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Penland Family Memories

My Grandfather:  William Catha Penland
By Vivian Marie (Penland) Dorsett 



I am attempting to write about my Grandfather, William Catha Penland, of whom I know very little. I was not privileged to grow up knowing him. As a matter of fact, I did not know he existed until 1934 as Mom never spoke about him. She and my dad separated when I was only 7 years old. She moved us out to West Texas. During our growing up years, Mom never talked about any of any of Dad’s family or even hers. The only relatives I thought I had were Uncle Bud and Aunt Vannie Penland and their children. Even then I did not know, for many years, that Uncle Bud was my Daddy’s brother and Aunt Vannie was my Mom’s sister. Nor did I know they had other brothers and sisters. Mom never spoke of dad’s parents or hers either until after I grew up. She may not have then if it had not been for my constant questions. I don’t remember Dad ever speaking of his family, either.

Through research I now know that the Penlands came from Scotland. I have been able to trace them as far back as 1673. There they were known as Pentlands. Some came to America in the late 1700’s, settling first in New Jersey. Eventually, they ‘Americanized’ their name to Penland as was the custom of immigrants from the European countries. In time, some moved on to North Carolina and Tennessee.


My Great Grandfather, Stephen Elisha, along with  brothers, John, Abraham, Lemuel and a sister, Anne, came to Texas with a wagon train in the mid 1800’s settling in East Texas. I have no idea of where Great Grandfather Stephen met and married Great Grandmother Eliza Ann Mills, but I am presuming it was in Cherokee County as her parents were wealthy land owners there so Aunt Callie has told me.  Aunt Callie is the source for most of my information here, for which I am most grateful, and she learned of it from Great Aunt Mandy with whom she lived for several years after her parents were divorced.


After Stephen and Eliza were married, they moved to Travis County where their three children were born, my Grandfather ‘Billy’, his brother Elisha and sister Amanda (Mandy). Grandfather Stephen took pneumonia and died while the children were still very young so Grandmother went back to her people in Cherokee County.

Grandmother eventually remarried; to a man named Dickey (no one seems to remember his first name) they had 3 boys George, Jim and Lee. There were 3 girls also but Aunt Callie was not sure if they were Grandpa’s half sisters or his step sisters. She had seen 2 of them, Claudia and Cordelia, when she lived at Keechi but had never met the other one and could not remember her name.


Aunt Mandy told Aunt Callie of an incident where Grandpa Billy kept his step-father from killing his mother. She was pregnant with her last baby. It was a difficult pregnancy and her Dr had ordered bed rest for her. She had a Nanny, a black woman that had taken care of her as a baby. Went with her when she had gotten married and moved away. Her name was Frances. According to Aunt Mandy, she was a small elderly woman and could be a spitfire when an occasion called for it. Dickey was afraid of her.


Dickey was a drinking man and a very abusive one when Francis was not around. This particular day that, Aunt Mandy remembered so well, Francis had to go someplace and had told Aunt Mandy to be sure and stay with her mother. Dickey came home drunk. He saw that Frances was not around so he demanded that Grandmother get up and cook him a meal. She told him she was not able but that Frances would when she got back. He started beating her, then choking her. Aunt Mandy’s screams brought Grandpa Billy and when he saw what was taking place he jumped on Dickey’s back. Grandpa was only 13 or 14 then and small for his age but he hung on causing Dickey to let go of Grandmother. He finally managed to shake Grandpa loose and started hitting him. Frances got back about that time, came bouncing through the door with her shotgun, yelling like a banshee. She fired over Dickey’s head. Scared him so bad he let go of Grandpa and took off. Aunt Mandy said she would always remember Frances’ words as he ran out the door, “Don’t you ever show your face around here again. If’n you do I’ll kill you.” Aunt Mandy said she never saw him again and really did not know what happened to him but she supposed her Grandpa Mills had him arrested.


 Not too long after that she said they all moved back into her grandparent’s big house. Grandpa Billy hated school so he was put to work on the farm. His brother, Elisha finished school and went on to college. Aunt Mandy did not remember what the half brothers did.  It seemed to her that Elisha and George were her Grandfathers favorites as they were the ones he sent to college and they were the ones who inherited all his farm lands in Cherokee and Leon counties.


Grandpa left the farm and went to Coleman County for a while. Aunt Mandy didn’t really know why as she had married and moved away herself. Grandpa met and married Grandmother Rhoda in Coleman Co. They went back to the farm in Cherokee Co for a while to work the farm for Great Grandpa Mills. The next part of Grandpa Billy’s story is told in Grandmother Rhoda’s story so I will not go into it here.

Grandpa William C. Penland, wife Rhoda and first two off-springs.

