Promoting SETX

 

When I started this blog/website, my intention was to promote our local SETX (Southeast Texas) history, and by local, I mean all of SETX. You can also add a little bit of SWLA (Southwest Louisiana) as well, since we share most of the same history. I will also add that the caretakers of my favorite lighthouse are there.

I hope we’ve done our part in the last four-and-a-half years to shed light on our rich history, and to promote a positive image of this area. In the beginning, I wanted to devote time to promoting our museums, places of interest, and other historic sites so that visitors could have an educational experience. Here in SETX we have a plethora of great places and unique histories that I think should be known to everyone (especially to our own Southeast Texans). In our first few years, we visited many hidden gems that do a wonderful job of bringing SETX’s history to life (links to the stories of our jaunts are located at the end of this article), and I want to expand this scope in 2017.

So, as of now, I am requesting suggestions from you for places of interest, museums, etc., for us to visit in 2017. I am particularly interested in branching out into the northern counties this year, because in the past, I wasn’t able to explore most of these counties since I could not take time off from my other job.

Another project that I have been wanting to do is add a “Places to Visit” page to the website. I would like to provide a list all our museums, with working links and completely up-to-date information, such as what days and times they are open to the public. I can only accomplish this if those of you in the know send me the information. I hope this page will be yet another tool for promoting our history.

Finally, if you have anything that you think should be of interest to Southeast Texans please don’t hesitate to email me at rediscoveringsetx@gmail.com, or if you prefer, send letters and/or other info to:

Rediscoveringsetx Press

P.O. Box 2078

Nederland, Texas  77627

Heritage House (Orange)

Museum of Hardin County (Kountze)

Bertha Terry Cornwell Museum (Sour Lake)

Beaumont Police Department Museum

Vuylsteke House (Port Arthur)

Pompeiian Villa  (Port Arthur)

White Haven (Port Arthur)

Chambers House Museum (Beaumont)

Neches River Adventures Tour

Clifton Steamboat Museum

La Maison Beausoleil Museum (Port Neches)

T.J. Chambers House & Chambers County Historical Commission Museum (Anahuac)

 

 

Willie Chapman Cooper Hobby

 

 

Throughout my research of Florence Stratton, I have been down many rabbit holes, so to speak. She certainly led an interesting life, which involved many people. And yes, I have files on just about all of them. One person who I can say influenced Florence’s life more than the rest was Willie Cooper Hobby. Their friendship lasted many years, and I’m sure they had many tales that were never told nor graced the pages of any periodicals, but in Willie’s life of fifty-three years, she definitely had a social advantage over most.

Willie Chapman Cooper was born in Woodville, Texas, on June 19, 1876, to Sam Bronson Cooper and Phebe Young. There is little information about her life as a youth, other than that she grew up in Woodville. I do know she attended Kidd-Key College in Sherman, Texas; yet I don’t know the year nor if it was, at the time, a women’s high school or a genuine college. And looking into her father’s endeavors, with the few available records that I have, I can see little information about her until she resided in Washington D.C. in March of 1893, when her father was a congressman. So, let’s delve into his history a bit.

Sam B. Cooper served as the prosecuting attorney of Tyler County for four years (1876–1880), then as a Texas state senator for the next four years (1880–1884). I assume that this is where the friendship of the Stratton and Cooper families began. Florence’s father, Asa Evan Stratton Jr., was a Texas senator from January 1883 to May 1884. In 1885, he was named collector of internal revenue at Galveston. Sam would hold this position until 1888. After an unsuccessful run for district judge in 1889, his next stint in politics came in 1892 as a congressman in the United States House of Representatives. He would serve six consecutive terms for the Second Texas District, before losing to Moses Broocks in 1904. Sam served for one more term, from 1906 to 1908, after defeating Broocks in the next election. So, knowing the political path her father took, it seems obvious to me that Willie would take on the role of a socialite, especially living in Washington and later New York, where her father was appointed to the Board of General Appraisers of New York by President William Howard Taft in 1910.

