Area Was Stockmen’s Paradise
When the Irish colonists claimed their land grants in the area that is now Bee County, they found grass knee-high in much of the territory, and realized that this could be developed into a stockman's paradise, especially the land between the Blanco and Papalote Creeks.
Among the first to establish homes in the county were: Mrs. Ann Burke and her infant son, Patrick, (the baby, after becoming an adult, developed into one of the prominent cattlemen of Bee County); Patrick Carroll, who later married Mrs. Ann Burke; Mrs. Mary Carroll, whose husband died on the voyage to Texas; and the James Hefferman and Simon Dwyer families.
As they came in oxcarts from the town of San Patricio to locate their grants, they found a small settlement of Irish people near the confluence of Aransas and Poesta Creeks, including the Rev. John Thomas Malloy, a Catholic priest, and his Fadden nieces and nephews, and the families of George 0 Docharty and John Ryan. The late arrivals settled on the banks of Poesta Creek, part of which is now the City of Beeville.
This area was a wilderness, with wild animals, including panthers, wildcats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, badgers, and others. And wild game, such as deer, turkeys, rabbits, javelinas, ducks, and geese, were in abundance to furnish meat for the colonists bill of fare. There being no stores, they were forced to grow their vegetables and hunt in the wilderness for their meat, and descendants of the first settlers said they practiced a ‘live-at-home way of life, buying only salt, coffee and sugar. These necessities came by boat to Saint Marys, and by oxcarts to San Patricio and the banks of Poesta Creek.
Until wells could be dug, water was obtained from Poesta, Aransas and Talpacote Creeks.
Thomas Ragsdale Atkins came to Beeville in 1860. He was owner and publisher of the Beeville Picayune for eight years and his son, George H. Atkins, was publisher of the Picayune from 1907 until the Picayune and Bee consolidated in 1928 and was publisher of the Bee-Picayune from that date until he did in 1959.
Thomas R. Atkins wrote a history of Bee County from the time the Irish colonists settled this area until the turn of the century, and it was published in ten installments in the Picayune in 1908. Many of the facts related were taken from County Court records, but since the writer arrived here two years after Bee County was organized, he saw much of the history while it was being made and was able to give an eye-witness account of many events and conditions of the early days.
Mr. Atkins said that when he arrived in Beeville in I 860 “there could be no lovelier place.” The grass was luxurious; there were few roads and no fences and travel was by direction; the creeks were beautiful running streams with deep pools full of fish and alligators . . . And he said: ‘‘In the language of the poet, ‘The landscape everywhere was pleasing and only man was vile’.”
Bee County’s first historian told about the camels that were brought to this area to serve as beasts of burden. They roamed at will and proved to be an annoyance to the men who owned horses, since the sight of a camel would throw a horse into a state of confusion. John J. Shook, a teacher in Beeville, caught a camel and turned it over to a group of youths who rode the humpback animal a few days then turned it loose.
Mr. Atkins said the land was open prairie, with only a few motts of hackberry trees and scattered live oak trees. Vast herds of Texas LongHorn cattle and thousands of Spanish horses roamed over grass that was from knee-high to waist-high. Four roads came into Beeville: One from Goliad, one from San Patricio, one from Saint Marys, and one from San Antonio.
The history writer named the following as the first families to settle in the area that became Bee County: The Corrigans, on the Aransas, also a brother-in-law, Martin O’Toole, in I 829; a few years later Pat Fadden and family settled near the Corrigans; in the same area were Mr. Leahy, D. C. Grover, S. D. Page, G. D. Day, William Miller, and a Mr. Letting, who kept a store and post office at Lattington. On the Poesta—J. V. Stewart, John Sweeny, Dick Hall, Rev. Berry Merchant, David Kerr, Mr. Clemens, and some others. On the Papalote—David Craven, Pat Quinn, Tim and Luke Hart, L. Carlisle, Major Steen, D. Callihan, C. Kirchner, and others. In what is now Clareville—H. T. Clara, Elzie Clara, and Henry Ryan. Lower on the Aransas—-John and Jim Wilson, J. B. Madray, R. H. and T. H. Allsup, Noah Webster, and a Rev. McCurdy. Above Beeville on the Poesta-—Felix Newcomer, C. C. Jones, Giles Carter, and Pat Carroll. On the Tapicat (Talpacote)—The Gilchrist family. On the Lower Medio—Hines, Fox, Goulds, Phelps, Driscoll, and Robinson families. Farther up lived— Bates, Curtis, W. M. Parchman, Dan Fuller, M. G. Fellers, Joshia Turner, Alex Coker, J. F. Pettus, Mrs. Scott, and Mr. Palmer.
