Sherman Public Library genealogy files
July 28, 1929
SHE OWNED GRAYSON COUNTY'S FIRST STOVE
Mrs. M.W. McKinney of Van Alstyne Is Sole Survivor of Pioneer Party
Which Stopped in Dallas in 1845
The Visit to the Crude Cabin of John Neely Bryan, Rearing a Home
Among Indians Near Present Site of Grand Prairie and Cooking for Her Amazed
Neighbors in a Store-Bought Oven Are Only a Few of the Experiences Within
the Rich Memory of This 98-Year-Old Wife of Collin McKinney's Grandson.
Living today at Van Alstyne is Mrs. Martha Wilmeth McKinney, 98 years
old, the sole survivor of a party of pioneers who on the day after Christmas,
1845, drove their wagons into the village of Dallas and camped just about
where now the fountain throws its iridescent spray in front of the Dallas
Mrs. McKinney was then a girl of 14 years and remembers well the
occasion of their move to Texas and also recalls many interesting experiences
of pioneer life in the counties of Dallas, Collin and Grayson.
She is the widow of D.L. McKinney, who was the grandson of Collin
McKinney, distinguished Texas pioneer statesman for whom the town of McKinney
and the county of Collin were names.
She has the unique distinction of having owned the first cook stove
in Grayson County, bought in 1853, and the first sewing machine, bought
in 1864. Her husband owned and operated the firs thresher in Grayson
County, bought about 1850.
She is the next to the eldest of a family of twelve children, all
living to be grown and married (save two lost in the war), several of whom
lived to be past 80, yet she has outlived them all. She sits today
- tenderly cared for by her son and his wife, Jack and Rachel McKinney,
in their home in Van Alstyne - one of the last of a passing race, rich
in the experiences of life, bent with the weight of almost a century, with
ears deafened and eyes bedimmed, yet with fingers busy and mind alert,
fondly reminiscent of an age that is past, when everybody in these regions
had a speaking acquaintance with everyone else, when everybody was hospitable
and the stranger was treated as an honored guest.
FATHER FROM IRELAND
Rehearsing her parentage and her move to Texas, Mrs. McKinney says,
"I was born in McNairy County, Tennessee, not far from Sparta, on July
24, 1831. My parents were Joseph Brice and Nancy Ferguson Wilmeth."
"My father was born of William and Mary (Crawford) Wilmeth in North
Carolina, on Sept. 11, 1807. He had no record and a very meager tradition
of his ancestry, yet there is a story oft repeated and well remembered
that his grandfather came as a youth from Ireland but on arriving in America
he was sold by the ship's captain to labor for a number of years to pay
the passage again. When but a boy my father moved with his father
to McNairy County, Tennessee. Here on Dec. 24, 1826, he married my
GRANDFATHER IN REVOLUTION
"She was Nancy Ferguson, daughter of James and Martha (Hogge) Ferguson,
and her birthplace was on the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River, near
Sparta, Tenn. Her ancestors came from Scotland. She was the
granddaughter of Colonel Ferguson, who fell commanding the British forces
at the memorable battle of King's Mountain, N.C., on Oct. 7, 1780.
Our school histories give an account of this battle and there is also a
poem commemorating it. History says that Colonel Ferguson was known
to be the best marksman in the British army, if not in the whole world,
but 'right is might,' and my illustrious great-grandfather met his fate
that day when he met those hardy mountaineers fighting for their rights.
Historians say that was the real turning point of the Revolutionary War.
strange to say, my mother's father, son of Colonel Ferguson, fought on
the side of the Colonists. And family tradition has it that he lacked
only about four hours' march of being in the battle in which his father
HEARD OF PETERS' COLONY
"In the fall of 1831 my father and grandfather Ferguson headed a
movement of about ten families, who crossed the Mississsippi at Memphis
and located at Smithville in Lawrence County, Arkansas. From then
until 1845 no one was more actively engaged in the enterprises of that
region than was my father. He rafted timber to New Orleans, became
village blacksmith, served as United States soldier escorting Choctaws
and Chickasaws from Mississippi to Indian Territory, farmed, distilled
whiskey, raised live stock, served as clerk of the courts, preached the
gospel. This last was the unexpected but he learned from some Arkansas
preachers a practical gospel and he soon determined that it was his duty
to preach such to others. This he did without money and without price
and without serious interference with other business, for he made his own
house a chapel for Christian teaching and worship, to which his neighbors
were often invited on Lord's days and nights.'