Throughout her years in Washington, Willie was indeed popular around the social circles and was even invited to the White House a time or two. I know this from a few newspaper clippings and her invitation, which, as I stated in the last article, are in her scrapbook at the Briscoe Center for American History in Austin. As friends do, Florence also tagged along and got to mingle with the elite, or should I say, the world’s hubs, which capitals can be, especially in a thriving country.

On May 15, 1915, Willie married her childhood sweetheart and, at the time, the lieutenant governor of Texas, William Pettus Hobby. Her early years in Washington would play an important part in her life due to her social duties as the lieutenant governor’s wife.

In August of 1917, W. P. Hobby became governor of Texas after the sitting governor, James E. Ferguson, was impeached. Hobby held the Democratic ticket and eventually won the governorship in 1918 after Ferguson ran against him in the primary. Willie shone as first lady of Texas and won the praises of many in her years in Austin. She was highly popular and entertained much, except during World War I, because she felt it inappropriate, according to Dining at the Governor’s Mansion by Carl McQueary. She also wanted to follow government guidelines for food conservation during wartime. In addition, Willie was responsible for making needed repairs and additions to the 60-year-old mansion, such as installing steam heating and adding a bath to one of the bedrooms.

While living in New York, Willie became interested in the women’s suffrage movement, which was a cause most dear to her. I found much evidence of this in my Briscoe Center research and in newspapers from her days as first lady of Texas. In fact, much of her scrapbook dwells on this topic. I also found an ample number of newspaper clippings from this era that show that both Florence and Willie did their part to promote women’s right to vote.

Throughout her life, Willie was always gracious and charming and treated everyone the same, whether servant or dignitary. In her memorial book, there are many references to how she was loved by those who knew and conversed with her. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, Willie was Florence’s best friend, and many years were spent together enjoying social events. From a visit to the White House 1909 to attending the inauguration of Mexican president Álvaro Obregón in 1920, both always seemed to be in good company. In fact, one of Florence’s books, Favorite Recipes of Famous Women (1925), is a compilation of Willie’s recipes when she was first lady from such visiting dignitaries as authors, actresses, and wives of past presidents or foreign leaders.

Willie died in her sleep at her Houston residence on the morning of January 14, 1929, to the shock of most. During the following days, there were many heartfelt condolences sent to her husband, W. P. Hobby, from all across the world. Many of these condolences can be found in a memorial book entitled Tributes in Memory of Willie Cooper Hobby, which was privately published by (I would assume) her husband. Here are a few excerpts:

 

 

I cannot longer wait to tell you how distressed and grieved I am over Willie’s death. Words fail to express the love and sympathy which has gone out from my heart to you all. I just cannot reconcile myself to the fact so grand and useful a woman should be taken.

As I write my thoughts run over the twenty-five or thirty years. Dear Mrs. Cooper and her family are vividly before me. So well do I remember the party I had and Willie, a beautiful young girl there and received the prize. In the years which followed the Cooper family figured in my life. You know how I loved Mrs. Cooper and Willie. Although of late years I saw so little of her I knew she was nearby. She it was who suggested to me to change the name of the Woman’s Reading Club to the Woman’s Club. Some hesitate to mention it to me thinking I would feel hurt but soon as I heard of it I made a motion to make the change.

Beaumont                                                                                                                    Sally Greer

*                               *                               *

 

To me Willie was the embodiment of all the word, “friend,” implies; her charity of thought… the kindliness of her heart and the deep solicitude for her friends… qualities the make one so worthy of admiration and love and for which I feel my life has been enriched for having known her.

Houston                                                                                                                       Edwina Wiess

*                               *                               *

 

We the members of the Woman’s Club of Beaumont, wish to extend to you our deepest sympathy. Mrs. Hobby has been loyal and faithful to our club and our hearts too are full of sorrow. We shall miss Mrs. Hobby but we shall ever hold her in memory and we shall strive to reach the goal of high ideals which she held before us.

