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Old Family Tales

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society

Old family stories are not only fun, they enrich us and tell us about our ancestors and their lives back in the old days. If you have an old family story or biography that you would like to share (almost everyone has a either a character or a very interesting individual in their family tree!), please write it in your own words and email it to Sibyl and it will be placed on this page.

"Nanny Spears and Grandpa Spears"

by Maudie Bailey Spears

The following is the history of a family who were early settlers in Van Zandt County. This story clearly portrays life as it was back then, some happy times and some tragic times, but always lively and interesting. The story was submitted by Bill Teal with permission from the sons and daughters of Maudie Bailey Spears.

Mollie was nineteen and Rufus was ten years older. He had worked for her father and other farmers near her home. He now had his own farm. They decided to elope and get married. She was Mary Elizabeth Montgomery and she was called Mollie. He was Rufus Spears. They married in Canton, Texas, September 3, 1889. Rufus' family lived in Canton and owned a hotel there. After spending a few days in Canton, they returned to Jamestown to Rufus' farm, to live.

When Mollie was born in 1870, she was named Zula. Her mother died about ten months later and her father gave her the name her mother bore. Her mother was Mary Elizabeth Wilburn and Nannie's name was Mary Elizabeth Montgomery -- always called Mollie, until she married Rufus Spears. Mollie's mother, Mary Elizabeth Wilburn, was a schoolteacher with a degree from a women's academy. Mollie's father, Dr. Jim Montgomery had five brothers, all medical doctors. They came from Mississippi to Red River County, Texas. One brother was named Sam and one was Roark. (Sam was Linnie Kate's grandfather) The Wilburns were in Red River County. Mollie had a sister Agnes, and a brother George. George married Nora Jordan and Jimmy Montgomery of Mineral Wells is a son. His brother Seth, his brother George, and sister Estella died in Mineral Wells, Texas. George was the youngest, given his father's name after he was accidently shot by a hired hand. Dr. Jim Montgomery lived in Garden Valley and practiced medicine in all surrounding vicinities. He traveled on horseback. Sometimes a call would be twenty-five miles away. He mixed his own medicines and carried them in saddle bags.

Mollie's father was very sad because she had eloped. This she regretted because her father was so kind and she had fond memories of being at home with her father and sister. Her brother, George, had married and she loved living with him and Nora, to go to school where he taught. She had a stepmother, also.

Housekeeping was begun in a small way. The black bedstead was bought at this time. Every day farm chores were enjoyed as they worked together feeding chickens, milking the cow and taking care of the milk in a way to have sweetmilk, buttermilk, and butter as they needed it to eat. Rufus was busy working in his crop through harvest and chopping wood to burn in the kitchen stove and firewood for the winter in the fireplace. A new house was built. She was proud of the "handy" porch for wood.

Rufus was a good trainer of horses. He rode them for pay,sometimes. He enjoyed buying and selling horses, cows and also land.

Two children were born at Jamestown. The boy was Iphis. When he was a few months old he crawled into the kitchen cabinet and found some green coffee and ate it. He survived, but almost lost his life. Mollie and Rufus had a great scare. The coffee had been bought green to be parched, then ground in a hand turned mill. In the green stage it was a deadly poison.

Rufus recovered from a spell of inflammatory rheumatism, after suffering several weeks. Later he found a farm near Canton that he traded his farm for and included the household furniture (no furniture was moved). Mollie regretted leaving her pretty cupboard, for a larger cupboard. The large cupboard had tin in the sides, with ventilation made by making a design with a nail. (this cupboard still exists).

After the move was made, life went on the same for Mollie and Rufus, except they were not near the old friends they had known in Jamestown. This farm was sold and another bought. They lived in a new school district called Cartwright. There were school age children in the community but they were attending school somewhere else. A teacher was hired and only one pupil arrived when school opened. Iphis was old enough to go to school and attended the whole term (a few months alone with the teacher).

Mollie's father died Jan. 17, 1892. Her sister, Agnes, had come to live with Mollie and Rufus. Agnes died Aug. 28, 1899.

Rufus had accumulated farm tools and farm animals and was prospering financially. Mollie milked the cows for their home use of milk.

Rufus cleared more land and burned the brush that was left from the clearing and wood hauling. One night Mollie walked with Rufus to attend to a brush pile that was burning. He pushed the burning sticks together, and she walked ahead of him to the other side of the burning brush, and there lay a man. She ran back to Rufus -- terrified. Rufus hurried to see, and the man awoke. He was a traveler -- by walking. He was tired and cold and meant no harm. Rufus hired him to work. He worked a few weeks and then disappeared. He went on his way without a word. But, he was a good worker.

In Dec. 7, 1894, tragedy struck. The little three year old daughter named Mary Zula became suddenly ill. It proved to be diphtheria, called "membranous croup". She died in a few hours. The funeral was not held at once because the baby girl named, Laveta, three months old, was also suffering with the same disease. On Dec. 10, 1894, the two little sisters were buried in the same grave. Devastated in sorrow and still more to come, they were grateful for the son, Iphis. A baby daughter was born a year later and was never able to digest her food. She died three months later from a deadly form of malnutrition, according to the doctors. Nov. 30, 1896, a son was born. They called him M.J., and he was always called by the initial name. When he was in the army he gave the name Marion James. Now, Iphis had a little brother. They were living east of Canton, near Saline Creek -- a few miles west of Oakland. Grand Saline became their home about 1903.

