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Memoir of W. L. Burnham

Transcribed from a copy of a newspaper article in the Capt. Jesse Burnham file at the Herman Brown Free Library, Burnet, Texas. No source or date is provided.

Handwritten at the top of the first page is, "From Bulletin" and "son of Jesse Bennett Burnham, son of Capt. Jesse."  On the second page and part of the printed article is "Page 38--Austin, Texas".

Edited by Mrs. Clane Gibbs.

Vivid Recollections of Eighty Years in Burnet County.

W.L. Burnham, born in 1856 at Marshy Springs in Southern Burnet County, now living in Marble Falls.

My mother, Sarah Fowler, was born in Tennessee and with her parents moved to Burnet county in 1849. Her father, Josiah Fowler, moved to the place now known as the W.H. Fowler home and now occupied by some of his great grandchildren. It was in that home where my mother was married to my father, Bennett Burnham in 1855.

From my earliest recollections, all that part of Burnet county was almost a wilderness. Our nearest neighbor was five miles away. One could then stand in his doorway and shoot deer almost any time he chose venison. That part of the county now known as Spicewood, Shovel Mountain, Double Horn and surrounding territory was all open country. One could see for miles as it then contained fine mesquite groves, but little or no cedar. Cattle required no feed at any time and were sleek and fat the year around.

All landowners had big herds of cattle and every stockman was required to keep a record of all Burnet county brands and those of the sourrounding counties. The country all being quite open, cattle ranged for many miles, and at the same time there was practically no market for them; consequently the whole country was overstocked. At that time my father was supposed to have had ten thousand head.

What is known as Mustang Lake was then the center of our cattle range. It was no uncommon event in those days, when the lake was always full of water, for us to round up ten thousand or more stock. Mustang Lake was so named from the fact that wild mustang horses went to that lake in great herds to quinch their thirst.

Another noted watering place was about one mile east and was known as Cow Pond. It was a sort of hog hole, probably covering five acres and was called Cow Pond because great numbers of stock perished in that morass. In dry tiimes, with the help of my faithful cow pony and saddle horn, I would often lasso stock by the horns and land them on terra firma. I have also seen the carcasses of many buffaloes in that same morass.

My father, with his father, Capt. Jesse Burnham, came from Fayette county and settled on the place now owned by my son, J. Morton Burnham. Including my grand children, five generations of Burnhams have lived on that place, which is now one among the oldest homes in the county, the residences in this part of the country. The old spring house and the stones leading to it and those that enclose it are today just as the faithful old slaves placed them more than three quarters of a century ago.

My father and mother moved to Marshy Springs soon after their marriage in 1855, I being born there in 1856. In 1861 my father left for service in the Civil War and the same year died from exposure. When father died, mother took us four small children and went to live with her father, who owned a large stone mansion known as Marble Hill. During the war, that great old house sheltered many war widows and children, among them Mrs. Chas. A. Crosby, mother of Mrs. Harwood, wife of our beloved Dr. Harwood. As youngsters we played happily about the old mansion until the return of some of the fathers from services in the Confederacy.

In those times, our nearest market was Austin. When we needed supplies for the Community, the neighbors would deputize some one to go to Austin to buy the community supplies. My grandfather, Capt. Jesse Burnham, was better equipped with ox teams and slaves than any other, so made trips for himself and his neighbors. In those days, the only mode of conveyance for such hauling was from six to ten yoke of oxen drawing a large, cumbersome army wagon, which on the trip to Austin was loaded with potatoes, bacon and other similar products to be exchanged for flour, sugar, coffee and other necessities--always in barrels.

I well remember when all food was cooked in the open fireplace. Usually we had biscuit for Sunday breakfast. We always had plenty good corn pone, crackling bread, lots of good milk and butter, bacon, beef and venison and honey for the taking.

My grandfather operated a tan-yard. He tanned hides with lime which was put into a large cypress trough. When the hair had slipped, the hides were drawn over a large log and with the end of a drawing knife the hair was removed, then the hides were placed into a vat in which had been put the inner bark of blackjack, which gave the hides the leather color. John Whitman, father of our George Whitman of Pleasant Valley, was our shoemaker. I think all shoes were made on the same kind of last. There were no high leels or pointed toes and in those days ladies were never known to complain of corns or bunions. Feet all looked alike. A sumac sapling was sawed into small rings an inch wide. Those rings were laid on a flat surface and split into small strips, then were whittled down for pegs which, each peg being sharpened separately, held upper and sole together.

