Tugboat Chief

1936.11.21 Beaumont Enterprise photo Chief edit

You never know what you’ll uncover when you type your last name into a newspaper archive. A marriage here, a birth there, and even a blurb in the social pages of the time about your grandparents visiting New Orleans in the 20s. I found accounts of uncles who went off to war, a sister and a cousin (who were seven at the time) moving up in the ranks of the local Girl Scouts, and a few other interesting family members’ antics that we shall not talk about here. Most of the material comprises a bit of fun history to share, but I also found a tragedy that made headline news and had serious repercussions for the families involved. This particular story is one that I personally never knew about, but some of my cousins say they have heard bits and pieces over the years, so let us investigate further.

In the 1920s, like everyone else at the time, my family travelled here to make their living. The second Spindletop oil boom was amassing great wealth for some and providing most others with a good lifestyle. Even through the beginning of the Great Depression in the 1930s, our area seemed to be spared the brunt of the effects that otherwise plagued this era. Most of our clan was located in Port Arthur and worked at the Gulf refinery or the Texaco Company, but there were a few who lived and worked in Beaumont. Of particular interest in this case was my great uncle, Robert Joseph Prosperie. He was employed at the Magnolia Refinery as a fireman on the tugboat Chief.

Other than what’s in the census records, not much is known about my great uncle’s life before November 20, 1936. But the tragedy of that Friday would play out in the periodicals and affect other families as well. 1936.11.21 Port Arthur News Tog fire death toll reaches four (full)

On Saturday the 21st, the Port Arthur News headline read “TUG FIRE DEATH TOLL REACHES FOUR. Vessel is Funeral Pyre For Two Men Trapped By Flames At Atreco Docks.”

The Atreco docks, which are today owned by Total, are located near the Rainbow Bridge. The two men in the funeral pyre to which the headline refers were my great uncle and the Chief’s cook Paul Harris. Later, T.D. Lambert and Percy Snyder would be added to the list as they succumbed to their injuries at St. Mary’s Hospital on the Saturday morning. The rest of those who were injured managed to survive, despite one of them having sustained critical injuries. Oddly enough, the captain of the Chief was not on board at the time of the fire and was quoted as saying, “I guess I’m just a lucky guy.”

1936.11.21 Beaumont Enterprise photo map of tugs editThe incident began on the Friday afternoon after an eight-inch loading hose from the Atlantic Pipeline Company began spewing oil onto the parked tugboat, which was waiting for an incoming tanker to dock. Some accounts mention the use of electric welding torches as the ignitor, but one article in the Beaumont Journal stated that, according to witnesses, the oil ignited when it reached the engine room. Either way, tragedy ensued.

Paul Ernest, of Port Arthur, passenger of a passing ferry, described the scene as a fire burst over the vessel and men madly plunged into the waters.

Snyder, chief engineer, who died this morning, said he ordered the vessel into midstream when the oil began to spray.

“About that time,” he said, “something ignited the oil and the whole ship was enveloped in flames. I told members of the crew to jump, then leap into the water.” Beaumont Journal, November 21, 1936

My great uncle’s death certificate revealed death by drowning, and litigation on behalf of his surviving family members followed over the next two years. In the end, my great uncle’s wife was awarded $7,000, while his daughter received $1,000. Robert is buried at Magnolia Cemetery, but unfortunately his grave is unmarked.

I do not know if the rest of the victims of the Chief disaster were awarded monetary reparations, but I imagine, or at least I hope, they were, but one never knows when dealing with lawyers.

An odd endnote to this story is that I have a business client who owns a few properties around the old Magnolia Refinery, which is now Exxon Mobil Beaumont. One particular property that I have done work at on and off over the past 18 years or so when it was standing vacant, was actually my great uncle’s residence in 1936.

Synchronicity remains alive and well as I continue my journey through our history. It’s always interesting to see who or what will show up next.

1936.11.21 Port Arthur News Tugs Hover About Ill-fated Vessel in the Neches River

Aged to Perfection: 42nd Annual Galveston Historic Homes Tour


IMG_2608 5.1.16

It’s that time of year again, and the Galveston Historic Homes Tour was in full swing this weekend. Unfortunately the weather was generally a bit hazardous for travel on both mornings, but the Galveston weather was good to go for a tour. It seemed that Poseidon was in full control of the storms, and while most of SETX had rain, Galveston remained dry during the tour hours. Thank you, Poseidon!

James and Violet Waters House 5.1.16I missed the opening day but was determined to experience the splendor that I have become used to in recent years. So with the weather a non-event on our tour, we headed for the 1893 James and Violet Waters House. I thought it best to try to see the showcase house first since there may be long lines later, and I was correct. I guess arriving 30 minutes before the tour started clinched my early entry. Having said that, overall, the wait time for this year’s tour was notably shorter than in previous years, most likely on account of the weather.

Levy-Bowden HouseLooking at the nine new entries, I noticed that most of the properties were smaller. However, this doesn’t detract from the beauty of the restoration work at all. I can honestly say that all the houses were gems, and it may have been the weather that kept people away. On enquiring with the docents, I found out that a couple of the houses saw between 900 and 1000 visitors this weekend. Incredible. I am sure that these numbers will be up next weekend since the weather is forecast to be in the 60s in the morning reaching the 80s in the afternoon with little humidity.IMG_2610 5.1.16

Our total tour experience lasted around six hours. This also included lunch, so as I’ve said in previous years, most people can do the tour in a day. But if you have time constraints, then here are a few of my favorites:


Charles Marschner Building (1905)Charles Marschner Building - Copy


Charles and Catherine Albertson House




Charles and Catherine Albertson House (1870)




McDonald- Blake House         McDonald - Blake House







Benjamin Barnes Tenant Cottage Benjamin Barnes Tenant Cottage







I did find it interesting that this year’s tour was the fastest yet, but there were three houses where the owners requested visitors to wear booties. Compared to previous years—and given the weather, I actually thought there would have been more bootie requests, but fortunately there weren’t. These three houses require you to slip on booties:

James and Violet Waters House (1893)

Charles and Catherine Albertson House (1870)

Howard and Kate Mather House (1887)


I hope to see you on the tour! I will be there again on Saturday with an additional stop at Old City Cemetery on Broadway to photograph the wildflowers.


