Museum hears more on history of oil, pipelines

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When Harold Gene Wells visited the Museum on Mar. 2, he shared more local oil and pipeline history.   He confided that the late Joe Cooper (1890-1974) loaned money to probably 90 percent of the families that lived that traveling life from the 1940s through 1960s.  In those early days, Cooper officed in the old First National Bank, which stood on The Square where Rancho Viejo now stands.  In 1954, Wells telephoned Cooper from Iowa needing to borrow money to buy a car to drive back to Madisonville.  Cooper’s only words were, “Write a check and come by and sign a note when you get back.”  In 1961, Jack Broadway was traveling with Wells in Buffalo, New York when he decided he needed his own vehicle.  Broadway called Cooper, received the same instructions, and bought a car.  When Cooper quit loaning money and went into the insurance business in 1960, Wells began dealing with First National Bank’s Datus Sharp, Sr.  By then, Wells had been in the pipeline business for years.  One day when talking to Sharp about a loan, Sharp chided him and said, “When are you going to get a REAL job?’  Now Harold Gene admits that there were times he wondered that himself, but at the age of 87, he had spent a lifetime working in the oil and gas industry, was going strong, and had years of more work planned.  

Page 13 of the February 8 Meteor contained a photo of school group from the past.  Mrs. Betty Gilbert and others have since identified most of the folks pictured.   The teacher was Idell Reynolds Floyd, appearing with third graders in the school year 1946-1947.  In the front row (L-R) were Bertha Rae Ledbetter (Plotts), Betty Lou Hendrix, Betty Jo Spillars (Gilbert), Leon Grisham, Christine Weir, Charlotte Lamb, and ____.  On the second row were ____, Andy Clark, ____, Patsy Berry, Dutch Walker, Melvin Maness, and Fred Bradford Gibson.  In the back row were Leroy Henry, Zelda Cannon, ____, Johnny Belew, Mike Ferguson, Margaret Baker (Thigpen), Wayne Colwell, Morris Ray Poteet, and ____.  If you can fill in blanks, folks at the Museum would love to hear from you!

For years, Madison County has been home to the Wells families.  Below, I tell more about part of them. If you have not lived here for 50 years or more, I’m betting some of you will realize that there is Wells blood that you did not know about in some families.

Columbus Wright Wells (1867-1933) and his wife, Elizabeth Jane “Lizzie” Halliburton Wells (1870-1936), were the first of that family in Madison County.  They married when she was 16.  Descendants heard and shared stories for years about Lizzie’s mother having been an Indian, but that has been proven wrong by DNA testing and other family stories.  Lizzie’s father, M. M. Halliburton, and 3 of his brothers served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  He fought in 14 battles and was a prisoner of war in Virginia for over 2 years.  When the war ended, he walked from Virginia to Waelder.

Columbus and Lizzie were both born in Gonzales County; him in the town of Gonzales and her in the Waelder community.  Their older children were born in Gonzales.  Columbus Wells was a large man, very much Scotch-Irish.  Most of the couple’s children had dark hair and dark complexion. 1900 census records show the family living in Montgomery County near Conroe.  After the hurricane destroyed Galveston, Columbus operated a business there during the island’s reconstruction.  Soon afterwards, he bought land that lay along Highway 75’s east side of Pee Dee Road and moved the family to Madison County. 

Columbus and Lizzie had 12 children.  They also adopted 2 granddaughters, Zelma “Bootsie” Culbreth Wells and Penny Culbreth Wells, when their mother, Leona Wells Culbreth, died.  Findagrave does not have Leona, Bootsie, or Penny listed.  Yvette died at age 3 and Columbus, Jr., at age 13, both of course with no children.  Daughter Nora married Welt Stewart, and their children were Wade and Agnes Stewart.  Others that carried on the Wells name included Clarence Monroe, Leona, Julius Edgar, Ted, Leslie, Georgia, Lillie, Calvin, and Elon.  

