Milam County Texas Archives
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  Contributed by: Milam County Genealogical Society

Just Reminiscing
Researched by: Mrs. Ida Jo Marshall and Sharon Hodges
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Galveston Weekly News
March 11, 1875

The town of Rockdale has been in a state of excitement for the last two days, in consequence of a little foul play to an unfortunate countryman, by some of the gambling fast stock with which this town has been infested. Report says a poor, unfortunate man, from the backwoods, was sent into town with money to~ purchase lumber to build a church. The poor unfortunate fell into bad company, and got duped to the tune of about $500, at a 1ittle garhe called bunco. The good people of Rockdale held an indignation meeting, and appointed a committee to draft resolutions to notify certain parties, supposed to be gamblers, sports and fakirs, to lave town in thirty-six hours. One Palmer is said to be the party who played the little game. He made his escape, but word has just come over the wires that Palmer and another party have been arrested, and are held in irons at Jewett.

March 29, 1875

Judging from the accounts given by the Rockdale Messenger that town will vie with almost any other railroad town as a den for gamblers. The Messenger devotes a large portion of its space to the recent exploits of the bunko players.

April 26, 1875

Rockdale is excited by the organization of a vigilance committee which has notified several prominent "sports" to emigrate or take the consequences. The mayor issues the following proclamation "I understand that there is a vigilance committee formed in this town. Now I wish it distinctly understood that if any party or parties are ordered out of this town or molested in any way by said committee, I shall ask the Governor to quarter a company of militia in town and make the people pay for it. I ask all good and law abiding citizens to co-operate with me, A. A. Burck, Mayor.,'

November 12, 1875

There are street fights occurring here most every day, and the officers of the law seem to enjoy it-taking their fines, never giving offenders the least word of warning or lecture. Nothing better could be expected, when they license women of ill fame for ten dollars a month, and receive half of the fines and their compensation. The most disgusting of it is, when they choose, these officers step beyond their authority, and utterly disregard the law at pleasure. Every day or two, some very interesting scenes occur in the pettifoggeries of Rockdale.


(Editor's Note:-"Rockdale Prior to 1900" was the theme of a talk made by J. W. Garner, Rockdale attorney, before the Rockdale Lions Club. Because of its interest to all present and former Rockdalians the speech is reproduced below in its entirety.)-Taken from the files of The Rockdale Reporter. Gentlemen of the Rockdale Lions:

As we are all Rockdalians, I do not think it immodest to talk about ourselves j and as we do not know the future, and the present is well known to all, we will talk about the past- Rockdale, prior to 1900.

While it is wholly immaterial, except to show that I am a native of this section, I was born on a farm in Burleson county, Texas, about 14 miles S. E. of Rockdale, and have lived in this section since my birth, with the exception of the time I was away at school, and a short half-year, while employed in west Texas.

At my earliest recollection of this section of our state, there was no railroad and no town in Burleson, Lee, Milam, Williamson and Bell Counties, there were several small villages-they being Lexington, Caldwell, Cameron Davilla, Georgetown and Belton. I think Lexington was the metropolis, with some 150 inhabitants. We had no improved roads; our most popular public road was from Lexington, via Davilla to Belton, but this our most used road had no bridges over the streams, except a rickety old toll bridge across Brushy Creek, at the old Henderson Crossing. We had no barbed-wire for fencing, no automobiles, trucks, buses or air planes, and our only mode of travel and transportation, was by horseback, horse and ox-drawn wagons, horse-drawn stage coaches, and now and then a horse-drawn buggy. The country was almost a wilderness; the land except small farms, was unfenced, and for the most part, was very fertile, grew heavy crops of wild grasses, and supported many Texas cattle and horses, and much wild game. The country was thinly settled, with a few farmers settled along the streams, who had poor houses usually built of logs, and sometimes with lumber, hauled by ox-wagons from Bryan, the then nearest railroad town. The farmers gained a livelihood by their scanty crops, their grass-fed livestock, and the wild game, which abounded in the country.

This, in brief, is the setting for the founding of the Town of Rockdale, in what was then, the frontier of Texas.

About the year 1872, the International Railroad Company built its line of railroad from Palestine, Texas, to the point where Rockdale is now located and suspended construction of this road for several years, making Rockdale the terminus.