Notable Women of SETX History


International Women’s Day was on March 8th and deserving tributes galore made their way to my internet feed. I applaud this because credit needs to be given to those who aren’t really talked about in history either locally or nationally. It’s sad but true, but females are rarely honored in history unless it’s behind a husband of a notable sort. So in this blog I will concentrate on local women who made a difference in SETX history and skip the popularity contests that usually end up as news on your social media pages.

Below is my list of 15 women whom I could think of right off the bat. (Of course, there are many more in SETX history, and I would love to hear about them. Email rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com.)

I will say however that this list is subject to the bias of the writer. There are no Playboy centerfolds or musicians on this list, so my apologies for the deliberate oversight. I’m sure you will be able to find another list of 15 notable women of SETX! 😉


I will also state upfront that the women are not ranked in order of importance. Their contributions to SETX history stand alone. I have not gone into detail for some of the prominent women on the list, but I have provided website links whether they be to my own pages or those of historic organizations that support their memories.

1 Florence Stratton Graduation Photo edit

Florence’s contribution to our area extends to multiple heights. Teacher, journalist, author; she wore many hats in her lifetime. Notably, she began the Milk and Ice Fund (1914) and the Empty Stocking Fund (1920) at the Beaumont Journal. She also wrote of our historic past in her books The Story of Beaumont (1923) and The Storm God Rides (1936). She additionally wrote an article each Sunday for the Beaumont Enterprise called “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter.” The latter is a treasure trove of information if you want to identify the who’s who of Beaumont of the time.


2 Catherina Jeanette Stengele  IMG_9365

Catherina was a milliner/businesswoman who prospered considerably while living in our area. She owned a three-story brick building on Pearl Street at the turn of the 20th century, and among her other investments, which included land in multiple states, she gained wealth through money lending. Some may have heard that she was a lowly seamstress who saved her money and spent it on an exquisite mausoleum, but that story has since been disproved. (Sorry!)


3 Babe Zaharias

There is no disputing the need for her inclusion on this list. Babe was in a class of her babeown, whether in terms of sports, self-determination, or the ability to succeed. Her accomplishments are many and should be honored.






4 Mamie McFaddin- Ward    Mcfaddin-ward.org

I for one am thankful that this lovely lady decided to preserve a part of our SETX history. Please visit the McFaddin–Ward house for more information.


5 Chambers Sisters     IMG_8604

If you haven’t taken the tour of the Chambers House Museum, then you are missing out. Ruth and Florence lived long and interesting lives in Beaumont. Both were highly educated but chose to live in the family home and never married. After the deaths of Homer (Papa) and Edith (Mama), they were left with a house, a car, and around $50,000. Faced with the prospect of no future income, the sisters put their inheritance to work in the stock market and grew their wealth considerably. Ruth died in 1989 and Florence in 2004. Their combined wealth of $12.8 million was used to form a foundation, which now oversees the Chambers House, along with annual donations to their favorite charities.


6 Rita Ainsworth

Well, anyone who knows the history of Beaumont knows this name. Rita was the owner of the Dixie Hotel, and she was quite a businesswoman. The Dixie was different from other hotels in Beaumont because the patrons rarely slept there. You see, Rita was actually a madam and did very well through the years before the James Commission shut the bordello down in the 1960s.

One thing that is always noted about Rita Ainsworth was her philanthropy and charity. Some say she had a heart of gold. Among the recipients of her wealth were churches and Little League baseball teams, and legend has it that she sent a priest through seminary training. She also reserved the third floor of her establishment for older men with no other place to go. When most other hotels charged a dollar a day for rent, their monthly bill of seven dollars included meals.  

Dixie Hotel Video

7 Grace Woodyard

Speaking of bordellos, I could not pass up this Port Arthur entrepreneur. Like Rita, Grace ran a very successful business. Unlike Mrs. Ainsworth however, Mrs. Woodyard’s clientele tended to be the multitudes of seaman entering the port of Port Arthur. As the story goes, the City of Port Arthur could not pay the electricity bill, and being a good citizen (along with the ability to look the other way), she paid it in full. Her reign ended when the James Commission moved in.

For a good read and more history on both Rita and Grace, please check out the book Betting, Booze, and Brothels by local authors Wanda A. Landry and Laura C. O’Toole.

8 Catherine Magill Dorman     kate dorman

Whether or not the lore of Kate’s contribution to the Battle of Sabine Pass was authentic, there is still much to tout about her. Kate opened up the Catfish Hotel, which she owned, as a hospital for yellow fever victims in 1862. She, along with Sarah Vosburg and Sarah Ann King Court, tended to the ill without reserve while most other citizens fled to Beaumont.


9 Blanche Morgan

Mrs. Morgan is a name most will not recognize, but she was inspiring all the same. Her story was sent to me by a reader. Imagine you’re married with three children (and another one on the way), and your husband gets killed. This was Blanche Morgan’s fate, and after her husband’s death in 1917, she spent 35 years working at the Gulf refinery. Not to bad-mouth Gulf refinery workers, but a widow with four children would not have been treated like a delicate flower at the time—or any time since. Please keep this in mind.

After her retirement in 1952, she enrolled at Lamar Tech to study religious education and earned a degree.



10 Ida Luvonia Graham

Along with her husband Charles Frank Luckett Nordman Graham, Ida spent her life aiding people in the African American community. Whether it was helping the needy through the Christmas Tree project (1920), organizing the first black YMCA (1930), helping with the plans for a YWCA (1931), or improving race relations in Beaumont, Ida (and her husband) played a huge role


11 Nelda Stark

Whatever side of the history fence you are on, you cannot have a list like this and not include Nelda Stark. There is a bit of controversy about how history should perceive her, so I will provide two links to represent both sides. She had an interesting life.




