History of Winkler
Navarro County Texas


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The History of Winkler
Gary Pillans and Bud Minze
Texas History, Fairfield High School, March 5, 1963
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XXI 1981
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

The early history of Winkler is not known. The first written proof of any people living in this community was in 1846, when an article was published in the Southwestern Quarterlyconcerning it. The article was in the form of a diary of a man from Mississippi. This man had traveled through this part of Texas with a view of moving here. He spoke of the land as being poor, but the inhabitants thought it rich. This means that in 1846, there were already people settled here and there over this community. In the account he mentioned examining land high up on Tehuacana Creek and then turning and going down Pine Oak Creek, a tributary of Richland, and then going down that stream until he came into what must have been present day Winkler territory. Then he crossed over to the north side of Richland and rambled around there a day or two. The man seemed to have crossed back to the south side again, and on with his journey. But in one place he mentioned coming to a fine, little branch that ran water all the year; this must have been Spring Branch.

There is still other apparent evidence of early settlements in these parts. On Jackson Hill, an eminence just out of the Richland Creek bottom on the present day road to Corsicana, there was an old graveyard. It was abandoned before the Civil War, and signs have long disappeared. The graveyard was said to have had as many as a dozen graves. For a burying place to have accumulated a dozen graves before the Civil War is a good argument that there had been people living around here in a good number will before that time. 1

The first authentic date of any people living in what is now Winkler territory is of a man named Vry, or Vrie, who was at Walker Lake in 1849. An old settler named Tisdale said he moved to a section of the county seven or eight miles west of Winkler in that year and the man, Vry, was living at the lake at the time. Tisdale said further that the lake was a common meeting place for hunters going on a bear hunt. This mention of a gathering of hunters, like the fact of the old graveyard, is strong evidence that there were people living not far from the lake as early as 1849. As the lake and Jackson Hill are some seven miles apart that would give a good deal of room for scattered settlements in between.

Winkler community, or what was anciently called Gourd Neck, lies partly in Freestone and partly in Navarro counties. What gave it its early name is its geographical position, it being a long, narrow strip of land hemmed in between two large creeks north and south and the Trinity River on the east. The creek on the north is called Richland, the one on the south Tehuacana. The length of the land from the river to what is generally considered its western bounds is about fourteen miles; its width at the widest part which is on the west end is seven or eight miles. The creeks do not run parallel. As they near the river, they come closer together, till by the time they reach the river bottom they are no more than two and a half miles apart.2

The Blackmon place was a regular old time slave plantation. The entire tract of land comprised about eleven-hundred acres, with at the time of my first recollection about three-hundred in cultivation, this partly on the hills partly in the bottom. The elder Blackmon was a doctor as well as a planter. How many slaves he had I do not know, but to cultivate as much as tow hundred acres, which might have been the amount he had in before the war, he very likely had, young and old, thirty or forty. I can remember something like half a dozen Negro cabins in good repair standing at a rather late date and still used by Negro renters.

Winkler was located on a gorge and down the gorge a short way there was once a very good seep spring; and that very likely is what induced the first settlers to locate here. Who the very first settlers were no one now living knows. Winkler by the year 1880, is believed to have consisted of a store, and a blacksmith shop, and two gins and mills, and six or possibly seven dwelling houses. There was also a resident doctor. About 1880, or 1881,the place was given a post office. It was named for Judge Winkler of Navarro County, who in the war had been a lieutenant-colonel in one of the regiments of Hood's brigade. In 1898 a Masonic lodge was organized at Winkler. The hall was in the upper story of the schoolhouse. The sword of the lodge was an old Confederate saber, a gift from Captain Bob Johnson of Eureka, the community just across Richland Creed. At that time the nearest institution of the kind was Cade, twelve miles to the west, and nearest on the north and north-west was at Corsicana, twenty miles distant. With that large territory to draw from, the lodge gained in members rapidly. In fact in a few years it came about that a majority of the members were living on the other side of Richland Creek; and presently these set on foot a movement to move the lodge over to their community.  But Winkler objected stoutly to any such move, and they appealed the case to higher authorities.  The matter was finally settled by Eureka's pulling off and forming a lodge of their own.

