The not-so good ol’ days …

Posted 1/30/19

Editor’s note: This is the first of two columns detailing tragedy during the settlement of Madison County.

We often hear of “the good old days”, when children played outdoors and were …

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The not-so good ol’ days …


Editor’s note: This is the first of two columns detailing tragedy during the settlement of Madison County.

We often hear of “the good old days”, when children played outdoors and were safe walking around town, and when mothers did not work outside the home, so they cooked three hot meals a day. In retrospect we often forget the harder parts of life back then.

Volume 1 of “A History of Madison County” brings to light those not-so-good parts.

•Andrew Jackson Farris (1827-1883) was born in Tennessee. He came to Texas with his parents and siblings about 1850, settling first in Montgomery County and then Walker County. After marrying Frances Unice Roseborough in 1858, they settled in Madison County.

According to family lore, he had a great sense of humor and loved practical jokes. Once when he passed a servant’s cabin, he heard her praying. He pretended to be the Lord and answered her. She was forever after convinced that she had talked with the Lord. It was said that Andrew never had a serious thought until Lucy, his 3-year-old daughter, died of malaria in 1873. She was the first buried in the Farris Cemetery, which is a few miles south of Madisonville on Highway 75.

Ten years later, in June of 1883, Andrew was working in his fields in June when he became too hot. He went home, took a cold bath, caught pneumonia, died, and was buried near daughter Lucy.

•Moses Ruston Fannin was born in Alabama in 1848, and in 1873 he traveled with his wife, three children, his own father, two aunts, and one uncle down the Mississippi River by boat to the Gulf of Mexico and then Galveston. It took 10 days to make the trip, which made most of the family sick (and I can’t help but wonder how sick they were of each other).

Then they traveled by train to Crockett, lived there for a year, and then moved to Porter Springs for four years, renting farms all that time. 1878 found them in Hollis (between Madisonville and North Zulch). They moved several more times, renting farms around the area, and along the way, five more children were born.

Moses finally bought 136 acres of land in Mecca Community for $5 an acre, and the family lived in a log house there until 1900. He and his sons were building a new home with lumber bought at Old Waverly (between Huntsville and Conroe). They hauled the lumber in horse-drawn wagons which took 5 days round trip. Before the home was finished, Moses came down with measles and died at the age of 51.

•James (Jim) Hefner Mize was born in Mannie, La., in 1858. While still in Louisiana at the age of 6, he lost his right arm due to an accident at a syrup mill. As cane was being pulled through the crusher, he grabbed at a particularly juicy stalk and the machinery caught his hand, pulling the arm in. Someone rode horseback 30 miles for a doctor, who had to ride horseback those 30 miles to reach Jim.

Without an anesthetic, the boy was laid on a table and the doctor sawed that arm off at the shoulder. He overcame the accident. He and his family moved to Madison County when he was 9. He learned to do things with his one good hand and arm. While still a boy, he carried mail from Dodge (near Huntsville) to cold Springs, and another mail route that he covered on horseback went all the way to Victoria. When he was 19, he made his first crop, and then he taught school for two years at Greenbriar.

Much of his adult life he lived in the High Prairie community. At one time he owned 1100 acres of land in Madison County.

•Joseph Valenta Jr. (1875-1949), and his wife, Annie Fridel Valenta (1875-1973), were born in Fayette County to parents from the Czech Republic and Austria, but they spent their adult lives in North Zulch. They were blessed with eight children.

Beginning in December of 1907, within a 13-month period, they lost three children to the dreaded diphtheria. The family was of course devastated. Shortly afterwards, baby Annie developed the disease’s symptoms. Their doctor stood by helplessly, but Anna’s eldest brother had heard of a new book of medicine belonging to a doctor in Hearne. He rode horseback to Hearne to borrow it, and that evening, medicine was dispatched from Houston in accordance with a recipe from that book.

Baby Annie recovered and lived until two months shy of her 100th birthday.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., opens to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Museum curator Jane Day Reynolds and volunteers welcome your visits. Memorials or donations may be mailed to the Museum at P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864. The telephone number is (936) 348-5230.