Mr. Atkins listed the following old settlers of Beeville: Dr. Taylor, who built the first residence; J. G. Cleary, W. S. Fuller, George W. McClanahan, Dr. Leander Hayden, Mr. Bettis, B. R. David, W. W. Arnett, Robert Graham, Ross Morris, James Wright and sons, W. C. and R. C., Mr. Roy,
G. B. McCoIlom, H. J. Stephenson (father of B. P. Stephenson who was the second white child born in Beeville and who many years later served as mayor of this city), Professor John Shook, John Atkins, Thomas Brady, Mrs. Dawson, and John Wallace.
The relater of early happenings said the first person buried in the Old (Evergreen) Cemetery was the four-year-old daughter of Mr. Dawson who died from the effects of a rattlesnake bite in the fall of I 860. The next person buried there was the infant son of May Foster in March 1861.
Water sands could be reached at depths from twenty-five to sixty feet, and some of the wells were of a type known as “dug wells.” These holes were about three feet square, and were dug by hand with shovels and “cased” with small rocks cemented to the clay walls to prevent caving. A frame was erected above the well, with block and tackle hooked to the cross beam, a rope through the block attached to a bucket, which was sent to the bottom of the well, filled with water and brought to the surface. In later years, windmills were erected, and by the year 1900 there were so many here that Beeville became known as “the Windmill City.” Almost every home had one.
All of the old-timers related that there were no flies in this area from the time the colonists arrived until the I 880s. When a deer, turkey, or goose was killed, the meat was hung in the shade of a tree, and “the weather formed a crust to preserve it.” Another way to preserve fresh meat, which was employed by the early settlers, was to cut the meat into slices and hang them on a clothesline to dry in the sun. (I was born in 1894, and I can remember seeing my parents hang meat on a line to dry, and for some reason, flies did not bother it, although there were flies during my early childhood.)
Mrs. Madray said that the cattle industry started in what is now Bee County in about 1840, when “Mr. Dunlap brought between six hundred and seven hundred head and settled them in the bend of Aransas Creek near a spring and deep pool of water, the stream running continuously from there on to the bay.” She said: “He also built a rock house, the walls of which are standing today (1939). Later Mr. Dunlap sold his cattle and the rock house to Joe Wilson. Mr. Wilson sold the cattle and rock house to Captain D. A. T. Walton, who was living there when he was first elected sheriff of Bee County in 1875.”
Mrs. Madray continued: ‘‘Mr. Dunlap’s daughter, Miss Libbie, taught the first school for the pioneer children in a picket house a mile or two farther down the creek from her home. Little Sallie Wilson, who later became Mrs. Roswell Gillett and mother of Mrs. Tom Lyne (and great-grandmother of Mrs. William B. Moser), was one of her pupils. It was about the time she was going to this school that Sallie was visiting one day in the Page home about seven miles farther down the Aransas Creek and saw three camels, the last of the herd brought to Texas in 1856 to act as beasts of burdens. They were found unprofitable and were turned out to roam the prairies. The three camels came to the house. They looked very strange to her. The sight of them frightened the tiny girl.”
During the colonization days there were no fences, and early stockmen ranged their cattle on the lands they had settled as best they could. The men of a family would serve as vaqueros, or cowboys, and try to keep their own cattle separated from those of adjoining “ranchos.” The first cattle were those that later became known as the Texas Longhorns, so named because of their extremely long horns. There are some survivors of this strain in Live Oak County.
