1919 Cyclone — Worst Tragedy to Hit Wood County

By Lou Mallory, Chairperson of the Wood County Historical Commission

When residents of Wood County, after a hard day’s work, retired to their beds on the night of Tuesday, April 8, 1919, little did they know that by early Wednesday morning April 9, 1919 many lives would be lost or changed forever.

The cyclone on that morning took the lives of many of them and many others were injured. It should be noted that many of the farmers and others had white and black tenants who lived in small “shotgun” houses and were not built to withstand high wind or a storm as deadly as this one.

This cyclone (tornado) was the greatest catastrophe to ever hit Wood County. In a small rural county whose population was slightly less then 2,300 in the 1920 census the loss of life and injuries plus the destruction of many houses, schoolhouses and outbuildings this storm” had a profound effect. The damages and loss was estimated at nearly a half million dollars but worst yet was the 23 county residents whose lives were lost, and the 56 others who were injured. The damages covered the 71 homes completely wrecked and the 55 others damaged along with two schoolhouses.

The lives lost in this catastrophe were more than the county lost in the First World War just ended.

As bad as the storm and the deaths, injuries and property damages that occurred If not for the residents who heard the wind and rain and went to their storm cellars from the reports gathered about 50 residents had escaped physical harm while their dwelling places were completely destroyed.

The storm entered Wood County about a mile and a half southeast of Mineola and was said to have cut a path a mile wide through the entire county.

Some of the areas documented to have sustained heavy damage were Mineola, the Lake Fork area, and the communities of Oak Grove, Stout, Vernon, Westbrook, Musgrove and Spring Hill. After the devastation caused in these small communities, they began to decline and are today gone and virtually forgotten.

Based on both oral and written reports, the storm is believed to have first hit Canton this morning and that is documented by a Dallas Morning News article dated April 10, 1919. Other Dallas Morning News reports of April 10 described the damage done in the Winnsboro area, and another tells of the storm that hit Bonham the same morning.

The storm in the Bonham area causes extensive damages, and it was reported that the storm first struck near Trenton and extended in spots to the Red River.

The citizens of Wood County weathered this catastrophe and through the years have worked hard to bring back the beauty and splendor or this beautiful area of East Texas.

1921 Storm Destroys Property Near Alba

Alba, Texas, April 15. — A tornado struck Willow Springs west of Alba, Thursday and traveling in a northeasterly direction, did considerable damage until it had reached a point just north of Alba, when it raised above the timber and passed on. It was only about 100 yards wide, but the wind had tremendous velocity, and as it lowered from the funnel-shaped cloud left destruction in its path. There were no deaths reported. Telephone lines were torn down in the path of the storm. The houses of G. P. Ful-??, J. L. Ennis and one or two others were blown away. The tornado was preceded by a heavy ????. Considerable damage to gardens and young corn is reported north of Alba along the ???? of Lake Fork Creek. – Fort Worth, TX Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 15, 1921, Page 13.

1909 Twister Strikes Near Mineola

CYCLONE WRECKS FARM PROPERTY

Twister Strikes Near Mineola in East Texas.

Special to the Star and Telegram.

Mineola, Texas, Jan. 5 — A cyclone passed north of Mineola late yesterday. It formed three miles west of town, took a northeasterly course, plowed a path four miles, then disappeared. L. C. Johnson’s barn was destroyed. Mrs. H. E. Bryant’s house was blown away. J. E. Burkhead’s home was completely wrecked. His family took refuge in a n nearby ditch and was saved.  No fatalities occurred. The storm’s path was forty yards wide, and was visible to Mineola Citizens.  — Fort Worth (Tx) Star-Telegram, Page 1, Tuesday, January 5, 1909 

 

Black Gold in Wood County

This is the oil essay Kristen Witt of Mineola, Texas, wrote that helped her win the T.C. Chadick $2,000 scholarship available to seniors in Wood and Franklin Counties. The essay had to be written on some historical event that occurred in Wood or Franklin Counties prior to 1945.

Black Gold
Suppose you are a farmer in Hawkins, Texas in 1940. Your land sits on rolling hills and valleys, forested in spots by piney woods atop sandy soil. You have no air conditioning or telephone, and your mode of transportation is a horse and wagon driven over dirt roads. There is no internet service or cell phone. Your only livelihood is the crops you slave over every day and night. But one day, all this changes with a simple knock on the door. Bobby Manziel stands on your doorstep with a proposal, “Let us drill for oil on your land.” With a charming smile, he convinces you to sign the required papers; and in an instant, your life is destined to change.

