C. L. Jester: Aunt Mary, I would like you to give me your early recollections of our families early days in Illinois before they came to Texas. and also after they settled in Navarro County.
Mrs. Mary Miller: I was only a small child about eight years old when my father came to Texas, but I have some very vivid recollections of the old home in Macoupin County, Illinois and also of the trip to Texas. I was born on a farm in Madison County, Illinois, near Edwardsville, but I was very young when my father sold that farm and bought a farm in Macoupin County where he lived until 1846 when we came to Texas. I can remember the comfortable two story house, the gardens and orchards and farm land that was our home. Your grandfather Jester and his wife, my sister Diadema Jester, lived near us in Madison County at that time, and when we moved to Texas we came by their home and I ran in to see them and can remember so well picking up your uncle George who was the baby then and playing with him. Your father, Charlie Jester, was then a little boy about five years old. I remember him well at that time. He was a very bright and smart little fellow. Cousin Helen Marshall taught school close to Girard, and Charlie went to school to her, and he was such a bright little fellow that she always had him making speeches for the school. I also went to school to her, my first school. At that time there were not many school in our part of the State and very few churches; the preaching was mostly done in schools and private houses. And those who did not go in wagons would ride horseback, except in the winter time when we had sleighs, as we always had plenty of snow. I enjoyed the sleigh rides more than anything else.
Mother was opposed to coming to Texas but the children, like all young folks were eager for change and adventure, and the long journey overland - it was just an extended pleasure trip to us. We came through St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry boat. St. Louis was a pretty big town at the time. We crossed the Red River at Fulton, Mo. and it was so red that it made a lasting impression on my childish mind. We came through the Indian Nation and saw plenty of Indians, but they were all friendly Indians and father would trade with them for feed for our horses. I remember when we would stop near the Indian camps the boys would take the girls to the Indian dances. Just before we reached Navarro County, we camped in Ellis County on Chambers creek, not far from Reager Springs. R. N. White, who afterwards move to Corsicana, he lived near there with his family; and mother was sick and they came to get her and took her to their house and took care of her; we have always known them. They moved down here soon after we did, and settled in Corsicana on what is now Fifth Avenue about a block from Beaton Street. Cyrus White was the first child born in Corsicana.
The first stop we made in Navarro County was at Dresden in which was about the center of the county, and the first people we got acquainted with was D. E. Hartzell's family who lived near there; and I always looked on him just like one of my brothers. He used to go with my sister; Kate, who afterwards married Ham Morrell. Dan Hartzell's sister waited on me when I was married. After we moved to Corsicana, Dan Hartzell, who was in business there, boarded with us for years and years, and was like one of our family. From Dresden we moved to Corsicana, only there was no Corsicana at that time, just an open prairie, and we lived for awhile in a little log cabin on what is now the R. Q. Mills place. From that place we moved into a big log house of two cabins with a small hall between, located on the square, between where the present court house is now and the jail, and lived there until father built the McKinney Tavern, on the right of the present jail. It was while we were living in this little house on the square that I first knew Col. Winkler. He came from the southern part of the state and was at that time, 1847 or 1848, judge of the first circuit court they had here. He boarded with us while we were living in this little two room house and went from our house to be married.
2Mother got his clothes ready for him when he married his first wife, who was the widow of Thomas I. Smith, who was an Indian agent at that time. When the war came on he enlisted and became a distinguished soldier. It was during the Civil war that he married his second wife.
After father built the McKinney Tavern, we used to entertain all the lawyers who came to court. Col. Winkler was one of the first lawyers I remember. Some of the lawyers who were here in those days and stopped with us while we were keeping the tavern were Rob. S. Gould, who was district attorney and lived in Palestine; John H. Reagin; (and) A. H. Willis, who was afterward Judge of the Supreme Court. They used to come here to attend court. Some of the first lawyers that settled here were Maj. John L. Miller (and) Maj. A. Beaton. I afterwards married Maj. John L. Miller, and my sister married Maj. A. Beaton. Then there was Col. R. Q. Mills who was a law student at that time and was later a partner of Maj. Beaton. He was a gallant young man at that time, and very good looking and popular and used to go with our crowd of young folks all the time. We would get together and go to camp meetings. The young men would write the girls notes to go, and would get a wagon and we would all go together. Among the other lawyers here the were Col. Croft and Maj. L. T. Wheeler. Col. Croft married first Roxie Elliot, a daughter of Colonel Jacob Elliot. She only lived a short time, afterwards he married a Miss Lockhard, they are all dead now.
