Mary Miller
Navarro County, Texas


Biography Index


Reminiscences of Mrs. Mary Miller [as told to C. L. Jester]

I have some very vivid recollections of the old home in Macoupin County, Ill. and also of the trip to Texas. Your grandfather Jester and his wife, my sister, Diadema, lived near us in Madison County, and when we moved to Texas we went by their home and I ran in to see them. I remember so well picking up your uncle George who was the baby then and playing with him. Your father, Charlie Jester, was then about five years old - a very bright and smart little fellow.

Mother was opposed to coming to Texas, but the children, like all young folks, were eager for change and adventure, and the long journey was just an extended pleasure trip to us. We came through St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River on a ferry boat. We crossed the Red River at Fulton, Mo. and it was so red that it made a lasting impressing on my childish mind. Just before we reached Navarro County we camped on Chambers Creek in Ellis County, not far from Reagor Springs. R. M. White, who afterwards moved to Corsicana, lived there with his family. Mother was sick and they took her to their house to take care of her; we have always known them. They moved down here soon after we did and settled in [now] Corsicana on what is [now] Fifth Avenue about a block from Beaton Street.

The first people we got acquainted with when we lived at Dresden was the D. E. Hartzell family. I always looked on him just like one of my brothers. He used to go with my sister, Kate, who married Ham Morrell. Dan's sister waited on me when I was married. After we moved to Corsicana, Dan, who was in business there, boarded with us for years and years and was like one of the family.

I first knew Colonel Winkler when we were living in the little house we had before the tavern was built. He came from the southern part of the state and was, at that time, 1847/48, judge of the first circuit court. He boarded with us until he married. Mother got his clothes ready for him when he married his first wife, the widow of Thomas I. Smith. He enlisted in the Civil War and married his second wife some time during the War.

We used to entertain all the lawyers who came to court at the Tavern. Some of them in those days were Rob. S. Gould, who was district attorney and lived in Palestine; John H. Reagan and A. H. Willis, who was afterward Judge of the Supreme Court. Major John L. Miller and Major A. Beaton settled here and I married Major Miller. Then there was Col. R. Q. Mills who was a law student at that time and later a partner of Major Beaton. He was a gallant young man, very good looking and popular and used to go around with our crowd of young folks all the time. We would go to camp meetings. The young men would write notes to the girls and would get a wagon so we could all be together. Other lawyers here were Col. Croft and Major L. T. Wheeler. Col. Croft married first Roxie Elliot, a daughter of Col. Jacob Elliot. She lived only a short time and he later married a Miss Lockhart.

The first court house was situated on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 12th Street. It was a log house of one room and was used as a court house, school house, church and general assembly hall of the town for years. I used to go to school there to Mack Elliott. The next court house was a frame building built on the present site of the courthouse in 1851. It burned in 1855 and it was reported that it had been set on fire by parties who wanted to destroy certain indictments and papers, but that was never proved. The court house built in 1856 was a brick building, and your father, Charles W. Jester, hauled the brick. He had just come from Illinois and had a good wagon and team and that was his first job.

The first church was built by the Cumberland Presbyterians, and was located about where Will Gordon's place is now on Third Avenue, then Main Street. All denominations held services there until the Methodist Church was built in 1871. That was the church on which the steeple fell down. There was no Methodist church here before the War. We used to go to the Cumberland Church to work for the soldiers during the War. I remember they had a big convention in this church when Mills was nominated for Congress. Before the War we had "circuit riders" as Methodist preachers. I remember Old Brother Mose - I think he was here as far back as 1847 when we lived in Dresden Brother Hardin was another circuit rider who had some very bad boys. One of his sons, John Wesley Hardin, was a notorious desperado. Another circuit rider (who married me and my sister, Jane) was Brother Manley. Brother Fly was an early Methodist preacher here as was Brother Campbell.

The first school I remember in Corsicana was taught in the old courthouse by Mack Elliot. He was a surveyor and neighbor of old Jacob Elliot and the father of Mrs. John D. Lee and Mrs. Ellen Cheney. The next school I went to was in Cedar Hall taught by Capt. Peek. He and his wife boarded with us at the McKinney Tavern and their first child was born there. Mrs. Peek used to lecture me about going with the boys. She said I looked like a little Pin Cushion Sock on the arm of a boy. The truth was the boys would come to see my older sisters and some of them would fall back on me when they could not get one of the older girls. Mrs. Peek's health failed and they went somewhere back East where she died and their child was burned to death. Afterward he came back here and went into the mercantile business, but went to Freestone County, settled at Fairfield, and married again.

D. Oakes was one of the early doctors. I think he went to Waco. His wife was quite young and she used to have me stay with her when he had to be away. Then there was Dr. Leach and Dr. Green Kerr, a brother of Uncle Jimmy Kerr, Dr. Wootan and Dr. Tate. Dr. Tate's wife was a relative of Judge Frost. The doctor was a high tempered man and fell out with my father because he sent for Dr. Dixon one time when he was sick. Dr. Dixson administered roots and herbs instead of regular medicines. He was my father's doctor when he died. Two other early physicians were Dr. Love and Dr. McKie, father of J. W. McKie who married Eve Elliott, a daughter of Col. Elliot. Col. Elliot was a land trader in the early days and first lived down near Richland where his first wife died. He went back to Kentucky where he married and came back to live in Corsicana.

