WHEN CORPUS CHRISTI WAS YOUNG: 

Recollections of Annie Moore Schwien

  

My Birth and Parentage

My mother, Malvina Britton - more than ninety years old at the time of her death in 1910, was of negro and Indian blood. She was one of the earliest slaves in Corpus Christi, arriving here on January 1, 1849, with the Baskin family from Mississippi. When the Corpus Christi business partnership of John Baskin, William Mann and Forbes Britton was dissolved, mother was left with Capt. Britton.

Some time in the fifties Capt. Britton and Mr. George Wilkins Kendall (who had drawn a white bean at the Castle of Perote) were partners in the sheep business, and my mother was placed by Capt. Britton on Mr. Kandalls' sheep ranch near New Braunfels. Here I was born May 15, 1856. Mrs. Georgina Kendall Fellowes, daughter of Mr. Kendall, verifies this date, as it was just after the Kandalls arrived at the ranch. My mother returned to the Brittons in Corpus Christi when I was five months old.

During the fifties and early sixties she spent much time on various ranches, as well as at Fort Merrill, where she was placed by Capt. Britton for a while with Capt. Samuel Plummer's family. There she spent several years, always recalled as years of lonesomeness because the fort was isolated and there were no friends with whom she could visit. Capt. Plummer, who had been stationed in Corpus Christi following the Mexican War, is buried in the military cemetery on Government Hill in San Antonio.

In 1963 we went to the Evans ranch, about twenty-eight miles from Corpus Christi; it was known as the Barranca Blanca ranch, which means white hillside or slope. In 1865 we came to Corpus Christi to live; I was nine years old then.

My father was Sam Moore, a slave on the plantation of Col. John M. Moore in Alabama. Col. Moore had many slaves, and to keep them occupied and make use of their time, he established many different industries, such as a foundry, marble works, etc. Papa worked in the foundry as a puddler.

Papa left Alabama following a fight with a white man, and came to Texas. During the next four years he made many trips into Mexico, where he could have lived as a free man if he had desired to, but he preferred the states. When the Moores came to Corpus Christi, Papa again joined Col. Moore as a slave. On one occasion Col. Moore took him to Mexico with him on a trip. While there the colonel said to him, "Sam, you know you are free down here in Mexico. I can't require you to return to the states with me."

Papa told him that if he had wanted his freedom he had had many opportunities to run away before the Moores came to Texas. He remained a faithful slave until freedom came as a result of the war.

 

Baskin, Mann and Britton Families

My mother's recollection of the early days in Corpus Christi was very vivid, and she related many a time the story of the coming of the Baskin family to this little settlement. John Baskin's sister, Esther, was already here, the wife of William Mann, and it was for the purpose of visiting the Manns that the Baskins left their Mississippi home in 1848, hoping to arrive here by Christmas. Their departure had been delayed several months on account of disturbed conditions following the Mexican War, and further delays occurred at New Orleans and at Galveston. At the latter place they had expected the boat, the SWAN, to meet them, but its non-arrival for two weeks prevented the Christmas reunion they had anticipated. They finally reached Corpus Christi on the first day of the new year of 1849.

There was a very close bond of friendship between the three families of Baskin, Mann and Britton. John Baskin, William Mann, and Forbes Britton were business partners in Corpus Christi for many years. In addition, Mr. Mann was Mr. Baskin's brother-in-law. Another brother-in-law was John Redmond, who married Miss Louisa Baskin. The sisters, Miss Eliza and Miss Laura Baskin, did not marry.

Capt. Forbes Britton, an army officer, had been down here during the Mexican War and had mustered out about 1848. Mrs. Britton before her marriage was Miss Rebecca Millard, of an old Baltimore family who had become wealthy through land grants. She had a brother, Dr. Millard, living in Grand Cateur, La., and two sisters, Mrs. Persifor Smith and Mrs. Josiah Armstrong, at Fort Gibson, Ark. While visiting these sisters, she met and married Forbes Britton in 1836, and they soon returned to Baltimore. It was shortly after his Mexican service that he brought his family to Corpus Christi, where he met Mr. Baskin and Mr. Mann and went into business with them.

My mother told me that when she arrived with the Baskins on January 1, 1849, Capt. Britton's house on the bluff was being built, having been started the previous year. She also said that below the Britton house you could see pits in the cliffs where they had dug out clay for making bricks to build Mr. Mann's "red house" on the beach. The builders of the Britton house were Berry, Gravis and Yates, and Pedro Hinojosa was one of the workmen. The front of the house is just exactly as it was built, but the roof has been changed. The ell, too, is different, as originally it was two-story. This building, at 411 N. Broadway, is still standing in its original location.

The firm of Britton, Mann and Baskin operated a freight line between Galveston and Corpus Christi, shipping out finely cured hides and skins from Mexico. It would sometimes take three weeks to make the trip from Galveston to Corpus Christi because of shallow water across the bar, and for this reason they required three boats to maintain the service. One of these was the packet, SWAN, and I think another was called the CONSTITUTION. When the business partnership was discontinued, each partner received one of the boats, the SWAN going to Capt. Britton.

Capt. Britton had acquired a ranch at the Oso, about eight miles in the country, referred to as Britton Mott. Here, some time probably in the fifties, they built a ranch house, using in it part of the old sailboat SWAN. This ranch house at the Oso had a long, wide front gallery, which is so much like the gallery on the house where Mrs. Ed Cubage is living (415 N. Tancahua) that I am reminded of it every time I pass this place; the gallery at the ranch, however, was even longer and was very wide.