The first court house in Navarro County was situated on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 12th St., just across from where Mrs. Singletary now lives. It was a log house of one room and was used as a court house, a school house, a church and general assembly hall of the town for years. I used to go to school there to Mack Elliot. I think Col. Mills moved that house on his place years ago and it is there now somewhere. The next court house was a frame building erected on the present sight of the court house in 1851. This court house burned down in 1855. It was reported at the time that the court house was set on fire by parties that wanted to destroy certain indictments and papers that were in there but it was never proved. The court house was built in 1856, a brick building, on the same site and this was the same court house that your father, Chas. W. Jester, hauled the brick for, he had just come here from Illinois and had a good wagon and team and this was the first thing he found to do. This brick court house was used until it was torn down in 1880, and a new one built which was used until the present one was built.
The first church was built by the Cumberland Presbyterians, and was located about where Will Gordon's place on Third Avenue is now, then Main Street. All denominations held services in this church and used it time about until the Methodist Church was built. The next church built here was the Methodist church built in 1871. I think it was a frame building and was between where the Methodist church and parsonage now stand. That was the church on which the steeple fell down. There was no Methodist Church here before the war. I remember that was the only church here beforehand we used to go to the Cumberland Church to work for the soldiers during the war. I remember they had a big convention in this church when Mills was nominated for Congress. There was no regular Methodist preacher stationed here before the war. This was on a circuit and we had what was called "circuit riders." Among the first preachers who were circuit riders I remember was Old Brother Mose. I think he was here as far back as 1847 when we lived in Dresden; Brother Hardin was another circuit rider who had some very bad boys, who were called the first desperadoes of this section, one of the sons was named John Wesley Hardin and was a notorious desperado. Another circuit rider was Brother Manley, who married me and my sister, Mrs. Beaton. Brother Fly was one of the early Methodist preachers here. He was a very smart man. Brother Campbell who married Samentha Starley, was another of the early preachers, and Horace Bishop and Brother Wells, and there was a circuit rider named Fergerson. I remember the first preaching we had was in that old court house. They used it for years for services; afterwards there was a large hall built about where Tom Kerr now lives on Third Avenue and they used the lower part for a church and school and the upstairs for a Masonic Lodge; that was the first place outside of the Court they held public mectings. It was built by the community and all denominations held church there; and they used to have temperance meetings in the hall upstairs. This building was called Cedar Hall because it was built of Cedar logs; this hall was afterwards torn down.
The first school I remember in Corsicana was taught in the old courthouse by Mack Elliot. He was a surveyer, and a nephew of old Jacob Elliot and the father of Mrs. John D. Lee and Mrs. Ellen Cheney and the grandfather of Mrs. H. C. Johnson. The next school I went to was in Cedar Hall taught by Capt. Peek. He and his wife taught that school and boarded with us at the McKinney Tavern, and their first child was born there. Mrs. Peek used to lecture me about going with the boys. She said I looked like a little Pin Cushion Sock on the arm of a boy. The truth was the boys would come to see my older sisters and as there were more boys than girls here at that time some of them would fall back on me when they could not get one of the older girls. Mrs. Peeks health failed and they went back east somewhere and she died there and her child was burned to death. Afterwards he came back here and went into the mercantile business and kept a general merchandise store on the east side of the square. Afterwards he left here and went to Freestone Co. and settled at Fairfield and married again. Mack Elliot was quite a young man when he taught school here and boarded with us at the McKinney Tavern; he was afterwards a prominent surveyor here for years.
