Grayson County TXGenWeb
  Sophia Suttenfield Aughinbaugh Coffee Butt Porter
"The Paul Revere of Texas"

 
 
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Replica of Sophia Porter's early home at Frontier Village

Sherman Democrat
Bi-Centennial Edition

NOTORIOUS WOMAN CARVES FRONTIER LEGEND
 

Described variously as a prostitute, a heroine, a nymphomaniac or a devoted religious woman, Sophia Suttenfield-Coffee-Butt-Porter may not have fit all the characteristics, but the legends have turned her into the most colorful woman in the history of Grayson County.

One of the first white women in the area, Sophia came to Preston Bend in 1839 after marring "Col." Holland Coffee, operator of the first trading post, which was on the Red River.

Coffee had come to the territory in late 1836 and gained notoriety by trading whiskey and guns with the Indians.

His neighbors elected him to the third congress of the Republic of Texas in 1838.  It was at the congress at Washington-on-the-Brazos that he met Sophia.

Sophia was the reported to be Mrs. Jesse A. Aughinbuagh, the wife of a German officer who took her away from Indiana and then abandoned her in Texas.

The officer eloped with Sophia in 1835 when she was 20-years-old.  Although no records have ever been found that the pair was married, Sophia was awarded a divorce from Aughinbaugh by the Republic of Texas a few months before she married Coffee.

Sophia always said she was born Dec. 3, 1815 at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to Col. and Mrs. William Suttenfield.  She described her father as a dashing young officer from a distinguished Virginia family, and her mother, Laura Taylor Suttenfield, as coming from a genteel Boston background.

She said her parents had been captured during the War of 1812 and held captive in Canada until paroled.  Then, her father was to have gone to Indiana, where the military was rebuilding Ft. Wayne and he took over the restoration construction.

In Ft. Wayne, the colonel build the first house, and there, Sophia grew to womanhood with all the advantages that a good background can give, she told people.

Although the dates, persons and places were generally correct, Graham Landram in his book "An Illustrated History of Grayson County," said the rest of Sophia's stories are exaggerated.

Landrum said the colonel was really a "non-commissioned officer of the foot."  He was a small man, who had married Laura Taylor, who was born in Boston, but not to a genteel family.

"In later life, she (Mrs. Suttonfield) bragged of having entertained non-commissioned officers in the same way that her daughter bragged of generals," Landrum wrote.

Suttonfield did work on the rebuilding of Ft. Wayne, however he was a laborer, not the overseer.  But research does show him to have built the first house in that town.

After Sophia was abandoned in Texas in 1836, she probably resorted to prostitution.  She followed the Texas army during the revolution, and she said she nursed Sam Houston after he was wounded at San Jacinto.

Also, she later bragged of friendships with other military men from the Texas revolution.

:Her absence from the memoirs and histories of these figures is amply explained by her reputation at that time," Landrum said.

Sophia lived with Coffee before they were married, and after their marriage, they returned to the trading post.  Again, Sophia boasted, this time of the long "600-mile" trip and the "company of rangers" which protected them part of the way.  But these tales were also thought to be stretched.

At first, Sophia lived with Coffee in his stockade sometimes called Ft. Holland. Their house at the stockade was crude, and boxes which goods were shipped in were used to make furniture.

"The first quilt I had in Grayson County, I picked the cotton out with my fingers and I quilted it.  I then made me a rag carpet and put it on the puncheon floor.  A goods box nailed up to the house for my wardrobe - and on viewing my quilt, carpet and wardrobe, I was the happiest woman in Texas," Sophia said.

The Coffees worked the land with the help of slaves and Coffee acquired more land.  In 1842, Ft. Washita was built and the soldiers became company for Sophia, who also got to visit with the travelers and traders at the post.

The, in 1845-56, Coffee built one of the most famous houses in North Texas - Glen Eden.  The plantation house was named "Glen" for its location in a bend of the river, and "Eden" for the couples' happiness.

Glen Eden was a luxurious two-story house with a central dog trot and a brick ell containing the kitchen and dining room, and was built of white oak logs.

Long galleries went the length of the front and back, and two large white chimneys were at either end of the house.

Over the years, Sophia developed the house and surrounding gardens into a mansion of which many people of the county were proud.