The Brittons had two daughters and a son. A great deal of entertaining was done, both at the Corpus Christi home and at the ranch. The women in those days dressed so well. The materials were of the finest, and the dresses fitted well. Not a day passed that the women didn' t dress in the afternoon after their naps. Dressing was carefully done, and was followed by sewing or other pleasant pastimes.

One of the daughters, Anne Elizabeth, and the only son, Edward, were twins, and the other daughter was Rebecca. The son, a surgeon in the Confederate army, married Miss Bessie Ware; he died in 1865 and is buried in Holy Cross cemetery in Corpus Christi. His widow was later a governess in the home of Mrs. H. M. King.

Miss Elizabeth, known as "Lizzie" to her friends, married E. J. Davis, a young lawyer in Corpus Christi, in 1858. Both before and after her marriage she was an excellent musician, playing the harp, guitar, organ and piano. Her mother, also a musician, played the old melodeon in the first Catholic church here. Mr. Davis became a district judge and was away from home a great deal. His wife remained at the Britton ranch, where two children were born; the first child died. A third was born later at the home in Corpus Christi.

Miss Rebecca Britton married Charles Wothington, probably in 1861 or 1862. I remember the wedding well, as it took place at the ranch at the Oso. The Worthingtons were wealthy and many relatives came to attend; many elegant presents were received. Music was made by two Mexican musicians, a violinist and a guitarist, and Theodore Lawrance, son of Dr. D. H. Lawrance, who played the violin well.

Capt. Forbes Britton, besides having been in both the sheep and cattle ranching business, also engaged in politics, serving as senator in the Texas legislature. My mother told me that his last public speech was made at the corner of Chaparral and Williams streets, against secession, as he was a Unionist. He died in Austin. The coffin was lined inside with satin and had on top, outside, a silver plate with his name. Capt. Britton was a High Church man; his wife was a Catholic. He had family connections with prominent people in New Orleans, especially those who owned The New Orleans Picayune.

After her husband's death, Mrs. Britton moved from the ranch to town; I think this was probably in 1862 - I know it was during cold weather. She made her home in the Redmond cottage on the bluff, in the same yard with the Mann home, living alone, as her two daughters were away. The Worthingtons had left this country because of the war as they didn't want to take up arms; and the Davises had left because of Mr. Davis's strong northern sympathies.

 

E. J. Davis

He was a Unionist and favored abolishing slavery; he opposed secession. Why they disliked him so I don't know, but because he was for the Union. He took active part in the Federal cause, and one time organized a company of Federal troops in this vicinity. Cesario Falcon was captain and many of the members were old Mexicans who had fought in the war for Texas Independence. Others included Larry, Joe and Matt Dunn.

Some time in 1863, I think it was, Mr. Davis was captured by the Confederates and taken to Brownsville, where it was planned to hang him. One of the leading military men of Mexico heard about it and sent word at once to Brownsville that if they carried out their plans he would burn the entire city. Davis was writing what he thought would be his last letter to his wife, when someone came for him and put him on a gunboat which went to Corpus Christi, where his wife and two children met it at the old Mann wharf and were taken aboard and away, for safety. Gen Lew Wallace, author of "Ben Hur," was said to have been on board that vessel.

After the war, "Miss Lizzie" and her husband returned to Corpus Christi, where they built a fine home on the bluff. They were popular with a large circle of friends, and their home was a center of society. Mr. Davis became governor of Texas in 1869, and after this time they never came back to Corpus Christi to live. He died in the early eighties and was buried in Austin. I had a letter from Mrs. Davis not long after his death, saying that she was living in Grand Cateur with her uncle, Dr. Millard, and her aunt, so as to be as near as possible to her husband's last resting place.

A year or so later, I was on the stage going to San Patricio to teach. You took the stage coach to Twelve Mile Mott, then took the ferry across the river, and then took the stage again. One of the other passengers was Bishop Manucy, the first bishop to come to Corpus Christi after the Civil War. He did not come from Montgomery, Ala., as was stated in an article in the paper, but came directly from Baltimore, Md. I said to him that I understood he was from Baltimore, and asked if he knew the Millards, who were a prominent family there. He knew them very well, he said. When I asked if he knew Mrs. Davis, a granddaughter of the Millards, imagine my amazement when he told me she wasn't Mrs. Davis any longer, but Mrs. "Pots" Smith. When I expressed my surprise that she had married again so soon, the bishop explained that Mr. Smith had courted Miss "Lizzie" Britton before she had become Mrs. Davis. Mr. Smith's nickname was due to his being in the pot-making business.

Her two sons, Britton and Walter Davis, are probably still living. The former was last heard from in California, and the latter in El Paso, Texas.

 

The Armstrongs

Mrs. Forbes Britton, whose maiden name was Millard, had two sisters who married brothers. Anne Monica married Frank W. Armstrong; and later, Gen. Persifor Smith. Another sister married Josiah Armstrong. The latter with his wife, came to Corpus Christi toward the end of the Civil War and stayed at the Britton home. Due to too much drink, he was a rather rough character and was not well liked generally. One evening he didn't return to the house for supper. After waiting for him a while, they began a search, and found his dead body on the other side of Salt Lake. He was buried in the burial plot in the garden of the Mann home.

