AUBURN UNIVERSITY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS & ARCHIVES 


Transcription of the Julia DeSteiguer Reminiscence, RG:  22
Transcribed By:  Alfrieda Brummitt
Date:  July 1, 1998

 
 

W.R. Hunt, "Recalls Frontier Life On Her 91st Birthday," San Marcos (TX) Record, May 10, 1940.

Mrs. Julia W. deSteiguer, age 91, of San Marcos, Hays County, Texas, was born near Salem, Alabama, in 1848. When 6 years old she with her father, Allen Bryan, mother, brothers and sisters moved from Alabama to Panola County, Texas.

Mr. Bryan had already purchased 4,444 acres of East Texas land, which was part of a wilderness at the time of purchase. He came with his own wagon-train, 50 Negro slaves, a hired overseer and a considerable herd of cattle.

We shall let Mrs. deSteiguer tell the story of the trip to Texas, how she grew to womanhood here, married and reared a family of her own.

"When we began to pack up for the move to Texas," said Mrs. deSteiguer, "my father told me I would have to leave behind some of my rag dolls, as I had too many to carry along. I took my little dolls out to a large cedar tree, laid them gently and tearfully under the tree and bade them goodbye. In the wagon-train were about 15 covered wagons, one buggy and one closed carriage. My father and mother rode in the buggy, the four younger girls in the closed carriage, and the two other girls and boys rode horseback.

"We crossed the Mississippi river at Rodney, a little village about half way between Vicksburg and Natchez, Miss. The river, to my childish mind, looked as big as an ocean and I expected any minute for it to swallow me up. It took sometime to cross the river, as the small ferry boat had to make several trips to get all the people, wagons, and cattle across.

"At night we camped in the open and cooked our supper on campfires. Some of the older boys and men always stood guard with guns through the night as a protection against horse and cattle thieves and wild animals.

"Finally, after seven weeks on the road, we arrived on my father's land in Panola County, Texas. The entire tract was wild and primitive woods. We made a camp; everybody went to work building houses. The foreman and some of the Negroes started clearing land to plant the crops next spring. Despite the fact that we could get neither lumber nor nails, we soon had a comfortable log house to live in. The logs, hewn in the woods, were hauled by oxen to the building site. In place of nails to fasten the logs together, we used wooden pins, boring holes in the logs with an auger for the pins to fit into. The nearest lumber was at Shreveport, 100 miles away, too far to haul lumber with oxen.

"Later we built a house which was used for both church and school. My mother was a devout Baptist. Our nearest neighbor and very good friend, John Armstrong, was a Methodist. As we had no preacher, mother and Mr. Armstrong agreed to let the first preacher who held service decide the denominational name of the church. Mr. Armstrong beat mother in finding a preacher, so it was called the Methodist Church, although it was used by other denominations.

"The seats in this church building were made from logs, split open to form a level surface and supported by wooden legs which were driven into auger holes. The one church room was divided in the middle by a railing about three feet high. Negro slaves sat on one side of the railing and white people on the other side. We carved out little pieces of timber with holes in them to hold the tallow candles. The candles served as lights at night service.

"It was in this little log church, before I was grown, that I joined the Baptist Church. I have taken great interest in church work ever since.

"The new country, though a complete wilderness, had a charm of its own. The virgin forests were grant to look upon, the streams crystal clear and the wild flowers in springtime intrigued by young fancy. Deer, turkey, quail and squirrel were plentiful and there were numerous droves of wild hogs. Also an abundance of wild nuts and wild berries. Food was plentiful, but clothing we made from raw wool and cotton. We had a sheep and grew cotton each year.

"We operated several spinning wheels and two looms. I have spun both cotton and wool and wove cloth many days in our early Texas home. We made cloth for all wearing apparel, wove our own blankets and bed covers. Good weaving was considered an art and the women folk took special pride in weaving beautiful cloth.

"We had been in Panola County two years before the settlers got together and agreed to build a school house. The school house had a large open fireplace, log seats, two windows which could be closed with plank shutters and only one door. The teacher taught three or four months, and received $2 per month for each student. For text books we used the old Blue-Back Speller, McCuffy's first, second, third, and fourth readers. We also studied geography, U.S. history, grammar and arithmetic. By the time we got through these books we were ready to marry.

