MEMOIRS OF
MRS. SINIA ELIZABETH (CATES) VEST

(So far as is known, the only living person who lived in Burnet (then Hamilton) when the county was organized.)

Source: Vertical File, Herman Brown Free Library
Burnet Bulletin 3 Aug 1967, reprinted from an issue of 1936


I was born in Missouri, March 3, 1850. With my father, Richard Stanford and mother, Jane (Harvey) Cates, my sister Margaret and my three brothers, Tom, Bob and Frank, came to Burnet County just before the county was organized, arriving at Burnet Post (Fort Croghan) early in 1852.

At that time the country was one big open range. A few rock fences enclosed stables and other small enclosures. The country abounded in wild game--turkey, deer, wolves, bear, wild horses, wild cattle, and wild hogs. When we arrived, there were many Indians, but not hostile at that time.

Sometime later my father bought land in Backbone Valley and about the same time my mother's brother, John Harvey, a San Jacinto veteran, who had come to Texas several years before we arrived and who had been stationed at Fort Croghan as a surveyor, also bought a tract of land joining that of my father. Uncle John built a substantial house from lumber sawed by the old Mormon Mill and also cleared land for a farm and planted a large seedling pearch orchard, the first orchard planted in that valley.

Father and my three brothers cleared land for a farm and later built a shop consisting of a blacksmith shop, turning laths and a tannery where they made saddles, shoes and almost everything else needed on a farm at that time. Mother did all our spinning and weaving. My father also taught a school in that shop when I was eight years old and which was my first school. The Corder children walked from Mormon Mill to this school.

A few years later my father was licensed to practice medicine. Then I attended the Joy school house two and one-half miles from home. That school house was a small one-room log house with a door in one end and no windows at all, had a dirt floor. At the far end was a big fireplace. We had rough split log benches and writing desks, the benches had no backs. Our school terms were taught during the summer.

During this time the Indians had become very hostile. I rode a jenny to school while my brothers walked along by my side. Later on I had to go alone and walk. One day while returning home and just as I crossed a ravine that came down from the hills, a band of Comanche Indians was coming from the direction of the school house from which I had just left. They stopped in a nearby field and stole a gray horse, then went back up the ravine I had just crossed, and then they went on up into the hills. My uncle, Israel Cates, who lived on the other side of the field could see me and the Indians at the same time, they on one side, me on the other. Mr. Joy, our neighbor, saw the Indians where he had seen me only a short time before and was afraid I had been seen by the Comanches. The Indians went on and a little later killed Mr. Benson at Wolf's Crossing and carried away his little boy.

A funny incident of my school days at Joy School was when A. B. Conner was teacher. There was a creek just below the school house and one day Abb Joy failed to come but passed the school house and cried out "School Butter", which was a dare for other boys to catch and duck one in the creek. Prof. Conner, hearing the dare, cried "Catch him, boys", and turned out school for that purpose. Abb, living nearby, ran home before they could catch him. Among my schoolmates were the Allsups, Conners, Joys, Corders, Chessers, Epleys and Cavins.

Our first home built in Backbone Valley was a log cabin consisting of two rooms with a hall between. It was situated just north of the present railroad between Fairland and the head of the Valley and parts of the old building may still be seen. About one hundred yards from the house was a dripping spring on the side of the hill from which we carried our drinking water. My mother knew exactly how long it took for her water bucket to fill from the drip.

As before stated, my father was licensed to practice medicine and practiced until his death. During his practice he had many narrow escapes from Indians and other terrors of the day. When I was only four years old my sister, Margaret, who was the oldest of us children, was married to Lewis Thomas. The wedding was quite an affair for frontier days. An infare dinner was given them by the Magills who were at the time one of the leading families in social affairs in the country. (This 1854 wedding and infare dinner were recorded in Noah Smithwick's History, Sister Margaret and her husband settled in Backbone Valley about one half mile south of my parents. There she raised her family and remained there until her death.

Many times I rode behind my brother-in-law to the village of Burnet, always riding old Paddy. My brother-in-law was the finest stonemason in the country and later built the Burnet jail and the academy.