Mrs. Frank Armstrong's son, Frank C., came here after the war. He had been a general in the Confederate army, during which time he had acquired the title of "the wizard of the saddle." He died of consumption.

 

Col. Moore and Other Prominent Citizens

The Brittons were great friends of the Moore family during the early days. Col. John M. Moore, a man of great wealth, brought his family here from Alabama, where he owned, among other interests, extensive iron works. He undertook the opening of a canal between Corpus Christi and Aransas Pass. He owned his dredge boat, which was manned by Capt. Riddle. Several other white men, and many of Moore's negroes, were engaged in work on the dredge. Although the project was not a success, being uncompleted on account of the coming on of the war, the dredge boat did reach Corpus Christi. When work was stopped, the boat was put aside at the wharf alongside the Ritter Pavilion, where it could be seen for many, many years, but gradually disappeared as people went there and cut it up for lumber.

During the war many of the wealthy people fled from Corpus Christi to Goliad, among these being the Moores. They had perfectly beautiful silver and fine chinaware, linens and carpets. Some of their belongings they started off to Goliad by wagon. But they shipped their rugs, furniture and many smaller things by wagon to a river B probably the San Antonio B which was deep enough for boats to come up, where they were loaded on a schooner to be sent to Goliad. The family went by carriage. The wagon load of goods reached its destination safely, but the water shipment failed to arrive. After waiting a reasonable time, Col. Moore made an investigation. It was found that the boat had run on a ridge in the river and everything aboard had been lost.

Col. Moore was interested in geology as well as canal dredging. He was one of the first to bore for oil in the state of Texas, his operations being at Spindletop. It seems that after Col. Moore's death someone wanting to bore near this location found some old machinery there that belonged to him. Mr. George Conklin, Col. Moore's son-in-law, told Mr. George Evans, another son-in-law, about it, and Mr. Evans was instrumental many years later in selling the machinery for $150.

Col. and Mrs. Moore's home was in the north part of town at the edge of the bay, about where Fitzgerald St. is, although at that time the water did not come so close in to Water St. as it does now; there was a curve in the shore so that the house was about a block east of the present shoreline. The home was a center of hospitality, with the four daughters receiving much attention from the young men of the town. Mary Ann, the eldest daughter, married, first, Charles Jones, a lawyer; and after his death, a Mr. Sinclair. Margaret Louise married Mr. William Headen. Cornelia married George Evans, whose ranch home was near Banquete. And Hannah became Mrs. George Conklin.

A sister of George Evans married J. B. Mitchell, whose initials, J. B., stand for John Belden. The middle name was his mother's maiden name, for Sara Belden had married William Mitchell, the first Presbyterian preacher here. I have in my trunk the chemise that Sarah Belden made for her trousseau; it is of pure linen and is entirely made by hand with the finest of stitches. Mr. J. B. Mitchell was their only son.

Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Mitchell had nine children, but only three lived beyond childhood, Edgar, Mortimer and Rachel.

Mrs. Sarah Belden Mitchell's brother, Frederick Belden, was very wealthy and also very prominent in early affairs in Corpus Christi. Belden St. was named in his memory. The father of Sarah and Fred Belden had helped build the Erie canal, and it is said that Sarah was the first woman to ride on the Erie canal.

When Col. Moore came to Texas he had with him Dr. William De Ryee, a chemist and geologist, who helped in the making of soap and candles, and such things, which were used by the men on the colonel's dredge boat. Later on, Dr. De Ryee owned a drug store here for many years, and after retiring from this business he lived in Mexico.

There were many fine people here in early days. Gen. Barney Bee had brought his family to Texas from Virginia. The Bees had so many negroes they didn't know where they all were; they were scattered all around from Seguin down to Corpus. The Bees were so good to them, too. I knew one of them, old Aunt Sally, well. When a widower, Gen. Bee courted Miss Lizzie Britton, unsuccessfully. His son, Hamilton P. Bee, known as "Hamp," made this his home for quite a while, living where the telephone building is now.

Capt. John Dix, living near the edge of the bay, was an importer, not a pirate as some asserted. He owned his own ships and would make distant trips to bring in such things as olive oil for sale here. His title of "captain" came from being a ship captain and not from being an army officer. His wife, who was Mary Eliza Hayes before she married, taught school at her home here, colored girls in the morning and white girls in the afternoon. The Dixes had two daughters, Fannie, who did not marry, and Mary, who married a Mr. Russell (not Judge R. C. Russell). A son, John, who was a surveyor, was known as John J. to distinguish him from his father. Mr. Russell built a home for his wife at the corner of Chaparral and Taylor, probably in the late forties or early fifties; this is where Mrs. Royal Givens lives now.

Mrs. Helen B. Chapman, wife of Major Chapman, was a very beautiful woman from North Carolina. She was the mother of W. B. Chapman, who married Miss Jessie Rankin, and grandmother of William Warren, Nellie and Jessie Chapman.

Some of the early residents had come to Corpus Christi at the time of the Mexican War. Capt. Forbes Britton headed a company of Irishmen, of which Cornelius Cahill was sutler (a position something like a druggist) and Joseph E. FitzSimmons was company clerk. These and many others were mustered out here in Corpus Christi and remained as citizens or later returned with their families.

Old General Harney was a tall old gentleman who had seen service in the Mexican War, coming here after the war was over. He wore the nicest clothes; his cuffs were turned back over his coat sleeves; his collar was always so neat. He owned a great deal of land around here.