My first inkling that I actually had a Grandpa came in 1934  ( I was  10  years old)  Dad came to see us, in Lamesa, after he had gotten out of the VA hospital in Albuquerque. He was on his way to Grandpa’s farm in Encino, New Mexico, but he wanted to see us first.  I overheard  him  asked Mom if Ruby and I could spend the summer with him there as he  and ‘Pete’ were going to be working  it for ‘the old man’ because he had been hurt and was not able to work it him self. How that did puzzle me! Who was ‘Pete and the old man?’ I also heard Mom tell Dad that she would think about it but he was not to say anything to Ruby and I until she decided.

After Dad left, I got up enough nerve to question Mom about what I had overheard,

 “Who were those people Dad had talked about?” All she would say was,” Your dad’s brother and your grandpa” What a shock! Dad had a brother and I had a grandpa! No more was said about it, but when School was out for the summer; Mom put us on the bus for Encino.

Dad was there to meet us when we got off the bus and it seemed like it took for hours to get to Grandpa’s farm. I had never ridden that long in a wagon before. I would have most likely enjoyed it more had I not been so tired from the long bus ride. It was well after dark when we arrived and Grandpa had already gone to bed but he did get up to see us. Then another shock!  Not only did I have a grandpa and an uncle but also an aunt and little cousin!  An Uncle Pete, Aunt Tine and Cleo.


Not a thing said about a ‘Grandma’ but next morning there was an older woman in the kitchen so Ruby and I automatically assumed that she was our Grandma until Dad told us differently. He offered no explanation other than “She is Bess’ mother, Mrs Willhite.” It left me wondering,  “Who is Bess and where is she?” I kept asking

Dad until the told me she was Grandpa’s wife and that was all he would say.

After several days I began to notice Grandpa going up on a little hill behind the house every evening, standing in front of a little white picket fenced in place. Sometimes Mrs Willhite would go and when she came back, it seemed like she had been crying. My curiosity finally got the best of me and I asked Aunt Tine about the fenced in place. She said it was where Bess was buried, that she had been killed. Then she told me the story.

Grandpa had been having trouble with a father and son who had a homestead next to Grandpa’s. Aunt Tine said they were mean spirited and overbearing people and not well thought of by folks around there. The drought had taken its toll there and the little stream Grandpa got his water from had dried up. The next source for water was the river but in order to get there they would have to cross the neighbor’s property and they had refused to give permission. But, Grandpa went anyway. He and Bess loaded the wagon with barrels, got to the river and on the way back they were confronted, Aunt Tine was never sure if there was an exchange of words or if they just started firing. The first shot knocked Bess off the seat. Grandpa leaned over to help her and that was when he was shot in the back, shoulder area. The horses bolted at the same time, causing Grandpa to fall; otherwise the next shot may have been fatal for him. It hit one of the water barrels instead, the horses went home. Uncle Pete, Aunt Tine and Mrs. Wilhite were there. I don’t think I ever knew if Bess was killed out right or if she died later. It just never occurred to me to ask. Grandpa could not use that left arm, had it in a sling all the time we were there. I don’t know if he ever regained much use from it.

Grandpa was a kindly man. I know he hurt a lot and had to have help in getting dressed or undressed but I never heard him complain. I never knew it if he ever got angry. His greatest delight I think was pulling little pranks on us. As I got to know him better, I could always tell when he was up to something. He had a certain look, a twinkle in his eye that told me he was up to some trick. I have seen that same look in my Dad’s eyes when he was about to pull a prank or tease me somehow. Also, my brother Curk, Uncle Pete and even Uncle Bud just before he would pinch my leg with his toes, so I guess that twinkle was a Penland thing. Grandpa did seem to enjoy our being there.

Grandpa was a devout man. I cannot remember ever missing a day, while we were there, of having a ‘family’ devotional at bedtime. We would all gather around Grandpa while he read a passage from his bible and he would pray. There were prayers before every meal, too. We went to church every Sunday we were there. It was too far to walk so we went in the wagon. There was a Vacation Bible school in mid summer. Two weeks long and Grandpa saw to it that Ruby and I went every day. It was there that I learned all the books of the Bible and I can still spiel them off after all these years. I did have trouble then with keeping the Minor Prophets in order and I still have that problem. I can get them, just not always the order they are listed.

Grandpa was a Pinto Bean farmer and oh my! How he did love his beans. He wanted them every meal. He even wanted bean cakes for breakfast. They were really very good with eggs. Sometimes we would eat them with butter and syrup like pancakes Aunt Tine really knew how to make them. Ruby and I really liked beans, too, which was a good thing since we had them every day. The only time I can ever remember Grandpa being irritated at anything was one Sunday when we were invited to have lunch with one of the families after church services.  What a scrumptious meal it was, but soon after lunch Grandpa got real antsy to get home. After we were down the road a bit, Grandpa started grumbling, “Meal wasn’t fit for anything, not a bean on the table.” As soon as we got home he went straight to the kitchen and got a big plate of beans. The beans were good except when we ran out of salt for several days and to top it off along about that time the cows got into the garden and ate the tops off all the onions. For several days the milk and butter tasted horrible. When we complained, Grandpa would say,” You girls are fortunate. There are a lot of little kids that don’t get to have onions with their milk.” He teased us a lot.