Beaumont                                                                                                                     Woman’s Club

Collecting History: 2016 The year of the Scrapbook

 

 

Estate sales can be a treasure trove for resellers, but for me, they are places where I can sometimes find something of historical value. And by historical value, I do not mean monetary. It is very rare that I show up on the first weekend of the estate sale, much less on the first day. So you can rest assured that I won’t be the guy knocking on the front door 15 minutes early, dressed in shorts and flip flops with a latte in hand, griping on about how you haven’t opened the doors yet. (Sigh. I’ve actually seen someone do this at my one and only first-day estate sale visit.) At estate sales, I look for items such as old scrapbooks, regional books, and newspapers. These items don’t just have historical significance; they also have a human element that people like me find valuable. I find it sad that these items are most often passed up and discarded at the end of the sale because of disinterest.

In the past few years, I have acquired a few treasures to add to my library, along with some great photographs and postcards. I have also purchased a few items that, in all honesty, likely would have been trashed: newspapers printed around the time of the Kennedy assassination, and a few others detailing the events of some of our local hurricanes. I think my biggest purchase (from a historical perspective) was a scrapbook that I bought in 2015. At first glance, it seemed to be mostly newspaper clippings from World War II, which I could not pass up. With my new acquisition, I returned to my office to do a quick look through, but I didn’t really start going through it until later in the year.

In November 2015, on the day I toured Greenlawn Cemetery, I began revisiting an old interest I have in World War II. At the cemetery, I discovered a memorial for Cpl. Hugo J. DeBretagne, who was killed and buried at sea at Tarawa. During the next few months, I searched through a few newspaper archives for information on the DeBretagne family. I found bits and pieces of information about their lives but little on the sacrifice Hugo made. I also began listening to several audiobooks though Audible about the Pacific Theatre: Utmost Savagery by J. H. Alexander, Helmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie, Code Talker by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila, The Conquering Tide by Ian Toll, and With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge. All of these I highly recommend.

It wasn’t until June 2016 that I really began to look through the scrapbook I purchased. In it, I found an amazing assortment of newspaper clippings from before and during America’s engagement in the war. Of course, there were full-page headlines of the attack on Pearl Harbor, as well as the attacks that followed. Even the full text of Roosevelt’s address from December 8, 1941, was nestled in the stack of 74-year-old periodicals. The content seemed endless, especially when I made the decision to scan and copy most of the clippings for preservation, but the labor was well worth it.

I know little about the person who affectionately collected these bits of history from 1941 to 1944. I have found out the name of the collector, but out of respect for the family, I will refrain from divulging any personal information. I will say that the collector was female and definitely had a knack for historical preservation. In fact, she kept the multi-page clippings together by sewing them to one another so they wouldn’t become mixed up with the others.

The collection took about four months for me to scan and copy into three full binders. The content is a wide range of who, what, when, and where the world was during the early 1940s. One insight I found particularly intriguing was how the articles exemplified the American mindset at the time. Many people were trying to grasp the reality of what to expect in 1942. The fear and anger in the early days gave way into a unified machine that scrapped, saved, and manufactured its way to victory on the home front in the following years. This was a feat that could only have been pulled off by the “Greatest Generation.”

Although my scrapbook purchase was a major highlight of 2016, it wasn’t my first endeavor into in-depth research. Earlier this year, I went on two excursions as part of my ongoing research on Florence Stratton. In January I visited the Briscoe Center for American History in Austin to look through a couple of boxes pertaining to W. P. Hobby. Hobby was the governor of Texas from 1917 to 1921, and he owned both the Beaumont Enterprise and the Beaumont Journal for a time. My subject, however, wasn’t the former governor but rather his first wife, Willie Cooper, and her scrapbook that’s located at the Briscoe Center. I will be touching on this more in next week’s article, but for today, I will say that to hold in my hands an invitation for a party at the White House from 1908 is an incredible feeling that I can’t put into words.