A few weeks later, you find time to relax in the evening by listening to “You are My Sunshine” on your battery-powered radio, the life-line for news, music and entertainment for your family. You have a hard day’s work ahead of you, slaving over the plow in the deadly sun. Times are hard, but you must provide for your family. You turn off the radio, walk a few yards from your house to the outhouse, and return home to turn off kerosene lamps and settle under your handmade quilts. You lie awake for a few moments listening to the “chirp-chirp” of crickets and the occasional “hoot” of an owl. Your curtains blow gracefully as the cool night air pours through open windows into your humble home.

Just as your eyes close and your breathing slows, you are jarred awake by a terrifying sound. The earth begins to shake tremendously; and, fearfully, you leap out of bed. Running outside, you have no idea what to expect. The sight you witness is one you will never forget. Spewing wildly from a 40-foot wooden oil derrick is black, rich oil. As the oil pours onto the ground and drillers rush to contain it, you suddenly realize a shocking fact. Overnight, you have become very rich.

This was a common scene experienced by many families in the 1940’s, in Hawkins, TX. Beginning in October, 1940, Wood County experienced its first oil boom. Bobby Manziel drilled the first oil well 3.5 miles north of town; and, overnight, Hawkins became the talk of East Texas. People poured in from miles away hoping to take part in the wealth pouring from the city. The sudden fame also brought in con-men, prostitutes, criminals, and many other troublesome people. Police officers and Texas Rangers struggled to keep up with the nonsense that occurred. The boom brought in drillers and oil producers placing bids on land in hopes of also striking oil. Within the same year, Steve Rotundi and F. R. Jackson struck oil. However, this time it was within the Hawkins city limits. Residents sold their land to multiple producers who eventually sold out to large corporations such as the Humble Oil and Refining Company.
Drilling oil was not an easy job. More often than not it was a gamble. Technology had not advanced enough to determine where to drill for oil nor was the machinery equipped to easily drill into the ground.

Drillers had to be strong and in good condition. Some put their lives on the line for the sake of oil production. The crew needed the strength, skill, and discipline of a football team and the precision of a woman threading a needle. These men would spend weeks, even months, drilling the same well. Long periods of time would pass before they knew whether or not oil was even present under their derrick. As each day passed, every crew member had the same question on his mind, “Will we strike oil?”

On the occasion that oil was found, quite a celebration was thrown. After months of hoping, wishing, and almost giving up, it all became worth it. Each time black gold poured from the ground, the residents of Hawkins, TX, men, women, and children, shouted for joy! The town was booming, business was thriving, the population was growing; and Hawkins had found its claim to fame.

The discovery of oil not only benefited Hawkins and Wood County but the entire country as well. The Humble Oil and Refining Company, now Exxon, provided oil for the Allies during World War II and helped contribute to the building of the pipeline that extended to Pennsylvania.

Over time, the oil pools did begin to dry up. Oil production is no longer as prosperous as it once was; however, it still plays a huge part in Hawkins’ economy. Every year, Hawkins holds an Oil Festival to honor those who so bravely risked their lives for the gamble of finding the precious black gold.

The discovery of oil changed Hawkins and the residents of Wood County forever. I am one of those residents. In the 1940’s, my great-grandfather, Orville Goolsby, lived in Wood County and worked as a driller for many oil companies. Because of his labor and investment in the oil industry of Wood County, my family continues to reside in this county and benefit from it. I am grateful for the oil boom because it positioned my great-grandfather to participate in mapping out my destiny and has provided the opportunity for me to be raised in a tranquil community rich in family history.

Sources:
Discovery of Oil in Hawkins – The first oil well in Wood Co., Tx
The Handbook of Texas online by Texas State Historical Association.

Vertical Files: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Adele W. Vickery, “A Transcript of Centennial Edition, 1850-1950 Wood County Democrat” (Mineola, Texas, 1974)

“Wood County, 1850-1900” (Quitman, Texas: Wood County Historical Society, 1976).

Internet source: “All Things Historical” Dec. 19, 2005

Personal interviews with:
Larry Lewis (a family friend), son of Irvin C.”Shorty” Lewis, who worked for Roger Lacy Oil Company in the 1940’s in Hawkins, Tx.

Lucy Carr (my grandmother), daughter of Orville Otis Goolsby, who worked for various oil companies throughout Wood County during the 1940’s.

Historic Burning of Court House

The loss of many records of the early years of Wood County, Texas resulted from the burning twice of the County Courthouse in Quitman. The following act of the Wood County Commissioner’s Court is an official reference to the first of these fires in 1878.