Julius Wells, fifth child of Columbus and Lizzie, was a very good carpenter and could design houses and buildings.  He drafted plans for and built most of the buildings on The Square and all the older big houses here, including the Joe Cooper House (now Sonny and Dawn Knight’s), the John Viser house (now Alex and Ericalynn Cannon’s), and the old Madison Hotel and cabins (near the high school).  He built and lived in the Orey Heath Home on Highway 75 for many years.  Julius was self-taught and very talented.  He was also a left-handed fiddle player. 

Columbus and Lizzie Wells had a number of grandchildren and then of course, great-grands.  For years, local schools were full of them, and later generations are still here.  Many descendants now carry different last names.  Son Clarence Monroe Wells (1887-1948) married Minnie Culbreth, and their children were Virgil, Esther, J.C., and Olen (1915-1973).  Virgil (1910-1993) drove a school bus and “ran cattle”, and left daughter Billie, who is now a Poole.  J.C. (1914-1976) coached in our schools, was a longtime county judge here, and also raised cattle.  He left us Jimmy (1940-2014), Lynn (Smith), and Steve. Leona Wells married Henry Culbreth.  Their children were Vernon and Travis, plus Zelma and Penny previously mentioned as adopted. The spouses of the above Clarence and Leona were brother and sister, so their children were double first cousins.

Julius Edgar Wells (1897-1958) married Mattie Driver, and their children were Florence, Faye, Chalmers (1887-1948), Truett (1925-1987), Edwin “Totsy”, and J.E., Jr.  Edwin (1922-2008) left us Larry, Nancy, and Wayne.  Truett’s children are Truett Jr. (Buck) and Sherry (Cannon).  J.E. Jr’s. are Gordon, Karen (Jeter), David, and Bruce. 

Leslie W. Wells (1900-1960) married Audra Fae Spraker, and their children were Leslie Garland Wells, Glyn Melvin (Mutt) Wells (1926-2010), and Harold Gene Wells.  Mutt and Polly Batson lived locally for years, raising Leta Ann (Carson), Melvin “Bo” and Laney (Stearns). Harold Gene and wife Pat raised 5 children here, including son Jeff Wells and daughters Dawn (Knight), Leslie (Wakefield), Rebecca (Broussard), and Melanie (Hulings).

Columbus and Lizzie’s other children did not leave as many local heirs.  Ted Wells married Lolen Francis, and they were blessed with Elon, Francis Yvette, and Novice Jean.  Georgia Wells married Howard Savell, and their 3 children were Savells, Howard Jr., James Clinton, and Billy Frank.  Lillie Wells married Ennis Whitley and their daughter, Ennis Marie (1932-1997), married Elwood Barrett, with whom she had Woody and Ellie.  Calvin Wells married Ophelia Thornton, and their sole child was Helen Margaret Wells.  Elon Wells married Viola Lively first and Francis Bruner second.  Ralph Wells was the product of the first marriage and Linda Wells the product of the second.  The adopted Zelma first married Carl Luther McAdams and second Frank Wells (no relation), and birthed no children with either.  Penny, the other adopted one, married Bill Jones, and their children were Sonny Jones and Janice Jones. 

Several people, including Jeff Stewart and Theodore Culbreth, told Harold Gene that Columbus Wells could stop an animal from bleeding.  “If they had a cow, horse, or animal cut and bleeding, they would call Columbus by telephone.  They had the old crank phones that hung on the wall back then.  Columbus would ask the name of the animal, and he’d lay down the phone, go and get his Bible, and read a verse aloud.  Then he’d return to the phone and tell the caller that the bleeding had stopped, which they said was always true.”  When that Bible was passed down to Harold Gene, he found the marked verse to be Ezekiel 16:6, saying “And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee, when thou was in thy blood, Live.”  His daughter, Becky Wells Broussard, now has family treasure.