"In 1845 a colony agent gave to my father an advertising pamphlet
telling of the "broad and fertile prairies in the Three Forks of the Trinity'
located in Peter's Colony, and also telling of the grant of title free
to one mile square of land to every head of a family locating in the colony.
After reading this he determined to possess himself and family of a Texas
BOUND FOR TEXAS
"For eight years he had been clerk of the Lawrence County Court
and at this time had just been re-elected. He at once resigned and
began to make preparations to move. His brother, Frank C. Wilmeth,
decided to go with him. Then there was Jordan O. Straughan, then
employed by my father as a farm hand. Father proposed to take with
him Straughan and his family, consisting of a wife and four children, simply
for his services in driving a four-horse ...and for his general cleverness
as a traveling companion. Uncle Frank had a wife and six children,
a wagon and one horse. Father furnished him another horse.
Three young men, James Blackwell, who was a nephew of my mother; Isaac
Smith and James Mills also joined the company as drivers.
"About the last of October 1845, our procession moved out.
There was Uncle Frank's two-horse wagon, then my father's six wagons with
teams to suit, some four-horse, some oxen and horse combined and my mother's
'carryall' with one big horse. Besides the teams there were about
forty head of loose stock and 100 head of sheep. Much of this stock
father had taken as payment of debts owing to him when we left. My brother,
James R. Wilmeth, the next younger than I, then about 10 years old, rode
horseback and drove the sheep. In our wagons were plenty of guns
and ammunition, all kinds of farm tools, a complete set of blacksmith tools,
plenty of heavy homemade bed clothes, my mother's spinning wheel and loom
and provisions for all our company for six months or more.
PARTS CALLED "PINBOOK"
"We took our route by Batesville and Little Rock. At Little
Rock we purchased a considerable supply of dry goods, especially gay-colored
calicoes; also bridles and other leather goods, ammunitions and a barrel
of whiskey. This last was then thought to be an antidote for all
the ills of such a journey, excepting high water and Indian attacks.
We ferried Red River at Lane's Port. Clarksville was our first Texas
town. There were probably thirty or forty houses there. I remember
we children got a real treat of old-fashined ginger bread at a cake shop
there. At Skidmore's Mill, a few miles west of clarksville, our company
rested a day or two to await the grinding of an additional supply of meal.
At Paris, then called 'Pinhook,' there was nothing in sight save a dozen
or more cabins. Here all signs of civilization ceased. We struck
out across the prairie trying to follow a dim old wagon way called the
TRIALS OF THE JOURNEY
"The first day we traveled until in the night and came to a deep
gulch impossible to cross, and no wood or water to be found. To add
to our troubles it was reported down the train that one of the wagons had
run over a dog. About this time mother discovered that Brother Hie,
then about 4 years old, was missing. Fear filled our hearts that
it was he instead of a dog that had been run over, but after a frantic
search he was found in a wagon filled with barrels of flour, sitting back
on one of the barrels. Joy at finding him safe and sound overcame
some of our other discomforts. Blocked by the gulch and the darkness,
unable to get wood or water, there was not anything else to do but just
to stay there until morning without food or drink. Next day we traveled
around the gulch and the next night we camped on the bank of East Fork.
"The woods were dark and dense. The stream was deep, narrow
and sluggish, with no way to cross it. Next morning some one proposed
a bridge and soon the work began. First two tall cottonwoods standing
near each other on the west bank were felled so as to span the stream.
Part of the flooring was obtained from rafts, constructed by previous emigrants,
which had drifted near by. The rest of it was obtained by cutting
and splitting additional timbers. The puncheons were simply laid
loose on the cottonwood sills. The wagons were rolled across by hand
and the teams hitched to them on the west side. An ash tree had burned
and while the men built the bridge, mother took the ashes from it and made
lye hominy. It was Christmas Day, 1845, when this bridge was completed
and crossing began.
DALLAS IN 1845
"The next day brought us to Dallas, and we camped about 200 yards
south of where the courthouse now stands. Only three houses were
standing. Thinking that Dallas was not to be the county seat all
the others had been moved away. John Neely Bryan's house was there.
I remember it well. It was right on the bank of the river.
It was built of unhewn logs and none of the cracks were filled except a
few on the north side. These were filled with switches twisted together
and stuffed between the logs. It had a cowhide for a door.
There were two pegs, one on each side at the top of the door, and two holes
were made in the cowhide and it was hung on these pegs at night.