I think my grandfather Burnham then had the largest farm in burnet county. (Capt. Jesse Burnham was the first sheep owner of the county).   He planted a great deal of wheat, he having many slaves to cut and thresh during the harvesting season. They used a craddle,--not the kind babies are rocked in--but a scythe that had fingers to catch the grain as it fell. Other slaves would follow and tie into bundles. When well cured, a place was cleared on hard ground to where the wheat was hauled from the field and placed in a circle twenty feet in circumference. Two little pickaninnies mounted on two gentle horses abreast road around and around this circle until the wheat was separated from the straw. Then men with homemade pitch forks--which pitchforks were made from small straight saplings with two prongs--would remove the stray piling it away from the circle--the same operation repeated until all grain was threshed. When all threshed out, the grain was sacked and ready for the mill. Then the men would gather the utensils, many of them gourds, that had been used in the threshing operations. Negro women would then gather great heaps of the best straight straws for future use in the making of straw hats that were worn by all classes--big, little and young. Those hats were plaited into four plait flat braids, sewed together and shaped into gourds of different sizes to fit. (All this that the younger generations may know how we lived in the "Halcyon days of yore". Compare our Herculean tasks with our present day of wonderful machines.

Never-the-less, we old timers never weakened. Undaunted, we blazed the trails throughout Burnet County that you may enjoy the fruits of our efforts; and now there are only a very few of us "Trail Blazers" left to tell you the story.)

The younger generation may wonder how oxen were broken in for work. The cowboys would round up a bunch of big steers, pen them and then select those with the shortest horns. Long horns were a drawback for putting on the yokes. The yoke consisted of a straight pole three feet long, curved at each end to fit the neck. Two holds twelve inches apart were bored on each end of the pole, making those to bow to fit the neck, then the ends were run up throughthe holes encircling their necks. To hold those bows in place, a small hole was bored through the ends of the bows, and keys inserted. Usually pecan saplings were chosen to make the ox bows. To gentle the wild oxen, a rope was thrown on them and then their heads were pulled up to a three then a gentle ox was drawn up beside them and a necking stick two feet long, a hole bored in each end, and a long rawhide strap three inches wide securely tied around the wild one's neck. A rawhide was slipped through the necking stick and a strong string key was put through the strap below the stick. Then the oxen were turned loose, the gentle oxen leading the wild or unbroken ones here, there, and yonder. Within a few days, the wild oxen were yoke broken and ready to put to work.

Though very small, I well remember one time when my father and mother started to old Rockvale Church, which was three miles from home. At that time it was a little log house used for both school and church. When ready to start, my father lifted me upon his horse, putting me behind him. Then old Dodge began to plunge, hump, buck and rear, but right there we stayed. That was my first lesson in riding and from that day until this, love for horses has been one of my outstanding characteristics. By the time I was fifteen, I could ride any of them. To that same old church and school house my sisters and I plodded the six long miles to and from school--rain or shine, sleet or snow. In those days we had no time for home study nor was it required of us. When our home chores were finished, we were ready for bed. What we did learn we remembered. Those boys and girls did much to build burnet county and most of them have crossed the Great Divides.

Another not to be forgotten incident happened when I was seven or eight years old. At that time the father of my old friend, Chris Dorbandt, was justice of the peace and at that time lived on Cow Creek some fifteen miles away. My mother had to have some important papers acknowledged and found she would have to take them to Justice Dorbandt. Early one morning mother and I saddled old Leek, our trusty old buggy horse. Mouther mounted and then put me up behind her and we started on our perilous journey. We soon crossed the Colorado at the ford, then known as the Jim Yett crossing and by 10:00 o'clock we arrived at Mr. Dorbandt's. When mother had transacted her business affairs we started for home and reached the river about 1:00 o'clock and to our dismay found the old Colorado on one of her sudden rises, and past fording. We then rode down the river two miles to Smithwick Mill and found that an old Negro, Uncle Primas Lewis, had the only means for crossing. He had a canoe made from a cottonwood log about ten feet long and two feet wide. It looked to be a perilous undertaking, but we knew we must reach home before night. Mother took her sidesaddle from old Leek, put it in the canoe and then all three of us loaded in, mother leading old Leek by the reins, and we set sail on the muddy old river, not knowing how, where or when we might or might not land. The river at that point is some two hundred yards wide and the drift was coming. When about halfway across a log drifted against our frail craft and mother had to let go of old Leek's reins and let him shift for himself. Finally, old Primas managed to land us safely on the other side, but far below where we expected to land, and old Leek swam ashore. We salled him, resumed our journey and reached home about nightfall.

Note:  more information about Capt. Jesse Burnham is online HERE.

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