12 Evelyn Keyes Evelyn Keyes

It is true that Evelyn left Port Arthur at the tender age of three, but throughout her life, she maintained positive ties to this area—unlike certain other celebrities. You can visit her at the Museum of the Gulf Coast.




13 Jane Long

Her “Mother of Texas” status should be enough to counter any critics, but I will throw in that she had a cannon and wasn’t afraid to use it.


14 Magnolia Sealy

This is someone whom I’ve been meaning to take a closer look at. I first heard of her on the Galveston Tour of Homes while touring the Sealy mansion. She certainly had an extensive repertoire as a mother, wife, and philanthropist. On my tour of the mansion in 2014, I found out that during the storm of 1900, Magnolia helped survivors from across Galveston. I was told that Magnolia had hosted 200 people for two months in the mansion while other well-to-do individuals had turned their backs on Galvestonians. (In the Handbook of Texas Online, the number is given as 400.)


15 Kisselpoo

Did she really exist or was she just a legend concocted by early SETX residents? I have no idea, but she is a legend and that’s good enough for me.



Nederland Historical Society


IMG_2021 nhs

I had the pleasure of attending the Nederland Historical Society’s quarterly meeting last week and thoroughly enjoyed all three speakers’ talks on the rich history of their city.  It was fascinating to listen to their detailed accounts of the families that journeyed here from Holland and what they had to endure. It was also interesting to learn about what life was like growing up on the farms and dairies of mid Jefferson County. Many people attended, and some even dressed in traditional Dutch costumes to mark the occasion. It was also good to see several children in the audience.

IMG_2020 nhsOne of the speakers, Robert Franke, provided intriguing insights into the lives of his grandparents, C.H. and Mary Spurlock, and their farm life in the early days. Most mid-county residents will recognize the Spurlock name from the road located north of Nederland where their farm was originally located. I was also interested to find out that Mr. Franke has a copy of the deed in which the Spurlock’s sold their land to the Jefferson Traction Company to give the Interurban right of way. Glen Koelemay’s talk on the Koelemay Dairy (1915–1943) offered an in-depth and detailed account of early life on a dairy farm, while Gale Koelemay gave an instructive talk on the Reinstra and Koelemay’s difficult journey from Holland and the subsequent founding of Nederland.   IMG_2035 nhs

For those of you who do not attend these types of meetings, you are missing out on a wealth of fast-disappearing knowledge about our local heritage. Fortunately, in Nederland historical records are being preserved for future generations.

IMG_2044 nhs


The Nederland Historical Society meets quarterly on the first Thursday of March, June, September, and December at 10:00 am at the Marion & Ed Hughes Public Library.

Under the Influence of Brownies

Some SETX history is permanently engraved in our minds, such as the discovery of oil at Spindletop and the Battle of Sabine Pass where Richard (Dick) Dowling and his band of 45 fellow Irishman overcame all odds and defeated a 5,000-strong Union flotilla. I would also put Arthur Stilwell’s “Dream City” down as another historic event that is regularly recognized, even though not too many people will know the whole story. It is nevertheless interesting to look back at the origins of Stilwell’s “hunch.” So let us examine Arthur’s role in SETX history.
Born in Rochester, New York, to Charles and Mary Stilwell, Arthur Edward was by some accounts a “sickly child,” although this is not mentioned frequently in respectable sources. Indeed, there is not much mention at all of his early childhood in any of the sources I’ve found—at least not until his 14th year. Only later, in his own writings, would Stilwell mention certain aspects of his early life. And in those writings we find a treasure trove of just who Arthur was and what would steer him on the path to prosperity.
“All my life, even when a child, I have received messages from the spirit world and they have greatly influenced my life,” he wrote in his book Live and Grow Young (1921). Arthur Stilwell was a Spiritualist and believed that he had contact with the spirit realm. Based on his English heritage, the Brownies, as he called them, were influential in his business dealings. These “nightly visitors” even foretold his marriage to Jennie Wood:

When I was 15 years of age my life’s companion was selected for me by this choir invisible, and I was told that I would marry her when I was 19 years old, which I did. The wisdom of their selection and my appreciation of it has been the paramount factor in strengthening my faith in these leadings.
Jennie and Arthur were married on June 10, 1879 in Iona, Virginia. That same year they moved to Kansas City where Arthur took a job at a friend’s print shop. After he had recovered from a bout of typhoid fever, they left Kansas City and moved to Chicago. During this time he began a new career selling insurance for the Travelers Insurance Company, a venture that proved to be very profitable. So profitable in fact that Arthur invented a new policy called a Coupon Annuity Endowment. This was the first type of life insurance policy that gave the holder a monthly income after they reached a certain age.
In 1886 the Stilwell’s moved back to Kansas City where Arthur founded the Real Estate Trust Company, but in 1889 the real estate market took a hit. Fortunately, all was not lost. In another endeavor, Arthur formed the Kansas City Terminal Construction Company after winning a contract with the Kansas City Suburban Belt Railway. And so went his entrance into the railway industry.
In the early 1890s Stilwell began forming, building, and acquiring other rail lines in an attempt to follow through with his nightly visitors’ plans of extending a railroad to the Gulf of Mexico.
From the plan and advice received in this way I have been able to build five western railroads, 2,500 miles all together- more than any other living man has constructed. By this means I have founded forty odd cities and villages with a combined population of 125,000. I was warned by my nightly advisers not to make Galveston the terminal of the Kansas City Southern Road because that city was destined to be destroyed by a tidal wave, which prediction was fulfilled, tragically, four years later. Thereupon, I constructed the City of Port Arthur, Texas, and built the Port Arthur Ship Canal and Harbor under the same guidance, not deviating from the plans revealed to me in any way.