The date of the organization of the first church was in August 1872.  It was a Missionary Baptist Church.  Perhaps for lack of a suitable house, the organizing ceremony took place under a tree.  The church was given the name of Little Hope.  It did not do well in the beginning, and in a few years ran down badly.  Then about 1884 or 1885, a great revival was held, and many new members were taken in; and on the strength of this a sort of reorganization was held.   The name, Little Hope, which some of the members thought had been poorly chosen in the first place, was changed to what they considered the more appropriate, New Hope, its present official title.  The general purpose house, built in 1875, was the one used for service for several years; but about 1892 another and larger one was built on the same ground, and this is the one still used today.

According to the best account, the first large schoolhouse was built in 1875.  It was made of ash lumber sawed on Richland Creek near Birdston.  It was a very good box-type house with glass windows, and seated with the best homemade seats I have ever seen.  The house was also used as a church and a grange hall.  There were no conveniences about the place.  For years, in school time, the boys had to tote drinking water from a well a quarter of a mile away.   After a time a rock cistern was built.  A little house was put up around the cistern and a lock put on it to keep travelers from getting water.  For firewood the boys scoured the nearby woods and picked up such sticks and chunks as they could find.   Later the school patrons began hauling wood.  Usually this was in the form of poles, or at best, dead tree tops, which the boys reduced to proper stove length with dull axes.

The school was not to continue thus for long.   The inconvenience to the people in the lower end of the district of having to send their children such a long way to school caused them in about 1893 to pull loose and start one of their own.  The new schoolhouse was built four miles east of St. Elmo, on the main public road.  The new school was given the name of Trinity.  About that time the church people of that section, for much the same reason, drew out and formed a new church.  It too was named Trinity, and they used the same house as the school for services.  These, both the school and the church, never did attain to the size and importance of St. Elmo, but they served a need that at last in the case of the school was real.

There were many games and tournaments played in Winkler but horse racing was the most popular.  Horse racing lasted much longer than the other sports but there were no real blooded race horses kept in Winkler.  There were no people that lived off the bets won on the horse races; therefore it was said that a professional on horse racing never set foot in Winkler.  This did not mean the people did not have good stock because they had some of the finest horses in the area.

As a general thing its races were short in distance, three-hundred yards being a popular length.  When the best of stock was used, one might lengthened out the race track to half a mile.

A race was usually brought about by its owners or backers of two horses making a match for a run a week or two beforehand.  That was the usual way it would come about.  Then other men around, hearing of the race, and having horses they thought could run, would make ready to go.  When the time came, a sizable crowd would be on hand for the occasion.

Like other things, horse racing began to give way after a time.  For some reason hard to determine, even before the coming of automobiles, the best for the sport had gone out of the people.  It in time degenerated to two Negroes running their scrubs down a cotton row on Saturday evening.

Church services were not held but two nights a month.  Baseball was  game that was played fairly often in its season but it was not the favorite sport.  Parties and dances were held frequently.  For an example, in 1914, the first night of January, Doff Knight gave an all night dance.   This was one of the largest get togethers in this community with about two-hundred and fifty guests.  The admittance fee was one dollar per person.  There were so many people that they danced in the yard and even in the road.  It started at three in the afternoon and lasted until after sun up the next morning.  Mr. Knight served his supper from about six in the evening until eleven thirty that night.

The favorite entertainment of the women was the quilting "B's" held at different homes around over the community.  The children liked to put on plays at the school and also liked the old picture shows.   These shows was erected so that you would have a lamp directly behind the film and roll it so that it would show through the film.  Then a picture would appear on the wall.

Following the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment, there came the liquor trouble.  For several years this was another of those major agitations in the community.  Until national prohibition, although local option had been in effect nearly all over the state, men who wanted liquor had managed to get it in some way, either had it shipped in or bought it from boot-leggers.  But now with this source almost completely cut off alcoholic drinks became exceedingly hard to get, and too it was beyond reach of the ordinary man's purse.  To get this high price for liquor was the first incentive to its illicit manufacture.  Those in the selling business, if they could not get it from abroad, would make it themselves.

