Museum Musings: Madison County towns and communities

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Today I’m starting to share things about Madison County towns and communities. I sure can’t finish that today, there’s too much.  This is just the beginning.  I’ll vary them with other topics until I can get to them.

The Centennial edition of The Meteor, dated June 2, 1954, contained an article by L.A. Wakefield titled “Trinity Played Big Part in Populating County; Will Aid Industrialization.” He related that the earliest means of transportation into the interior, of which Madison County is, was by boats on rivers. The Trinity played such a part in populating Madison County in the early days. 

Wakefield stated, “The early settlers and even some of the old timers yet living tell us of vast prairies in the east end of the county where native grasses grew shoulder high and wild game such as turkeys and deer ran in droves. The wild game provided meat and the Trinity River was the means of transportation. The river ran clear in the early days since the luxuriant vegetation prevented erosion of the fertile soil and hence there was no appreciable siltation into the Trinity. The stream had a more even flow, with few sand bars and rapids, hence ideal for navigation. Steamboats made regular trips up the Trinity for years bringing coffee, flour, hardware, tobacco and other supplies. 

According to Wakefield, the most famous of the Trinity’s steamboats was the Harvey. It made scheduled trips carrying supplies and passengers as far north as Long Lake, near Palestine. Others went as far north as Dallas. Our county had several famous boat landings. At the Leon County line and extending south into Walker County, the most prominent were Powell, Rube, Robinson, Bozeman, Robbins-Clapps, Hydes, Randolph, Calhoun and Cincinnati. 

Bozeman Landing was also called Bozeman Crossing, approximately three miles upriver from the current Texas 21 bridge. It was once a busy thoroughfare for ox-wagons to and from Crockett. Another well-travelled ford was Calhoun Crossing, where Bedias Creek enters the Trinity. 

What caused most river traffic to stop? There were several reasons. Progress made roads available. River travel was slow. Also, farming the land caused great erosion, causing damage to crossings.

The town of Midway grew because of its location, at the junction of Old San Antonio Road (OSR) and La Bahia Road. OSR is believed to be the oldest regularly traveled roadway or trail in Texas, begun as a buffalo trail and used by Indians. Domingo Teran de los Rios traveled it in 1691, French trader Louis Juchereau de St. Denis did the same in 1714, as did Moses Austin in 1820 and many early settlers in later years. La Bahia was originally an east-west Indian trail in Southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas, and it is thought that it was not just one exact trail, but several that roughly paralleled each other.  In 1690, the Alonso de Leon expedition followed the rugged trail, with 116 men, on the way from Mexico to East Texas, for the purpose of discouraging French encroachment as well as explore, colonize, and Christianize the Indians. In the 19th century, La Bahia gained importance as a cattle trail along which herds went to markets in the north and the east. Today’s U.S. Highway 21 is supposedly in the general vicinity of La Bahia in places, but no one can pinpoint the exact trail now. 

By 1854, a settlement existed at the site of Midway, but it wasn’t until Joseph Addison Clark moved there in 1855 that the town was named after his hometown of Midway, Ky. A post office opened in 1856, and that same year Clark helped found and taught at the Midway’s first school. He was also the first pastor at Midway Church of Christ, which had been established in 1854. In 1884, Midway had 75 residents, and by 1904 there were 217.  In 1936 the town had a population of 539 plus a bank, some 15 other businesses, a church, and a cemetery. By 1959, numbers had dropped to 400 residents and eight businesses, and by 1990 that dropped to 274 residents and three businesses. The last population count I have found was 217, and there are at least four businesses operating there now.

Midway’s school closed during the Civil War but reopened afterwards. In 1896, there were 2 schools, one with 107 white pupils and another with 80 black students.  In 1960, the Midway schools consolidated with the Madisonville Independent School District in 1960 due to low student numbers.

Now, let’s step back again but stay in the Midway area. Irish native Patrick Hayes arrived in Texas about 1836, by way of New York and Maryland. He enlisted in the Texas army and fought in our war for independence from Mexico. After being honorably discharged, he moved to the area east of what would become Midway.  Hayes was referred to as Dr. Hayes and was well-respected, practicing herbal medicine. He amassed large tracts of land on the Trinity River and established three large plantations, Cairo, Seven Oaks, and Boggy Creek, and he farmed cotton and raised fine horses. His Seven Oaks Plantation covered 11 square miles, upon which he built a large home for his family. It was near the Hayes Cemetery, which now stands on private land, on the south side of Texas 21 a bit more than three miles east of Midway, in the vicinity of the Antioch Community. 

Hayes Cemetery contains five known graves, all Hayes family members. The first was that of Patrick’s young son, James Frank, buried there in 1857 at the age of 11. Patrick’s wife died in Old Waverly in 1859, was buried there, and was later reinterred in the family graveyard.  Patrick died and was buried there in 1864. The only marked grave is that of Patrick’s daughter, Melissa Hayes Goree, and her infant, both of whom died during childbirth in 1865. It is suspected that family servants and slaves are also buried at the site, but there is no documentation.  After 1865, Hayes family members were buried in the Midway Cemetery. 

When Dr. Hughes left San Jacinto County and came to our area, he brought slaves with him to farm his plantations.  One was Jeffie Bailey, a blacksmith and beekeeper.  He was a widower, with two sons, Mack and Jeff, and two daughters, Lucy and Salean. Salean married Cuff Adams. 