Arthur’s nightly advisers were certainly “accurate” according to all the writings I have seen, but one must take into account that they were all written after the fact. So take that into consideration the next time a voice in the night tells you to construct a railroad.

Interestingly, an article dated August 2014 by Judith Linsley gives a different story about how Arthur Stilwell came to build Port Arthur. Two daughters of Mark Wiess were interviewed in a Port Arthur News article on Independence Day 1948, and both Octavia Wiess Andrus and Olga May Wiess Hoopes stated that their father was the one who had pointed out just where to build the city.
Mark Wiess’ part in choosing the Port Arthur townsite was also quoted in his obituary, which appeared in the July 2, 1910 Beaumont Journal. When Stilwell was considering Sabine Pass as a terminus for his new railroad, the landowners wanted too much for the right-of-way. At that time, Wiess suggested that Stilwell buy land nearby, owned by W.P.H. McFaddin, W.W. Kyle, Sr., and his brother Valentine, partners in the Beaumont Pasture Company. Stilwell did so, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Whether it was Mark Wiess or the Brownies who pinpointed the ultimate settlement, there were certainly more players in the founding and development of Port Arthur. One of these developers was John “Bet-a-Million” Gates who, in 1899, took over the Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad after forcing it into bankruptcy. He then named the company the Kansas City and Southern Railroad, which we still know today.

Now that Arthur Stilwell had been ousted from his post atop the railroad company, he moved back to Kansas City in search of other ventures. It wasn’t long before he announced plans to build another railroad but this time connecting Kansas City to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately this too went bust, and investors lost millions. Where were his nightly visitors? This is not known for sure, but ultimately, Arthur took a hiatus from the railroad business.

Stilwell would go on to write books, plays, and poems, all credited to his advisers. I have copies of most of his books, and they are interesting to say the least. In the one that I’ve quoted from, Live and Grow Young, Arthur explains life’s problems as well as illness and death. He further reveals the secret of longevity, but unfortunately he would die of apoplexy just seven years later, on September 26, 1928.

An additional dismal event to conclude this story features Jennie, his wife of 49 years. Thirteen days after Arthur’s death, Jennie Ann Wood Stilwell walked/jumped out of an eight-story New York hotel window. This article in the New York Times dated October 10, 1928 fills in the details:

Mrs. Arthur Edward Stilwell, widow of the railroad builder who died just two weeks ago, ended her life yesterday morning by jumping from a twelfth floor window of her apartment at 305 West End Avenue. Notes addressed to her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Burton W. Robb of Buffalo, said the death of her husband left nothing in life for her and requested that they dispose of her property.

Mrs. Stilwell was to have gone to Buffalo last night to make her home with the Robbs in accordance with their plans. The tickets had been bought.

Because of her despondency since the death of her husband her relatives had been apprehensive that she might attempt to end her life. Consequently when Mr. Robb noticed a light burning in her room at 5:45 A.M. he looked through the door to assure himself that all was well. He found the bed empty and a window raised. A glance out confirmed his fears. Mrs. Stilwell’s body was on the roof of a four-story building at 303 West Seventy-fourth Street.

A note, evidently prepared the night before, announced her intention to end her life. She said life was empty without her “darling,” as she referred to her husband.

Mr. Stilwell had been retired from active business for eight years before his death. He and his wife had withdrawn from their friends. During his later years Mr. Stilwell was much interested in spiritualism, an interest which his wife did not share, according to relatives.

Mrs. Stilwell, who was Miss Jennie Wood, was born in Rochester in 1860. She was married to Mr. Stilwell in 1879. A sister, Mrs. Mary Ferris of Binghamton, survives.
In accordance with her wish, no funeral services will be held. Her body will be cremated as was her husband’s.
Did the Brownies guide Arthur to prosperity here in SETX? I have no clue, but what I do know is that this is the second draft of this story. The first draft disappeared from my computer without a trace. Strange but true. One thing I have learned from this whole episode is to NEVER EVER compare an English faerie to a Scottish brownie.