The patriarch later sold most of that Pee Dee property to his children.  Daughter Nora and her husband, Welt Stewart, bought the piece on Highway 75 by the old Clute Garage.  Son Clarence bought some of it, much of which passed down to his heirs and on to descendants.   Later Clarence moved to a nearby community called Shady Grove, which was where Billy and Jean Tinsley now live.  He built a home, cabins, and a service station there.  While Wells was there, he sold gas to Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker on several occasions.  Those two, and their running buddy, Raymond Hamilton, spent nights in those tourist cabins.  Later Clarence moved and built Lone Star Courts north of town. 

Clarence Wells and Theodore Culbreth donated land for the Pee Dee School, which stood on property now owned by Billie and Thomas Pool.  In 1939 the school consolidated with Madisonville.  The first school bus from Pee Dee was an old Model-T.  Harold Gene’s father first made it to transport students to High School in town, before the elementary consolidated.   Mary Culbreth, Wendell, Harlon, and Ora Stewart, and Wilma and Suzie Townley rode it.  After consolidation, Ples Culbreth drove that bus, followed by Jim Lanier and Virgil Wells

Pee Dee families were always close and helped each other, with butchering hogs and steers and tilling and gathering crops when needed.  Preachers came to the community often and held meetings.  Families stayed all day, enjoying preaching and singing.  The women brought delicious foods for everyone to enjoy.  According to Harold Gene, “One year when they were young, Julius and my father, Leslie, decided to teach singing lessons.  This stopped when Leslie was flirting with Julius’s girlfriend while he was at the blackboard!”

A remembered Pee Dee neighbor was John Bradbury, Charles Bradbury’s grandfather, and Carroll Bradbury Fox’s great-grandfather.  “John Bradbury came from England when he was 16 years old.  He had a son that was sometimes called Percy, sometimes Bill.  Often in summer he traveled to Tennessee and other places, entertaining people from the back of a trailer and selling medicine that everyone knew was water but bought for the entertainment.  He let his hair get really long and pretended to be an Indian.  (remind anyone of Carroll Fox?).  He would come back to Pee Dee for winters, had a house trailer and a new car, and he told how he made those people there think he was an Indian.  One year he took some armadillos to Tennessee where people had never seen such before.  He charged them a nickel to look at them.  After that, when he was in Madison County he paid boys to help him catch armadillos to take to Tennessee.  Wells thinks then he probably sold them or turned them out, so Pee Dee folks may have helped populate armadillos all over the country.” 

The Pee Dee community did not have access to electricity until 1942, when Navasota Electric laid power lines.  Before then, they got by with kerosene lamps and lanterns, and at nights you could only see in one corner of a room.  Most of the farmers gave the cooperative right-of-way through their farms in order to get electrical power.  Harold Gene shared that he and his immediate family “were living in Grand Paw’s old house when he got the Electricity.  That house had the old high ceiling, and the lights were dropped down out of those ceilings.  We only had 25-watt bulbs, one per room, but I thought they were the brightest lights in the world!” 

Telephone service reached Pee Dee in 1945, of which Wells related, “Telephones were party lines. Every time anyone’s phone would ring, everyone could listen in.  Our number was 592-J1, and that was one long ring which sounded in all that party line’s phones.  The Culbreths’ was 592-J-2, and we knew by the ring it was for them.  Even though I am sure there was a lot of eavesdropping and gossiping, most of the families in the community were all like kinfolks.” 

I owe Harold Gene Wells a great debt for sharing much of the above information.  I apologize for any mistakes, which I claim myself. 

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX, opens to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Museum Curator Jane Day Reynolds welcomes your visit.  Both editions of the cookbooks have been selling well.  They are $10 each but if we ship them, we must get $15 each, and let us know if you want the first one, the second one, or both!  If you’d like to share a story, call the Museum, 936.348.5230.  If the answering machine picks up, leave your name, number, and message, and someone will call you back.   

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