“Whereas in the burning of the Court House on the 11th day of December A. D. 1878, all the books and records of the County Treasurer’s office, and all other books showing the financial condition of the County, having been destroyed; it is therefore, for the purpose of enabling this Court to make out a statement of the financial condition of the County as required by law, ordered by the Court that all claims or warrants issued upon the County Treasurer of Wood County, by competent authority, prior to said 11th day of December 1878, be presented to the clerk of the County Court of Wood County, on or before the 1st day of November next, and that said claims be registered by said clerk as presented to him, in the Minutes of this Court, showing the date of each claim, the amount of the claim, upon what fund drawn to whom issued and the registered number of them Treasurer where such claims have been registered. It is further ordered that notice hereof be given as required by
Sec. 9 of “An Act to organize Commissioners’ Court, and to define their jurisdiction and duties, and provide for vacancies therein”, approved July 22, 1876.”

– Copied from the May 2011 “Window to the Past”
Newsletter of the Organization for the Preservation of Historical and Genealogical Records (OPHGR) of Canton, Van Zandt County, Texas, Patsy Vinson & Betty Miller, editors.

Regarding the Wood County Courthouse Fire December 11, 1878:
From Volume 1, Page 1, of the Civil Minutes of the District Court of Wood County, Texas: January 27, 1879
“This is the first Minute Books used after the fire which occurred in the morning of the 11th of December, A. D. 1878, at about 2 o’clock in the night, and which resulted in Destruction of the Courthouse and all the papers and records contained therein, said house is supposed to have been set on fire by some incendiary, but no one has been able to trace it to the purpertrator (sic) up to this date. Great was the loss in said fire to both private individuals and the officers of this county. District Court was in session at the time.” (This was from a newsletter entry labeled “Miscellaneous Tidbits from the Late Ona Wood’s Notes”, 1994 Volume, July Issue, Newsletter No. 35, page 50.)

Joseph Artie Coston Civil War Service

Member Joe Coston submitted the following as a comment on the “Correction on John T. Potter Burial Site Dedication” post. It was decided it should also be shared as its on post as it provides interesting information about his ancestor Joseph Coston.

My great-grandfather, Joseph Artie Coston, who was a Confederate veteran (and a union veteran) is also buried at Shady Grove. His grave is in the far left corner of the cemetery and is (or was 15 years or so ago) marked with a Confederate veteran marker.

_____________________________________

Joseph Artie Coston was born in Alabama, probably near Mt. Andrew in Barbour County but possibly in
Bibb County, on 5 January 1841. followed the example of his father and became a farmer. He
married Jemima Voorhees about 25 October 1867.

He joined Company K, 29th Alabama Infantry Regiment Confederate service at Clayton, Alabama immediately before the 10th of March 1862.

Confederate records show that Joseph A. Coston was reported as “missing” on a list of casualties and Federal records indicate that he was captured at Nashville on 15 December 1864. He was sent to the military prison at Camp Douglas (now in Chicago), Illinois on 20 December 1864.

On 1 April 1865, while still incarcerated at Camp Douglas, Joseph joined other prisoners who swore allegiance to the United States Government and enlisted in Company F, 5th U. S. Volunteer Infantry for three years with the understanding that they would serve on the western frontier. His service records indicate that he served as a private soldier until he was mustered out on 15 October 1866 at Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory.

Coston family oral history related that Joseph Artie was a year and a half later than the rest of the Confederate soldiers in returning from the Civil War but did not provide a reason for hid tardiness except that ‘he had been in a Yankee prison camp.’ It is possible that he told no one of this adventure. His grandson, Ocie Coston, did not know that he had enlisted in the U. S. Army, and there is no evidence that any of his descendants were aware of this fact.

Joseph and his family moved to the Stout community in Wood County, Texas sometime between 1888 and 1900 where they resumed farming. Jemima died on 13 January 1919 and Joseph died on 17 January 1934 at the age of 93. Both are buried in Shady Grove.

Life in the Pineywoods – Chapter 2

Ona Wood writes about life in Wood County in the early 1850’s reflecting the life of Peter Gunstream and especially the Holly Springs community of eastern Wood County in Chapter 2 of the story of her ancestor’s coming to the county. This chapter is available on the members only site by going to the link at the top right of this page. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter:

It was not until the year 1857 that the first school house was built in the settlement of the deep eastern part of Wood County. The little log school house was located about one half mile southwest of the Gunstream home. The principal patrons were P. M. Gunstream, Mr. Isham Burnett, and Mr. B. L. Robbins.
The first school that was taught in the log structure was under the tutelage of Miss Emily Smith, a very young girl. She had an enrollment of fifteen pupils.
The school term was very short. That was the case of all the school terms throughout the entire county, and in many other places of the state for the next half century. The school usually ran for a term of three or four months; and in some instances two months in the summer time after crops were “laid by.”
The children had to walk long distances to reach the school house, even as much as four miles or more. By the time a youngster reached the school building, ate his lunch, and returned home, most of the day was gone.
The only school books were those that parents might have brought from the old states or , perchance, some father had been lucky enough to find during a trip to Jefferson or Marshall when going for supplies for the family.

