Tuesday, August 4, 2015

E.A. Renfro Family Migration

© Kathy Duncan, 2015

This is the recollection of Eugene Albert Renfro of Delta and Cottle Counties, Texas. At the time he related this information he was living in Dallas, Texas. My commentary follows it.

Pioneer Tells of Dallas as Country Town

E.A. Renfro Helped Develop Two Counties

Land $2 an Acre

Sixteen Sections Offered for Each New Mile or Railroad

By W.S. Adair

"I have played the role of pioneer in two counties in Texas, Delta and Cottle, and within a period that does not seem to me to be at all long," said E.A. Renfro, 807 South Tyler avenue. "My father, J.W. Renfro, with a party made up of ten or fifteen families, left the ancient seat of the Renfros in West Tennessee in 1847 and set out for Texas. These people had found it such uphill work getting a new start on the worn-out soil of Tennessee after the ravages of the war that they concluded to try a new country. They traveled like the nomads of prehistoric times, with oxen as motive power. Much of the way was at that time uncharted, and their covered wagons rolled along for six weeks before they reached Delta County, Texas, their destination. They camped wherever night overtook the them, taking things as patiently and leisurely as did their oxen. Often, without a querulous note, they would wait a whole week for a swollen stream to run down to a fordable stage.

"They were welcomed to Delta County by Volney Rattan, the oldest citizen. Delta County, which lies between the two forks of Sulpher River, has something of the shape of the Greek letter delta and from that topographical circumstance derives its name. I can not recall when the county was organized, but it is safe to say that some one at the christening had at least a smattering of Greek. Mr. Rattan, the John Neely Bryan of that region, lived to see the whole country blossom like the rose, and died only twelve years ago. The had of each  family in our party was, under the land laws of the time, when the State had more out-of-doors than it very well knew what to do with, entitled to 160 acres. They picked out their farms and lost no time in perfecting their titles to them. Mr. Rattan telling them how to go about it.

Very Place They Were Looking For

"The soil of Delta County was of surpassing fertility, but that helped little so long as there was no way of getting produce to the distant markets. The settlers, however, soon discovered that they could get along without markets and without much farming. They had been accustomed in Tennessee to toil and moil early and late in order to make a living, where in Texas they could live off the bounty of nature. The country was full of game, the native grass kept rolling fat all the cattle they could get hold of, and the mast in the woods supported great numbers of hogs. All they had to do to furnish forth the table was to find bread. The hides and furs which they acquired incidentally in getting their meat and in ridding the country of predatory animals they hauled to Jefferson or Shreveport and exchanged for such supplies as they could not produce at home. In fact, they found Texas to be the very country they had been looking for.

"I was born in Delta County in 1856, and can therefore remember when the country was all open range, and the people lived after the frontier fashion. Father traded in hides and furs, and made frequent wagon trips to Jefferson, the only big city we knew anything about. From the first settlers cultivated each a little land, which they were obliged to fence, in order to protect their crops from the cattle and horses which ran at large, and long before there were any railroads they began to grow a little cotton, which they hauled all the way to Jefferson. They broke the prairie sod with an old Cary plow, with more oxen hitched to it than a very small boy could count, dropping by hand corn or cotton seed in every fourth furrow as they proceeded with the breaking, and then paid no more attention to the crop until harvest time arrived, for the weeds did not appear for a year or two in new ground; or were there any of the crop pests we hear so much about in more recent times. Mr. Rattan, who had come from Illinois, had been followed to Texas by some of his old neighbors, who were to be distinguished from settlers who had not come from the old Southern States by the fact that they used horses and mules for draft purposes instead of the more lowly ox, the stand-by of men of the South, and by the fact that they knew more about farming than our people.

"We pressed what cotton we made in the old-time tread-wheel gin. The original tread-wheel gin, operated by oxen, had a capacity of two bales a day, but the improved gin, operated by horses or mules, designed to speed up things, turned out six to eight bales. The early-day farmer cut his wheat and oats with a cradle, separated the grain from the straw by walking horses over it, and then dispersed the chaff to the winds by means of a hand-tured [sic] fan. After the Trans-Continental Railroad was completed, we found a market at Paris, and no longer went to Jefferson, and a few years later Sulpher Springs got a railroad, and the Santa Fe and Mr. Green's Mid-land road established stations at Pecan Gap and Ben Franklin, in the northwestern corner of the county. But Cooper, the county seat, did not get a railroad until 1896.

"When I was a child the big settlements of North Texas were in Collin County. McKinney, Sherman and Paris were the towns we heard most about. Paris, one of the oldest towns, as I understood, was at first called Pinhook. I am unable to say how it got that unimportant name, or when or why it was changed to Paris. As a boy I heard nothing of Dallas.

