Chasing Our Tales and North Texas Housewifery

Today is for a different kind of ART...writing. My columns were due before I left town, so here they are. Hope you enjoy them, as well.

Chasing Our Tales: The Smith Family
Mary Kathleen Smith

Kathleen Smith died last month. She left behind a beautiful legacy of love and family. To her, and her husband, Carl Wayne Smith, were born four children, twelve grandchildren, thirty-three great-grandchildren, and two great, great, grandchildren. She also left a small town in Texas, Bryson, bereft of a friend, companion, and much-loved champion of the Christian faith. She will be missed.

She had three great-grandchildren named for her, and one of those is my granddaughter, Jennifer Kathleen. Jennifer's dad, Brian, is one of only two of the grandchildren who carry on the Smith name, and Jen's brother, Travis, will carry it on to the next generation.

Kathleen was born in Iowa Park, Texas, to Elihu Nelson and Clementine Isbelle Nichols Martin on May 6, 1919. She married Carl Wayne Smith on July 7, 1936, in Frederick, Oklahoma, and they made their home in Bryson, Jack County, Texas, east of the town on what is now called Smith Road. Kathleen is buried in the Cottonwood Cemetery just west of Smith Road and in view of the home she and Carl Wayne so lovingly created. Carl Wayne died on November 14, 2000. The Cottonwood Cemetery transcription is online at

It appears, from my research, that Kathleen's father, Elihu Martin, was born in Texas in January of 1894 to Samuel J. Z. Martin, born in Texas in April of 1866, whose parents were also born in Texas, and Margaret, who was born in Illinois in February 1869, her father being from New York and her mother from Georgia.

In 1900 when Elihu was six the family lived in Midland, Texas, but by 1910, the family had immigrated to Jack County where they appeared on that census. After that, however, the trail ran dry. I guess between the Smith and Martin names, both families common in the USA, I've run into a brick wall. Smith is the most common surname in our country, and Martin is the 17th most common name.

As Elihu is not used much any more, I looked up the origin. It means "my God is Yahweh" in Hebrew and was the name of several characters in the Bible, including a friend of Job's.

Now here's a little history about Bryson. It is located on U. S. Highway 380 fourteen miles west of Jacksboro. It was first call Mount Hecla. Now, I want to stop right there and tell you a little about Mount Hecla.

Mount Hecla is one of the most active volcanic constructs in Iceland and is the site of the descent into the interior in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Another literary reference comes from Richard Howrey's poem, "The Quest of Merlin": "Interior of a cavern in the bowels of the earth, beneath Mount Hecla. Huge rock-fragments, amid which twists tortuously a great root of the tree Yggdrasil. A flickering flame, by the light of which are seen the NORNS, colossal but shadowy shapes, about a gigantic but indistinct Loom. Dull, heavy sounds, out of which arises a strange music, which resolves itself continually into imperfect harmonies, which leave the heart in unrest. A sense of striving and struggle beats through the music."

Now, back to Bryson, as it is now. Mount Hecla, whose first postmaster was S. Hamilton, was renamed Bryson in the early 1880's in honor of Henry Bryson who built the first house in the town and in 1878 became a county commissioner.

The Chicago, Rock Island, and Texas Railway reached Bryson in 1903, and by 1907 Bryson had its first bank. For the first fifty years of its existence, Bryson was a business and school community for the farmers and ranchers of the area, but with the discovery of oil it became a processing center in the 1920's. In 1947 the town was incorporated with 806 residents, the largest number in the history of the town, but as oil production declined, so did the population, and by 1970 there were only 450 residents. In the 1980's some growth came to the area, and the population grew to 690, with seven businesses, but by 1990 the population once again headed down to 520, and by 2000 the population was at 528.

James C. Loving had a ranch on the western edge of Jack County in 1868. It was fairly close to Bryson, and Indians made his life and that of his ranch a misery, with two of his ranch managers, Mr. Heath and Mr. Wright, being killed in raids.

In May of 1875, cowboys from the ranch discovered that a fence had been cut and horses kept in the corral near the big house were missing. As there was a Ranger company stationed southeast of Raines Spring, the boys saddle up and went to report the problem.

Major John B. Jones gathered some men, and they rode to the ranch to investigate. They then followed a trail south along Cameron Creek, where it was lost for a time. They began to search along the western edge of Lost Valley and discovered the trail just north on Cox Mountain, at the south end of the valley. Quickly following the trail the Rangers overtook the raiding party close to Rock Creek, northeast of Bryson. One of the Indians was shot and killed immediately, and after a gunfight, four more of the raiders were killed, while two others made an escape. Indian troubles were common for many more years, but this was the last raiding party to terrorize the northwest frontier counties.

I received this from a reader: "I ran across the article (about West Texas) while trying to track down the book mentioned in the article, The West Texas Frontier by Joseph Carroll McConnell. I am fascinated by the book but cannot seem to find a copy for sale anywhere. Thanks much! Doug Williams."

Mr. Williams and I have both tried to find another copy of this two-volume set which Gil Hull gave me right before his death, and we have discovered they are very rare. How glad I am to have been graced with my copies!