My next excursion was in February. I contacted the Brazoria County Historical Museum to inquire about the Stratton plantation. The Stratton plantation was a sugarcane plantation owned by Florence’s grandfather in the 1800s. My original phone call was to ask about the location of the old plantation, but things took an interesting turn. Since I hadn’t contacted the museum in the previous two years, my research wasn’t really known to them, other than the fact that they hand found a few documents pertaining to Florence’s father for me in 2013. As I explained who I was and what I was researching, a funny thing happened. The conversation went a little like this:

“You said the last name is Stratton?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s interesting because I have a scrapbook that someone just donated to the museum from a Stratton that’s sitting on my desk.”

“Oh really?” I paused. “What’s the name?”

“Emily.”

Emily was Florence’s older sister, and sure enough, the scrapbook was Emily’s. She’d made it somewhere between 1880 and 1900. I learned that someone found the scrapbook at an estate sale in North Houston (possibly Conroe, if I remember correctly). Since much of the scrapbook pertained to Brazoria County, the person who bought it thought it would be best suited in the hands of the Brazoria County Historical Museum. And I agree!

Not much in the scrapbook has to do with Florence herself, but the fact that it was there and had the potential to give me a few crumbs to savor made me end my hesitation and actually visit her birthplace. Truth be told, I did find a decent number of interesting nuggets within the pages of the scrapbook; I’ll share these sometime in the next few months.

In closing, I’ll just say that 2016 was a good year on the research front and a good year for a few collective finds. Hopefully, 2017’s journey will be the same, and if you frequent estate sales, I may just see you there. Just remember that I won’t be roaming the house with a latte in hand, checking eBay on my phone to see what I can get for that Beanie Baby. Instead, I’ll be the guy who’s interested in that Time Life 28-book collection on World War II!

The Uninvited Guests: The Funeral of Wong Shu

 

 

Doing research for the Magnolia Cemetery tour for the last three years has taught me a few things. For starters, it’s taught me that you never know what you’ll find when you start researching the past. Some stories can be poignant, and others, not so much. What skeletons lurk in someone’s history? There could be many or none, so we take the good with the bad here at rediscoveringsetx.com and try to preserve our findings correctly for all to see. I write this because recently, we’ve stumbled on one of the oddest stories to date. I want to give you a little backstory before I go on.

When I first walked the hallowed grounds of Magnolia Cemetery, I noticed a Chinese headstone close to the line of trees near Brakes Bayou. We’ve had it partially translated for our yearly tour, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to do a rubbing so that we could get a more complete translation of the inscription. So, this stone still presents a mystery, and we’re not certain who is buried beneath it. When a fellow researcher found an article in the Beaumont Enterprise about a Chinese sailor who drowned in the Neches River, I began wondering if our mystery could soon be solved. As sad as the sailor’s death was, the aftermath was a fascinating oddity that could not easily be explained.

(Note: I have two articles about the Chinese sailor, and both include different spellings of the ship’s name. In the original article, the steamship was named Sapanta. The second article called it Santanta in the heading and Satanta in the body. Since the ship was primarily used in Mexico, I’ll assume all three attempts at naming the vessel were wrong. Furthermore, because all three names seem to be a misspelling of Santana, I’ll be using this name throughout this article. If I discover a clearer document that indicates what the ship’s name was, I’ll update this article accordingly.)

Wong Shu was a Chinese sailor who sailed on the Standard Oil Company tanker Santana. The ship had been docked in Beaumont for some time, on hiatus because of the volatility of the Mexican oil trade. Tragedy struck, and Mr. Shu drowned in the Neches River, just off the Magnolia docks in Beaumont, in the evening on Saturday, August 6, 1921.

Mr. Shu was Cantonese and a Buddhist, as were approximately half of his fellow Chinese crewmates. Knowing this, the crew attempted to hold the traditional funeral rites for Mr. Shu, but a few problems arose. While many of the items needed for the ritual were purchased, such as rice, meat, and bread, organizers were unable to locate a band to provide music at such a late hour. Automobiles were provided to transport mourners to the cemetery, but when they arrived, they were met by a multitude of locals.1921-08-09-beaumont-enterprise-enhanced-edit

As the first article explains:

. . . there were fully 400 Beaumont men, women and children and some of these behaved themselves in a manner unbecoming to American citizens and believers in the Christian religion, according to some of the ship’s officers who were there.