Judge James Webb, who lived a few miles from town, had three sons, Tom, Charles and James. The Mary B. Hubbard who married Col. Kinney was said to be a daughter of the Webbs, but my mother told me she was not, that she was a niece whom the Webbs had reared. Her first husband's name was usually called "Herbert," but it was "Hubbard," my mother said.

Judge M. P. Norton and family also lived out near the Webbs, and were their close friends. Mr. C. G. Norton, who has written a story of the life of Col. Kinney, is a grandson of Judge Norton.

Somers Kinney, a brother or other close relative of Col. Kinney, ran the "Ranchero," a newspaper, here. He was a big man, very erect, and always wore black clothes and a linen duster. He would hang the duster on the gallery when he went in to court Miss Josephine Cooper, whom he married. I don't remember the date; but her father's home was at the corner of Mann and Tiger Sts.

Warren Kinney was here, too. I always thought of him as a brother of Somers Kinney and the Colonel, but I'm not sure just how they were related. Col. Kinney was a popular man but not handsome; in fact, he was a very ordinary-looking person. He died in 1865, I'm sure, even though others do say it was in 1861.

The Bluchers also lived here long ago. I remember the colored woman, Phyllis, toting Miss Julia Blucher. Busse was an old German who lived on part of the Blucher place; he was a gunsmith. He had a lovely garden, with seedlings and plants of all kinds. My mother's calves would stray over near Busse's place, and when I would go after them I would look through the gate at the beautiful flowers. Mother taught me that it was all right to look at other people's flowers through the fence, but I must never reach my hand through to pick one. There were no roses in this garden; at that time there was only one rose bush in Corpus Christi and it was called the Rose of Castillo; it was pale pink and very fragrant. It grew on a great big bush in the yard of a Mexican woman, named Trinidad, living where Perkins' store is now. Later Dr. Kearney bought some rose bushes and planted them around the custom house office on Chaparral St.

The Lovenskiolds sent to Havana for roses for their garden, where they had many other beautiful flowers. Col. Charles Lovenskiold paid Pat Dooley $300 a year, plus board and lodging, to take care of his garden. This was about 1867.

Col. Lovenskiold and William Gregory had under charter a boat, the SOUTH AMERICAN, with Jim Nagle, Mrs. Gaffney's brother, as purser; and on one trip they brought a group of Irish servant girls here from New York. The Lovenskiolds took one (Charlotte), the Moores too one (Bridget), and the Headens took two. Pat Dooley married Charlotte.

The Woessners were also among the families living here in early days. William Woessner, a blacksmith, had four sons. One son, John, was a leading merchant and banker of Corpus Christi and was the father of John, Walter, Anna, Ella, Blanche and Hattie. Another son, Martin, was a clerk in John's store, as well as in other stores, but did not own a store of his own; he was sickly and died young. Another son, Charles Henry, married a young woman from Victoria or Goliad and had three daughters; his second wife was Miss Mollie Pettigrew. A fourth son, Willie, married a Miss Wilmot.

Old Dr. Eli Merriman, a prominent physician and ranchman, was a Congregationalist, although many thought he was an Episcopalian. His wife was a Miss Fusselman. They had a ranch near Banquete. One of the slaves there was Cynthy, a good friend of Mam' s from the time she was about eighteen years old. It was the custom in those days, when there were many slaves in a household, to divide the sewing according to what each woman could do best. Cynthy, who was a fine seamstress, made the shirt bosoms, stitching the shirt fronts, collars and cuffs. Her husband was Tom Randall.

One of the best-known citizens of Corpus Christi in those days was Judge Dickie Power. He has sometimes been confused with William Power, who came here after the Civil War and lived at the foot of the bluff for a while. After his marriage to a girl named Ellen, William Power bought a place on the bluff, the lot where Glover Johns lives now (about 309 S. Broadway).

Dr. Spohn, a leading physician, had his first hospital at the home of Mrs. Culpepper, a daughter of the Rev. Horace Clark. The second hospital was in the Hassell house, which was some distance out but not as far out as the Alta Vista Hotel which was built later. A nurse for Dr. Spohn, well remembered by many, was a Mexican woman, Nieves Verein, known as Chala.

Many Jews came here in early days but few of them observed any religious practices of their race. Joseph and Alfred Moses were brothers who had ranching interests near San Diego. Joseph died in Monterey, leaving two daughters, Zara and Belle (Isabel), whose education had not been completed. Their Uncle Alfred thought they should be further educated, and as plenty of money was available, he brought them from Monterey and arranged for them to live in Corpus Christi with Mr. and Mrs. Perry Doddridge. The girls became Presbyterians, as were the Doddridges; but Miss Belle, who became Mrs. Barnes, is now an Episcopalian.

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ohler came here in Kinney's time. Mr. Ohler, a storekeeper, built two houses on Water St., both near where the Nueces Hotel is now. One was right east of the Shaw Building (which was where the Jones Building is now), and the other one, a two-story combination home and store building, in the next block north. The Ohlers left here and went to Indianola, as people from other parts of Texas were doing, also because business was booming there; and in Corpus Christi it was dull, and people gave this town the "go-by."

