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Travels with Grandma...
Preserving the stories, legends & history of Texas for generations to come...
Hamilton

Hello everyone! I am glad you could join us today. This week we went on down Hwy 281 and into Hamilton and then on down to Comanche. My traveling partner was 10 year old grandson Alex.

I think everyone should take a road trip with children. If you don’t have one, take a niece or nephew or borrow a neighbor’s child. Their parents will enjoy the break and you will have a chance to learn more about them and they will show you things you would probably have missed. The reward? You get to experience the wonder of discovering new things through the eyes of a child.

So, get in, buckle up and we’ll be off…

You can take your favorite route to Hwy 281 south. We took Hwy 144 south to Hwy 67 through Glen Rose. Then we took a left on FM 220 through Hico and on into Hamilton.

Hamilton is the county seat for Hamilton County. The first settlers probably arrived around 1854. By1855 two of them, James Rice and Henry Standefer had opened the first store and the town of Hamilton was started. Like many other areas they settled along wooded streams that crossed the open prairies.

You know how I’ve been telling you about covered wagons and we’ve been talking about what it must have been like to travel in one. Well, pulling into to Hamilton I spied one at the Rangler Convenience Store. Now, how would you like to have had all your worldly possessions, rations (food) and a family of 10 or 12 kids traveling across the county in this?

As we were driving into Hamilton, of course the first thing that Alex spotted was the old Hamilton County Jail. Like old cemeteries, he likes to stop at most of them. It was most definitely worth the stop because this “old” (built in the 1930’s) jail is also a museum housed in the living quarters of a past sheriff.

I am sorry, but his wife must have been one very special lady. Not only did she live with criminals housed right over the top of her head, she and the sheriff raised two boys there as well. She cleaned, cooked and cared for her sheriff and two boys as well as the prisoners housed there. I am picturing a quieter, simpler time and life much like Andy Griffith, Aunt Bea and the boys are much like Opy and his pals. Only Sheriff Taylor went home at night, not downstairs. I am sure it wasn’t like that. The cells upstairs tell of a harder life.

We were greeted at the door by a wonderful, welcoming couple. They moved away from Hamilton in the 1980’s and came back a few years ago. Knowing that little boys like fire trucks, she was more than happy to answer Alex’s question about the building next door and open it up to show him the first fire truck in Hamilton. They gave him all the time he wanted to look the truck over, study it and ask more questions about what the different parts were.

Back inside the museum, we discovered room after room of signs of life gone by. From fashions to household tools and equipment we don’t see any more. I discovered that what I thought was an old candle mold, a tall, thin, tin cylinder, was really a well bucket for hand dug wells. And the hooks I had seen on the wall at a barn sale were really “retrievers” for when the rope broke and you had to tie it to a new rope and “retrieve” your bucket.

The gentleman (I wish I could remember names!) was a wealth of information and patience as Alex asked question after question in the military room. It was full of reminders of World War I and II. MRE’s, guns, uniforms, newspaper clippings and a whole lot more; a world of wonder to a little boy who hasn’t really known much other than peace in his life. But, from listening to him talk and ask questions, I quickly learned that those days are passing way too fast. This little boy could talk very intelligently about what is going on in parts of the world I had never heard of when I was his age. I had heard of the hardships of the depression and life during World War II, and what life was like then. My grandparents made sure I knew. Made sure I didn’t forget. They passed the stories on. And, maybe, in part, that is what these stories are all about…making sure they don’t forget. Making sure they have stories to pass along.

We left the museum and headed for the square. Surprise! It was the Second Saturday Sell-A-Bration and Second Annual Pickling contest and who was the first person we met? The Chamber Director and his friend selling their home made jarred pickles in a booth on the square. Music playing from the courthouse steps, “locals” selling their wares from booths set up on the square. It could have been a hundred years ago if the booths had been wagons and the ez popup tents canvas tents.

It was there on the square that we learned about Ann Whitney, a testament to the bravery of the women who lived in the rough times of the 1800’s. She began her career as a teacher in a rural one-room school house about 7 miles north of Hamilton. In those days schools were located within walking distance of a number of families; and walking distance then was a whole lot farther than it is today; children didn’t walk a block or two, they walked miles.

Schools were a little different back then. Instead of long halls with lots of doors and windows, cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditoriums, restrooms, etc, they were generally one room log cabins. They usually had one door and one window and were made out of rough hewn logs stacked on top of each other. In Texas, where school was held in the summer, they usually didn’t even put chinking (the stuff that blocked the cracks) between the logs. They either had dirt floors or rough hewn logs for floors. That pretty much describes the school in the Warlene Valley, along the banks of the Leon River, where Miss Whitney was the first teacher. Instead of classrooms full of 20-25 students in each grade, and several classes per grade, all the students attended in one room. There were probably around 10-12 children in this school.