In the daytime the cowhide was just thrown down on the dirt floor and trampled
on. They built a fire in a corner of the house and the smoke went
wherever it wanted to. Mr. Bryan was the merchant. He had a
swinging shelf made of timbers and on this he kept his stock of goods.
I think I could have carried off everything he had in three armloads.
BUILDING THE NEW HOME
"We stayed in camp here nearly a week while the men went West to
select sites for settlement. On New Year's Day, 1846, we camped on
the south bank of West Fork, near the present site of Grand Prairie.
Father and J.O. Straughan selected adjacent sections fronting on West Fork
at this point. Uncle Frank located four miles father west, near the
Travis Trading House, then vacant, in the edge of the Cross Timbers.
"Game was abundant. Deer was wild everywhere. Bears,
turkeys and wild bees were in the woods just north of West Fork, and a
day's ride to the southwest was buffaloes. But houses were to be
built and lands to be put into cultivation, and to this all hands addressed
themselves with such diligence as to leave little time for hunting.
On Feb. 14, 1846, we moved into our new house. It was made of hewn
logs all nicely fit together. After the houses were finished the
men took a buffalo hunt. They took a wagon and team and several of
the men rode horseback. They camped out for the night, staking one
horse and turning the others loose. Next morning all the mares were
gone except the staked one. They were taken off by a mustang herd.
They had to send a man home on the one horse to get a team to bring the
wagon home, but they got one large buffalo. The rug was large enough
for a small room.
TROUBLE WITH THE INDIANS
"There were three tribes of Indians - Kickapoos, Tonkawas and Keechie
- camped near by. They professed to be friendly and were always willing
to exchange with us venison, etc., for calicoes and ammunition. However,
they suggested that by and by when the grass got green, the Comanches would
come to steal horses. They would give an optimistic flavor to this
by dramatizing a scene in which the Comanche would get down to unhobble
the horse, the white men would shoot and the Comanche fall. We surmised
that these might turn Comanche and play the game differently. Each
year the whites and the Indians made a treaty by which they were goverened,
but this year the Indians refused to treat and said they were going to
clean up that valley. And sure enough, they stole a lot of the horses.
We began now to greatly fear the Indians. After moving in our new
house we never dared for one night to have a light.
A WIFE'S VIGIL
"Once father was bitten by a rattlesnake. We had to doctor
him without a light. Mother had heard to keep warm flesh on the wound
to draw the poison out. She had a hen with a lot of little chickens
under the floor and through the night she would reach her hand under the
floor, get a little chicken, pull its head off, tear its body open and
apply it to the wound. As soon as that one would get cold she would
reach for another one and go through the same process. When daylight
came we got cockleburs, boiled them in sweet milk, had him drink some of
the milk, then poulticed the wound with the burs. He got all right.
FLEEING FROM PROMISED LAND
"About the rising of grass, father went to Brazos County about Wheelock
to buy corn and cattle. He brought back some very long horned oxen
and some milch cows. At this time the prairie spreading from West
Fork toward Mountain Creek seemed a sea of waving green, and all about
us was a boundless field of wild flowers, humming with myriads of bees.
Our new home was proving to be a veritable 'land of milk and honey.'
By the midde of May nearly fifty acres of corn was knee to shoulder high
and promised bread for the future. But terror of the Indians increased...white
child was stolen and...found. Rangers had been...but had not yet
materilized. Only about a dozen families were living west of the
city. Besides our own company...recall Judge Hord Overton, build
the first mill, Coombes...Graham, carpenter...Bradshaw, Joel Blackwell
and...Hiram. We were but a handful compared with the savages. It
was feared that the Mexican War might agravate the enmity toward the whites.
Finally father thought he caught the Indians trying to steal brother Hie.
We visioned midnight burnings and massacres of women and children.
The Arkansas delegation met at our house for consultation. The common
feeling was to seek safety by falling back to some of the stonger settlements
east of the Trinity. But during this week of preparation the Indians
suddenly disappeared and the majority of the whites decided to remain,
but father and Uncle Frank and J.O. straughan decided to leave.
"We pushed with live stock and other movable effects across the
Trinity at Cedar Springs above Dallas. We took the ridge route north.
I still remember the enchanting scene as our train and herds moved over
this most beautiful stretch of prairie covered with wild flowers.
It was a view of some of the finest country on the face of the globe.
At the head of White Rock settlement began to come in view. The homes
of Jacob Baccus and James Herndon were right on the road. We passed
Buckner, the acknowledged county seat of Collin County and headright home
of Col. Jack McGarrah. There we learned that the fear of Indians
had subsided, however our procession, now bearing more to the east, still
moved onward. We crossed Honey Creek and East Fork and camped about
a quarter of a mile from the latter.
