By Whitney Montgomery
Originally published in "The
Navarro County Scroll", 1961
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro
County Historical Society
I am now the oldest living native of
Eureka. Willie Bill Johnson, who still lives in the Eureka community
- and who is now about eighty years of age - is the next oldest living citizen
of the community that I know of.
I was born at Cook's School House in
Navarro County, September 14, 1877. Most of my friends think that I was
born at Eureka. Cook's School House was in the northern part of
Navarro County, and was once a voting box, but I doubt if there is any such
place listed now. Cook's School House was named for my grandfather, R. G.
Cook, who came to Navarro County after the Civil
War. All that I
know of Cook's School House, is that I was born there. My home was always
at Eureka, until I married and came to Dallas, when I was fifty years old.
I married Vaida Stewart Boyd in 1927. She was not a native of the Eureka
My father's first wife was Ruth
Chambliss, to whom he was married in Mississippi just before he joined the
forces waging the Civil War. When he was paroled at Vicksburg, he
came to Navarro County, but he visited his home in Mississippi a few years
later. Their only living child was Mary Lee Blair, who died several years
ago. She has two living grandchildren at Kerens, Texas. Her
only child was Margaret.
My father's second wife (my mother),
Margaret P. Cook, came to Navarro County with her father, R. J. Cook, from
Mobile, Alabama. She was thirty-three years old when she married my father
- one year older than he was, I think. They reared three children; Walter
C., Naomi D., and Whitney M., who is the only one surviving.
Walter C. Montgomery married Fannie
Middlebrook, from Navarro County. They had five boys, P. K., Walter C.,
Jr. Robert, Richard W., and Aaron F. Two are living, Walter C., Jr., and
Walker Davidson, one of the pioneers of
Eureka and Navarro County, was a white-haired old man when I first knew him.
He lived to be ninety years old, or perhaps older. He reared eight
children, all of whom are now deceased. My sister, Naomi, married his
oldest son, John L. Davidson. They had six children, of whom three are
living; Robert and Harold of Corsicana, and Naomi Davidson Blaize of Dallas.
Deceased are Montgomery, Jack, and James.
If my memory serves me, Walker Davidson
built the first cotton gin that was operated in Eureka. It was run by
horse or mule power. I once heard him say that the capacity of the
gin was only three bales a day. They had a big storehouse where they
stored the lint, then pressed it into bale lots, so that it took about six days
to complete the ginning and pressing of six bales.
There were four Johnson families who
were pioneers of the Eureka community. Some may have spelled it Johnston
or Johnstone. These were Tom, Dave and two Bob Johnsons. The two Bob
Johnsons were knows as "Colonel Bob" and "Mud Hose Bob" (The
later nickname having been derived from a mudhole which existed in front of his
"Mud Hole Bob" left Eureka
when I was a boy, and I have never heard of him since. "Colonel
Bob" and his wife, who was called "Aunt Chick" by her friends,
reared seven children; Sam, Will, Gene, Emma, Walter, Bob and Henry. None
of the children are living, but several of the grandchildren are still living.
Emma, the only daughter, married Charley Walton, of Corsicana, who was the son
of Judge Walton who was a Judge in Corsicana for many years.
Tom Johnson and his wife, Mary Johnson,
had four boys; Dave, Jack, Tom and W. B. Johnson, who was called "Willie
Bill". He is the only one of the children living.
Dave Johnson, who lived near Eureka,
raised several children. I don't know whether any of them are living now
or not. Ben and Mills were two of their sons.
When I came to Dallas in 1927, Ben
Johnson and Mills Johnson were living here. Ben was one of the Vice
Presidents of the First National Bank, and Mills worked for the American Type
Foundry. I saw them both quite often before they passed away. I
don't know whether any of the others of the Dave Johnson children are still
living or not.
The Greenlees came to Texas from Alabama
when I was a boy of four or five years old. They settled near the old
Montgomery home, and became our best friends for many years.
Bob Greenlee died fairly young, about
forty-five or fifty years of age, I think. The family then moved to
Corsicana and Reuben Greenlee, who lives somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth
owns the old Greenlee farm at Eureka. Five of the children are still
living; Miss Willette, Mrs. Ella Dunn, Snow Thornell and Mamie Blackman, all of
Corsicana, and Reuben.