The railroad company bought a tract of 400 acres of land, situated on both ~ sides of its road, and surveyed and laid off the town of Rockdale, into lots, I blocks, streets and alleys, dedicated the streets and alleys to the public, and sold lots to whomsoever was interested in purchasing, and when the first trains began to arrive, they brought many new-comers, who came to locate l businesses and homes in Rockdale, and to get employment in construction work, and other necessary jobs.

I am not sure as to how Rockdale acquired its name, but I have been told by older settlers that Rockdale took its name from a small rocky prairie, just north of the town, which was then known as Rock Prairie.

After the coming of the railroad, Rockdale was soon a thriving town. The first business houses were built of wood, and I am reliably informed, that some of the new-comers, sold goods from tents, until their wooden store buildings could be constructed. These wooden and temporary business buildings, were soon replaced with more substantial brick buildings, and before the first boom was over, there were many brick buildings on Cameron and Main Streets, all of which were occupied by thrifty, energetic business men. Rockdale had a metropolitan population, consisting of Americans, Germans, English, Irish and Israelites, and some of all these nationalities were engaged in business.

We had dry goods stores, grocery stores, old fashion-saloons, livery stables, lumber yards, restaurants, drug stores, and blacksmith shops. For many years Rockdale had no water system, no sewer system, no electric lights, or fans, no telephones, no picture shows, no radios, no honky tonks, no football, no improved streets. The business buildings were equipped with wooden sidewalks, protected by awnings, supported on wooden posts, were lighted with kerosene lamps, and supplied with water from underground cisterns; the water supply being also furnished by public wells, one well in Ackerman Street, near the south side of Bell Street, and one well in Main Street, near the south line of Bell Street. These wells were equipped with pulleys, ropes and buckets, and were for the use of the general public.   

There was no screen wire available, and hence there were no screen doors or windows in the business houses, or in the homes. In the warm part of the year, the restaurants were equipped with swinging fans, operated by pulling a rope, and each restaurant had a boy seated in the back of the building, who pulled this rope, and caused the fans to pass over the dining tables, and drive the house flies away from the food, while customers ate. All business houses and dwellings were heated with wood fire-places or wood stoves, and all cooking was done on wood stoves.

Livestock was permitted to run at large in the town, and all of the homes were enclosed with substantial yard-fences? to keep livestock off the yards and porches-many an old cow obtained her living by robbing farmers' wagons of the feed they brought along for their teams, and of groceries placed in their wagons to take home.

During its early history, and even after the railroad extended its lines southwest to Taylor, Rockdale had a wide and extensive trade-territory, larger than the whole state of Connecticut. Many people came to Rockdale, to market their products, buy their merchandise, and to see, for the first time, a railroad train. Incidentally, some of these country people, had a very vague idea about the construction of a railroad, and the operation of trains thereon-to illustrate, I tell you a story, as told to me by an old Rockdalian. He said, "A man, with his wife and children, none of whom had ever seen a railroad train, lived in a remote part of the trade-territory, and came to town with his family in a two-horse wagon, for the purpose of seeing a railroad train. They stopped thetr wagon in a grove of trees, near the passenger depot, which then stood near the Coffeld Ice Plant, and after fastening their team, walked to the passenger depot and waited for a train to come. After a short wait, a long freight train came in, passed the passenger depot to the freight depot, located further west. After the train had passed and the noise had subsided, the wife and children stood thrilled and amazed at the sight of the great iron horse, traveling at a high rate of speed. and pulling a string of box-cars, each of which were as large as country dwelling houses, but the father became nervous and afraid, rushed to his wife, and said, "Get the children and let's go." The wife said, "Let's stay awhile, until another one comes," and the father said, "No, let's go, let's get away from here, one of them trains might come through here sideways and kill all of us."

Early in its history, Rockdale established public schools within its limits, provided comfortable buildings, and the latest equipment of that day, for use of these schools. Rockdale schools were manned by interested, effcient, and able teachers, who conducted the schools from 9:00 a. m. to 4:00 p. m. on all week-days during the term, except Saturdays and legal holidays. These schools were supported by a state appropriation of $3.00 to $4.00 per capita, per annum, and from a local tax. The pupils furnished their own books and lunches and walked to and from school on unimproved sidewalks and streets.