And here are some queries regarding Jack County.

"I am looking for information on Francis Marion Mathis, born Dec. 16, 1871 in Kimball, Bosque Co., TX. He was the son of Thomas Franklin Mathis and an Indian named Elizabeth. I have a report that he has been found in Jacksboro listed with a birth date of 1872, but if it is the same person, I have old letters that confirm his date of birth in 1871. Any information would be greatly appreciated.

W.A. McCormick "

"I noticed there are several books on Jack Co. TX. Jacksboro being my birthplace, I would like to obtain a book on its history. Does anyone know which book would be the best to buy for its history and genealogy of Jack Co. TX. My father John Kennedy ERWIN was born April 11, 1922 Joplin, Jack Co. TX. He and my mother I believe married there possibly in Nov. 1942. I was born in Jacksboro.
My father was buried at the Fairview Cemetery in Joplin.
I appreciate your help.
Thank You,
Nelda "

And finally, here is an interesting bit of information from the Jacksboro Gazette:

"Thursday, July 6, 1911

At the home of the bride's parents, on 2 July 1911, H.J. Rhoades and Miss Mae Lamb were united in wedlock, Rev. C.W. Horschler officiating. Mr. Rhoades is one of the merchants at Joplin and Miss Mae is a daughter of Mr. N.O. Lamb, formerly a merchant of Joplin."

Here is information on this couple who were married. H. J. stood for Henry Jefferson, who was the son of Jacob Rhoades. Mae's name was Rosa Mae. She was Henry's second wife. Their children were Effie Mae who went by Jane and Thelma.

Housewifery: Cat Head Biscuits

Have you been to the Double J Hacienda and Art Ranch? You haven’t? Then you must go. Spend an evening, a weekend, a month. Relax, enjoy the natural beauty of Texas on the banks of the Brazos River. Listen to the music of Jimmy Baldwin and his friends, have a massage, view the creations of Texas artists, learn yoga from Jane Baldwin! All this and more can be had at the Double J.

The Double J used to be the Seybold Guest Ranch. It’s just off the road leading past the Indian Creek Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, on the east bank of the Brazos River. Check them out online at

A few weeks ago, Raf and I went out there for an evening of art and music…though, of course, the music was art as well! We saw the paintings and collages of Tori Pendegrass and heard the music of Jimmy, Glenna Bell of Houston, and Nancy Apple of Memphis. One of Nancy’s songs inspired me to write the following piece on Cathead Biscuits.

Now I grew up just 42 miles south in Stephenville, and my mother and both grandmothers made biscuits, but I had never heard of Cathead Biscuits. Nancy Apple explained that she was from Memphis and that this sort of biscuit is a “southern”, not “Texas”, thang! Well, now I’ve spoken to a few native Texans, Jim Dillard included, and unlike me, they knew exactly what a Cathead Biscuit was! Gee, was I deprived, or what?

It’s obvious why they’re called Cathead…right? ‘cause they’re the size of a cat’s head, in fact a cat with an unusually fat head!

Mississippi Delta Cathead Biscuits are not cut out or rolled, but rather they are mixed, kneaded, pulled apart into about four handfuls, rolled into lumpy balls, and dumped into a cast iron skillet. Spoon on or brush on bacon drippings, and they are ready to bake in a 350˚F oven for 25 minutes, then broil for a minute or two, until golden brown and crispy on top. They look and sound delicious! They’re meant to be eaten with loads of butter and syrup or honey poured on top.

Now as I have read through references to other recipes for cathead biscuits, I find that the less discriminating cooks use biscuit cutters or drinking glassed and cut their biscuits, but in none of the photos have I seen anything as delicious-looking as those Mississippi Delta ones.

So, ok, here’s a couple of recipes. The first is called “Southern Cat Head Biscuits”.

2 cups all-purposed flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbs sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup milk

Heat the oven to 425˚F. Mix the dry ingredients together and work in the shortening with a pastry cutter (or a fork) until it’s in irregular small crumbs. Add the milk and stir with a fork until the dough comes together. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface (one article said to use a paper sack) and knead about 12 times. Do NOT over knead! Pat the dough down lightly until it’s about 1/2 inch tick and use a sharp knife to cut 2-inch squares. Place at least one inch apart on an ungreased pan and bake about 15 minutes until puffy and brown.

The next recipe comes from the state of Georgia.

2 Cups Self Rising Flour
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Tablespoons Shortening
1 Tablespoon Butter

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and grease a cookie sheet.

Mix the dough and drop a forkful onto the greased cookie sheet. Keep doing this until you fill up your cookie sheet. Leave a small space in between each biscuit. They do not have to look round or neat, and it is ok if they are fairly big. Put them in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Serve with mounds of butter and fresh preserves.

Well, there you have it. Cathead Biscuits. They are surely good enough to eat! So make some!

Do you have some of Grannie’s recipes you would like to share with us? Let me hear from you!!


judie said…
Oh my. What a lot of research you must do. I would love to know more about my ancestors (paternal from Australia, maternal from the Rockefeller family) but I just don't have time to do all that research. Sioux, GOOD LUCK ON YOUR BOOK!!!!!

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