Rediscovering Florence Stratton


My research on the life of Florence Stratton is now in its fourth year. It’s true that I’ve made multiple discoveries in what would seem, at times, a hopeless endeavor, but there always seems to be an open door at the end of the hallway, so to speak. And I have definitely ventured into many of those long corridors.
In late December 2015, after a visit to the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center to research historian Bill Quick’s papers, I “quickly” (pun intended) became inspired by how organized he was in his research and how he maintained his notes. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Quick when he was alive, I am ever so grateful for his years of documentation of SETX history, especially regarding the Sabine Lighthouse—it appears we shared a mutual love for this structure.
f1So as many do, in January I decided to make a New Year’s resolution. I spent countless hours filing, scanning, and digitizing all my files for future use by persons unknown should the need arise. I believe I am nearly through with this growing inventory of information, except for the Florence Stratton Project as I call it. I have scanned and digitized many related files and documents, but three-plus years of research are not always readily available to scan, such as my small two-page file on the city of Ronald, Texas. Nevertheless, most of the files about Florence and her family are stored as PDFs, along with countless newspaper clippings in JPEG (photo) format. Then there are the “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter” articles written using Florence’s nom de plume, which span February 28, 1926 to January 23, 1938. This collection will be a whole new digitizing endeavor, which will mean many weekly trips to the Sam Houston Region Library and Research Center to obtain clearer images. The initial scans from many of the microfilm collections for the Beaumont Enterprise are quite blurry. DSC02508
I have also realized that field trips are a necessity. Given the timetable, genealogy, and friendships in Florence’s history, I found it important to proactively explore these sites, cities, and research hubs. And it was in Austin that I began my journey over the road. On Monday January 25, I stepped into the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The center holds many historic treasures—so much so that I could spend months, or even years, sifting through them. Since I only had a day, I decided to focus on W.P. Hobby Sr.’s papers. W.P. Hobby was the Governor of Texas from 1917 to 1921. At the time, he was the youngest governor ever to hold the office in the state. Hobby also had many local ties to Beaumont. He became the manager and part owner of the Beaumont Enterprise in 1907 and married Willie Cooper, the daughter of the U.S. representative Sam Branson Cooper, on May 15, 1915. At various points in Florence’s timeline, I noticed she spent time with Willie Cooper in Washington D.C. (1907–1908) or in the Governor’s Mansion in Austin (1917–1921). Other newspaper articles described her attendance at many functions with the Governor and First Lady, from a Turkey trot in Cuero to the inauguration of the Mexican president Álvaro Obregón.
White House reception attended by Willie Cooper and Florence StrattonIn one of the two boxes I requested, I found a scrapbook that once belonged to Willie. After looking at all the newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, it certainly put what I’d been studying into perspective. Between the clippings and other historical artifacts, I located an invitation addressed to “The Misses Cooper” dated January 9, 1908. It reads as follows:
The President and Mrs. Roosevelt request the pleasure of the company of
The Misses Cooper
At a reception to be held at
The White House
Thursday evening January the ninth
Nineteen hundred and eight
From nine to half after ten o’clock
Holding something like that in your hand can be inspiring to say the least. Both Willie and Florence attended the White House reception in January the following year as well. I know this thanks to an article in the Washington Post dated January 8, 1909.
I made many discoveries that day. Most of the scrapbook concentrated on W.P. Hobby becoming lieutenant governor and eventually governor when James E. Ferguson was removed from office. I also noticed a lot of content on women’s suffrage (women’s right to vote). Unlike others, Hobby saw the benefits of this early. There is one letter to the editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in Willie’s scrapbook. We’ll call him Pete (because that is how he signed his name in the letter). Pete was hell-bent on not giving women the right to vote. He talked of the curse of Jehovah God “by harkening to the voice of women, and giving to the ballot.” He also quoted the Apostle Paul and the like, but it would have been pointless to spend one more iota of time on this jackleg. It is interesting to ponder just what Mr. Pete would have thought when a woman, Miriam Amanda “Ma” Ferguson, was elected Governor of Texas in 1925. A possible coronary, I would imagine.
I assume Willie saved this letter as a reminder of how important this era was for women, and through the newspaper articles, I was also able to get a small glimpse of Florence’s journey. In September 1918, she was listed as one of 31 vice chairpersons for the senatorial districts for the Democratic Party.
My next field trip will be to the place Florence treasured most, her place of birth, Brazoria County. Florence was born on March 21, 1881 at her childhood home in Brazoria, Texas, which in later years she revisited regularly in “Susie Spindletop’s Weekly Letter.” Her popular column was published each Sunday, and in this, she also spoke highly of her grandfather, Major Asa Evan Stratton, who owned a sugarcane plantation.
My other ventures into her past will this month include a visit to Woodville to find any more sources relating to Willie Cooper that may be traceable to Florence, a revisit to Austin to peruse more of W.P. Hobby’s papers, and then the inevitable journey to Troy, Pike County, Alabama. Troy_School
Contrary to most articles about Florence, she graduated from Troy Normal College and not Gray Normal College as W.T. Block noted in his earlier writings. In fact much of Florence’s lore is inaccurate, and I’m still sorting through the mess. This is not to discredit Mr. Block on this subject; he was blissfully unaware that the recollections of his primary source, Florence’s niece, were wholly inaccurate. I personally have no knowledge of the atmosphere or Eunice’s mindset when she was interviewed for the articles published in the Texas Gulf Historical and Biographical Record, but most of the “facts” were just plain wrong.
Graduation Photo editLuckily, with time, Florence’s past is emerging in the form of documented proof on how she spent her life, and how she was a positive resident who was loved by all. Many of my early questions have been answered, but there is still a mountain of research to climb. Some readers have asked what I plan to do with all this research. Well, it is no secret that I intend to submit a marker application to the Texas Historical Commission (THC) in 2017 to celebrate a life that deserves recognition in SETX history. Indeed, Florence’s contributions to Beaumont history, society, and charity cannot be matched.

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Catherina Jeanette Stengele



My first introduction to Miss Stengele was on a cold morning during a walk through Magnolia Cemetery. As the story goes, she was a lowly seamstress who worked hard to save her money. In her short 43 years of life, she purchased a costly St. Catherine of the Wheel statue for her mausoleum, along with the twelve plots near her intended resting place, all of which she had tiled in.

Sounds like an amazing story, right? Well it is, so let us throw the rumor out and try to ascertain the facts.
Catherina Jeanette Stengele Nat. paper1Early Beaumont was home to an entrepreneur in the form of the youthful Miss Stengele. According to her naturalization form, she arrived in this country in 1884, spent a few years in Baltimore learning the millinery business, and then moved to Beaumont in the late 1880s. The form also shows she was born on February 28, 1856, and not 1866 as stated on her mausoleum. (I suppose, even in death, some need to hold onto their youth.) Her country of origin is also unclear because of contradictory documentation. I have found some papers stating that she was from Germany. Others indicate that she was from Holland. My belief is that she was probably born along the present German–Holland border, which was initially a part of Germany but later became Holland.
Miss Stengele was certainly competent in the world of business. As a single woman in the 1890s, she made a good living in her millinery business, and other ventures in the financial and real estate sectors also seemed to work well for her. She was so successful in finance that she placed an ad in the Beaumont Journal in May 1899 stating that she was “Going to quit the business! I am going to quit the millinery business, and from the date will sell my entire stock at very low prices.”
Catherina Jeanette Stengele seemed to be a natural at finance and the lending market. So much so that she quit her day job, so to speak. Her investments would even finance a return trip to Europe in 1901. See the article in the Beaumont Enterprise dated January 6, 1900. 1900.01.06 Beaumont Enterprise Special Notice
You may notice the name Stengele Building, highlighted in yellow above the article. Miss Stengele also owned a three-story brick building at 345 Pearl Street in Beaumont, which had housed her millinery shop as well as several of her tenants.
While records from 1900 until her death in 1909 tell a tale of a successful businesswoman, not every investment would always go as planned. For instance, around 1905–6, records of court proceedings show the bankruptcy of the Nederland Rice farms in which she held a $20,000 stake. Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the time to research the court files in detail, but this is on my to-do list.
In April 1909 Miss Stengele left Beaumont for Los Angeles because of an illness. An article from the Houston Post dated September 16, 1909 states she “underwent two surgeries for appendicitis during the summer.” Unfortunately Miss Catherina Jeanette Stengele had passed away the day before the article was printed, on September 15, 1909.
I found a few articles from the Beaumont Journal that explained the highlights of life and the aftermath of her death, but her will is undoubtedly of considerable interest. According to hearsay, she was at odds with one of her brothers and left him nothing, but technically that’s not true. Browsing through her will, I found that she did leave a detailed list of her heirs and her final wishes. Her wish for the St. Catherine of the Wheel statue was originally included in the first draft of her will in 1908, but the mausoleum was only added in May 1909. She had many family members, both locally and in Holland, to whom she bequeathed her wealth. Her assets were around $120,000. That’s the equivalent of $3.1 million today. Not too bad for a lowly seamstress… or should I say, a milliner?