Many children were born in Rockdale, in those days, received their early education in Rockdale schools, and became accomplished, efficent, useful, and outstanding men and women. Among the younger of them were the late Mrs. Mary Coffteld Perry, the late John Hicks, of El Paso, Penn Wolf, for a long time, District Clerk of our county, Joe L. Lockett, a leading attorney of Houston, Will Scarbrough, a merchant prince, of Austin, Texas, and our own Mrs. Marjorie Sledge, Mrs. C. M. Sessions, Conn R. Isaacs, our present County Auditor, and H. H. Coffeld who has done, and is doing so much for the support, up-building and progress of Rockdale.

Rockdale had its disasters and calamities along with its progress. In 1885, during a heavy night rain, a small cabin near the west prong of Ham Branch, washed and floated down stream, and lodged in the spill-way under the dump of the railroad, and so obstructed this spill-way, that the water could not pass freely enough. The rain continued, and the water backed over the valley from Scarbrough Street to the foot of the hill where the school building stood. This flooded all the residences in that part of the town, and endangered the lives of the residents there. Rockdale had a lawyer citizen, who had his home, and lived in a grove of large oak trees, a short distance west of the main channel of Ham Branch and on Bell Street. His home was in the flood. As soon as the citizens on hiBher ground learned of this distress, they quickly organized rescue parties, and in the dense darkness hurriedly waded and swam through the muddy waters of Ham Branch, searching for those in distress, and as the rescue party passed west along Bell Street, this lawyer shouted to them from one of his tree tops, "Take care of the women and children I am safe." Lawyers are sometimes wanting in real courage and genuine bravery. All of the victims were rescued that night, and when the water receded, it was found that it had caused heavy property damage but no lives were lost. Soon after this, the cabin was removed from the spillway, under the railroad, and shortly afterwards the railroad company enlarged the spillway under its dump, and we have not since had a disasterous flood on Ham Branch.

Sometimes during the late 70s, F. M. Mundine, of Lexington, built a 3-story brick hotel building in the S. E. corner of block No. 3, fronting on Main and Milam Streets, and situated where the McVoy and McCoy Store Buildings now stand. This hotel was well equipped, was modern for that day, and enjoyed a large patronage-many of our citizens lodged in this hotel, until they could make permanent arrangements for homes. About midnight in July, 1888, while this hotel was filled with guests, a flre broke out, - and in the absence of adequate water supply, and fire-fighting equipment, the building and its contents were burned, and eleven of the guests were burned to death, in thetr rooms and in their beds. This tragedy cast a gloom over the town and its citizens, which remained for months, and was probably the moving cause for the installation of an adequate water system in Rockdale, which began to function about 21/2 years later.

The old burned building was re-built and made into a 2-story hotel, and continued in business for a number of years, and until a second fire partially destroyed the building, after which it was remodeled and made into two one-story business houses.

Among the guests who lost their lives in this fire, were a childless husband and wife, who owned considerable community property, and left no wills.

After their deaths, the heirs of the wife claimed all the community property, and the heirs of the husband likewise, claimed all the community property. The claimants could not agree, and resorted to the court to determine their rights. The issue in the suit being as to whether the husband or the wife died first. If the wife survived the husband, her heirs owned the estate, and on the other hand, if the husband survhed the wife, his heirs owned the estate. This suit was finally compromised, and never came to trial.

During the boom days of Rockdale, the town was incorporated, had a mayor and a board of aldermen, a town marshal! and a city court; this court was presided over by the mayor, and had jurisdiction of all violations of the city laws, within the city. Many interesting and amusing trials were had in this court, and I re-call one trial, in particular: A Missouri livestock trader came to Rockdale, with a herd of registered Missouri Jacks, with a view to sell them to farmers in the surrounding country. He quartered his jacks in a Ihery stable in town, and began to canvass the country for buyers. These animals were young, large, strong and well fed, and had a habit of braying long and loud, at intervals, and particularly about 4:00 o'clock in the morning. Roclcdale citizens were not accustomed to loud and hideous noises-having no trucks or autos to rattle over the streets, no gasoline engines to backfire, and no casings to blow out, and being used to no harsher sounds than the baying of a distant fox-hound, the chirp of the whipporwiil, and the crowing of a barnyard rooster, this harsh and hideous braying of the trader's jacks was very disturbing to sleeping residents.

