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.

Mae Etta Johnson

Mae Etta Johnson of Quitman, Texas 1958

Mae Etta Johnson

During her presentation to the society’s January meeting, Leatrice Mason paid tribute to her sister Mae Etta Johnson. A part of it is printed here to share with all members and the public in general.

“… Instead, I chose to tell you about – My Hero – a Quitman Hometown Hero that not many people know about.
As Martin Luther King, Jr., died fighting for equality and justice throughout America, so did my baby sister Mattie Mae Etta Johnson.

“My mother and father (Woodie & Erie Johnson) became proud parents of a baby girl that they named Mattie Mae Etta Johnson on December 17, 1940, in the Muddy Creek Community in Quitman. She was the youngest of the four children, three girls and one boy. My older sister and I are the only two living children today.

“She was known as Mae Etta to everyone who knew her well. She attended Sunday School and church services at the Muddy Creek Baptist Church here in Quitman and united with the church at the age of six (1946) under the pasturage of Rev. J. H. Harrington.

“As a small child, her favorite place to play was under, up and in a tree in the backyard of our house. Her favorite story on the radio was “Uncle Ben”. Her favorite books were the Bible Story Book in Pictures and a book of poems titled, “Pearls along Life’s Sea Shore.” We didn’t have a television and of course no computers back then, so we all read a lot as children. Mae Etta purchased these books with money she saved from her weekly allowance. She realized at a young age that saving money was important as well as studying the Bible. She used some of her savings to purchase her first bible. She loved going to church and was active in the Sunshine Band, YWA, BTU, youth choir and usher board.Mae Etta worked faithfully on 4-H projects and her good-natured disposition made her an idol of her time. One of her greatest anticipations was being a delegate to the district board meetings. She became a regular delegate to the Cypress District Sunday school and BTU Congress and Cypress District Association.If our mother was unable to attend with her, because she had to work, our Aunt Irene Hunter would gladly take her.

“Mae Etta attended W.B. Clark School in Quitman and graduated with honors from high school in 1958. While she was in high school, she began to make preparation to enroll in Bishop College in Marshall, Texas. Bishop College was founded by the Baptist Home Mission Society in 1881. Their drive was to establish a Texas college for black Baptists.

“Mae Etta was well accepted in the Bishop College family. One of her dearest friends and classmates was Thomasine Parker Cleaver who was also a Quitman native. They both entered Bishop at the same time and continued their friendship. Mae Etta maintained her high academic standing throughout her stay at Bishop.

“In 1960, the struggle for equality, freedom and human dignity was strong on the minds and hearts of many students at Bishop including my sister. She gladly displayed her courage by giving a new dimension to man’s hope that one day segregation would end. and defined the Christian faith and affirmed in an unmistakable manner the dawn of a new day. With God’s help, she believed it could be done as she continued to work on God’s program at Bishop College. She was president of the Wednesday night Bible Band and seemed to gain much strength through studying God’s word.

“As a budding junior at Bishop College in 1960, she participated in a sit in demonstration against lunch counter segregation in Marshall, Texas. Several black colleges all across the South were also active in the lunch counter segregation movements during this time. She and many other students were arrested, charged and fined for picketing stores as well as staging mass demonstrations on the Harrison County courthouse lawn. She was fined $50.

“In a few short years, my baby sister achieved the maturity some never reach in eighty years. She saw clearly and wholly the ultimate implications of the struggle for human dignity and identified her future with it. We, the family, wondered how else could she suffer to be arrested without ever once losing the cheerful smile and the utterly wholesome outlook on life which she always possessed? How else could this letter that I will read to you be explained that she wrote to our mother less than 24 hours after she had spent 26 hours in a Marshall jail at the age of 19?

“Here is the letter:

April 3, 1960,
Bishop College
Marshall, Texas

Dear Mother,
How are you? I am fine. I guess you know by now we were arrested Friday evening. We were carried to jail at 8 p.m. Friday evening and we stayed there about 26 hours. We got out Saturday night about 10 o’clock. There were 27 of us girls in my cell. Our lawyer is from Dallas. We were bonded out by Negro citizens of Marshall. We are under $600 bonds. The night in jail was not too pleasant, but it was a comfort to know we’re in there to serve a good purpose. We were in for a good cause and none of us minded it really. If it takes a few days in jail to get equality, I feel it’s worth it. I feel that’s the least I can do. I know that God is with us because he has the whole wide world in his hands. I hope they haven’t given you a rough time. What has been said? Be sure and write and tell me. Give everyone my love. I am going to class and study now. Tell UNK hello. Be sweet, I love all of you. Forgive me if I’ve caused you worry. I have lifted a burden from my heart because of my stand. In God’s name we are going to get out freedom.

Your Baby, Etta

“Our family had a real togetherness and supported her in her struggle. We were devastated when we received the news on August 16, 1960, while Mae Etta, her attorney and another student were driving back to their boarding house, that a railroad­switching engine struck the car and killed her and the attorney instantly. The other student was seriously injured. The accident stunned the Marshall community and the legal cases against the students were dismissed. Shortly thereafter Marshall’s public facilities were de-segregated. We do not understand all the ways of God. We cannot comprehend the reason this beautiful and promising life was ushered so suddenly from time into eternity. Her Christian faith can be shared with all; that God does have the whole wide world in His hands.

“Remembering those who dedicated their lives for civil rights such as Medger Evers, John F. and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others, Mae Etta dedicated her life for the cause of getting freedom for her people. She would be proud to see President Obama and his family occupying the White House today.

“We may never see a bronze statue of Mae Etta in a hall of fame somewhere or her letter from jail as a required reading as it once was for every student entering Bishop College, but her epitaph is written in the hearts of all who knew her. No tribute can be too much because Mae Etta did not die in vain.
“The people of Quitman should be proud to know that Mattie Mae Etta Johnson is a part of Black History.”

From the WCGS Newsletter Archives

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.)

Good Turnout For Expo

A big turnout at the Winnsboro Business Expo on the first weekend of Autumn Trails Days resulted in lots of visitors to the Wood County Genealogical Society booth/table. Fifty-one people signed the booth register and many more stopped to inquire about our genealogy and to visit. Surname some of the visitors are researching include Wilcox, Davis, Newsome, Johnson, Dodgen, Porter, Lindsey, Bearden, Cox, Sutton, Michael, Ray, Mills, Robison, Sansom, Jones, McElyea, Coe, Gaines, Kennedy, Bumgardner, and Williams.
WCGS members meet guests at Expo
Working at the booth were (above) members Vice-president Dorothy Harbin (who set up the display on Friday and was there from start to finish on Saturday) and Deason Hunt, and (below) Mary Beth Ramage, Martha Hunt, and Harbin.

WCGS members work at booth at Winnsboro expo

The society received lots of publicity, and a number of booth visitors expressed an interest in getting started on their own family lines and some an interest in coming to our regular monthly meetings. Followups to try to take advantage of the interest were discussed during the day.

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