Tales from Hallowed Ground: Virginia Lee Rowley


While walking through Greenlawn Cemetery in Groves one mid-August morning, I came across a monument erected by the American Legion Auxiliary. Surrounding the stone memorial, which was inscribed “They gave their lives that freedom shall not perish,” were the graves of several veterans. Although most survived the conflicts of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and subsequently went on to lead healthy lives with their loved ones, there was one memorial that differed from the rest. Corporal Hugo J. DeBretagne, it seemed, paid the ultimate price for his country and never returned. The inscription on his headstone reads:

In memory of Hugo J. DeBretagne, CO D 1st Bat. 2nd Marines Killed at Tarawa Buried at sea.  Oct. 13, 1923 – Nov. 23, 194312186843_919687414771958_5085764410071279457_o

There are multitudes of stories at the cemetery that I would like to pursue. Many veterans lived simply and some even heroically, but there are no claims to their historic pasts. In fact, most of us will similarly end up forgotten in the end. It’s sad but true; most of our history will disappear when we die. There may be a few friends and/or family members who will grab the torch and try to prop us up for eternity, but ultimately, death, for most, is where personal history ends.

As I maneuvered through the area to take photographs of the residents’ headstones, I came across what will probably go down as one of the oddest mysteries in my search through SETX history. Located near the American Legion’s monument was a flat headstone with an image of the deceased in porcelain. This is not entirely unusual in and of itself, but the text that went along with the image was very disturbing to say the least:

If I must die then die I must and when the coffin round me rusts my bones will go whence they came and all that’s left is my name. To shield that name I’ll do my best; that’s all that’s left when I’m at rest. I’ll do no harm and bring no shame upon my dad and mother’s name.

Not really a poignant tribute to an attractive 20 year old who lost her life so young, is it? So who was she, and what was her story? Let’s try and piece together this tale.

Virginia Lee “Gene” Rowley

While doing research that evening, I came across a couple of leads, but unfortunately (as usual), the facts didn’t add up to the reality. My first find was an IMDB page for a 12-minute film called Roothold (2004). It was directed by, and starred, Port Arthur native Eric Patrick alongside Jennifer Baker. According to the IMDB plot summary, the film has some historical significance:

Roothold is a divination film that speculates on Gene Rowley: a woman pictured on an abandoned gravestone in Port Arthur, TX. The film is an elusive narrative that places the filmmaker in an emotional and psychic state of ceremonially rehearsing for mortality and burial.

– Written by Anonymous

I looked for Eric Patrick’s website but all I could find was his Wikipedia page:


The second—and last—mention of this mystery that I found on the internet was on an Angelfire web site. You remember those free sparkly web sites that never really amounted to much? I could hardly believe this one was still up and running, but there it was, in all its glory. It shared the following story:

The story of Virginia Rowley, ‘Gene’ as her family and friends called her, is a sad one. Gene was born on October 8, 1922 in Port Arthur, Texas. Gene’s father, Clyde, worked for the city as a railroad operator. Gene’s mother, Martha, was a seamstress with a strange disposition. The strange behavior would today probably be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, something that Gene likely would have been diagnosed with as well. Gene was the eldest of four children; Elroy, Clyde Jr. and Tara. Martha would require the children in church each Sunday; usually promptly switching the children with branches for doing the slightest thing. Though Martha loved her children; she was aggressive and was quick to anger. The children grew up attending private schools. The children, especially Gene and Tara were not allowed to date. This was taboo for Martha until her children came of age. Though Martha kept the children under her wing to an extreme degree; she demanded that they make their own way in life by obtaining jobs at a young age. Martha encouraged the children to live at home so that she could keep a close eye on them. By 18, Gene ventured from the nest, shortly after graduating and took a job as a telephone operator for Southwestern Bell. She became independent and even found a boyfriend. The dashing young man was 22-years-old, his name was James. It was instant love for Gene. The two became inseperable; this was something Gene went to great depths to hide from her mother. Though Gene was on her own; Martha did not approve of James. Martha thought of James as too worldy. Gene was more of a straight laced girl to Martha; she needed a likewise young man. Martha, too, didn’t approve of James’ age. After a year long union Gene discovered the unthinkable. She was expecting a child. James was confronted with the issue; to Gene’s disbelief; James fled Port Arthur, refusing to contact Gene. Heartbroken and betrayed; Gene confronted several friends and relatives with the issue; they all assured her that they would help her and everything would work out, however, Gene knew that this would shame and devastate Martha a great deal. On June 18, 1942, Gene took the day off from work and stopped by Martha and Clyde’s to say hello. Gene never breathed a word about her pregnancy to her parents. It was simply a good bye visit. Gene later drove to Nederland. Once there, Gene found an unoccupied truck and plowed into it. Gene died shortly after reaching the hospital. That night Martha found a note (At top) that Gene had left in her bedroom while visiting that day. It became quite clear that this had been no accident. The reasons were quite clear. Gene’s pregnancy would have brought harm and shame to her parents name.