"I well remember the time when the finest land in Delta County was to be had for $2 an acre. To be exact, in 1885, father was offered a tract 200 acres of it at that figure, but, after due deliberation, declined to take it. The same land has since sold for $250 an acre. The lands of Delta County are now practically in cultivation, right up to the banks of the streams, but they long ago began to show signs of failure, and do produce as they once did.

Rides in a Mule Car

"I did not see Dallas until 1890, I left the train at the old Union Depot,  Pacific and Central avenues, walked over to Main street, and took a passage on a mule car to come downtown. The hotels were the Grand Windsor, the St. George and the St. James. I selected the St. George, which as I remember, was a three-story structure, about 100x100 feet, just the Main street part of the present St. George property. Dallas was a mere country town in comparison with what it is today. About that time father subscribed for The Dallas News, and it has been my favorite newspaper ever since. In those days they subscriber could read The News through in a few minutes, whereas now it takes all week to read the Sunday edition.

"The true frontiersman was always on the lookout for a new country to grow up with, and when he found it he was still on the lookout, forgetful of the growing up part. In 1901 father moved to Cottle County and I followed him in 1906. We were both aware that it was laid down in the text books on agriculture in Texas that farming could not be successfully prosperous in that part of Texas lying west of the 100th meridian, which includes Cottle County. There was, however, no question as to the fertility of the land. The trouble was that it never rained; and, judging the future by the past, the writers of the textbooks had made the country over to the cattlemen forever. The land was so easily broken that settlers were tempted to give it a trial, to find that under good conditions it would produce anywhere from one to two bales of cotton to the acre, and milo maize and kafir corn galore. At first we had to haul our cotton fifty miles to Childress or to Quanah, in order to get it ginned. The teamsters charged us $9 a bale for hauling it, and made no money even at that figure, unless they could get freight to haul back.

We Move Once More

"After the farmers got to stirring the soil, the amount of rainfall began to increase and the seasons have steadily become more favorable, and the price of land has steadily advanced. Farmers are taking the land and putting it in cultivation as fast as the cattlemen make up their minds to turn it loose; a few sections at a time. There are, however, still some big ranches in the county, including the Matador, the Moon ranch, Swenson's, the Three D's, Three Stripes and a number of smaller ones. The cattle on these ranches either full-blood or high-grade Herefords, multiply and flourish famously on the native grasses, though almost all the ranchmen grow milo maize and kafir corn to help out the grass in case of need.

"There is no doubt, however, that the man with the hoe will in no long time have the entire country reduced to small farms and will have converted what was twenty years ago considered a hopeless desert into a land blooming like a garden of roses. Paducah, the county seat of Cottle, has the trade of a large territory and is growing rapidly."

"Not long ago Texas was offering 160 acres of land to every man who would settle in the State, and giving Eastern capitalists sixteen sections of perfectly good land for every mile of railroad they would construct in the State, and the largest town in North Texas could not muster 5,000 population. That time seems only yesterday to me. At the present rate of increase Dallas will easily show a population of $500,000 in ten years."
[Source:  Dallas Morning News; Dallas, TX; Sun. 9 Oct 1927]

Commentary:  A few of the dates in E.A. Renfro's account are in error. The Renfros removed to Texas long after 1847. In 1850 Joseph D. Renfro and family were still in Gibson Co., TN. In that year, James W. Renfro, Eugene Albert Renfro's father was only seven years old. In 1847, he would have been even younger - four. Notice that in the next sentence, he states that the soil in Tennessee was played out and "after the ravages of the war that they concluded to try a new country." That would make their departure date closer to 1867, which is very reasonable. We know that Joseph D. Renfro was in Dunklin Co., Missouri in 1860 while his wife Sarah was in Gibson Co., TN. Since his son James W. Renfro married in Gibson Co., TN in 1865, it is not unreasonable to think that Joseph D. Renfro and children had returned to Gibson Co., TN and departed from Tennessee for Texas.

E.A. Renfro would have us believe that they went straight to Delta County, Texas. We know, however, that they settled in Hopkins County, Texas by 1870. They were not in Delta Co., TX until about 1873. The old man Rattan that E.A. Renfro refers to was Volney C. Rattan, a pioneer settler of Delta, Co., Texas, who had also lived previously in Hopkins County. Even more interesting is that fact that Volney Rattan was E.A. Renfro's father-in-law.

E. A. Renfro was not born in Delta County, Texas in 1856. His parents did not even marry until 1865 in Gibson County, Tennessee. E.A. Renfro was born in 1872 in Delta County, Texas. The dates in his account become more accurate when he discusses the Renfro's move to Cottle County, Texas.

Dates aside, E.A. Renfro's recollection is rich in details of their daily lives. Evidently, he listened to the stories of his family but garbled details like dates.

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