The land was open prairie, as the Mesquites and Huisaches had not made inroads into this part of the state at that time. There is a legend about the advent of the Mesquites. The story goes that covered wagons had been driven into Mexico, the home of the Mesquites, and the owners, having learned that Mesquite beans were good food for cattle and horses, loaded their wagons with the beans for the return trip to Texas. There were cracks in the bottoms of the vehicles, and the beans dropped through. Gradually the seeds sprouted, and the wagon road became lined with trees. As the Mesquite is prolific in bearing beans (seeds), the brush began to spread throughout the pasture lands, and today it has become a nuisance to the ranchmen, despite the fact that individual trees are beautiful and ornamental adornments to the yards of country homes.
The Golden Rule was practiced by the pioneers, and a verbal contract, as a rule, was as binding as a written instrument.
After the settlers became established, they began to build better homes, advancing from straight poles driven into the ground, side by side, to the log-cabin type. The logs were cut in mitered fashion so that the corners would be weather-proof. Floors were made of boards that were split straight with the grain of the wood and dressed to a smooth finish with a sharp ax. Each home had a smokehouse, where meat was cured by a smoking process. Chips of wood were burned in the house, creating a smoke that had a preservative effect upon the meat. A rail fence was built around each home as a protection from wild beasts, and also the garden that produced vegetables for the dinner table had a fence around it.
Later, houses were constructed with rocks obtained from the hills. The rocks were cut while still damp, then placed in the sun to dry before the masonry work was started. Mrs. Madray said the first houses made of lumber were built around I 845, the material having been brought by wagons pulled by oxens from the port at Saint Marys.
Always, the settlers lived in fear of the Indians. Mrs. Madray relates this story:
“John Corrigan, one of the colonists who came in 1830, father of the late Jerry Corrigan who died in Beeville on January 16, 1936, settled on Aransas River below the ‘V’ where the Poesta and Aransas come together.
The family had exciting times with the enemy and the wild life of this country. On one occasion the wife was alone when the Indians came.
Indians killed the faithful dog and took Mrs. Corrigan’s saddle pony which was tied to the gatepost near the door of the home . . . At another tic Jerome Murphy was on his way from Victoria to San Patricio and stopped on the creek near the Corrigan home for dinner. After preparing his me and sitting down to eat he saw the Indians coming. He ran to the house short distance away. The enemy took his coffee, bacon and cornbread, and his horse and saddle. Mrs. Corrigan told Mr. Murphy to get her horse ar go notify her husband who was in the woods splitting rails. But Mr. Murphy would not go. Mrs. Corrigan told him she would go, and tying a red handkerchief around her head and mounting her pony, she rode into the woods The Indians watched her ride away. When she returned with her husband some rangers were there and engaged the Indians in a running fight the Mulas Hills.
“The Corrigans were compelled to leave their home several times f safety. At one time before leaving they decided to hide their families and household belongings by digging a deep hole in the ground and buying them, feeling that if the enemy came they would not find the articles. But they came and destroyed, digging up the furniture and breaking ±articles into pieces. Only one piece—a table—escaped destruction, and is an heirloom in the family today. It is said pieces of dishes can be found in the ground there today.’’
But in spite of the many hardships—the constant threat of Indian raids, the killing of young calves by wild animals, the occasional droughts that were drawbacks to the growth of vegetables and feed crops, the winter that seemed so severe because of poorly constructed houses and lack heating facilities—these Irish settlers felt relief from the oppression they had suffered in their native land, and enjoyed the freedom that the Ni World had given them.
And gradually they were adding cattle to their herds and taking advantage of this Stockmen’s Paradise!
Empresario John McMullen sold his interests in the development project to his partner, James McGloin, but retained four leagues and laborers property in San Patricio County. He moved to San Antonio and became a merchant. Later he entered politics and was elected to the office Alderman under Mayor Samuel A. Maverick. But McMullen was murder in his home by an unknown assassin on January 2 I, 1853. (Oberste’s “Te Irish Empresarios and Their Colonies.”)