Among the early doctors here was D. Oakes, I think he went from here to Waco. His wife was a right young thing and she used to send for me to stay with her when he was called away. Then there was Dr. Leach, a very fine physician and Dr. Green Kerr, a brother of Uncle Jimmy Kerr, and Dr. Wootan and Dr. Tate, who was the husband of Mrs. Tate, a relative of Judge Frost. He was a high tempered man and fell out with my father because he sent for Dr. Dixson one time when he was sick. Dr. Dixson was a peculiar kind of doctor. He administered roots and herbs instead of regular medicines. He was my father's doctor at the time of his death. Then there was Dr. Love, one of the early physicians here, and Dr. McKie, the father of J. W. McKie who married Eve Elliott, a daughter of Col. Jacob Elliot. Col. Jacob Elliot has three girls, Eve who married Dr. McKie, Roxie who married Col. Croft and Lou who married H. P. Walker. Col. Elliot was a land trader here in the early days and first lived down near Richland and that is where his first wife died. He afterwards went back to Kentucky and married again and when he came back to Texas he lived in Corsicana.
The Loves were early settlers here. W. M. Love built the first house in this County down near Patterson Lake. Among the early settlers was R. H. White, who came here very soon after we did. Col. Henderson who came about the same time and built a house where the Third Ward School is now. He was a lawyer but he didn't practice much. He had a rich brother in New Orleans who sent him money all the time, and he didn't do much of anything but chess. The Van Hooks were also early comers and lived out here on the H&TC RR just north of town. Capt. E. E. Dunn was another. Buck Barry was sheriff about that time. S. H. Kerr came a little later. Jim Carytgers was another old settler. David R. Mitchell was one of the first settlers of Corsicana, and was the man who gave most of the land on which the old part of Corsicana is situated. He donated to the town the land the courthouse square is on, and also the lot for the Methodist Church. He and my father were good friends and father was instrumental in getting him to donate this land. He owned a lot of land and really was a very fine man.
I went to school with his daughter, Bema Mitchell, who afterwards married Dr. Seale. The business part of the town was on the square and all the stores were around the square, but after the railroad came here in 1871 the town moved down towards the railroad. Maj. Beaton took great interest in getting the railroad here, so much so that it never would have come here If it had not been for him. He took Capt. Harris, who was the locating engineer, to his home and entertained him and his bride, and got Capt. Harris interested in locating the railroad at this point He also gave 640 acres of land and money besides. Uncle Jimmie Kerr stood right by Maj. Beaton in this enterprise, they had some land below town where the cotton factory is now and they cut this land up into lots and blocks and sold it and raised some of the money in that way to get the road here.
The first post office was in the McKinney Tavern and father acted as postmaster. I can remember as a child how I liked to hand out the letters to the people. Also the first photograph gallery was in the McKinney Tavern, run by a man by the name of Isaac Cline. I was very fond of having my picture taken and he would practice on me. The pictures he took were of old fashioned daguerreotypes. The McKinney Tavern seemed to be the center of civilization for that part of the country in those early days. I don't think father was very anxious to keep the Tavern but there was no one else to do it and he was more or less forced into it. He didn't like the rough element that naturally congregated around a hotel in a frontier town so he finally sold out I think to David R. Mitchell and built a house right about where Richard Mays built his house and where Homer Pace now lives. We always speak of this place as the Pace Place, as Mr. Pace bought all this land afterwards. It was while I was living at this place that I married Maj. John Miller and the other girls married while we lived at the McKinney Tavern. Maj. Miller came out here from Tennessee in about 1852 an entered into the practice of law in Corsicana and lived here all his life. He was born in 1821 in Murry Co. Tennessee and died in Corsicana, Texas in 1907 in his 86 year. He was a member of the Tennessee Legislature at the time James K. Polk received notice of his nomination for President.