 

Musicians

There were three Italian musicians here, who played together - Frank Pelligrino, harpist; Billy Falvella, violinist; and "Tony," flutist. They were brought to Corpus Christi from Cuero by Mr. Kerr, who had opened the St. James Hotel. They made wonderful music, without a doubt. People here loved music very much, and in order to encourage this trio to remain in Corpus, would employ them as often as possible. They would play a tune or two for twenty-five cents. You could often hear them playing about town. Falvella held his violin with the strings away from the body, his left hand being at his shoulder near his neck and the body of the instrument being between his own body and the strings. It is said that the name "Falvella" was spelled

"Falvelle" when the young musician came here. Another good violinist was Theodore Lawrance.

 

The Old Virginia House

Mr. William Mann and family, who were among the prominent early settlers in Corpus Christi, had a beautiful residence on the bluff, but their first home was near the bay, about where the railroad track now runs down Cooper Alley. The "Virginia House," so called because Mr. Mann was from Virginia, was the name given to the Mann store building and its surrounding small houses. The Virginia House was red and was frequently called also "Mann's red house." It was quite an establishment, covering an entire block. The big house faced the east, at the front of the block, while around the north, west and south sides of the square were smaller houses, or rooms, in which merchants might stay while in Corpus Christi, and in which their ox-drivers could find shelter, the better houses being assigned to the merchants and buyers, and the uncoiled and rougher rooms to the people of less importance. Some rooms were also used for storing of merchandise by those who brought goods in or took goods away. The wagons would come in and drive directly into the square, where traders, drivers and merchandise could find accommodations.

The main house was three stories in height and was the biggest house in the town. The first two stories were of brick and adobe, and the third was frame. The first floor was used for merchandise; the family lived on the second floor; and the third was used as a Masonic Hall. At the front of the ground floor there was a very large door, so that cars of freight could be run right in there after being loaded from the ships. The wharf, known as Mann's wharf, ran directly out from this door. It wasn't very wide. A track on this wharf extended into the building; and on this, small flat cars loaded with the freight were pushed by men. They were really too heavy to be moved by men; and so, later, the spaces between the ties on the wharf were filled up with timber, and mules were used to haul the cars. Even this, however, was awkward, as the wharf was narrow. When my mother arrived in Corpus Christi on January 1, 1849, this wharf and track were already there, she remembered well, for she was so crippled up from rheumatism that she couldn't walk, and was put from the boat on one of these flat cars and rolled in to the house.

After the war the Virginia House was kept as a hotel. Later, the halls were rented for the first colored public school, and the girls in the school had to sweep the stairs. One day when I was helping sweep, I accidentally knocked against the door of the Masonic Hall and it flew open. The room was painted pale blue, with a blue ceiling; and there was painted a G-compass and square. I was scared nearly to death and went running down stairs. I saw Col. Moore and told him about it, and he just laughed. The reason I was so afraid was because I had heard so many stories of what Masons would do if any one told of their secrets. Gen. Harney was an active Mason, but I liked him because he dressed so well.

The Virginia House was finally torn down and its former location is now approximately Guth Park.

During the Civil War a great many families went to Beeville and Goliad, among them the Mann family. After the war the Manns went to Galveston to live.

 

Wharves

The Mann wharf was not the first wharf built here. John Riggs' father built the first, down there where the Elks' building is now. It was a brush wharf, being made of sticks and brush with sand and cement in between, but was not successful as it kept washing through. Ohler's wharf was here, I think, before Mann's, and the Sidbury wharf was built later where Mann has his. Central wharf wasn't built until about the seventies. The warehouse at the foot of Central wharf was bonded, and owned by a man named Willett. The Cahills had a hotel just across the street from the warehouse, on the west side of Water St.

 

Houses

On the bluff, away at the south end of town, was where Miss Eliza Wilson lived. She was a popular young lady and went to all of the dances and to all places of amusement that others went to although she had been blind since she was twelve years old. Her mother was a sister of Major Carroll and had married a second time, her husband being a Mr. Stringer, who had one son. They owned all of that land where the Furmans live now. After Mr. Stringer died, Miss Eliza, her mother, and her step-brother continued living there.

There was a one-gable house at the south end of town, which the Rabbs bought in 1867. The reason I feel sure of the date is because that was the year of the yellow fever here. I remember that Betty Rabb had run away and married Charlie Gravis, and that her parents wouldn't speak to her after that. She was at Gravis's when the yellow fever broke out, and Gravis made his wife take the baby and go back to her mother and father for safety; and a reconciliation was effected. It was to that one-gable house that she went. Two more gables have been added, and it has been remodeled a good deal since the Rabbs occupied it. It is located at 801 S. Broadway.

Col. Lovenskiold and family lived close in town. His home on the bluff was just a half block from Broadway at the top of the ravine; it is now the corner of Blucher and N. Carancahua.

At the front of that block, facing on Broadway, is where Kinney is said to have lived. In later years, this location was the home of Hamp Bee.

North of this was the Britton house, and north of that, on the corner of Broadway and Lipan, when my mother came, was a frame house, in which Major Chapman lived, who was connected with the United States Army post here. After the Chapmans, the Cooks lived there. Mrs. Cook died; and soon after, Mr. Cook died, leaving two children, Cora and Jack; these two children were taken by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Power, who lived across the street, where the cathedral is now, and who had no children of their own. Jack ran away and was never heard of again. As a young lady, Cora Cook taught school here just after the Civil War, for a short while. She married Capt. Bennett, of the Union army. Her little boy was named Richard for Judge Power. The Cook property was bought by a man named Daniel Dowd, who sold it to Capt. Mifflin Kenedy.