The Loves were early settlers. W. M. Love built the first house in this county down near Patterson Lake. Col. Henderson came soon after we did. He was a lawyer but didn't practice much. He had a rich brother in New Orleans who sent him money all the time and he didn't do much but play chess. Buck Barry was sheriff about that time [no specific date]. David R. Mitchell gave the most land on which the old part of Corsicana was built. He later donated the land on which the courthouse is located and the lot for the Methodist Church. He and my father were good friends.

I went to school with his [Mitchell] daughter, Bema, who later married Dr. Seale. The business part of the town was on the square but when the railroad came here in 1871 the town moved to it. Major Beaton had a great deal to do with getting it. He took Capt. Harris, the locating engineer, home and entertained him and his bride, and got him interested in this location.

The first postoffice was in McKinney Tavern and father was postmaster. I can remember as a child how I liked to hand out the letters to people. Also the first photograph gallery was in the tavern, owned by a man named Isaac Cline. I was very fond of having my picture taken and he would practice on me. The pictures he took were old fashioned daguerreotypes. The Tavern seemed to be the center of things in those days. I don't think father was very anxious to keep it; he didn't like the rough element that naturally congregated around a hotel in a frontier town so he finally sold out - I think to David R. Mitchell.

He then built a house right about where Richard Mays built and where Homer Pace now lives. We were living there when I married Major John Miller - the other girls married while we were at the Tavern. Major Miller was born in 1821 in Tennessee. He was a member of the Tennessee Legislature when James K. Polk received notice of his nomination for President. He earned the rank of Major in the Mexican War, and came to Corsicana about 1852. We were married in 1855 and had the following children: Mattie, Terry (died unmarried age 20), John Lanty, Beaton and Ursula Miller. About 1858 we moved up near Rice and it was then that my brother, Monroe, went back to Illinois and brought the Jester family to Texas. Major Beaton gave them a lot and she took in boarders for a living. Major Miller died in Corsicana in 1907 in his 86th year.

Diadema and Levi Jester had the following children, all born in Illinois: Charles Wesley, your father; Martha (who married Jefferson Kendall); George T. Jester (married first Alice Bates and second Fannie Gorded); Mary D. (married James Hamilton); Vina (married R. P. Bates); and L. L. Jester (married a Miss Cain of Tyler, Texas.) Your father had different jobs - he worked with a Mr. Jornigan who kept a saddle shop until he went to war; after that he came back and bought the saddle shop for himself. He used to do a great deal of business with the cowboys.

The Jesters brought to Texas the first painted, or factory made, wagon, and for years it was used for a hearse at every funeral. It attracted a great deal of attention and the country people and children would gather around and admire it as they do a circus wagon now. Your father, Charlie Jester, married Eliza Rakestraw, a daughter of George A. Rakestraw, who lived down near Patterson Lake. After they married they lived next door to his mother. My brother Monroe McKinney, married Lou Johnson. He was killed at Yellow Bayou in Louisiana, leaving three children. He widow remarried to a Allen. Another of my brothers, John, went to Johnson County and laid his headright certificate, but he got sick and came back home where he died at our house, aged 27. He was very much like my father, handsome, quiet and reserved, not like any of the rest of us. My brother Thomas married Jan Petty and moved to Ellis County where he died. Kate McKinney married Hamilton Morrel. My sister, Nancy had married John Harlin before they moved to Texas. There was nothing he couldn't do. Everybody liked and respected him and if help was needed people went to him. He lived in Waxahachie, Ellis County for a while and then moved to Ennis where he died.

My father was very much opposed to slavery; he didn't believe in owning Negroes, but after we came to Texas, he had to buy some in order to get servants. He didn't approve of dancing and we never had them at the Tavern. Father would let us girls go with the boys to the dances at the Randall Hotel just to look on, but we would always get to dance before we got back. Camp meetings were the principal amusement for young folks who didn't dance. Father never objected to our going to them and it was about as much fun as anything else. We also had an occasional circus. The first I remember seeing was Robinson's circus which traveled by wagons as there were no railroads here then. The circus grounds were where the 3rd ward school is now. There was a grove across the street from where the Ideal theater is now where they used to have public meetings. I remember Sam Houston coming here to speak and Major Miller introduced him. That was before the War. Houston was a Union man and he was very much condemned for his ideas. He said afterwards that he had made a mistake and regretted it after he knew the way our people felt about it. He and Col. Mills had a disagreement and I am sure that was the cause of it for Mills was for the Confederacy good and strong.

The first newspaper published here before the war was a weekly called The Prairie Blade. Dan Donaldson was editor. When the railroad came there were some new merchants; Sanger was here for awhile. He used to board with your grandmother Jester. Your Aunt Via Bates was married at her house and your Aunt Mary Hamilton and your uncle George married and brought his wife there. She died there when her youngest child, Alice, was an infant. Your grandfather Rakestraw went with a party of other to South America after the War because they said they would not live under a Yankee government, but they did not stay long and were soon back here.

I have lived in this town for nearly 75 years and in these reminiscences I have tried to recall the incidents in a long and happy life in relation particularly to our own family, the descendants of Hampton McKinney and your great-grandfather, Levi Jester.

[signed} Mrs. Mary Miller 10 Feb A. D. 1921


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox