Grayson County TXGenWeb
Mrs. Mrtha Wilmeth McKinney  

Sherman Public Library genealogy files
July 28, 1929

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 Union Terminal.
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.

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 mother.

"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 was slain.

"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 home.

"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.

"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 Military Trail.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"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 them.
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.

"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.

"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.

"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.

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.

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.

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 Christ.
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 a crop.
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 Mrs. McKinney.
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 has.....

rest of article missing.


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