Pete Anderson, one of the oldest
settlers of the Eureka community, died when I was a boy. He lived near the
old Anderson bridge (which was named for him). All of the Andersons died
long ago, so far as I know. Pete Anderson was buried in the family
graveyard on what was once known as the old R. N. White place. Other early
settlers that lived near the old Montgomery home were Jim Pritchett and Jim
Owens. Two of the Pritchett children are still living; W. P.
*Bill), of Corsicana and Ossie Pritchett. I don't know where he lives.
Other old settlers of the Eureka
community were the Granthams, the Dunhams and the Chandlers. Some of the
children of all of these families are still living.
There have been many changes in the
Eureka community in the eighty-four years that I have known it. There was
very little cash money in those days, and if we managed to pay our grocery bill
at the end of the year we felt that we had done well.
Most of our food was raised at home,
such as chickens, hogs, garden and fruit produce. The woods were full of
wild greens and the lakes were filled with fish, and we had these to supplement
our food supply.
There was no barbed wire in those days,
and the little fencing which was done was with oak or cedar rails made from
available timber in the woods. When barbed wire first came into use, most
of the men opposed the use of it, and for several years most of the barbed wire
fences which were built were soon destroyed by wire-cutters. I remember
the first wire fence that I ever saw. It was on a tract of some one
thousand to fifteen hundred acres of land known as the Greenwood land. It
was owned by some people who lived in the North. They had this tract
fenced with three strands of wire attached to posts set fifteen to twenty feet
apart. On the third night after the fence was built the wires were cut
between the posts. The damage suffered by the owners must have amounted to
more than $2,000.00. No charges were ever filed, and no arrests were
made. Most of the wire fences that were erected for the next several years
where cut to pieces during the night. Finally, a man by the name of
"Ky" West was elected Sheriff of Navarro County. Some people now
living in Corsicana may remember him. He hunted down the wire cutters and
brought them to justice, and the wire cutting was at the end.
In the old days our most popular
entertainments were the square dances and the tournaments. I find very few
people now who ever saw a tournament, or even known what one is. The name
"tournament" was derived from the old English and Scotch knights that
fought (or "joused" with lances) on horseback several hundred years
ago. The tournaments that we knew were conducted by having the
participants ride down a straight line of tall posts, spaced about twenty yards
apart, and attempt to snatch a ring, which was suspended from the arm (extending
from the post) by a clothespin. The young men came from far and near to
participate in the sport. The participants were called
"Knights", and bore names which is some way represented the community
or county from which he came. Each knight was garbed in fancy costume.
The horses, or ponies, that they rode were timed by an appointed time-keeper,
who held the watch, and if the rider's speed was below a minimum the rider was
disqualified. Some of the riders (or Knights) became very expert at the
sport, and could catch five rings each time they went down the track.
Money was scarce in those days, but the
knights, with the help of the community, managed to buy fifteen or twenty
prizes, ranging from to to booby prize. The prizes won were presented by
the Knights to their sweethearts and the top prize was always a crown with which
the winner crowned the "Queen of the Day". The winning Knight
was expected to make some sort of an address when he crowned his Queen, and this
address made by an old country boy always supplied much amusement for the
thousands that were listening and looking on. The girls who were chosen to
receive the prizes were placed in a wagon in full view of the crowds.
The most expert riders, as I recall,
were Bob Johnson, Jr., who was known as "Little Bob", Jack Johnson,
John Davidson, Charles Howell, and others that were always runners up. The
last tournament that was held in Navarro County was at the Corsicana Fair, which
was at least sixty-five years ago. The boys from Eureka who knew the
skill of "Little Bob" as a tournament rider, broke the bookies by
betting their money on him.
The tournament was usually followed by a
Square Dance given by some of the neighbors. Jim Gunn and Joe Greenup
where our main fiddlers. Jim Gunn was one of the best fiddlers in Texas.
He won all of the contests which he entered which were given by old time
fiddlers in Texas.
The young men of those days were rather
rough in appearance. They wore boots and big hats, and many of them
carried pistols, but they were the most perfect gentlemen that I have ever
known, and they had the greatest respect for women.
The first school I ever attended was an
old log house on the Davidson farm. The teacher was named Samuel Taylor.
Whatever became of him, I do not know. Most of the people who attended the
school were of the Davidson, Johnson, Green who were in and out of school.
The first community school building that
I can remember was built about two miles East of the Eureka postoffice. It
was a one-story building, and in this most of the children of the white Eureka
community had their first lessons in the "Three R's."