Cuff Adams said he came to America with a boatload of people.  He was tall, big boned, dark-skinned, and stout, weighing about 260 pounds.  One grandson remembered him as being kind and agreeable, and said he never saw him get angry, curse, or use foul language. Cuff and Salean had six children.

When one son, Will (1877-1955), wanted to marry Gertrude Jordan, Cuff was against it and locked Will in a pen. Will dug a hole and crawled out, took a ladder, and stole Gertrude out of her parents’ home that night. The only wedding gift they received was a pig! Later they had three children, Earl, Selena, and Wilbert. 

Cuff and Salean must have reconciled with Will and Gertrude, because on May 5, 1899, the two couples bought 278 acres of land, on which they raised cattle, hogs, cotton, corn, sugar cane for syrup, and other crops.  Family members still own 190 acres of that land. 

Cuff’s grandson, Earl Adams, married Ruth Glover, and they had three children.  The youngest, Clent D. Adams, married Pearl Adams.  They raised 10 children on family property not far from the Trinity River, and I had the privilege of teaching several of the children. 

Now I’m changing direction, but below this ties in to Midway. Years ago, I taught fourth grade and took a class to City Cemetery on a field trip. The students figured folks ages at death, found unique names, talked about so many babies dying, and did tombstone rubbings. I think that must have been about 1986, because Clint Cannon and Damon McVey were in the group that day. We found an almost illegible gravestone inscribed “J.A. Christmas, assassinated Madison County, Dec. 11, 1880.”  Most of those students did not know the meaning of “assassinated,” which offered a good learning opportunity, but then of course they wanted to know why he was assassinated and by whom. Later I tried to learn something at the Courthouse, the Library, and The Meteor, but there have been so many fires here that I found no records of such. 

I have always loved reading history, and I find A History of Madison County, published in 1984, quite fascinating. Imagine my delight when reading it one day several years after the discovery of Mr. Christmas, to find the information detailed below, about a man killing another here in a political feud in 1880! 

That book tells that Thomas Alexander McDonald was born in 1835 in Lebanon, Tenn., and after he grew up, he studied civil engineering at Cumberland University there. After traveling to California where he and a brother spent more than five years surveying the boundary between California and Mexico, Thomas settled near a sister in Midway in 1958. He farmed, did survey work, married, and raised a family.  In 1872, he was elected Justice of the Peace in the Midway precinct. In 1876, 1878, and 1880, he was elected County Judge of Madison County. 

1880 was a tragic year for Judge McDonald. His wife died, leaving him with three small sons to raise.  Also, he became embroiled in a political feud and “killed a man right in the Courthouse.”  It appears that many of his constituents stood behind him, because while he was under indictment for manslaughter, he was re-elected to another term as County Judge.  Heartbroken over his troubles, he started drinking very heavily.  In 1884, he was finally tried for the murder and was found guilty.  McDonald served some of a five-year sentence before he was pardoned by Governor Sul Ross, after all 12 men who served on the jury that convicted him had signed a petition to Ross asking for McDonald’s release.  I have not been able to locate when or where that Thomas McDonald died, but I have been told that the trial and murder left him a broken man. 

Political involvement was not uncommon in that McDonald family. Thomas A. had an uncle who was mayor of San Antonio in 1852 and was murdered there in 1856 as a result of a political feud.  Thomas’s grandson, W.T. McDonald (1911-1985), was born in Madisonville, moved to Bryan in 1918, and served 8 years in the Texas Legislature, 6 years as a District Judge, and 6 years as a Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.  W.T.’s son, Tom (really W.T., Jr.), also of Bryan, served as District Judge of the 85th Judicial District Court.  Tom once told me that he possesses many family papers of which I’m hoping our Museum can get copies one day. 

If you’ve read many of my Musings, you know I use Findagrave.com. For me, the bad part is that often-needed information has not been entered, like the information about Thomas Alexander McDonald’s final resting place. Still, more information can be found there every day, and it does contain information about J.A. Christmas, in fact, two entries with identical dates but one for J.A. and the other for John A.

The school group’s discovery of J.A. Christmas’s grave occurred several years before the 1995 date that Findagrave.com was established. I was a busy young working mother and working on my master’s degree, so I didn’t have lots of free time. I thought I’d reached a dead end, but I did not forget about the assassinated Mr. Christmas.

I have not found in print anywhere that Thomas Alexander McDonald did for a fact kill J.A. Christmas, just that he killed someone in a political feud in 1880.  I am convinced J.A. Christmas was the victim. I feel that mainly because our county is small, and I don’t feel that many men in small town were assassinated in 1880. Since I have been able to find Christmas’s local grave on Findgrave.com, I’ve learned that he was born in Georgia and was only 30 years old when killed.  Findagrave.com contains a statement that he was murdered in a bar room brawl, but I cannot reconcile that idea with the word “assassinated” being engraved on his tombstone.  Perhaps he WAS assassinated in a bar room, or maybe as the McDonald information says, in the Courthouse, but I believe it was the same man and incident. If I learn more one day from McDonald family papers, I’ll let you know! 

Madison County Museum is now decorated for Christmas, and is located at 201 N. Madison Street. Barring holidays, it is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Curator Jane Day Reynolds would welcome your visit.  Our latest cookbook is available for purchase at $10 each, and we try to have food samples available made from some of the cookbook’s recipes.  If you’d like to order a cookbook by mail, send a check for $13.50 (includes shipping) per book, payable to Madison County Museum and mailed to the same at P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864.  If you live locally and cannot get to the Museum during its hours, call 936-348-5230, and we’ll call back to work something out. 

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