History of Eureka
Navarro County Texas


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Eureka, Texas
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 community.

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 Aaron.

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 house).

"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 time.

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

 


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