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James M. Russell

1836 - 1910

Source:  Burnet Bulletin, 7 April 1910, pg 23
Transcribed by Edna Cheatham, Feb. 2009

A Tribute to the Memory of James M. Russell, by Rustler

Burnet Bulletin, Thursday, April 7, 1910, pg 23

      The last time I attended a funeral at Bertram, less than year ago, it was that of a young man who was but in the morning of life and was suddenly stricken down. While returning home I wondered if I should live to attend another one, who it would be. The summons came, and this time the drum beat was for one of Bertram’s oldest and most beloved citizens, James Madison Russell.

      After lingering illness of some weeks, death’s icy finger gently touched his eyelids to sleep, and as gently as a summers sigh softly over you stealing, at his home at 2:10 o’clock on the morning of March 11th, did the soul of this kind and loving man while winged take it flight to its God. Standing around his death bed besides his faithful wife and children, were C. L. Gibbs, Emzy Marcus and his two dearest and most faithful friends, Geo. W. Pearce and Capt. T. D. Vaughan. The simple story of Damon and Pythias has always had for me a pathetic charm, exemplifying as it does the highest type of friendship.

      The dying man and Captain Vaughan had gone through the civil war as comrades and friends always, while George Pearce had been his nearest neighbor and almost daily companion for nearly forty years. Is it any wonder then that in his dying hours when rational, he should ask for these friends, and when they would speak to him he would extend his hands to them saying: “I am glad you are here – such friends.” Then after a bad sinking spell from which he rallied, he spoke more distinct than before, saying: “George, I am nearly through, it is only a matter of time and very short, I will want you and Tom with me I want you to be good to my family.” These were his last audible words and dying request, and as the light of a candle gradually fades away, so his life went out with his two faithful friends standing by his bedside holding his hands, thus they followed him to the very brink of death. Such an ending of such a life as was his is indescribably sad; yet withal it is an inspiration to those who witness it. Speaking of the scene Geo. Pearce said to me:

      “Capt. Vaughan and myself stood by his bedside, I was holding his hand watching the flicking rays of the lamp of life that I knew must soon be extinguished ending the earthly career of one of the noblest men it has ever been my privilege to know.”

      A way back in old South Carolina in what was known as the Greenville District, did he first see the light on Dec. 12th, 1836, where he lived until Aug. 31, 1855, when he married Miss Elizabeth McKinney, then with a long train of emigrants they started for Texas in wagons reaching here in the fall of that year, and settled on the farm near Bertram where he lived continuously until a few years ago he moved to the town of Bertram. His first wife died in April 1873. To this union was born seven children, three of whom are now living, Wm. Russell and Mrs. E. W. Barton of Bertram and Mrs. J. W. Harris of Meridian, Texas. The other children lie buried in the same cemetery as the parents. In 1877 he married Mrs. H. H. Stovall, by whom he had one child, Miss Nannie.

      In 1885 at an old time Methodist camp-meeting at Bear Creek he professed religion and united with the church, and there are none who knew him but what will say he has since lived the life of a Christian. Not of that kind who was desirous of making a show or of attracting the attention of his fellows, but rather did he prefer to lead the quiet, unassuming life of one who did good deeds and love his neighbor as himself, because it was his nature to so live and love. To scatter sunshine along life’s pathway. Firmly did he believe that:

The thing that goes farthest toward making life worthwhile,
That costs the least, and does the most, is just a pleasant smile,
The smile that bubbles from the heart that loves its fellow men
Will drive away the cloud of gloom and coax the sun again.

      Fifty-five years is a long time when measured by human existence to reside in one community; and see the wonders that time in its’ steady and unretarded motion has wrought in this county during that period. Passing from a wild frontier to all the comforts and conveniences that the arts of civilization can furnish.

      During all these years, “Uncle Jim Russell” as he was familiarly called, always measured up to one of the county’s best and most substantial citizens; one whose example for good permeated the very atmosphere in which he moved and had his being. Speaking for myself I can remember when a lad of his kindness and friendship shown me, and the fatherly advice given that was largely instrumental in the turning point in my life, which is always a boy’s most critical period. Only the other night at the Masonic Lodge supper, Felix Hibler was laughing at some of my wild, worthless boyhood days, to which I can look back and realize that such men as Uncle Jim Russell who were kind to me turned my footsteps to better things.

