Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
I am writing this from Karnes City, Texas, the county seat town of Karnes County. I am visiting my grandson, Nathan Jones, and his wife Kayla and my great granddaughter, almost-five-year-old Brenna. He is one of the ones, who, a few years ago, like some of his ancestors of old, got the urge to GTT—that is, Go To Texas.
The closest I had ever been to Karnes City, Texas before in my travels back when my husband and I had the ambition to “visit every state in the Union,” I had explored that notable Texas town, San Antonio, site of the famed Battle of the Alamo. Karnes City lies about an hour’s motor drive south of San Antonio. We (my son Keith, his wife, Debbie, and I) are here for a visit for Palm Sunday and until Thursday of Holy Week when we will fly back to Georgia. A brief visit for a long journey, but spring breaks and obligations about the celebration of Easter somewhat dictated our schedule.
We worshiped on Palm Sunday in the church where Nathan and Kayla are active, First Baptist of Karnes City. Both of them serve on the ministry staff, he as part-time minister of music (his regular job is band director and chorus director in the local school system) and she is church secretary and youth leader (better known nowadays as ministry assistant). The music was glorious and uplifting. The sermon by the Rev. Kevin Cornelius asked and explored the probing question, “Why the Cross?” He related how we observe Palm Sunday as a day of rejoicing because of the celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On Easter Sunday we are filled with rejoicing because of the resurrection of the risen Lord. But in between these two events of rejoicing is the darkest day in Christendom—we call it “Good Friday,” the day of Jesus’ death, the Day of the Cross. “Why the Cross?” he asked pointedly. Then Rev. Cornelius traced the necessity for the cross in God’s redemption plan. The cross was necessary in God’s plan because by Christ’s substitutionary death He did for us what we could not do for ourselves: He became the perfect sacrifice for sin required by God to restore mankind to Himself.
We are seeing the countryside, quite different from the spring we left in Georgia, with trees in full regalia of new leaves and the flowers in brilliant array. Karnes City and the surrounding area is in the Texas plains area. The county itself has several oil wells, some now being drilled and others that have been active for some time. At night we can see the well frames alight, one close to Nathan and Kayla’s house on Fair Lane. The cattle farms and pasturelands stretch for miles, with Texas longhorns sometimes close to the fence that encloses the Jones property in the town of Karnes City. Within the county are people of Polish descent and of Spanish descent. The foliage is grassland, and mesquite trees and a type of oak, much shorter than our tall oaks of various types in Georgia. And there’s the wind—always the wind. It may be extremely hot or extremely cold. Here in this Texas springtime, it is cool and somewhat bracing as it stirs the limbs of mesquite and oak and the shoots of prairie grass.
And now I come to GTT. The story is told that when some of our ancestors from the Georgia hills decided to find their fortunes in the west that was opening up to settlers, they painted in large letters on their barns in Georgia: GTT. The designation meant Gone to Texas. They might be back, they might sell their property in Georgia where the side of their barn announced their destination, but most likely they would remain in Texas, trying to make a living on the plains they had chosen for their new destination.
I learned that some of the eighteenth century property developers went to far away Poland and made the new world and its opportunities seem so inviting to those who wanted to leave their homeland to settle in America that a large contingent of Polish settlers came to the area of Texas that became Karnes County. No doubt, they hardly thought of any letters such as GTT—Gone to Texas. But that’s what they did, and that’s how the Polish immigrants came to make the area around present-day Karnes City their home.
It was easier for the Spanish. Mainly they had to cross the border of Mexico to make America their home. Many had come to fight in Santa Ana’s army that led up to the Texas War for Independence. And there many remained, and others migrated farther on. And so the Spanish communities, with the many who had moved across from Mexico, settling permanently in Texas and other southern border states.
Migrations into our mountain counties took place in the early nineteenth century. GTT (Gone to Texas—or GWYM, Go West Young Man) was a common occurrence in the late nineteenth century. Both migrations were with hopes of a better way of life and more room for growing families.
Jones; published April 21, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville,
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
[Ethelene Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian. She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 478-453-8751; or mail 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411.]