MOTHER TAKES THE REINS
"My mother was a tiny woman, weighing less than 100 pounds, but
she wasn't the granddaughter of Colonel Ferguson for nothing - she was
some general herself. She wondered why this continued retreat.
She began to sense the situation as she saw things from her carry-all,
and from discussions which she heard in camps. She suspected that
Uncle Frank was headed for the poor hills of Tennessee and that her husband
was only too prone to follow. The camp was said to be within a few
miles of the east boundary of Peters' Colony grant. Her determination
was never to cross this boundary. The breakfast was set and thanks
were given. Mother's secret thanks were that she was well within
the colony with seven sons and three daughters. A few tears, a few
firm words, and the law was laid down that while she lived her children
should never be carried to Arkansas or Tennessee, and her body should be
buried within the bounds of this colony. Father's answer was thoughtful,
silent submission. Within a week he had purchased for $600 the improved
claim of Moses Wilson, on the ravine two miles north of the present site
of the McKinney courthouse, and we were installed in our headright homestead,
to be, as mother wished, her residence for the rest of her natural life.
Thus did her flat fate three families to become citizens of Collin county.
No regret were ever expressed as to the outcome of her actions.
REARED OWN SILKWORMS
"Father's chief effort now was to fence and turn the prairie sod.
Almost as soon as the wagons were unloaded he set up his blacksmith shop.
Mother also set up her loom and the cards and wheel were brought into play,
but those cards were quite different from those which the women play today.
Homespun was the main dependence. Cotton and wool had to be fingerpicked,
carded and spun by hand, and woven into cloth. In this the Wilmeth
women were expert. We had brought some silkworm eggs with us from
Arkansas. We reared the worms on wild Collin County mulberry leaves
and they produced a good quality of silk thread fingers. Some of
this we put in stores to sell for sewing thread. The rest we used to make
brilliant silk stripes in our homespun dresses. I bought my infare
dress from money I had made selling silk thread. After I left home
the other girls didn't take good care of the silkworm eggs and we lost
The Fourth of July, 1846, was celebrated at Buckner with a barbecue.
My brother, Jim, brought home some watermelon seed taken from a melon eaten
there that day. He planted them and they bore watermelons that fall.
"As in Arkansas, so in Texas father made his house a place of Christian
teaching and worship. In 1847 he organized a church at his house.
He built an upstairs to his house and put a stairway on the outside leading
right up to the front porch. This he seated with chairs and for a
long time it was used for nothing else but a meeting place for the church.
A LADY BRICKLAYER
"In the fall of 1848 father and a brick mason by the name of Wilkes
tried to make brick, but what they thought was sand turned out to be periwinkle
shell and only a few of the bricks could be used. He got enough to
build a good stack chimney and they form a part of the chimney in the old
homestead today. I helped the brick mason when he built our chimney
and he taught me how to lay brick. Since my eightieth birthday I
have bricklined two cellars.
"In 1849 father became District Clerk and later was elected county
Judge. Early in the '50s he began to buy slaves and give his attention
more to farming and stock raising, especially horses and mules....had about
200 acres in cut...and a harvester and thresher of his own. His output
of wheat and barley amounted to a good deal.
MARRIED IN 1849
"In August 1849, I married and ....son County. There Mr. McKinney
and I lived for forty-three years. When the war broke out all of
our men had to go. Father now turned his previously acquired military
tactics to use by assisting to organize and drill the early regiments raised
in Collin County. He also organized a regiment of state militia,
with which, as Lieutenant Colonel, he served for a while on the Gulf Coast.
Meantime mother not only managed the farm and negroes in his absence, but
she also furnished nearly all the clothing for her husband and sons, even
to heavy overcoats and blankets, while they were in the army."The war ended,
the cause and two sons lost, nine negroes freed and the evidences of amounts
furnished the army reduced to mere waste paper, the twain addressed themselves
again, with their accustomed energy to the problems of social and domestic
economy, helping to build the New South. Their house as in the past was
still an inn for the traveler and a place for Christian service.
PARENTS BURIED IN SAME TOMB
"To the ten children surviving the war father gave each 100 acres
of land for a homestead. This left him and mother still in possession
of their old homestead, on which they remained until January, 1892 when,
after sixty-six years of married life together, they died so nearly together,
she on the 14th and he on the 15th, that they were laid to rest side by
side in the same tomb, in the McLarry Cemetery south of McKinney."