      It does me proud to know that dead my friend always appreciated my newspaper articles, as his daughter has told me he always requested her to save the paper containing one of them so he could read it. Always my personal and political friend, and one who made such a deep impress upon my boyhood life. I can say with all sincerity that truth untrammeled guides my pen as I scroll these feeble lines to his memory—that unbidden yet unrestricted do the tears blot the lines as I write, and is this sad and solemn hour do I keenly feel my emptiness of words to tell the world what I know about the life of this splendid man.

      He served through the war in the command of Wilkins Battery on the Texas coast, being mustered out in April, 1865. In about 1870 he was made a mason, either at old Mountain Lodge at Hopewell (now demised), or at Liberty Hill. I distinctly remember he was Junior Warden of Bertram Lodge when I joined.

      Funeral services were conducted at the Methodist Church by the pastor, Rev. Haygood. The sermon and service was very solemn and impressive. After this Bertram Lodge No. 583 A.F.&A.M.of which he had so long been an honored member took charge of the body, and the ___________ for the South Gabriel Cemetery, more than two miles away.

      With me in the buggy was Burnet’s bright young lawyer, Lewis Jones, and as we slowly wended our way down through the spot where once stood the old village of South Gabriel, my mind took a backward glance to years and years ago. It had been a long time since I had been that way before, the place around which so many happy boyhood hours were spent; and as we passed place after place, I would think who lived there when I was a boy. And I though, where are those old pioneer citizens of a quarter of a century or more ago? Alas! Gone to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler ever returns. And I thought:

This not for man to trifle; life is brief,
And sin is here;
Our age is but the falling of a leaf,
A dropping tear.
Not many lives, but only one have so,
One, only one;
How sacred should that one life ever be,
That narrow span.

      There was the spot where once lived Peter R. Westen, house gone, he dead; same as to old man Fox; across the road stood Dr. Smith’s residence, but he dead long years ago; next where my father lived, dear old home, many happy days spent there, now my father dead those twenty years; next Uncle Dick Barton, gone, gone, his son-in-law John Bryson lives there; next old man Jim Connell, passed across that mystic river; next where “Uncle Jim” once lived. Of them all only one remains, Capt. Dorbandt, now hale and hearty at the remarkable age of 92. Surely the grand old man can truly say, “I feel like one who treads alone some banquet hall deserted.”

      But on to the old cemetery we slowly wended our way. “Twas an ideal day, and there was an immense crowd gathered from all the country around. Here the beautiful Masonic burial service was held and all that was mortal of him who sleeps well was gently consigned back to mother earth.

      During the service I saw an old negro, Willis Russell, once a slave of the dead man, standing off to one side leaning against a tree with the tears slowly tracing down his cheeks, a mute evidence of the kindness of the former master, now still in death, to the now aged negro.

      I wish I were able to tell the good the lives of such men do, and how far out in days yet to come will their lies shine as a beacon light to guide the footsteps of those that are coming on into paths that lead to a higher and better citizenship.

      I shall never forget how terrible it seemed to his baby girl for the clods of the valley to be laid upon his coffin; and it was a pathetic scene to see his bosom friends, Geo. Pearce and Jim McClish, get in the grave and tramp the dirt down tightly, which was in compliance with a request made many years ago of Mr. Pearce by his dead friend.

      The floral offerings were many, latterly covering the grave, placed there by loving, womanly hands. And here beneath this bed of flowers down by the babbling waters of the clear running South Gabriel, do I leave my old friend to slumber on till resurrection morn. In that sunny home will your footsteps be heard no more, and no more will you be waiting on the gallery for your baby girl’s return home evenings from the store, and ask, “Daughter was many people in town today?” She will miss you, that loving, faithful wife will miss you, your friends will miss you, but they will never forget you nor cease to love you, my old friend and christian hearted gentleman.

Burnet, Texas, March 25th, 1910

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