During my childhood we traveled miles to attend the yearly camp meetings, which usually necessitated our camping a week or probably two. The great camp meeting places of the day were Sand Springs, where the first camp meeting in Burnet County was held, Hoover's Valley, Berry's Creek, Bald Knob and Burnet. The men always took their guns into church with them and the preacher preached with his gun lying on the pulpit by the side of the Bible. Our great preachers were Whipple, Rawleigh, Coon, and Graves. Graves baptized me when I was twelve years old.

I went to singing school to Bales Ferguson when I was very young. Mr. Ferguson was also a good Indian scout and I often stayed with Mrs. Ferguson and her children. When the moon was full, we often remained awake almost all night for every hoot of an owl or gobble of a wild turkey chilled our blood, for it was known to all of us that Indians often lured people out of their homes by imitating an owl or a turkey and sometimes it could not be discerned whether a hoot or the gobble was Indian or owl or turkey. Some mornings we would find moccasin tracks about our door. I often stayed with sister Margaret when Lewis was out scouting. Once when brother Frank took the horses to the spring to drink, he found a ridden down horse with an Indian saddle on him.

In those days we raised both corn and wheat for our breadstuff as well as for feed. We took our corn to Mormon Mill, our wheat to a mill up on the Colorado River.

During the early 60's my brother, Tom, was an expert Indian scout and took part in many of the Indian fights in this and in Llano, Mason and Gillespie Counties. He was in the fight at Cates Flat near our home, in which brother Tom, Lum and Marion Smith, Havy Edwards, Jim and Bill Strange and three more boys gave fight to eighteen Indians. Marion Smith was killed and another boy had a finger shot and another boy, his lariat shot from his saddle. I heard the shots of this battle.

During the 60's, soon after my marriage and while living with my parents, we one day heard Indian yells and running to the door we saw Uin Lacy and a Mr. Jones running down the mountain. Shots whizzed over our heads and looking farther up the mountain, we saw two Indians running to overtake Lacy and Jones. Lacy made it to our gate and commenced returning the shots. The Indians then went back up the mountain, and we later saw them driving our horses away while our men were hurriedly trying to get other men to join in pusuit, however the Indians made a clean getaway.

When eighteen years old, brother Robert had a spell of fever which settled in his leg and left him a cripple, and for that reason he could not serve in the Confederate army nor could he farm, so he was shoemaker during the war. All men left for war service except the cripples, old men and boys who were left to protect and provide for the women and children. We had to endure many hardships during and after the Civil War. We made homespun clothes. I still have some of the weaver's sleys that we used in weaving.

During the forepart of the war, a most disastrous epidemic of diphtheria broke out, ravaging the whole country. In many instances every child in a family died from the effects of the disease. Mrs. Chesser was the first to die from the malady in our community but at the time we did not know the cause of her death. I sat day and night with the sick and dead. I finally fell a victim, but Father being a doctor and Mother's good nursing brought me safely through.

Brother Bob taught school for quite a while, then became sheriff of Burnet County during reconstruction days, having had many dangerous dealings with the renegades that thronged the country following the close of the Civil War. Bob later became County Judge and was more or less an outstanding personage of Burnet County until his death.

My youngest brother, Frank, was also a schoolteacher, later making a Methodist preacher.

In November, 1868, at the age of eighteen, I was married to Britton C. Vest of Williamson County. We spent the first few years of our married life in Backbone Valley. My husband freighted from Austin to Burnet for twelve years. In 1869 my husband planted the first cotton crop in Backbone Valley.

A laughable incident of our early married life was when one night we heard a horse whining and snorting a short way from the house. Of course, we thought Indians were after him. There was a corn crib with a rail fence around it out in the pasture a short distance from the house. We thought the horse ran into the lot and stopped. Everything was perfectly quiet for a while, then we heard rails commence falling off the fence. My husband went for his six-shooter and fired in the direction of the falling rails. The falling rails stopped. It was so dark we could see nothing. Next morning my husband went to see his Indian but instead found brother Bob's work ox shot through the shoulder. With his horns, the ox had been lifting the rails off the fence and had scared the horse.

In 1882 we moved to Llano County and I am now living with my son near Valley Spring, Llano County, having seen eighty-six years roll by.



 

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