My sister, Naomi Davidson, my brother,
Walter, and I attended this school for several years. There was no
assistant teacher, so that one teacher had to take care of fifty or more
children. The school house was about four miles from our old home, and we
had to walk the distance back and forth. Later, a two-story building was
erected and we had two teachers. Of the many teachers that we had during
the several years I attended that school, the only two that I now remember were
a Mr. Scruggs and a Mr. Seymour.
The first medical doctor that I remember
in the Eureka community was a Dr. Wills, the father of Dr. Opie Wills, who died
in Navarro County several years ago. We had no telephones then, and we had
to send someone for a doctor when needed. It took four or five hours for
him to get there, but he always came. When he arrived, he opened his
"little black bag" and went to work with only the faith and grace of
God in his heart, and the love of his fellowman. He not only doctored all
our ailments, but he set broken bones and sometimes amputated, with no help but
that of our neighbors and friends. The old Country Doctor will never be
appreciated as highly as he should be.
The first Methodist Church that I recall
was built in what is now a part of the Montgomery estate, about one mile South
of the Eureka post office. A storm blew the church down and it was never
rebuilt. Here is the old Dunn graveyard now grown up in weeds and briars,
and here lies the remains of many of the old settlers of Eureka and Navarro
County, the Fullwoods, Hancocks, the McCartys, and many others. My
father's first wife, Ruth Chambliss, was buried there.
The old Presbyterian Church was erected
about two miles East of Eureka and there the ground for Eureka's main cemetery
was laid off at this Church. The Rev. W. L. Patterson preached there for
more than thirty years. The church was called the Associate
Presbyterian Church, somewhat different in orthodox from the Presbyterian Church
that my father and mother belonged to. They sang psalms instead of hymns,
and some of the members did not believe in having an organ or other kind of
instrumental music in the church. An organ was finally installed, but some
of the members quit the church.
Rev. Patterson preached the funerals of
the Montgomerys, the Davidsons, the Johnsons, and many others of the oldest
settlers of the Eureka community. I remember a quotation that he usually
began his funeral sermons with, written by an English poet, D. H. Montgomery,
who lived in England more than one hundred years ago:
"Friends after friends departs;
Who has not lost a friend?
There is no union here of hearts
That has not here an end."
There has always been a controversy as
to who was the first corpse buried in the cemetery. Some say it was a boy
named Guen, others say it was a boy named Sloan. There were no records
kept so that no one living really knows who was buried there. The old
church was finally torn down and a shingle arbor built where the Cemetery
Association now holds its annual meetings. The cemetery was formerly
very badly neglected, but now it is well taken care of, and is one of the beauty
spots of the community.
In those early days the church people
had what they called "Camp Meetings". I doubt if there are many
people living today who ever attended a camp meeting. These meetings were
most often participated in by all of the different denominations, but
occasionally by only one denomination. They were held in a shady area
where wood and water was convenient. There were tents for the women and
children to stay in at night, but the men slept in the wagons or on the ground.
People came from other communities and sometimes from other counties to attend.
When food began to run low, some of the neighbor farmers or cattlemen went out
and butchered a beef and brought it, with a supply of corn meal and other
necessary foods. They preached and prayed for two weeks, sometimes longer.
There were many additions to the churches, and everyone seemed to enjoy a good
In my boyhood days there were as many
negroes as there were white people in the Eureka community. The whites and
negroes lived amiably together, however the negroes fought amongst themselves,
and sometimes killed each other. I doubt if there are more than ten
negroes who now live in the Eureka community.
I have a faint recollection that the
first postoffice in the community was not at Eureka, but was about two or three
miles south of what is now Eureka proper. This post office was run by a
Dr. Clark. I don't know what became of this family. The mail came from
Corsicana once a week, and sometimes, when the roads were bad, only once every
two or three weeks.
In those days, it took us two or three
days, by wagon or buggy, to make the trip to Corsicana and return. Now, we
have a concrete highway running through the County, and there are many new
homes, some of brick, built along this highway, but, the old farms along the
bottoms, such as the one that I lived on for so many years, are no longer in
cultivation. Most have been turned into pasture land, and many of the old
houses have either fallen down or have been torn down.
I remember when it took three cotton
gins to handle the three thousand bales of cotton that were grown in the Eureka
community. There is no cotton gin at Eureka now, and last year's
entire crop of cotton was less than one hundred and fifty bales. People no
longer raise their living at home as they formerly did, but they live out of the
stores, just as people in towns and cities do. As Robert Burns wrote,
"Alas, alas, a devilish change, indeed."
---- Whitney Montgomery - 1961