A Pioneer Mother’s Experience: Part I

by Jim Fish

Following are the words of Mrs. Mary Kate Cruze, RFD Box 178, San Antonio, Texas (circa 1928):

“I was born October 21, 1849, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, daughter of Peyton and Mary Cox. My father died in 1850, and in 1851, mother married Albert Heaton from Washington, Maine. He was kind and just. He took mother and her two children to Pattersonville, Louisiana, where he had a good home.

“Then we moved to Franklin, Louisiana, mother and father going overland in the buggy, while the old negro nurse and we children, with the household goods and my old cat, went on steamboat. We settled near the bayou and father established a cooper shop and wharf where boats came and loaded with his product of barrels, casks, etc. He had nine men working in his shop when a terrific scourge of yellow fever swept over Louisiana, and when the fever abated, there was only one man left out of the nine.

“Whole families died. Mother and Father both had the fever, though somehow, we children escaped. My father never went into his shop again because he imagined he could see and hear his men working as he had seen them last. He sold the cooperage and engaged in the hotel business, though at one time he was judge of St. Mary parish. He had heard so much about the "great state of Texas" that he finally decided to cast his lot in this land of promise, so in 1856, in company with two friends, Messrs. Cooper and Smith, he set out on horseback for the Lone Star State.

“Cooper and Smith located at Austin, but Father went on to Hays County, where he bought land in the new town of Cannonville, owned and sponsored by Mr. Rufus Cannon and later run against San Marcos for the county seat. Father wrote glowing letters to Mother, telling of the wonderland he had found, of the trees, flowers, knee-high grass, and an abundance of crystal-clear water. There was a gushing spring at the corner of the lot he planned to build our house on, and he urged Mother to pack up and come as soon as possible.

“On June 27, 1856, Mother's twenty-seventh birthday, she started to Texas, via New Orleans with her four children, Charles, the eldest aged nine years, me seven, and two half brothers, Albert, and William Heaton, aged four and two years, respectively. I will never forget the sea voyage on the "Charles Morgan" from New Orleans to Galveston with its seasickness and seemingly never-ending smell of tar and rope. The overland journey to Austin was made by stagecoach and there we stopped with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who lived in a double log house on Congress Ave.

“Father came to Austin a day or two after we arrived, and we were overjoyed to see him. The next day Father hitched up the oxen, "Lion" and "Berry," to a big, covered wagon and we left our kind Louisiana friends for the wilderness and strangers. We children enjoyed each step of the journey, as we would get out of the wagon, gather flowers, shells, and all kinds of pretty rocks, wondering the while if we would ever reach "Cannonville."

“If I remember rightly there was only one house that could be seen from the road in the two days that it took to make the twenty-five miles, as the oxen never went faster than a walk. Cannonville was situated about three miles south of where the village of Dripping Springs now stands. We lived three months with the Cannon family before our house was finished. We carried water from Onion Creek, a mile distant. We had many hardships. The crops were almost failures and to make our troubles worse, our good friend, Mr. Cannon, died.

“There were only three houses ever built in Cannonville. Mr. Newton Jackson of Austin built one, a Mr. Schropshire one, and Father the other one. Then Mrs. Cannon refused to give deeds to the land her husband sold.

“The election for county seat was held and "Cannonville" lost and "Cannonville" died a natural death. Mrs. Cannon, her children, and an old negro "Mammy" moved to Bastrop, and we moved into their home on account of it having a good well of water.

“A post office was established, and Father was appointed postmaster of "Cannonville." The mail, which was carried on horseback, came from Austin and it was a great day when it arrived, as people came for miles for the occasion.

“Meantime Father tried farming, but a late frost came, followed by grasshoppers and a disastrous drouth which it seemed would put an end to everything. But the people were undaunted. The men hitched their oxen to the great lumbering ox-wagons and set out for Port Lavaca or Indianola to purchase supplies. People are grumbling about today's high prices, but who among them has seen flour sell for $25 a barrel, corn meal at $3 a bushel and everything else in proportion? I never knew flour being cheaper than $16 or $18 a barrel until after I was grown.

“We had no church or school, and the mothers taught their children. The most popular schoolbooks of those days were the "Blue Back Speller" "McGuffey's Reader," "Ray's Arithmetic" and "Webster's School Dictionary." A popular punishment for misconduct during our lesson hours was to have us memorize an entire page of the dictionary. Father read a chapter from the New Testament each night and Mother heard our prayers. Mother had a beautiful voice and often sang hymns to us. We were a happy family indeed.

“Reverend Johnson of Blanco City was circuit-rider for our district. He came each fourth Sunday to preach to our neighborhood and held meetings in some neighbors' house. Everyone within a radius of ten miles attended, and if too far to walk, Father hitched "Lion" and "Berry" to the ox-wagon and took us in style. Occasionally Rev. Johnson would bring with him his wife and little daughter, Mary Kate, whose name was the same as my own. We were great friends as long as she lived.

“Our nearest neighbors were families named Wallace, Moss, Perry, and Dr. J. M. Pound, who was our family physician for thirty years. Mother belonged to the Good Samaritans and the Episcopal church, though later she united with the Christian church.

“Father was a Royal Arch Mason and, though he did not belong to any church, he was a just man. The Ten Commandments were his creed.”

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