Shortly after the death of her father and mother, Mrs. McKinney
bought the old home place and lived there until after her husband's death
in 1906. A few years later, her youngest son, John McKinney, bought
the place and is its present owner. It is two miles north of McKinney.
The Sherman interurban now runs back of it and the Sherman highway runs
in front of it.
HAS 52 GRANDCHILDREN
Mrs. McKinney has six children living. They are J.A. McKinney, Van
Alstyne; John R., McKinney; James Milam, Dallas; D.E., Roswell, N.M.; W.T.
and Mrs. J.H. Kelsy, both of Fort Worth. She has fifty-two grandchildren,
seventy-eight great-grandchildren and thirteen great-great-grandchildren.
Since about 1910 she has lived about with her children. She
is never idle. Work has always been her mainstay in life. Since
leaving her home she has pieced over 200 quilts, twenty-five of which were
silk quilts lavishly embroidered. Besides these she has made a host
of footstools and done many other kinds of fancy work. Just now she
is stringing beads, "trimming her some caps and also making watch fobs
of them." she says.
COOKSTOVE DREW CROWDS
She says her first sewing maching was a Wheeler & Wilson and
was run by hand; she sure made it fly. The merchants did not bring
on ready-made clothes at that time and she made men's clothes for the stores.
Whenever she sat up with the sick she took her sewing machine along and
sewed. She says she never had to sleep next day after sitting up
all night. Her husband got her first cookstove at Jefferson, Texas.
She said people would come fifteen or twenty miles to see her cook on it
and would not leave until she cooked biscuits for them. She says
another family got a stove after she got hers, and so little was known
of cookstoves in that day that they built the first fire in the oven instead
of the fire box. Her husband's first thresher, she states, was a
Ground Hog thresher, his next was the Endless Chain thresher and his last
was a big steam thresher. During the first few years of their married life
he ran the thresher summer and winter.
A GALLANT LADY
Mrs. McKinney has always been the master of all kinds of work.
Once, when her husband was away, she and her son, Joe, turned a house around
that was in the yard and fitted it up against the other house, making her
a dining room and kitchen. After she was 88, while living with her
sister, Mrs. Annie Davis, at Gunter, Texas, she built a storm house, a
poultry house, a yard fence and a cement walk. When she was 81 she
got off the train at Brownwood and rode on a spring seat in a wagon a distance
of twenty-five miles.
But it was on this same visit, her nieces say, that one of them
started to play "Home, Sweet Home" on the organ when "Aunt Martha," with
tears in her eyes, said "stop, I don't allow that played any more."
Her heart, fraught with the cherished memories of homes that had been,
could no longer bear the sweet old song.
Mrs. McKinney is proud of the fact that her father and two of her
brothers, J.R. and C.M. Wilmeth, were all preachers in the Church of Christ
and that she herself has been for eighty years a member of the Church of
Work and courage, love and tenderness, faith and devotion of such
were made our early pioneers that blazed the way for Texas' progress.
Sherman Public Library genealogy files
(Special to The Democrat)
Van Alstyne - Van Alstyne's oldest resident, believed to be the oldest
residentin Grayson county, is Mrs. Martha McKinney who will be 98 eyars
of age July 24. Mrs. McKinney came with her parents to Texas in 1846,
the year after Texas was added to the Union. Mrs. McKinney says she
desires and expects to reach the 100 mark in age.
She has six living children, 49 grandchildren, 77 great-grandchildren,
as well as numerous other relatives.
She was born in Tennessee, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Wilmeth,
with whom she moved to this state when fifteen years old, making the trip
in a covered wagon which was part of a train of 15. The wagon string
had to remain close together while traveling as protection from the Indians.
Mrs. McKinney relates stories of Indian attacks by the way. The train
made its way to Fort Worth where the settlers lived for one year and made
The following year the Wilmeths went to dallas where they stopped
for a short period, later locating two miles north of McKinney on what
is known at this time as the old Wilmeth home place, and the farm is situated
on the Sherman-McKinney highway, owned by John McKinney, youngest son of
She lived with her parents at the Wilmeth home until her marriage
to Leak McKinney. With her husband, she moved two miles southwest
of Van Alstyne to the "Old McKinney" farm, as it is now known. (Itis now
owned by Mr. and Mrs. E.H. McMahan.) Mr. and Mrs. McKinney lived
there 49 years,
Mr. McKinney died in 1908 at the age of 79 and since that time she
rest of article missing.