Knowing this, the first site was possibly an author/director’s take on the mystery. It was honest enough I guess, but I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I know how to watch or buy it. To be frank, the second site comprised plain nonsense. The author had devised an epic story around a few facts but failed significantly in producing details, resulting in what I can only assume was an attempt at historical fiction. All names, except Virginia’s, were inaccurate, so if the narration of a historical tale was intended, it was shoddily done. I wondered if both the first and second sources were related. I still have no idea, but their timeframes were similar. Again, I haven’t seen the 12-minute movie and IMDB was scant on detail.

But now that we have discussed what is online, let us delve into some of the “real” facts.


Virginia “Gene” Lee Rowley was born on October 16, 1922 in Nederland, Texas to Rex Blanton Rowley and O’ciela M. Roy. She was the oldest of four siblings. Her brother Rex, who was born in 1924, would go on to serve in World War II. Vera, her sister, was born in 1925, and the youngest of the bunch, her brother Jerry, was born in 1928. I found very little on their childhood other than that they lived in the Van Oostrom addition. (This addition, according to records, is the area around Van Street and Herring Avenue in Port Neches.) The father Rex, a World War I veteran, served with Company C, 9th Infantry, and held several jobs through the years. The records showed that he was a machinist at an oil refinery (the name of which one is unknown) in the 20s, and at other times a dairyman (in Nederland) and a seaman.

In November of 1934 I can only assume that life changed dramatically for the Rowley family because the father Rex decided to take his own life in their house. Obviously I’d be promoting the same theorizations as those who speculated on Virginia’s scenario, so I will disregard my thoughts as to why he may have taken this extreme route and terminated his life, leaving a wife and four children behind to fend for themselves. I will say that Rex’s exposure to the vile war (1916–1919) is currently unknown, but I can only surmise that his experience would have been unimaginable if he had seen the front.

Knowing that Virginia’s father died so tragically, I wondered if this was the origin of the inscribed words that were placed on her headstone eight years later. Unfortunately we will possibly never know, but there is more to this story than a couple of web sites will tell.

Virginia eventually moved to San Antonio where she was employed as a radio operator in Duncan Field. Virginia met her demise on Frio City Road in an auto accident in the early morning hours of July 24, 1942. The death certificate stated that her death was an accident, not suicide. There was no mention of a pregnancy in any of the documents that I found.

The tragedy of the family would continue almost 20 years later. Rex, the oldest remaining sibling, was electrocuted while working on an air-conditioning unit in 1961. He is also buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, next to his mother O’ciela who died in 1963. Jerry H. Rowley died of a cardiac arrest in 1981 leaving Vera as the sole sibling. Vera, as far as I can tell from the records, died in 2008. I say this because a Vera B. Rowley married an Elmo J. Rowley in Port Arthur in 1943, but that doesn’t fit the other available records. Also, Vera and Jerry are not listed in the relevant census and city directories of the 20s, 30s, and 40s, although I do know that they were siblings to Virginia because of their birth and death certificates.

There is a further mystery. According to the 1920 census, O’ciela (or Ciela in some documents) was the daughter of Albert and Metta Wee Bossman and lived with her husband Rex B. Rowley. It is an original document, but I see no way that it can be right since all other documents state that her parents were A.J. and Maria Alida Roy.

There was much tragedy in this family, and I would certainly not want to resuscitate any negative memories for their descendents.  I would however somehow like to find out the meaning of the words on the headstone. Was it some sort of tribute or perhaps a memorial left by the living family members? Was it Virginia’s poem? The tragic loss of a father for a 14-year-old girl could certainly have brought out thoughts of sorrow. She may even have felt partially to blame for the tragedy. Did her mother O’ciela write it? This is quite possible, but until I find evidence, I could not say for sure. My only goal in this saga was to bring to light the facts about Virginia, but as I dug deeper, this family’s ongoing tragedies and mysteries came to the fore.

If anyone knows any part of this story or has knowledge of the family, I would love to hear from you.


Update: 1/04/2016

What a difference a week and a few newspaper archives can make! While conducting research for my next endeavor, I veered off my intended path and found myself back on the Rowley’s trail. I inadvertently unearthed a few more answers to some of the questions that were still puzzling me about the Rowley family.
Rex B. Rowley Sr.’s death
A Port Arthur News article dated November 27, 1934 informed its readers of Rex’s death and the probable cause of his suicide:
“Relatives said he had been despondent because he had not had steady work. Justice E.B. Moye returned a suicide verdict.”
I have included a photo of the full news article here. seaman kills self rowley 112734
Who was Albert Bosman?
Another mystery the article cleared up was the link between Albert Bosman and the family. As previously explained, I had discovered a 1920 census showing O’ciela as the daughter of Albert Bosman and “Metta Wee.” I was certain this was an error because all the other documents pointed to Andrew and Maria Roy being her parents. The truth was revealed at the end of the article: Albert Bosman was actually Rex’s stepfather.
“Besides his wife, Rowley is survived by two sons, Rex Jr. and Jerry; two daughters, Virginia and Vera; and his stepfather, Albert Bosman, all of Nederland.”
I also discovered that “Metta Wee” was the maiden name of Vera, Rex’s mother.
Who wrote the poem on the headstone?
I still cannot say for sure, but I found a few articles in The Chronicle (1939) that offer a clue.
VLRowley poem PNCA February 17 article entitled “Nederland girl, poet given second honor” announced that one of Gene’s poems, “March,” was to be published in the World’s Fair Anthology. It went on to say that Virginia (Gene) had previously had a poem published in an anthology of verses.
Another article, dated November 10, 1939, stated that O’ciela Rowley was the author of a poem appearing in Christmas Lyrics of 1939, which had been published by Beacon Publications.
“This anthology, according to the Beacon concern, has been issued annually since 1936. Work of Mrs. Rowley already has appeared in the World’s Fair Anthology.”
This I found very interesting. Were both mother and daughter published poets? It is possible, but as I’ve discovered through my research, you should never assume that the printed word is without errors. I do believe Virginia was an accomplished poet. At Nederland High School, I found multiple articles on her awards as well as her studies. And this makes me think that she was indeed the source of those dark words etched under the photo on her headstone. Again, we will probably never know for sure, but it seems we are getting closer…




