in East Texas
by Bob Bowman
| In her
writings American essayist and Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Anne Porter often
wrote of the rural South, describing places that sounded remarkably like East
There was a good reason. She spent several years of her youth at
Lufkin and was married there in
But the time spent by Porter in East Texas has been overlooked by
most biographers. They simply mention that she “grew up in Texas and Louisiana.”
who once claimed to be a descendant of Daniel Boone, was born Callie Russell Porter
on May 15, 1890, at Indian Creek, in southern Brown County, to a poverty-stricken
Texas family. When her mother died two years later, Callie and her siblings lived
with a grandmother at Kyle,
near San Marcos.
Between 1901, when her grandmother died, and 1906, Callie
was shuttled around Texas and Louisiana, living with her father, Harrison, a brother
and two sisters. They wandered among relatives and rented houses. Poverty remained
with the family, and Callie began to hone her senses as an observer of people,
customs and traditions.
Despite the family’s nomadic life, her father valued
education and placed his children in free schools when they were available. In
1904 he gathered enough money to enroll Callie in a church school in San
Antonio. Her single year was the only formal education she received beyond
At the age of sixteen, while living at Lufkin, she ran
away from home, took her grandmother’s name, Katherine, and married John Henry
Koontze, a railroad employee and the first of three husbands. Her marriage license,
filed in Angelina County on June 20, 1906, is one of the few reminders of her
residence in Lufkin.
At the time, Ira Bryce, minister of Lufkin’s First
United Methodist Church, married Porter and Koontze, as well as her sister, Gay
Porter and T.H. Holloway, in a double-ring ceremony.
Nine years later
Katherine left Koontze to work as an actress, contracted tuberculosis and decided
during her recovery that she was best suited to be a writer. She soon began working
as a journalist in Chicago and Denver.
apparently never forgot her life in East Texas. Many of her short stories reflect
the geography, rural traditions and language of the pineywoods. In “Noon Wine”
she wrote: “And did I not tell you about standing at the edge of a field and listening
to an old man, leaning on a plow, a childhood friend of my father’s talking, and
how I said to myself, Why, that is my own speech...”
In another story,“He,”
Porter wrote: “In the early fall, Mrs. Whipple got a letter from her brother saying
he and his wife and two children were coming over for a visit next Sunday week.
Put the big pot into the little one, he wrote at the end.”
best known for her short stories and she finished only one novel, “The Ship of
Fools,” a disillusioned story set in a little purgatory on the sea. She spent
twenty years with the book before it was finished, but it made her rich and famous
with a movie at age 72. A Pulitizer Prize came in l966 for a collection of her
best short stories.
Sometimes called Texas’ greatest woman writer, Porter
died September 18, 1980, in a nursing home at College Park, Maryland, after a
series of strokes. She was buried beside her mother’s grave in the Indian Creek
Cemetery near Brownwood.
The home she occupied as a child in Kyle with her grandmother is now the Katherine
Anne Porter Museum.
Katherine Ann Porter Museum in Kyle|
Photo by John Troesser, 12-00
Things Historical November 15, 2004 Column|
Published with permission
(Distributed as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association.
Bob Bowman is a member of the Texas Historical Commission and author of 30 books
about East Texas.)
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