She probably began that hot July day in 1867 like most other teachers of her time, by gathering students along her way to school; listened to the voices playing outside as she readied the classroom for the day – opening the window, lighting the candles, sweeping the rough wooden floor, filling ink wells, preparing the lessons and finally calling the children in to start their day.

I am sure that day probably proceeded like most others – reading, writing, ‘rithmetic; older children helping younger ones. Lunch time rolled around and the kids ran out the door with their lunch buckets (yes, they really were buckets) gathered up under the trees swapping “this” for “that”. They laughed, they talked, they played (and probably there was a scuffle or two). And like lunch time today, it was too soon to go back, but the sooner you went back, the sooner you got to go home.

Sometime in the afternoon something went wrong, very wrong. I don’t know all the details and all I can do is imagine, and put together the bits and pieces I found on the internet, but I bet it went something like this…

Being July in Texas, it had to have been hot, the air probably still, the buzz of a fly in the air and maybe somebody’s horse whinnying outside. You could hear the voices of the children taking their turn at the blackboard or reading out loud. I would imagine it was a pretty sleepy afternoon, everyone huddled down to the business at hand…When all of a sudden, one of the students thought she say a man outside and since her pa and his cowhands were supposed to come, Miss Whitney told her to sit down. But she said they are Indians! and scampered out the window and down to the river. This got Miss Whitney’s attention and soon four of the Indians began to approach the school and out of no where came the whoop of an Indian and arrows flying through the windows and the cracks in the logs. I imagine a very scared teacher and a room full of students’ screams as the first arrows pierced the walls. I imagine the fear that must have been in that tiny one room school that afternoon. Like I said I don’t know for sure, but I can only imagine. I see her peeking through the cracks and checking the Indians locations. I picture the bigger kids running to the window and helping the little ones escape to the roughs along the Leon River. I picture Miss Ann Whitney gathering the children close and whispering for them to get low and be quiet, and helping them lift boards to hide under or escape through the window. Can you see them? Quietly sneaking out, quietly tip-toeing through the grass and off into the trees, making their way to the roughs along the edge of the river, fearing for their lives?

During all of this Ann Whitney stayed behind, trying to make sure all the children made it to safety with one little one clinging to her skirts and two others hidden inside all the time her body was being filled with the arrows. It is reported that one of the Indians came crashing through the door and asked the two boys if they wanted to go with him. Out of fear one said yes and the other no, so he took the one that said yes with him. (He was later bought back from the Indians and returned home). And when the Indians scattered and the dust settled, there lay Ann Whitney with 18 arrows piercing her body. But her legacy lives on in the generations that followed because she gave her life to save theirs.

I often wonder why the whites and the Indians couldn’t get along. Then, perhaps, “Pastor Steve”, unknowingly put it into perspective Sunday with his parting question “What would you sacrifice for your children??” What did the Indians sacrifice to try to save their lands, their wives, their children and their way of life? What would we have done in their place? Tried to run off the “intruders” any way we could, even if it meant attacking the things that are most precious to men – their women and their children and thereby threatening their safety so perhaps they would move on and we could go on with our lives the way they were meant to be?

You can learn a lot from listening to little ones. They are much wiser than we were, I think. While we were driving I asked Alex what he thought life was like back when the settlers were first coming to this area. His answer surprised me. Here is his story…

“I think the Indians had it right and us “Anglos” came along and messed it up. They had everything they needed. They lived with nature and God gave them everything they needed. They had food and clothes and all the tools and equipment they needed. They had houses.” When I asked him where all this came from he told me, “They used all of the buffalo and ate the meat & made clothes and houses out of the fur and tools out of their bones. Then we came along and messed it all up. We killed the buffalo and let them just rot and we ran them away from their homes.” I asked him where he learned all that and his answer was “school”. So, Ms. Thomas, that little boy that was bouncing off the walls last year, really did learn something…Keep up the good work!

And with that one, we’re going to call it a day. We’ll save Comanche for next week.

Till next time…

Love,
Grandma

Do you have a story to share or a place you would like me to visit? E-mail travelswithgrandma@yahoo.com

To see more pictures visit www.photo.net/photos/Sharon C And go to the “Travels with Grandma” section.

© Story and all pictures are copyright of Sharon L. Curry. No portion of this story or pictures may be reproduced in whole or part without the express written permission of Sharon L. Curry.

P.S. If you’re going to visit Hamilton, why not go September 1st & 2nd and enjoy the Dove Festival, Pageant, Parade, and Rodeo? For more information go to http://www.herald-news.com/briefs.shtml or call The Chamber of Commerce at (254) 386-3216