Capt. Kenedy's big house was built some time in 1885. Mrs. Kenedy lived in it only three weeks, as she died in March, 1885. When the house was torn down not long ago, some people were puzzled by what looked like a tunnel running from the main house to a smaller building in the yard. There was nothing mysterious about it, as it merely led from the house to the room where the acetylene gas was made.

Across the street Judge Dickie Power owned two cottages facing on Broadway, where the cathedral is now; he lived in the corner cottage. Mrs. Bray and daughter, Miss Eliza, roomed at the Power home, where Miss Eliza taught school in one of the front rooms during the Civil War. In this room, also, Catholic services were held, as vandals had done a great deal of damage to the small concrete church building by carrying off materials and breaking up some of the concrete blocks. These services may not have been regular church services; possibly they were rosary. The mantel was used as an altar, having a crucifix in the center with a vase of flowers on each side. Judge Joseph FitzSimmons read the services in Latin, no priest being available at this time. Mrs. Forbes Britton played the melodeon.

The second cottage was occupied from time to time by various people, including the Wachens, Byingtons, and Dr. Gillette, A Yankee doctor whose daughter, Ada, married Edwin Chamberlain, a brother of Mrs. H. M. King. The Buckleys were living there in 1874; and shortly after that Mrs. John Rabb built a beautiful home on that property.

A little farther north on Broadway was the Mann home, approximately where Congressman Richard Kleberg's home is now. It was two stories in height, and had a cellar. It was all frame, and plastered inside, while the Britton house was made of shell concrete. The Baskins lived with the Manns.

Immediately north of Mann's, and just south of where the first Presbyterian church was built later, was the Redmond cottage, where John Redmond and his first wife, Louisa Baskin, lived.

At the corner of Broadway and Leopard, where the Nixon building is now, was the Fitzgerald home. It was a beautiful, two and half story building, of frame construction, with a brick-lined cellar and nice cormer windows. The interior was lathed and plastered. Later on, the property was owned by the Meulys.

At the corner of Broadway and Antelope, where the new post office is now, the Headens lived, just south of the Hickey house; the Ohlers had lived there earlier.

About the middle of this same block on Broadway was the E. J. Davis home. Some have said that part of it had been moved in from the Britton ranch, but it had not; it was built of new lumber. Maybe the stable or barns were of the old lumber.

 

Civil War

I said Mrs. Britton was living in the Redmond cottage in 1862, and the reason I remember the date so well is on account of the bombardment of Corpus Christi, which was in 1862, and which I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday. My mother was living in a little frame house north of the old Cahill building on Water St. After the warning had been received that the town would be bombarded, Mrs. Britton came for us with an ambulance and took us out to Judge Cody's, in The Mott - Nuecestown. From there we could hear the sound of cannon just as well as if we had been in town.

Judge Cody was not prepared for the crowd of people that arrived from town just before dark; there were no candles. People slept wherever they could, out under the trees. A few had blankets which they spread on the ground. This event stands out in my memory as one of the most miserable experiences I ever went through. All next day we had only cornbread, black coffee and buttermilk to eat. It was the first time I had ever eaten cornbread made with buttermilk and soda, and the first time I had ever had coffee, as I had had only milk with hot water and sugar before that. The Codys were Irish and their brogue amused me, as I had never heard it before.

Next day, as there seemed to be no excitement in town, we came back, but went out to Judge Cody's again before night. It was reported that one man was killed, but I don't know anything about it.

People in Corpus Christi suffered intensely during the Civil War, as food was very scarce. Persons of independent means, however, such as many of the ranchers, did not fare so badly. The Confederate commissary was established at Banquete, on account of the Federals' activity at Corpus Christi, and this made it easier to obtain supplies out there. We were in Corpus Christi at the time of the bombardment, but soon after went to the George Evans ranch at Barranca Blanca, near Banquete, where we had everything we wanted and hardly knew there was a war.

After the war, everybody had to take the iron-clad oath in order to vote. I'm going to give the library this copy of the oath, that was signed by Thomas Fitzpatrick. (In library, Corpus Christi Collection.)

Thomas was an ex-slave. He and his sister, Carla, had belonged to Gen. Fitzpatrick, an Irishman who already had the title of "general" when he came to the United States. When the war came on, he wanted no part in it, so he went away, leaving Thomas with Judge Dickie Power and Clara with Mr. George Noessel, who had been a baron in Europe, and who was the father of Felix, George and Sophia Noessel. There was a brother of Thomas's who went off with Gen. Fitzpatrick. Thomas was called Tom Power here by everybody who knew him, because he belonged to Judge Power, but he never called himself that as he wanted to keep his old name of Fitzpatrick. After Thomas died, the man who looked after his papers gave my daughter, Adelaide, certain things that Thomas had wanted her to have.

 

Private Burial Plots

One of the customs of the early days was for a family having large grounds at their home to have a burial plot in the yard, or to use the garden to bury the dead. Several members of the Mann, Baskin, and Redmond families were buried at the rear of the Mann home. Joe Armstrong, too, was buried there. This would be where the Kleberg garage is now, on N. Carancahua St.; but that street had not been opened then. The body of Mr. Mann was buried a little to the north of others, and it was removed in later years to lie beside that of his wife in old Bay View Cemetery, where their graves are marked by a double monument. Old Mr. Redmond, the doctor's father, was buried in the Mann private plot, too; I don't know whether his body and the bodies of the others buried there were ever removed.

