one-quarter African descent with dark skin, hair, and eyes. Mrs. Goombi had fair skin and blue eyes, which convinced many that she was not the missing Millie, but the child of another family who never knew their baby daughter was alive.

This account also says Mrs. Goombi had lived a happy life with no memory of her white childhood. She had nine children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She lived in Oklahoma with her daughter until her death in 1934 and apparently never met any of Elizabeth’s or Lottie’s descendants. Whatever the true story, Fehrenbach writes that when the Governor of Texas asked Mrs. Goombi “what the state might do for her, she answered, ‘Nothing.’”

 

Legends of A Lady Pioneer

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 Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma. The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee

Sophia Coffee Porter, Grayson County TX GenWeb

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, 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, claimed to be the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto. She arrived on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico. Although no record exists of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia maintained that she nursed the wounded general back to health. Some historians believe she may have been a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Coffee’s Trading Post
Grayson Co TX GenWeb

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved to the Texas border in 1837. The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives. Coffee ransomed 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. Despite being 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.

When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts in Houston, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf. After several attempts to get a bill through Congress, Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, 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 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 cowboys heading north with their cattle. Coffee gave Sophia a wedding gift of 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 lived twenty-five miles away.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Texas Rangers guarded their trading post. While their slaves plowed the fields, the horses had to be watched. At preaching services, they stacked firearms nearby for easy access. 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 continued to buy land and slaves. New settlers arrived, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots for the town of Preston.

Glen Eden
Grayson County TX GenWeb

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. Sophia entertained lavishly. By her own account, her guests included such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists of either man being there), and Sam Houston. Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory came often to Glen Eden.

Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846. Some say it began when Sam Houston arrived to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffees 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 would 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, Sophia, at age thirty-one managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties. On one of her regular trips 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 became 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 Quantrill’s 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 calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate. Several tales surround this claim, most of them of Sophia’s own telling. One story says that when James Bourland, commander of 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 took them to 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. Before the entire congregation, the minister said Sophia 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 the church. She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a new 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. At the first meeting of the Old Settlers Park in Sherman in 1879, Sophia Porter 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

Sophia Coffee Poter
Grayson County TX GenWeb

the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogs 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.

Texas Girl Becomes a Star

Mary Martin as Peter Pan, NBC Productions

Growing up in Weatherford, twenty-five miles west of Fort Worth, Mary Virginia Martin loved to mimic movie stars—dancing and acting like Dick Powell’s co-star, Ruby Keeler and singing like the crooner Bing Crosby. Martin’s mother, a violin teacher, had planned to have a son in 1913. Instead, her lively little girl became the family’s tomboy, romping and playing in the orchard and barn and riding ponies with her older sister Geraldine. She claimed in her autobiography My Heart Belongs to have had an idyllic childhood and that her photographic memory made it easy to memorize songs and remember the answers for school exams.

She performed her first solo in a fire hall and remembered soaking up the crowd’s admiration. Then, she sang with a trio of little girls dressed like bellhops on the town’s bandstand right outside the courthouse where her father used his powerful voice to present his law cases. She realized her voice was powerful, too, because even without a microphone it rang out across the town square.

Her family sent her to Ward-Belmont, a strict finishing school in Nashville, Tennessee, where entertaining the other girls with imitations of Fanny Brice was not enough to assuage her homesickness, especially for Benjamin Hagman. She and Hagman convinced her mother, who was the family disciplinarian, to allow them to marry. As it turned out, marriage and expecting her first child (Larry Hagman, future J.R. Ewing in Dallas) at seventeen was not the dream she had imagined.

Following her sister’s suggestion, she opened a dance school in nearby Mineral Wells and embarked on a series of choices that finally propelled her into stardom. She divorced Hagman, left her son in Weatherford, and headed to California to study dance. Over the next two years, she became known as “Audition Mary” for never missing an opportunity to try out for a job as a singer or a dancer. She took whatever work she could get including a stint at theaters in San Francisco and Los Angles.

She arrived in New York after a producer saw her performance and offered her a role in a play that never opened. Then she was cast in Cole Porter’s production of Leave it to Me, which debuted in November 1938. She captured the audiences with the song, “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.”

The media attention finally opened the door to Hollywood in 1939, and in the next three years, she starred in ten movies. Radio performances included Good News of 1940 and Kraft Music Hall.

In 1940 she married Richard Halliday, an editor and producer at Paramount, who became her manager. She won the New York Drama Critics Poll for her role as Venus in One Touch of Venus. She contributed ideas for the songs and choreography for her role as Ensign Nellie Forbush in the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit South Pacific. For ten years, she performed on stage and television in Skin of Our Teeth and Annie Get Your Gun, however, she said that her favorite role was that of Peter Pan that ran briefly on Broadway and then repeatedly on NBC-TV.

Martin claimed many awards including Tony Awards for Peter Pan, for her portrayal of Mary Rainer in The Sound of Music and for her role as nurse Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. She was presented with a special Tony in 1948 “for spreading theatre to the rest of the country while the originals perform in New York,” and she received the annual Kennedy Center Honors in 1989 for career achievement. Although she is credited with fifteen films and fourteen television performances, Martin said she preferred the “connection” she felt with a live theater audience. She performed in twenty-two stage productions.

Mary Martin died of cancer on November 3, 1990, and is buried in her hometown of Weatherford, Texas.