west on State Highway 36 toward Gatesville,
just past Flat,
if you look at just the right time at the right place you can see
an old dog-trot house sitting about 100 yards off the road, somewhat
camouflaged by a couple of trees but recognizable for what it is all
"Where did that come from?" you might exclaim, knowing full well that
it came from the century before last. Today's modern world gobbles
nearly everything that preceded it, so there is comfort in knowing
that an old dog-run house like the one in Coryell County survives.
types of houses, also referred to as dog-trot houses or, in certain
parts of the Deep South, possum-trot houses, date back to about the
middle of the 19th Century. The houses, or cabins, were built in two
parts separated by a 10-15 foot passageway. Some had four structures,
two on each side.
Had there been a need to advertise these houses - or anyone to advertise
them to - the pioneer real estate agent might have said, "Simple but
functional Cool in the summer. And your dogs will love it!"
The name "dog-run" comes from the comfort that family dogs found in
the shade and the summers breezes the passageways afforded. People
enjoyed the same comfort. The passageways were designed to provide
shade and breeze in the summer, sort of a pioneer climate control
In the winter, chilling winds were funneled through the passageway
which gave early-day residents the concept if not the term "wind chill
factor." More often than not, the passageways were closed during the
winter, which kept the wind out and provided an extra room.
Rufus C. Smith, one of a passel of Smiths who migrated to Texas from
Boonesville Hill, Tennessee in the mid 1800s, lived in the cabin off
Highway 36 for several years. He came to Texas with his brother David
and his brother's wife and 15 children. They took a train from Tennessee
and lived in that bustling village for a time before buying land in
Rufus was not the only Smith to become a doctor. Dr. Jack Smith and
Dr. Carl Smith followed him into that line of work. Jack Smith gave
up the medical profession for a time to work for the America Mining
Company, where he ran afoul of the notorious Mexican revolutionary
and bandit Pancho Villa. After the mining company obtained his release,
Smith reported that he had been treated well by Villa's men but complained
that he had only venison to eat. No salt.
Even a century-and-a-half later the Coryell County dog-trot house
looks like it was a comfortable place to live in its day. It must
have been hard to leave it in the middle of the night to do something
like deliver a baby, which Rufus Smith was called upon to do one dark
and stormy night in April.
Rufus Smith left his house that April night to deliver a baby for
Ed Cash's wife. Smith was attending to the matter at hand when a group
of men arrived at the cabin - riders on the storm, as it were - toting
guns and bad attitudes. They came through the house with guns drawn.
Others covered the back door, in case Cash tried to make a run for
Cash was a suspected horse thief and cattle rustler, whose activities
had apparently had begun hitting too close to home. The men at the
Cash house that night were believed to be local men, many with missing
horses and cattle they believed Cash had taken.
If there was any doubt about the men's intentions those doubts were
dispelled when two of the men put guns to Cash's head and hustled
him outside to a hanging tree.
Dr. Smith pleaded with the men to put off their frontier justice for
just a while longer because the baby was due any minute. "Just let
him see his child before he dies," the doctor pleaded. It was no use.
The men were in no mood to tarry, birth or no birth.
Cash was taken out back and hung. Muddy tracks led to several houses
in the area but no one was ever charged, tried or convicted of the
lynching. In those days, that passed for a fair trial.
We can assume that part of the story ended with Dr. Smith returning
to his dog-run house and pondering the vagaries of life and death,
so often present and urgent in one place at one time. We can only
hope the house gave him some comfort at times like that.
© Clay Coppedge
from Central Texas" >
March 11, 2006 column