Previous to this time there was hardly anybody in Winkler who knew anything about whiskey making, and the very first operators were from the outside.  Perhaps a man would bring in a little five gallon still in his trunk and set it up in some remote thicket and make a four or five gallon run.  If only the financial side was to be looked at his profit was perhaps worth the risk, for the product of those first days sold for a price high almost beyond belief.  Sometimes it sold for as much as thirty dollars a quart and for several years after the business became common, it sold for ten dollars a gallon.  Naturally, with that kind of money coming from whiskey making other men began taking it up.  The physical nature of the county; its remoteness, its bad roads, the great bottoms and forest to furnish cover, and abundance of water made it an ideal place to work.

Travel and transportation at Winkler forms a strenuous subject.  It is said that in the old days steamboats ran up Richland Creek, the place of landing was at Walker Bluff, a place of high ground a short distance below Walker lake.  Almost nothing now is known about this early traffic, but presumably the boats came to get loads of cotton for shipment to Galveston and also perhaps to bring in supplies for the plantations.  But as the water in the creek is low the greater part of the time such running must have been hazardous, and no doubt steamboating on Richland was limited.

It is only proper to list the men who fought in the various wars of the country nor would it be proper not to list the early settlers and the oldest buildings.

Two men fought in the Mexican War
Estell McCary
William Anderson

Men who fought in the Civil War
F. T. Jeffries
James Collins
J. C. Pillans
J. K. Houck
Dr. T. B. Grayson
Bill Phipps
A. H. Lewis (*1)
John Rouse
Green Manning
W. B. Newman
Ted Gardener

One man in Philippine Insurrection
Rob Lee

Men Who Fought in World War II
Kirvin Harris, Jr.
Richard Harris
Dick Lee
Gordon Lee
Frank Allen
John Hagler
Leroy Johnson
B. J. Pillans
Robert Pillans
Max Simpson
Otha Johnson
Nelson Phipps
David Clark
Jim Pillans
James Gregory
Robert Picket
W. T. Simpson
Horace Steele
Robert Clark
Bryon Allen
Jack Minze
Billy Bigham

The Early Doctors of Winkler
Dr. McDaniel
Dr. Pillans
Dr. Edwards
Dr. Phipps
Dr. Byron

The Early Pastors of the Community
Brother Wilson
Brother Alice
Brother Harvard
Brother Walker
The pastors of this time usually served long periods of time.  The last of which served in the late 20's.

The Old Buildings of Winkler built around 1885
Williams House
Masonic Lodge
Hagler House

The Early Settlers in Winkler
F. T. Jeffries
Mrs. Womack
Mr. Houch
Mrs. Collins
Mr. Compton
Benjamin Pillans
J. E. Knight
Mr. Roney
James Collins
Willie Pillans
P. A. Manning
D. B. Walker
John Massey

Winkler has lost most of its population.   With population thus reduced ways of making a living for those remaining has undergone a decided change.  From farming they have gone to cattle raising.   Some of the finest farms in the country, because of inability to secure tenants have been turned into pastures.  The incentive to go into the cattle business has been further increased by the high price of cattle for the past several years.  A hundred dollars for a calf looked like good money to a man who not so very long ago had been selling the like for twenty-five.  Accordingly everybody with tow or three acres of grass began trying to get a cow or yearling.  Today there is hardly half a dozen men in the community who are not dabbling in cattle to some extend.  There is also some farming in Winkler, but very little.  The population is approximately one-hundred white people.

Notes:

  • (*1) My great grandfather's name of A H Lewis is misspelled in an article on Winkler Texas.  He was a Civil War Vet.  He is listed as A H Twio. 
    I am sure the old time L looked like a T.  He was with John Rouse, Ted Gardner and WB Newman.  These folks lived at St. Elmo.  Thanks Paula Snider  3/19/2006
    .

 


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