At the beginning of the Mexican war he organized a company and commanded this company as Major which was the origin of his title of Major. However there was another company organized that got in before his company. I was married to Maj. Miller in 1855 and to this marriage the following children were born: Mattie Miller, now living in Corsicana; Terry Miller, who died when he was 20 years old, unmarried; John Lanty Miller; Beaton Miller, and Ursula all living. After my marriage I lived at home for a while and then moved to the house which is now the servant house on the Nortie Kerr place, only then the house was north of the street and fronted west. I lived there a short while and then moved to the place where I am now living on the corner of 3rd Ave. and 15th St. In 1856 or 1857, we had a house on that lot of one room which was afterwards added to until it was a good sized house, and lived in that house until about two years ago when it was torn down and the present house was built in which I am living now. In about 1858 Maj. Miller and I moved up near Rice, and it was during this time that my brother, Monroe McKinney, went back to Illinois and brought my sister, Diadema Jester and her family to Corsicana. That was in 1858 and they lived in our house until her own house was finished. Maj. Beaton gave her a lot 100/160 feet right where the telephone exchange is now and she built a house there, and after she moved to her home she took boarders for a living.
Diadema and Levi had the following children, all born in Illinois: Charlie Wesley, your father; Martha, who married Jefferson Kendall; Geo. T. Jester, whose first wife was Alice Bates, and his second wife was Fannie Gorden; Mary D., who married James Hamilton; Vina, who married R. P. Bates, a drummer who drove a double team and carried his samples in the back of his buggy (they both died within the last few years); and L. L. Jester, who married a Miss Cain of Tyler, Texas. Your father was about 17 years old when he came to Texas and as he had. a good wagon and team, about the first work he got to do was hauling brick for the court house they were building at that time, the first brick court house here. He did first one thing and another to earn a living. He then got work with old Man Jornigan, who kept a saddle shop on the square, and worked with him until he went to the war. After the war he came back here and bought out old man Jornigan and ran the saddle shop for himself. He used to do a great deal with the cowboys and that class of people. His shop was on the square about where Col. Kerr's residence is now.
The Jesters brought with them to Texas the first painted or factory made wagon ever brought to the county and for years this wagon was used for a hearse in every funeral. It attracted a great deal of attention and the country people and children would gather around it and admire it as they do a circus wagon now. Your Father, Charlie Jester, married Eliza Rakestraw, a daughter of Geo. A. Rakestraw, who lived down near Patterson Lake, and after they married they lived right next to his mother. Monroe McKinney, my brother, married Lou Johnson. He went to the war and was killed at Yellow Bayou over in Louisiana; he left three children; his wife afterwards married a man named Allen. John O. McKinney, another brother, went up into Johnson County and laid his headright certificate and lived there a good while but he got sick and came back home and died at our house while we were living where the Mays place was afterwards built. He was 27 years old at the time of his death and unmarried. He was very handsome, quiet and reserved, not like any of the rest of us. He was very much like my father. My brother, Thomas McKinney, lived here with us until he married Jan Petty. He then moved into Ellis county and lived there until his death. Kate McKinney, who was the next youngest child to myself, married Hamilton Morrell, usually called Ham Morrell, who lived right where Judge Hardy's residence is now. Nancy McKinney, my sister, married John Harlin and came with us to Texas on their honeymoon trip. They settled right where the old Wereing place is now and had a mill there for a long time. John Harlin was a hustler and a very capable man, and could do anything. Could build a house better than anybody else. In fact, there wasn't anything he couldn't do. Everybody liked him and respected him and if anybody got into trouble and needed help they would go right to John Harlin, and he would always help them out. He certainly used his hood offices to see that the law was defeated in the case of Ham Merrell. He lived in Waxahachie for a while and then moved to Ennis and lived there until his death. His descendants are still living in Ennis and are very prosperous folk.