M. F. Yount Mausoleum



Magnolia Cemetery is full of marvelous statues, monuments, and mausoleums, which are lasting tributes to the who’s who of Beaumont history. I admit I have spent more time there, strolling through this majestic locale, than at the many other SETX cemeteries that I haunt. For me it has always been a special place. Unfortunately, one of the most stunning memorials to grace this hallowed ground no longer stands. Why? Let us delve into the story.

Miles Franklin Yount was born in Arkansas in January 1880. At age 15 he moved to Texas and began working in the rice and oil fields. Eighteen years later, he formed the Yount Oil Company, which became the Yount-Lee Oil Company in 1915. In that same year he married Pansy Merrit. In 1925 one of his wells struck oil and thus began Spindletop’s second oil boom. MFYount81337a

MFYount81337bFrank Yount was known as the “Godfather of Beaumont” because of the aid he provided for building projects in the city of Beaumont in the late 20s and early 30s. He even loaned money to the city to meet its payroll demands in 1932.

Sadly, in November 1933 Yount perished from a sudden heart attack. Pansy, his wife, decided to build a huge mausoleum in honor of her dear departed husband, but one day, while walking through the mausoleum, she noticed a bit of debris on the floor. Fearing its eventual collapse, she asked the architect how long the mausoleum would remain standing. The architect replied that it would be good for around 500 years. To Pansy, this was not long enough, and she had the mausoleum torn down. Both are now buried side by side in bronze vaults on the same grounds where the mausoleum once stood. I have no idea how long these vaults will last, but as you can see by the photos of the mausoleum, it is a shame that this is not still standing. Nevertheless, Pansy has her own story, and I can only respect what may have been going on at the time.MFYount81337c


Sources: Handbook on Texas, Judith Linsley, Beaumont: A Chronicle of Promise




IMG_2368 IMG_2367

Rediscovering you’re two years old.


Well, another milestone has been reached here under the oaks at ye olde Block Farm. Rediscovering SETX has turned two! First, I would like to thank all who read our blog, follow us on Twitter, or have liked us on Facebook. Your input and support makes bringing SETX history to those who might otherwise not know of our interesting past even more a labor of love. As in our first year, over the past twelve months we’ve met and heard from many wonderful SETXans, been to many great places, and learned more and more from all of you.

The PeopleTFHG

We learned the trials and tribulations of life in Jefferson County during World War II. We discovered who Tom “the Tramp” was and delved into the fascinating life of Port Arthur’s Evelyn Keyes via out new monthly segment Tales from Hallowed Ground. But my favorite article has definitely been from a reader who shared her grandmother’s journey to Port Arthur in 1905. Blanche Morgan’s story provides a captivating account of the hardships and successes of a widowed mother of four in the early 1900s. Finally, it was fitting to investigate architect Nicholas Clayton’s marvelous legacy of Galveston architecture for the 40th anniversary of the Galveston Historic Homes Tour.

The Places

IMG_5778Since its creation in 2012, Rediscovering SETX has strived to promote SETX museums and historic houses, as well as its history. Well, this year was no different, and we explored many magnificent places. Here are some of the highlights:

I was fortunate to be invited to the grand opening of a marvelous museum in Kountze called the Museum of Hardin County. The museum opened its doors in August, after years of hard work and determination by the Hardin County Historical Commission and its members. Another prized invitation from Hardin County was to the Terry Bertha Cromwell Museum located in Sour Lake. Lutcher Memorial Building

In Orange County, we discovered the Heritage House Museum and did an awe-inspiring tour of the Lutcher Memorial Church Building; I must say that this is one of SETX’s greatest treasures.

Other memorable sites include the Beaumont Police Department Museum, Clifton Steamboat Museum, Christmas at the Pompeiian Villa, the Women’s Club of Beaumont, Heritage Village (Woodville), Liberty Opry (Liberty), Polk County Museum (Livingston), Bayou Bend (Houston), Bishop’s Palace (Galveston), and finally Galveston’s 40th Annual Historic Homes Tour.


Texas fight DDD2013We also attended some notable historic celebrations, memorials, and fun reenactments. Dick Dowling Days turned 50th in September, and this coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Sabine Pass. The Liberty County Historical Commission did a wonderful job of treating a few of its esteemed residents, who forged the grounds of what is today Liberty County, with the “Whispers from the Past” tour in October. It was both inspiring and entertaining. IMG_9580

IMG_1428In December, the 15th, to be exact, it was the 100th anniversary of the Interurban. (The Interurban was an electric train that ran from Port Arthur to Beaumont for 19 years, between 1913 and 1932.)  Unfortunately. little is left of this SETX achievement, and very few know of its existence. We were glad to be able to shine a light on this awesome part of our past.

In January, the 113th anniversary of Spindletop was celebrated at Gladys City with the Driller’s Reunion. And what a splendid time was had by all. I bet even the Temperance ladies had an enjoyable time!IMG_2721


As in the first two years, we will continue to visit and promote what SETX has to offer. Our little part of the world is rich with history, and we think it should be communicated to all and sundry. So if you know of a museum, historic home, or any other part of our history that you think should be given some online airtime, then please send us your feedback and suggestions. You can contact me by email at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com. Alternatively, you can also leave a comment on our Facebook page, Flickr, or @RediscoveringSE on Twitter.

Here’s to another remarkable year of rediscovering SETX!