We were sitting in the kitchen area of our church building, chatting as we do each week before class, when one of the men mentioned that his dad once told him of a Central, Texas freeze that hit farmers on Memorial Day. Immediately, a tiny bell sounded in my head because I knew that “somewhere in a file” was the story of a freeze that gripped the county even later than that. It took me awhile, but I did find it…and the story of the woman once called Grandma Ferguson.
The story was originally written in 1924 by Florence Latham of Nimrod, Texas in Eastland County, and my facts come straight from her.
Sarah Jane Wetherby (often spelled Weathersby) was born on October 25, 1835, in Lawrence County, Mississippi to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wetherby. “Her father was a slave holder and she grew up without any knowledge of housekeeping. She says she knew how to get the work done and if it was done correctly for she was often called upon to oversee the servants when her mother was ill.”
Sarah Jane (who was called Jane) married William Oliver Ferguson. He was born in Mississippi in 1840. “At the close of the Civil War, she was the mother of five children and was nearly as helpless as her little ones as far as any practical knowledge of caring for a home and children.”
According to Mrs. Latham, Jane often talked about the silence that came with the close of the war. Being the owners of a large number of slaves, the nights were filled with the laughter and singing of their people. Once they were gone, the nights were filled with a strange silence.
Like so many southerners did post Civil War, Jane’s father decided to leave Mississippi for Texas in 1867. His children, including his grown children, decided to join him. And then Mrs. Latham made a point that I did not know. In fact, I have often wondered why families would choose to do their traveling in the winter months, when the weather had to be so uncomfortable.
“People at that time thought frost and cold weather prevented yellow fever so the Wetherbys loaded their wagons and waited for frost to come. One October morning when they arose, the ground was covered with white frost, and they stared at once.”
As so many others have claimed, the oxen moved slowly and quite often the family could see last night’s camping spot from this night’s spot. Jane also admitted that after they reached Texas, she sat in the wagon and grieved over the lack of timber in her new state. Apparently William tried to cheer her by pointing out every large tree that he saw!
The family lived in Washington County for a year and then moved to San Jacinto County for the next year. From there, the family moved to Brazoria County for the next four years.
“They put in fifteen acres of cotton, and made fifteen bales the first year. The cotton grew so high, Mrs. Ferguson said, that when her husband thought cattle might be in the field, he rode over the field on horseback and she could just see his head above the cotton stalks. That fall, she stood on the lower branches and pulled down the boles from the upper branches.”
Because of sickness, rain, and the flood that almost destroyed everything, they decided to move once again. Jane’s father had already located to Comanche County, and the couple decided to follow. They staked their land and then William went to Falls County to pick cotton. When he returned, he and Sarah Jane built a cabin and “put in” sixteen acres of land.
And it was this part of the story that I had remembered in the kitchen of our church building, for it was that June, when the Ferguson corn was waist high, that a cold wind began to blow. By morning, a heavy frost had killed everything in Comanche County. This would have been in the 1870s.
“A great many people left Comanche County, but the Fergusons decided to remain there and try again. The father and three larger boys picked cotton that fall near Waco, and after Christmas Mr. Ferguson went out west where a brother-in-law was killing buffalo for their hides. He hauled back two wagon loads of buffalo meat and sold one of the loads in Comanche. The money they made picking cotton and from the sale of the buffalo meat kept them through the winter.”
Crops were good the next year, and the Sarah Jane and William Ferguson family was set. At some point the couple must have moved to Eastland County; I assume to be near Florence Lanham. William died in 1906, and is buried in the Monroe Cemetery in that county.
Sarah Jane died in 1925. My info says that she is buried in the Nimrod Cemetery in Eastland County. From the photos on findagrave.com, it appears that these are two different cemeteries. If so, I have no idea why she is not buried beside William.*The full article may be found in the December 1924 issue of Frontier Times, Published by J. Marvin Hunter. Photo