Rufus and Mollie both had a great yearning to make a good crop each year and accumulate more worldly belongings. They wanted to go west. Plans were made to move to Erath county where Rufus had been. He always kept good horses and now he sold his land and bought two new wagons and he had two good teams of horses. They were loading the wagons to move to Erath Co.

A man from Grand Saline came to Rufus and offered him a good job as a salesman for a hardware store in Grand Saline. He bought a house and several lots in west Grand Saline, Rhodesburg, called Poletown. Mollie was disappointed to not go west to farm. Rufus worked for that company awhile and then he was hired to work for Salt City Company. He worked with Mr. Bill Staton, buying cotton and selling buggies, cookstoves, dishes, and was successful financially. He began buying lots in Rhodesburgh, sometimes with cash, other times it would be a trade of a calf for a lot or farm equipment for a lot. Rufus' father came to live with him and Mollie soon after they moved to Rhodesburgh. Mollie's father had died in 1892 and in 1895, her brother George was killed. He was on a cattle drive, driving his cattle to market from Smith county to Fort Worth. The herd was bedded down in camp in what is now Creagleville community, near Grand Saline. George gave his gun to the "cook", to clean the gun. In the process of cleaning, a bullet was fired and it killed George. He lived four days. Mollie and Rufus helped George's family to find a way to survive on George's farm and to find help for them.

Rufus continued his work selling buggies, harness, cook stoves and wash tubs for salt city. He bought a farm and traded it for another, getting goats, or geese or maybe a mule team for "boot". he would sell the mule or geese or goat for money or trade for another lot in Rhodesburgh. Some of the acreage he kept. He surprised Mollie when he told her he had bought the "Kuykendall house." This was a two story eleven room house built by Rev. Kuykendall for a home for Prof. Collins. It was to be used for a boarding house for students who attended the college there in Rhodesburgh where Prof. Collins was president. Sickness and death had caused the college to be closed and the Collins' family moved to Dallas. The house was white with green trim. The porches and halls, both upstairs and downstairs, were surrounded by bannisters. There was a brick chimney at the north and the same at the south end of the house. Rufus added a new chimney on the west end. Mollie was quite elated and she, with the help of Rufus, "Pa", started to put up wallpaper inside. This was done for all but two rooms.

In April, 1899, a girl baby was born. She was called Mollie Donnie. She died Aug. 28, 1904. Essie Vesta was born April 7,1901 and died Nov. 5, 1901. A daughter called R.B. was born Sept. 15, 1902. She lived to be eighteen. She died July 24, 1920.

Iphis had married Alice Fulton in 1912 and their children were Alvin and Coy. A horse threw Iphis off and broke his neck in 1919, leaving a wife and two boys.. In Dec. 1923 Alice died. Coy drowned about 1932. Alvin died of polio about 1936.

Rufus had been working for a monument co. selling monuments. Because of his health he often walked carrying his pack. He had an injury in his stomach that caused him pain to jolt in his buggy. The injury was caused when he was young and it never healed. He died of cancer in 1921.

Mollie and M.J. were alone in the big house, but, Alice and Alvin and Coy lived near by. They enjoyed visiting each other daily. Molly loved the boys as she did her own. She remembered when Iphis and Alice married in 1912. Mollie had prepared a big dinner and invited friends and neighbors to attend on Christmas day.

Rufus deeded the lots on the east side of block 9 to Iphis for his home. Later, Rufus deeded the farm north west of town (about 30 acres) to Iphis. Alice was now renting the land to others. Rufus had idolized the grandsons, Alvin and Coy. He built swings and other toys for them. They remembered him and Mollie enjoyed talking with them about "old daddy". They called Mollie, "little Nannie".

Mollie was very energetic. Her daily routine was to get up at 4 a.m., cook meat, biscuits, gravy and coffee for breakfast, eat breakfast with the family, milk several cows, take care of the milk to have butter, sweetmilk and buttermilk to drink. churning was almost a daily chore. Rhodesburgh was thickly settled then and Mollie sold many dollars worth of milk, both sweet and buttermilk. She was proud of her regular butter customers. She had a round butter mold which she packed full of butter (and a little extra high for good measure). This was carefully wrapped for the customer to carry. Most of the neighbors in Rhodesburgh were workers who had jobs and had money to pay and no place to keep a cow.

Mollie recalled the years she had spent with Rufus here in Rhodesburgh: the orchard of peaches and pears in block eleven and the grape vineyard and berry patch which was harvested by hired labor each year. Rufus had planted them all and shade trees of sycamore, silver leaf maple and black locust were planted around the block eight on three sides. She remembered how he made Alvin and coy happy every day. Once he made a teeter-tooter. She recalled the many things Rufus had bought for the house. Dishes were stacked in three cabinets that he had bought, sometimes a set of dishes, sometimes a set of bowls or a lovely pitcher.