Another large burial plot was that at the rear of the Doddridge home on South Bluff.

A small daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Felix Blucher, Anne Elizabeth, was buried in their yard; the body was later removed to old Bay View Cemetery. This child, I think, was named for Mrs. Britton's daughter, Anne Elizabeth, as the Bluchers and Brittons were close friends. A little Cahill child named Ellen was buried where the new Catholic cathedral is now. There was a Merriman family who lost all of their children with yellow fever, I think it was. He was a lawyer and his wife was related to Col. H. L. Kinney. The children were buried in the yard of their home, located somewhere between S. Carancahua and S. Tancahua, north of Kinney Ave.

 

Yellow Fever

In the yellow fever epidemic in 1867 many lives were lost, and Corpus Christi would have been swept as clean as a pin if it hadn't been for E. J. Daivs's brining Dr. Kearney here from Havana at his own expense, after the doctors, Dr. Merriman, Dr. Robertson and Dr. Johnson, had all died of the fever. Many mean things have been said about Mr. Davis, but he certainly deserves credit for what he did for Corpus Christi at that time.

Dr. Kearney, a celebrated physician, had his hands full looking after the sick. His treatment consisted of having the patient put his feet into a mustard bath up to his knees, and then go to bed, where he was given warm teas of any kind. For nourishment he was given clabber, or the whey from boiled buttermilk. Dr. Kearney didn't use as much whiskey in treating yellow fever as the other doctors did.

So many people died that the lumber that was on hand to build the Presbyterian church had to be used for coffins. The bodies of the dead were hauled to the cemetery in drays; and as there wasn't time to dig deep graves they were buried very shallow, only about four feet deep.

I remember about the death of Dr. Johnson's baby, only eight months old. One day when I took the baby's clothes to Mrs. Johnson the baby was sick with the fever. Mrs. Johnson put it in my arms, and it died while I held it. She took it from me and laid it on the bed. But I didn' t take the fever; Mrs. Johnson also escaped.

Dr. Robertson had a drug store in Corpus Christi. He was the father of Mrs. Jessie Clark and Mrs. Eli Merriman, and lived at the corner of Chaparral and Schatzel Sts., where Lichtensteins store is. Dr. Kearney stayed in Corpus Christi until Dr. Spohn came, in the early seventies. Dr. Spohn, an army doctor, and Dr. Kearney became great friends; and even after Dr. Kearney left here to live on his sheep ranch near Laredo he would visit Dr. Spohn every time he came back to Corpus. I never heard of any relatives. I think he was a Republican.

Dr. Kearney lived on Chaparral St. about three houses south of where Penney's is now (corner of Chaparral and Starr Sts.), in a little cottage that the De Ryees owned later. He was connected with the custom office here. He sent to Havana and got four rose bushes that he planted in his front yard, two on each side. They were so sweet you could smell their fragrance when you reached that street. The plants were so vigorous and hardy that even the coldest weather didn't kill them. These famous "Kearney" roses were cabbage roses, very large, and were much in demand by the young men of the town, who wanted them to take to their sweethearts.

It was a number of years before we had another yellow fever scare, and it was only a scare; that was in 1873. Very much later, in 1897, there was another scare. Two cases were reported in San Antonio and one here; but the case in Corpus couldn't be found. Many people left, going to different places. Saltillo, especially, was popular to go to, and a number of families, including the Weils, went there. But the scare passed over very soon.

 

Schools

I often think about the schools in those early days. I attended the convent first. I went also to Mr. Rowe, the Congregational minister, and to Mrs. Bray, Mrs. Peterson's mother. After the Civil War I was in Mrs. John Dix's school a while.

And then I went for three weeks to the public school; this was the colored school held in the halls of the Virginia House in 1873. Mr. Lacy, a white man, was the first principal. Later on, when there were about forty pupils in this school, a lady assistant, Mrs. Barnes, helped. She was the mother of Ben Barnes and had come here with her mother from Rockport. Mr. Lacy received some school lots in part payment for his services, as there wasn't any money. Another teacher who received land was Mrs. Conklin. As Capt. King had given the land for school purposes, with the provision that it was to revert to him if not so used, it was thought all right to use it for paying the teachers.

The first building put up for a public school was built on the hill on some of this property given by Capt. King. It was the same location used now for a school, between Carancahua and Tancahua Sts. A two-story building, with four rooms on each floor, was built for the white children, and a two-room building south of this for the colored pupils. In this small building several classes were held in the large room. Mr. Lacy continued as principal, and Mrs. Barnes as assistant, although after about two sessions Mrs. Barnes was persuaded to give up her public school work in order to teach music. Later, a third room was added to the little school house. After the new school was built for colored pupils, this one-story building was used as the high school for the white pupils. The second colored school principal was Solomon M. Coles.

I remember that Mrs. Conklin had a private school before she was married. She was then Miss Hannah Moore. At her home, Mrs. Conklin was fond of entertaining, and she was hostess at times to different noted women, one of whom was a famous singer named Bell.

 

Old Charlie and the Mexican

Thinking of all these days gone by, recalls to my mind the story of something that happened in the old Fitszgerald home at Broadway and Leopard.

During the Civil War this house was abandoned. Vandals had entered and damaged it badly, as it continued unoccupied.