My father was very much opposed to slavery; he didn't believe in owning Negroes. But after we came to Texas he had to buy some in order to get servants. There was no other way to get help, so he bought a Negro woman we called Old Aunt Edie, paid $1,200.00 for her and her two children, but he never thought it was right to own slaves. He didn't approve of dancing and we never had dances at the McKinney Tavern but they used to have dances at the Randall Hotel. That was opened some time after we built the McKinney Tavern, and the boys would come after us girls and get father to let us go to the dances just to look on but we would always get to dance before we got back. We always told father we would just look on. Camp meetings were the principal amusement for the young folks that didn't dance. Father never objected to our going to camp meetings and the boys would get a two horse wagon and take a crowd of girls and boys and it was about as much fun as anything else. We also had an occasional circus to come here; the first circus I remember seeing was Robinson's circus that was traveling through the country. Of course it had to travel by wagons as there were no railroads here then, and the circus grounds were where the 3rd ward school is now. All the town was up around the courthouse on the square and didn't move down to Beaton Street until after the railroad came here in 1871. I remember the only herd of buffalo I ever saw was where the H & TC Railroad is now, that was all open prairie then. There was a grove down here across the street from where the Ideal Theater is now, where they used to have public meetings, and I remember Sam Houston coming here to speak and he spoke in that grove there, and Maj. Miller introduced him.
That was before the war. Houston was a union man and he was very much condemned for his union ideas. He said afterwards that he had made a mistake and regretted it after he knew the way our people felt about it. He and Col. Mills had a disagreement and I am sure that was the cause of it, for Mills was for the Confederacy good and strong.
The first newspaper published here before the war was a weekly paper called The Prairie Blade. Dan Donaldson was the editor and his wife is still living, that was the only paper here before the war.
Old Col. Riggs was another one of the early settlers when we moved out of the cabin on the courthouse lot and went to the McKinney Tavern. Col. Riggs rented this cabin and that is where Mrs. Ruth Teas was born. Dan Hartzel was one of the early settlers here and ran a store on the west side of the square. Just back of Mr. Dyers house now, Cap. Peck was in the mercantile business for a while after he came back and A. Fox had a dry good store here before the war. His store was on the east side of the square, north of the Stell property. Uncle Jimmie Kerr had a store on the square and Col. Kerr and then there was a Jew named Michael had a grocery store. Uncle Jimmie Kerr had his store on the corner just across from the 3rd Ave. church where Mrs. Gowen now lives, and about the middle of the block Bob Morrell, a brother of Ham Morrell, had a saloon. He always had a rough crowd around his place and every Saturday night they would come in from the country and get drunk and get up fights and generally go out of town whooping and yelling. Old man Byers was one of the earliest merchants here. I think Uncle Jimmie Kerr bought him out, all these merchants kept a stock of general merchandise, shoes and men's clothing. N. H. Butler and Sam Taylor were blacksmiths, and old man Burrow, who had a son that went to the war, and a man named Smith were also in the-blacksmith business at that time.
With the coming of the railroad after the war there were some new merchants; Sanger was here for awhile, and Padgett and Huey, and Schneider and Allyn, and Garity, all of that crowd followed the railroad on to Dallas, except Huey, Garity, and Allyn who stayed here. Sanger used to board with your grandmother Jester who made her living taking boarders, and your father used to help her until he married and went to keeping house right next door to her. Your grandmother lived right where the telephone exchange is now and kept boarders. Your Aunt Vina Bates was married from that house and your Aunt Mary Hamilton and your Uncle George married and brought his wife there, and there was where she died when her youngest child, Alice was an infant.
Your grandfather Rakestraw never lived in Corsicana. He was a farmer and lived near Patterson Lake near where Old Col. Elliot first settled. Just after the war closed he went with quite a party of others to South America because they said they would not live under a Yankee Government, but they didn't stay in South America long and soon were all back here again. I have lived in this town for nearly 75 years and am sure I could be called the oldest inhabitant in point of long residence but not in age, and in these reminiscences I have tried to recall the incidents in a long and happy life in relation in particular to our own family, the descendants of Hampton McKinney, my father, and your great-grandfather, who was the very first settler in Corsicana.
Mrs. Mary Miller
Sworn to and subscribed before me this the 10th day of Feb. A. D.1921
Notary Public for Navarro County
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