WCGS Is In 27th Year

As we approach our 30th year celebration in 2013, we will, from time to time, look back at historical moments of the Wood County Genealogical Society. Because the earliest newsletter we have in the archives is Issue #2 published in April 1986, we have been looking for earlier documents and found a copy of a letter (written by the society president in 1983) which sheds some light on our very first months. Here is a part of that letter dated 29 October 1983:

Thank you for your recent inquiry of Wood County Genealogical Society and becoming a charter member. We have only recently formed. In September we had an organizational meeting and in October we had a beginner workshop. We are excited about our plans for the society’s growth. Since we will not have a quarterly to begin with, our membership fees are $5.00 per person each year or $7.50 per family each year. Our year begins September 1, 1983.
Included in your membership, our members volunteer their time to check all indexed records including Wood County cemeteries, marriages, and other area records. Other research will be done for $5.00 per hour. Our Quitman Library has the only collection of Wood County Democrat from the late 1800’s to the present. Until 1920 all issues of the newspaper for each year are not there. We would love to have you join our society.
Sincerely,
Margaret West Franzen
President

Looking Back: Five Flags (Plus) Over Wood County

The land which would some day become Wood County, Texas, USA has been the scene of human habitation for thousands of years providing sustenace and dwelling for various peoples because of the bountiful water, forest, land and lifestyle resouces which still attract people here today.

Evidence indicates human presence here in native American Clovis cultures in prehistoric times. Historical evidence points to the arrival of the native Americans known as the Caddos as early as the first Century, A. D. Living in the forests of the Sabine River Valley and its tributaries (including the Lake Fork and Big Sandy Creeks and their water sheds), the Kadhadacho (as the Spanish called them) were in their early period mound builders and the westernmost people of the Missippian Mound Culture. They had abandoned these practices by the arrival of Europeans in the 1500’s. The Spanish and French noted them as they moved through the Sabine Valley area and traded with the loosely allied groups described as the Caddo Confederation. Hasinai Caddo tribes populated this area during historic times.

Indian artifacts have been found from North to South in the county. Examples include the Caddo Trace area at Winnsboro where Indian and Spanish relics possibly from trading have been found and the discovery of Indian villages and burials in the Quitman area. Also, Native American relics have been found south in the Mineola Nature Preserve area just north of the Sabine River.

This first “nation” having dominiion over the area which is now Wood County had no real flag as they are known by us today.

The first European nation to claim the area of Wood County was Spain,

Spain

and Texas north to the Red River was a part of the vast Empire of Spain from the 14th Century until 1821 as part of Spanish Colonial America.

Following the end of the successful rebellion against Spain by Mexico, Wood County was a part of the Mexican State of Coahuila and Texas

Mexico

from 1821 until its own succesful rebellion against Mexico.

The Republic of Texas was born in 1836 and the area that would become Wood County was in the northermost area of the large orginal Nacogdoches County during the period of

Texas

the Republic. It was during this period that Martin Varner settled in Wood County. Varner is recognized as the first settler and also the person who cut the first road into the county (1840). Then, in 1846, Texas became a state of the United States.

That same year Texas became a part of the United States of America, larger counties were broken up, and Henderson County was formed. It included areas from Houston and Nacogdoches

United States of America

counties including the area of present-day Van Zandt and Wood Counties. Just two years later in 1848, Van Zandt County was created and it included the area that would become Wood County when it was created in 1850. (Creation timing was such that Wood County residents of 1850 are listed on the census of Van Zandt County.)

In 1861, Texas followed the actions of a number of Southern states and voted to withdraw from the United States of America and join the Confederate States of America. With the surrender of the Confederate government following four bloody years of warfare in 1865, Texas

Confederate States of America

entered a period of military government by the United States. In 1866 a nullification of the secession vote was passed by a Texas constitutional convention, and in 1869 Texans were again authorized to vote for members state officers. In 1870, Texas’ elected representatives were allowed back into the United States Congress.

Wood County Court House 1883-1925

cthouse1884

The first brick courthouse in Wood County at the county seat of Quitman was finished in late 1883 and used until it burned in1925. – Photo from the June Preston Collection of photographs donated by June to the Wood County Genealogical Society.

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