"Father was in poor health when War between the States started. He was a loyal Southern, but had little hope that the South could win. He believed the odds against the South were too overwhelming. I recall that when two of my brothers joined the Confederate army, we kissed and waved them good-bye. An older sister admonished: "Don't you two boys come back here shot in the back."

"For four years, during the war, we had neither sugar nor coffee. We used cane syrup for sweetening and for coffee substituted parched wheat, parched corn, or thin strips of hard-baked sweet potatoes, ground fine. The only coffee I saw during four years of the war were a few grains hidden away that we found by accident.

"My father died in 1862. We continued to live on the farm which mother managed as best she could.

"Some of the things I did during those days would be considered unusual now, but quite common then. For instance, I not only spun and wove, but sometimes helped out with syrup-making in the fall, and have even taken home-grown and home-cured tobacco and rolled it into cigars for the men.

"It was several months after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation before we knew the Negro slaves were free. Mother called up all the Negroes and told them they were free, could either stay on the place or leave. If they stayed they could farm as tenants, getting one-half of the crops they produced. The Negroes were not overjoyed at being told they were free. Some of them cried and most of them remained with us.

"One Negro man, Abe, decided he would go to Shreveport and look for work. Several weeks later a Negro came to our home and told mother that Abe was in Shreveport, ill with typhoid fever and wanted to come back home. Mother immediately sent the carriage over to Shreveport, had Abe packed in the carriage as comfortably as possible and brought home.

"He was seriously sick for several weeks, but recovered and was a good worker ever afterward.

"War between the States had deprived the neighborhood of doctors. There was one woman, a doctor's widow, who had nursed and studied medicine. She was always called in to attend the sick. People for miles around would summon this good woman to come down to their aid when illness struck down some one in the family.

"During the war many articles, including food and medicine could not be had at any price. I recall that the only 'flour' we had was home-grown wheat, ground on a grist mill, which turned out bran, seconds, shorts and flour all in the same sack. If we wanted to bake a cake for a special occasion, we sifted this flour through home-spun cloth and sweetened the cake with home made can syrup.

"Our family would have fared badly during the War between the States had it not been for the faithful Negro men and women who remained with us throughout the war. They farmed the land, raised hogs, chickens, feed and looked after the livestock. Also they would fight at the drop of the hat in defense of we womenfolk.

"Dr. deSteiguer and I were married at my home in Panola County in 1868. I wore a home-spun dress. We lighted the house with tallow candles and the cake was made from home-grown and home-ground wheat.

"We began housekeeping on nothing much except faith, hope, and love. It was a hard struggle for several years because war had taken most of our property and practically all of our money. People in those days didn't think the government, or anyone else, owed them a living. It was 'root hog or die.' But people helped one another without being asked to do so. They shred their food and clothing with the needy.

"My children, grandchildren and even some of my great-grandchildren seem to think I am old. But I don't feel old, and don't expect to ever get old. I never worry about anything. 'The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.'

"I knit a great deal, as I like to keep busy doing something. Not long ago my daughter's little 4-year-old girl asked me what I was knitting. I told her I was making a pan-holder to give her mother, so she could handle hot cake pans. The little girl, not able to fully grasp my meaning, went home and said to her mother; "Grandma is making pan-cakes with thread and great long needles.!"

Mrs. deSteiguer is far from being a feeble old woman. Her 91 years sit lightly and she keeps up with the trend of the times. Her keen mind is alert to all that is going on politically and economically. A mother of 9 children, only five of them living, she has 23 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Note: Mrs. Julia Bryan deSteiguer was the sister of Emma Bryan King. Emma Bryan King was the mother of Dr. Stephen Allen King of Karnes City, Texas, Grandmother of Dr. Allen D. King of Wilmington, Delaware, and Great-grandmother of Dr. Allen D. King, 2nd, of Athens, Georgia.


Go to the AU Special Collections & Archives Homepage