One time, probably in the early seventies, an old man from Mexico, came along and established himself in the second story of that house, cooking in the basement. He seemed to be of Spanish descent and had a good education, but was in abject poverty. People thought he was a political exile.

An ex-United States soldier from some place along the border came to Corpus Christi and picked up a living working for people in the yards. The pay at that time was $1.00 a day - anybody was glad to get that much, and a person had no trouble getting help at that price. This man, old Charlie, also went to the old house to stay. He struck up a sort of bargain with the old Mexican, who was named Flores, according to which the Mexican would cook for him, and for this work would receive his board, and fifty cents a week for cigarettes, etc. This kept up quite a while.

One Saturday night when Charlie came home with his six dollars - the weeks's wages - old Flores asked him for one dollar. Charlie said, "I have made a bargain with you, and you were to get only fifty cents a week; that's all I'm going to five you." And he wouldn't give Flores any more.

Next morning a group of small boys on their way to the Presbyterian Sunday School nearby, stopped at the old house, as was their custom, and whistled, called, and chirped as usual just to plague the old Mexican man and hear him swear violently in a number of languages. But all was silent that morning. Several of the boys ran up to the second floor ahead of the others; still all was quiet. The others gathered then, and they began to look around for the man. One of the boys, maybe Willie Woessner, for he was usually a ringleader in the boys' mischief, opened a closet door, and out fell a dead man, with a deep gash in his stomach. Some of the boys leaped out the windows in their fright; and the others rushed down the stairs and called people to come and see. Old Charlie had been murdered.

A great hunt was made for the missing Mexican man. After some days he was found nearly starved, hiding out at Avery Point. As the men approached him, he said, "I know what you want me for - for killing Charlie. Well, I'll go with you, but I'll never hang for it. If it were known what all I've done, there isn't a limb of a tree that would refuse to take my neck. but I'm not going to hang."

Flores was put in a cell, like a cage, in the jail, in the old court house. He spent his time writing poetry in Spanish, which he would hand out to different persons here and there, and in making beautiful designs for embroidering, and was very well liked. He wasn't kept in the cage in the day time, but at night he would be locked in. One night the weather became very cold and there was a severe freeze. Next morning the old man was found dead in his cell.

He was right; he didn't hang, you see.

 

Aunt Anne and Uncle Dempsey

I have heard many stories of the early days in Corpus Christi, for mother and her friends used to enjoy telling about them. Two of her especial friends were Aunt Anne and Uncle Dempsey. Aunt Anne was French, and very fine-looking. Uncle Dempsey had bought two lots on Tancahua St., and when the Jones claim was active, he was told he would have to pay $20 for the corner lot and $15 for the other one. His friends counseled him not to pay, as he had already bought the lots once. But he said that the Jones claim went away back, and he thought he'd better pay. He did; and later events showed his wisdom, as many other people had to pay many times what he did to secure the title to their property.

 

Capt. Britton and Mr. Perham

I always listened with great interest to the tales of the old folks, as they related the incidents that occurred in the families whom they had served.

Mother was especially fond of speaking about the days she spent at the Britton Ranch at the Oso. Mr. Britton would serve sherry when company would come, and mother was always pleased to put on a fresh apron and carry in the tray with the wine.

Among the friends who came to the ranch frequently was Mr. Jesse P. Perham. He was a Methodist minister, and I have been told he had a sheep ranch out at Banquete.

One day Mr. Perham said to Mr. Britton, "Why don't you enjoy life out here? If I had all this I surely would enjoy myself."

"Why,"said Mr. Britton, "I do enjoy life very much. I enjoy life immensely."

"Well," replied Mr. Perham, "do you want to know what I'd do if I lived here?" And he looked out at the big windmill with its lazily-moving wings. "I'd have a rocking chair set up there underneath those wings and I'd whistle 'Yankee Doodle' as the cattle came to water."

 

Methodist Church

I remember hearing about the Methodists raising money for a church, too. The Rev. Lafferty was their preacher, and the congregation asked him to help them build a church. Mr. Lafferty went to "old man Peter Dunn" (the Dunns were Catholics) and said to him, "Mr. Dunn, I want your help. These people want me to build them a church, and I'm not well enough acquainted with everybody here to do this. Mr. Dunn, we're of the same race, though not of the same religion; but we're all going to the same heaven. Will you help me?"

Mr. Dunn said, "Wait until I finish beating this horseshoe and I'll see what I can do." And he finished beating the horseshoe and tossed it into a bucket of cold water, took hid coat off a nail and put it on, and said, "Come along."

They went to the door of the Favorite Saloon, which was later George Roberts' saloon, and Mr. Dunn said to the men inside, "Now, men, this man is trying to build a church for the people here, and he needs some help to get the thing started. I want each of you to put the price of your next drink in this hat for the church."

The men stepped up and each contributed something. That was how the Methodist church building got started - that was before the Civil War. This first building was a small "adobe" one-story building facing south on Mann St., about the middle of the block.

 

Conclusion

There were so many good people in those days. It makes me sad when I see people hating each other as some do, even members of the same family harboring bitterness in their hearts against each other. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example for us to follow. I say, be a good Samaritan. You can't go to heaven with hatred in your heart.

 

Date of interview - Various dates from November 8, 1938, to May 15, 1941.

Address: 815 N. Staples St., Corpus Christi.

Provenance: Corpus Christi Public Libraries

Transcription by: Rosa G. Gonzales 








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