Rufus had put a tombstone to the back of the children's graves before he died, except R.B. She died in 1920 and he died in 1921.

In 1919 he bought a house and three lots in block eight, called Shivers place or later called the Darby place. To do this he mortgaged the bottom farm. The house and lots were bought for M.J..

M.J. kept the notes paid on the mortgage but it was not deeded to him alone. The farm was deeded to Mollie and M.J., so, he worked the farm raising cotton and corn until it cost more to raise a bale of cotton than it brought when it was sold. He changed to cattle grazing the land. The mortgage was paid off in due time and taxes were paid each year, never failing.

In 1922 M.J. and Maudie married and instead of moving into the house bought for them, they lived in the big house with Mollie. Maudie taught school the first winter. Mollie still sold milk and butter and did garden work along with house work. The morning began at 4 a.m.. Breakfast over, M.J. left for the farm in a wagon, with his lunch. Supper would be ready at late evening when he returned.

In 1924 and 1925 Mollie had a flower garden which she hoed and carried water during the summer for the plants. She had many kinds of summer flowers, several kinds of chrysanthemums. The water was pumped from a well and carried in buckets to the house for all uses and to the flower garden.

Maurice was born March 31, 1924. He was a delight to everyone. Mollie enjoyed him and would stop work to play with him. Maurine was born Dec. 25, 1925 and she too was a pleasure for Mollie. She bought nice clothes for each of them. Max was born April 3,1928. Mollie was delighted with him. He was also a beautiful baby and he loved her also. She bought things for all of them. Marnell and Marlin were born Feb. 23, 1932. Mollie was a great help with them. She made it possible for each one to have needed care -- Marnell with her big blue eyes and little fine voice when she cried and Marlin, so fat and loving and happy. Mary Ella was born Jan. 8, 1935 and Mollie was very fond of her. She was very insistent that we name her for her two grandmothers, Mary for her (Molly) and Ella for grandmother Bailey.

In 1953, Mollie's health began to deteriorate and she became bedfast in 1959, and lived at home with M.J. and Maudie until her death, Oct. 19, 1961.

She could never get an old age pension because she owned too much land. This was a disappointment to her because she had always paid taxes and she refused to deed her part of the land to M.J.. She felt a security in the ownership, which was never realized.

Mollie and the whole family mourned for M.J. while he was a soldier in camp during world war I. He came home in Jan. 1919, soon after the war ended. He had reached Jacksonville, Florida on the way overseas.

Maudie was teaching school at Creagleville and boarding with Mrs. Luce in Rhodesburgh. M.J. and his father and brother were walking past Mrs. Luce's house. The Luce family went out to welcome home the young soldier. Maudie went out with them and met M.J. for the first time. A few days later in the week, Maggie Luce and Maudie walked across the railroad and up the hill to Mr. Richardson's house to attend prayer meeting one night. When they came out to go home, M.J. was there and invited them to ride in his buggy back home, which they did. M.J. did the driving and Maggie sat in Maudie's lap. Prince was the big horse's name and Prince became frightened when a train came down the railroad just as they were nearing the crossing. He soon calmed down.

Soon, someone invited M.J. to a party near by and he came and asked Maudie to accompany him to the party. They continued to date until March. School was out and Maudie went home, which was nine miles out in the country. This was farther away, so his calls were less frequent. But, sometimes he would come on Sunday afternoon.

Maudie did not try to get a school for the next year, she wanted to go to school again. She was offered a school in Jan. at Silver Lake and she taught there till June. That was still farther away, so, Maudie and M.J. did not see each other often. They had planned to get married some time but she was trying to become a better teacher. She felt that she must go to school.

Maudie went to Denton in June 1920, and made the grade for a six year certificate. She taught school at Wisdom Temple the next winter and back to Denton in the summer of 1921, to take other subjects. She taught again at Wisdom Temple that winter.

M.J. said it was not fair for him to make the long trips all the time when she could get a school nearer Grand Saline. She applied and got a contract with the new consolidated school called Fruitvale, consisting of the consolidating of Fruitvale, Lawrence Springs and Cross Roads.

Maudie and M.J. married sept. 16, 1922. School began in October. Maudie's concern now was transportation. M.J. had a neat little buggy horse which she drove for awhile. He traded this horse for another which was not safe to drive, but she drove him a few times. Then he traded for some mules which she drove for awhile. Old Midnight made the trip several times. Midnight was the name of Nannie's horse which had been Rufus' buggy horse. When school was out in March, Maudie said, "no more teaching for me." It was impossible to combine teachers' work and responsibilities with homework and M.J.'s plans, so, the home won out. She never regretted.

The house was eleven rooms, open hall upstairs and downstairs, three chimneys, no electricity, no running water and no plumbing, which was not uncommon at that date, 1922. There were good neighbors near by, Mr. and Mrs. Fite, Mr. and Mrs. Starkey and family, Mr. and Mrs. Moody and family, Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Cofer and family, Jewel and Short Hawkins and Evalyn, Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton, Mr. and Mrs. John Luce. Cofer, Pinkerton, Luce, Starkey and Moody were mail carriers out of Grand Saline.

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This page last updated 29 May 2007

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