Grandpa loved animals, too. He had a beautiful Collie named ‘Snip’ that stayed right by his side most of the time, occasionally he would go out and chase rabbits out of the Garden. He was a gentle dog. I never knew it if he ever killed a rabbit, just chased them out of the garden. One day he brought in a tiny baby rabbit and ever so gently laid it in my lap. We never did know where Snip found it or what happened to its mother. Grandpa got me a box to put it in. Over the next few days Grandpa would patiently feed it with an eye dropper. Then one day, while I was outside playing and Grandpa was napping, his big old cat got the rabbit. How Grandpa did scold! The cat was a big yellow striped, named Tiger and the more Grandpa scolded, the more the cat would rub up against him with a meow, that to me, sounded like it was saying,” I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  I was convinced that cat could talk and Grandpa knew the ‘cat language.’  It was the same with Snip. The tone of every bark or meow meant something to Grandpa as he always seemed to know just what they wanted. Snip seemed to have a built in alarm system, too. Every day, on the dot of 5 pm, he would wake up from a nap, take off down to the back pasture and bring the cows home. Not once all summer long did I ever hear any one say,” Go get the cows” He just seemed to know that was his job and he did it.

One night after we first got there, Dad and Uncle Pete went hunting for coyotes as they kept trying to get in the hen house. They killed two; one was a nursing mother, so they hunted until they found the babies. Neither Dad nor Uncle Pete could kill them, brought them to Grandpa instead and he decided he was going to make pets out of them. He tried, all summer long. Did every thing he knew to do but it was hopeless. Those little whelps just had too much ‘wild’ in them. Just before we left  at the end of August, Grandpa told Dad to turn them loose. He did not have the heart to kill them then; He said they might have to later when they were fully grown, if they tried to raid the hen house.

Ruby and I thoroughly enjoyed our summer on the farm, getting to know our Grandpa, Uncle Pete, Aunt Tine and little Cousin Cleo. We also learned we had other Uncles, Aunts and Cousins.   They were Dads other brothers, sisters and their children. We also learned we did indeed have a Grandmother, some where in Texas. It was all so surprising, so much to take in. While I wondered then, I just did not question why my Grandmother was not there with Grandpa. I was still trying to figure out this ‘divorce stuff’ I had heard Mom and Dad talk about it when he was in Lamesa and then after he left we got a ‘new daddy’, Daddy Ben… we loved him, too. Now here was Grandpa with a wife buried up on the hill and a Grandma somewhere in Texas. Just too much for my young brain to comprehend all at once. I could not even bring myself to talk to Mom about it until I was grown.

We had such mixed emotions when time came for us to leave. Of course we were anxious to see Mother but we still hated to leave Dad and our Grandpa.  The morning we left it was so hard to say goodbye to everyone, They all hugged us, even Mrs. Wilhite, and told us how much they enjoyed having us for the summer and hoped we ‘could come back next summer.’ Grandpa had tears in his eyes and it made me want to cry, too. He stood out on the porch and waved to us until we got out of sight and we could see him no more. I only saw him once more.

In 1950 I had learned from a cousin, Joel Bohannan that Grandpa was living with Aunt Jessie in Hubbard, TX


Marson and I had been in Houston and on our way home we made it a point to go through Hubbard to see Grandpa and I am so glad we did because he died the following year. I have regretted that I did not make more of an effort to locate and visit with him after I grew up. I had heard from Charlie Bohannan, when I was a teenager that he had moved back to Texas. At that time he was living with one of his other daughters somewhere and I did not know them then. It was at Grandpa’s funeral that I first met my Grandmother and also Aunt Callie, Aunt Lola. Uncle Abe and Uncle Bill as well as a number of cousins. I began to realize then what a large extended family I had and how much I had missed out on by not being able to get to know them. I do resent the fact that I was not privileged  to know I had grandparents for so many years and have never been able to have a grandparent-grandchild relationship except those few summer months, those I will always treasure.

Abe and Callie Penland
Clarence Stewart

Abe Penland

Memories Part 1     Memories Part 2     Memories Part 3     Memories Part 4

Memories Part 5     Memories Part 6     Keechi Scrapbook     Old House on the Bay

Penland Veterans     Penland-Huffhines 2007 Reunion


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Mar. 24, 2009
Mar. 26, 2009