19th Century Living In West Texas: 1860s And 1870s

I just love finding old letters, don’t you? They give us such personal insight into the days that came before us.

John “Jack” and Saphronia Wright

The following was written in 1935 by Elina Jane Wright Wilson, daughter of the man often called Captain Jack Wright, John Ahart Jack Wright, and his wife Sophronia Ann Cox Wright. Elina was born August 20, 1860, in Comanche County, Texas, but her story could have been written about any small western town in the Texas of the 1860s and 70s.

Jack Wright owned the saloon in Comanche, Texas where John Wesley Hardin killed Deputy Charles Webb in 1874. Elina married her father’s deputy, Frank Wilson, who also figures into the Hardin saga.

Although I have not changed the content, I have at times structured sentences to make for easier reading. You will find that some of what Elina takes for granted seems very barbaric to us today…to say the least…actually, to say the very, very least…

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My first memory of a home is when I was six or seven years old. It was a log home with two rooms, and two families lived there on a ranch. I can see a bright sunshiny day and two children, a boy and a girl, coming out of the house. [Elina is referring to herself as the girl.]

The time was before wire fences were heard of so all the whole country was our yard or playground. Just the night before an Indian had been killed by the dogs [I honestly doubt that dogs killed this Indian, but simply pulled it out of the brush.] so as the children left the house, they saw that the dogs had pulled the Indian out of the thicket nearby.

It would not have been odd for the man to have on any article of “civilized” clothing. It was simply a matter of wearing what he had.

Play things were scarce in those days out west and the children (after viewing the Indian for a while) discovered that he was wearing a soldier’s coat. Oh, what beautiful buttons were on that coat! The children proceeded to cut them off so that they could play with them…I relate this incident to show how children can get used to horrors if often brought in contact with them.

In those days families were kept close. It was not uncommon for two or more families to live together so that they could help take care of each other as well as the ranch and cattle. They could also be of help to each other when it came time to trail Indians. No one at that time tried to farm. It was many years later (in my mind’s eye) before I can see my first potatoes and cotton growing.

My father, Captain Jack Wright, was a great hunter. He would sit up half the night with a sick friend, child, or wife, or to watch the horses so that the Indians might not run them off. Then, at 4:00 a.m. we would hear him calling his dogs with a horn. He always hung the horn over the door on two stag horns with his gun.

Right here I want to say how this little girl did wish she was a boy so she could go with her daddy. The sound of a horn today still brings to me sweet memories.

My father had very little education so as his children began to get to the age that they should be in school, he began to think about what he could do in Comanche, a little village about nine miles from our ranch. He decided that he could run what was called a grocery store. This consisted of whiskey sold by the quart or pint in bottles, cove oysters, salmon, sardines, and sometimes kraut.

A Mexican and a white man and his wife were left to look after the ranch. This only lasted for three weeks because the Indians climbed on the roof of the cook house where the Mexican man slept and got fire out of the great big fireplace, which was built with logs and mortar. With this, the Indians set the house on fire. This wasn’t very hard to do since the boards were only held down with poles.

Similar to how the Wright cabin would have looked; the lean-tos would have come off of the sides or back of the house.

Moving was a lot of fun for us children. The two yoke of oxen were hooked to the wagon. We chose two dogs to take with us, leaving the others behind. A few things had been thrown in the wagon, just what Mother thought she could make do with. Oh, what a jolly ride we three children had. We could ride or walk; father and mother rode in front, sitting in chairs.

At last we arrived. My, we had four rooms…two log rooms, a lean-to for each, and a big open hall between the two log rooms to keep the horses in. I remember that Father had a real fine horse. He had just been offered $200.00 for it. Then, Indians came one night, cut the rope, and led him away. No one knew it until morning. Such was life in the 1860s.

But oh what fun for the children if the Indians came. So many children would come to our house! Their mothers and ours would sew until way in the night, and the children would play. The children had no troubles, but our mothers wept for our fathers who had gone for the Indians.

There was one man who was usually left to guard us. He was so lazy that no company (minutemen) wanted him so he stayed home. Bless him; he was good to us kids. When morning came, he would get his bugle and sound Taps then play a few lonely tunes. It made us children want to howl as the dogs did.

As the years went by our village grew, bringing young men from everywhere to seek their fortune. Today, few of those men have more than a living. Land was cheap and money was plentiful…nothing to spend it for in the way of luxuries. There was plenty of whiskey, which most every man drank. And today some sigh for the good old days.

Elina and Frank Wilson in 1870s

My husband, Frank E. Wilson, was one of the first to come in 1872. He came from Ohio, where he had all the comforts of the times, to this frontier. He made friends easily. I was eleven years old when he came. There was one boarding house but as his money was gone, my father gave him a home and work as did everyone who came along.

When I was seventeen we married. When I hear people talk about girls getting married so young, I think about our happy life, fifty four years before he went away. I bore him six babies, all living but a boy who had blood poisoning when he was three and a half. Today, he would not have needed to die.

My husband was a deputy sheriff for a while and then was sheriff for two terms. Now I am seventy-five, living with my children. All of life is real; life is earnest and we get out of it just what we look for.

With all of my hardships, mine has been a very happy life.

About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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