The thirty-four Chinese mourners and British officers of the Santana who attended were distressed, to say the least. The locals were asked to step back so the mourners could finish the ritual, but the locals ignored the plea. Most of the mourners did not throw their offerings of rice, meat, and bread into the grave, as is custom, due to fear that the locals would take the food away.

Then each Chinaman passed around the grave and cast a handful of dirt on the casket. A titter rippled about the grave and the Chinamen were displeased, but decided to continue with the ceremony. Then each mourner cast into the grave his handkerchief, which had been bought new for the occasion. Again there was a titter and the Chinese mumbled something and expressed a wish to leave the cemetery to return at some other time to complete the ceremony without interruption.

Wong Shu was buried at Magnolia Cemetery, though the exact location of his grave is not known. The newspaper article stated that he was buried in the Chinese part of Magnolia Cemetery, but this is incorrect, as there is no “Chinese part” of the cemetery. Records show he was buried on public ground, but this information is largely unhelpful, as it means he could be buried nearly anywhere.

1921-08-14-beaumont-enterprise-enhanced-editOn August 14, another article about Mr. Shu’s death graced the pages of the Beaumont Enterprise. This one featured the “chief mourner,” second engineer Alexander Lawson Watson. He was chosen as chief mourner by the Chinese crew for his selfless actions of diving into the Neches River and attempting to save Wong Shu. Although the first part of the article is mostly an account of Mr. Watson’s war record, Mr. Watson had many things to say about the crew, and about the Chinese in general.

A Chinaman is not coldblooded and heartless, he says. They love, hate and sorrow as much and as genuinely as members of the Caucasian race but they show their love, their hatred and their sorrow in a different way. It is not the belief of the British officers of the Satanta that the people of Beaumont who attended the funeral last Monday of the Chinese sailor to be disrespectful but they failed to take into consideration that the odd things they saw were not intended to provoke levity. Some of those who were there deny anything was done by Beaumonters that was disrespectful of the dead. However, American manners were just as odd to the Chinese as the manners to Americans and on a less sad occasion the Orientals would not have taken offense at what they heard and what was done.

After reading both articles, I got the impression that the Beaumonters’ ignorance of cultural and religious differences was on full display. Yes, you can also say this about the Chinese crew, but you must admit they were surely in a vulnerable state at the time. To lay a loved one to rest is a solemn and poignant moment for family and friends. I think (or hope) most cultures would agree on this.

This wasn’t the first time that Southeast Texans were introduced to Asian culture. During the same period, a few Japanese rice farming families settled in SETX and went on to make a big impact on the industry. Although some residents were initially hesitant to welcome them, they eventually found them to be hospitable neighbors.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

FYI:

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

IMG_2721

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! 😉

http://www.chron.com/entertainment/slideshow/Notable-women-of-Southeast-Texas-126236.php.

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.

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2016/02/03/rediscovering-florence-stratton/

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!)

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2016/01/27/tales-from-hallowed-ground-catherina-jeanette-stengele/

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.

www.babedidriksonzaharias.org

 

 

 

 

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.

http://mcfaddin-ward.org/

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.

http://chambershouse.org/

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.

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2012/06/06/kate-magill-dorman/

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.

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2014/04/16/blanches-journey-an-early-look-at-life-in-port-arthur/

 

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.

http://starkfoundation.org/about-the-foundation/founders/nelda-childers-stark/

http://www.ifthedevilhadawife.com/

 

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.

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2014/04/06/tales-from-hallowed-ground-evelyn-keyes/

 

 

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.

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/flo11

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.)

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fse20

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.

http://www.rediscoveringsetx.com/2012/08/31/legend-of-kisselpoo/

 

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

fs14

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.