Rockdale, at that time, had two very fine families of the Jewish faith, who had their homes very near to the stable where the trader's jacks were quartered, and they and their families were much disturbed, especially at night, by the loud braying of these animals. The heads of these families discussed the matter between themselves, and contacted the trader, told him of their grievances, and tried to persuade him to remove the jacks from the stable. The trader declined to do this-saying he had no other suitable place for his jacks whereupon the two citizens appealed to the City Court for relief. The judge of the City Court agreed to entertain their complaint, and they made a complaint against the trader, for disturbing the peace, by the braying of his jacks. The case was set down for trial, and the trader was notified of the time and place. The trader employed a Rockdale lawyer, who had been a Confederate soldier, and was a typical southern gentleman, with a wonderful knowledge of human nature and human prejudices. At the stated time, all the parties, with their attorneys and many spectators, were in attendance at court, a jury was empaneled, and the evidence of both parties introduced. The city attorney appealed to the jury to convict the defendant abate the nuisance, and force him to remove his jacks from the stable. When the city attorney closed his appeal, the attorney for the trader, made a very short, eloquent appeal to the jury, in which he said, "Gentlemen of the jury, ever since our Savior rode into Jerusalem on a jackass, the Jews have been howling about it, and this is a continuation of the old plan on the part of the Jews to persecute the Christians, and I know this jury will do their full duty, and vindicate this Christian genleman from the charges of his Jewish enemies. " This closed the argument, and the gentile jury retired, and promptly returned a verdict of not guilty. This court decision settled the controversary, and there was no fore comment, or objections. Rockdalians were a law-abiding people. The jacks remained in the livery stable and continued to bray.

The Rockdalians were a pious people-they had several churches that were well attended, and comfortably supported. Each church had regular Sunday school and Wednesday night prayer meetings.

The people were hospitable, sympathetic, generous, and progressive. They did not, knowingly, fail to avail themselves of an opportunity to improve the town, their standard of living, or the advancement of the intellectual, moral and spiritual growth of the people. The people were not perfect-they were human, and had their faults. Most of the male citizens had the old southern habit of dram-drinking-they were not drunkards, but moderdate drinkers. They were bitterly opposed to drunkenness, and resented any insinuation, or charge of being drunk.

One of our fine citizens, who was a moderate drinker, whom we will call Bill for identification, had a bachelor friend, who lived alone, in a one-door cabin, a short distance from town. This bachelor was a moderate drinker, and a cautious man, knowing the saloons closed on Sundays, this bachelor always secured a jug of whiskey on Saturday, and took it home for his Sunday toddies. Bill went out to visit this friend on a Sunday morning, and visited with him for several hours, taking an occasional social drink from the bachelor's jug, and about mid-afternoon, Bill said to his friend, "I must go home." The bachelor objected, and insisted that Bill stay longer. Bill replied, "No, I must go, my wife will be expecting me." And his bachelor friend said, "No, no, you are not going, you're drunk and could not go if you tried." This statement angered Bill, and he said to his friend, "You're crazy, I'm not drunk, and the next time that door comes around, I'm going home."

No moderate drinker can safely say he will not get drunk.

The women of early Rockdale, never indulged in the use of intoxicating or malt liquors; no woman was ever seen in a place where intoxicating or malt liquors were served or dispensed, either as a customer, visitor or helper. The Rockdale women have always borne the white flag of purity, sympathy and temperance, and their influence has ever been elevating and up-lifting.

Without the good influence of its women, Rockdale could not have become a decent and respectable town.

Early citizens of Rockdale had a lower standard of living than we now have, none of the improved labor-saving machines of today; they did their work the hard way; they had no 8-hour a day, or 40-hour week. They worked from daylight until dark, none of our modern conveniences and luxuries were known to them, yet, under these conditions, they were a happy and contented people-happy in their work, and with their families, co- workers and friends. Notwithstanding, the many disadvantages and handicaps, these Rockdalians did a good job. They laid the foundation for our beloved Rockdale and its educational, religious and civic institutions, and builded upon these foundations, until they were called to their rewards. They did not complete the work-Time did not permit, but they passed on to us, this generation, the foundations and work, which they had lain and wrought, together with the duty and responsibilit, upon our part to take up where they left off, and to continue to build and prog~ess during our alloted time, as they had done, and then pass on to our succeeding generation, a better town, with better schools, churches and civic institutions, and a better, more cultured, and a happier people.

Let us not fail, in this, our duty.

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