In May of 1846, Coffee was killed.  There are three different versions of the story, with various records and statements to verify all of them.

One story said he was stabbed by an Indian at his trading post and it has been reported the murderer was a nephew-in-law.  Another version said he was killed in a duel with a soldier with whom Sophia had been playing "fast and loose."  Although Sophia never married him, the soldier married her sister.

Charges were filed against Charles A. Galloway for the murder of Coffee.  Galloway was acquitted by public sentiment because several witnesses of the killing said it had been a case of self-defense, the Clarksville Standard reported.

Sophia had a brick tomb built for her husband, and his remains stayed at Glen Eden until Lake Texoma was formed over the state.

By 1848, she was married again. to George N. Butt (as he spelled it) or Butts (as she preferred to spell it).  Butts had come from Norfolk, Va., and was given the frontier rank of "major."

When the Civil War first began, Union blockades of Southern ports made Texas cotton abnormally valuable.  In February, 1863, Butt took a load of cotton to Sherman for sale.

On his way back, he was murdered in a grove of trees about a mile and a half out of Sherman.  When he had not returned at the designated hour, Sophia set out with some slaves to hunt for him.  His body wasn't found until a week later.

Years, after the murder, Sophia claimed Quantrill's men killed Butt.  Although one Quantrill man confessed to the murder, records show the gang wasn't in the state at the time.

Sophia became a heroine during the Civil War after she captured a band of Yankee scouts in her wine cellar.

The scouts were searching for a group of Confederate fighters, and Sophia was able to delay the search with her charm and hospitality.  After the Yankees were sidetracked and locked, she swam across the Red River to warn Col. Jasper Bourland and his Rebel troops.

The Confederates were saved, and a historical marker at Preston Point on Lake Texoma, calls Sophia the "Confederate Lady Paul Revere" and credits her with helping to prevent the invasion of North Texas.

With the death of Butt, she moved to Waco to live with friends.  There, she met Judge James Porter of Missouri, a disabled Confederate officer, and they were married in 1865.

When the couple returned to Glen Eden, Sophia took advantage of her slaves and began planting cotton. By the time the slaves were freed, the crops were already growing, and the slaves stayed with her of their own accord.

At the end of the war, cotton was drawing top prices, and in the winter of 1865-66, Sophia had a large raft built, and she went with the cotton to market in New Orleans.

With the large profits from the crops, she went to visit her mother in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and then returned to her plantation, where she began remodeling.  She changed the line of the porch roof, enlarged the windows and replaced the wooden posts of the galleries with mill work.  She also covered the logs with siding.

By that time, Sophia had started to settle down, but her sense of fashion, particularly her gowns from New Orleans, kept her apart from the average Grayson County resident.

One story about her dress is as follows:

"When she got religion at a camp meeting at Shawneetown several years later, she was dressed in an orange satin dress trimmed with rows of black velvet and open in front over a handsome embroidered white skirt, which showed as she shouted up and down the aisles of the arbor and over the grounds.

"The preacher, Rev. McKenzie, did not want to take her in the church until she had served God for 12 years.  He said from the pulpit that the sun, moon and stars were all against her being a Christian."

However, J.M. Binkley admitted her to the Methodist Church in 1869, and from that time on she was described as a "consistent member." which meant she didn't' drink, smoke or dance.

About this time in her life, she took on a new image, and she became one of the more respected citizens of the more respected citizens of the county.  She was particularly popular at the Old Settlers meetings where she entertained the gatherings with her tales of the frontier life.  Many people began to call her "Aunt Sophia."

Sophia brought a sophisticated beauty to the to the rough land.  At Glen Eden, she planted many flowers, including the first roses in the region.  She also planted Catalpa trees on the property, and peacocks roamed the grounds.

Judge Porter died in 1886, and was buried in the Preston Cemetery, which Sophia had established.  On his headstone, Sophia had the phrase "He always made home happy" carved.

Sophia died Aug. 27, 1897 at the age of 86.  On her tombstone was written "Pioneer of Texas since 1835," and "I know that my Redeemer liveth."

A fire hit Glen Eden, but some of the original logs were salvaged and have been reassembled at Pawpaw Hill east of Denison.

Now, Lake Texoma covers the land that Sophia and Holland Coffee originally settled.  Two historical markers stand at Preston Point.
 


 
 

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