TexasEscapes.com 
HOME : : NEW : : TEXAS TOWNS : : GHOST TOWNS : : TEXAS HOTELS : : FEATURES : : COLUMNS : : BUILDINGS : : IMAGES : : ARCHIVE : : SITE MAP
PEOPLE : : PLACES : : THINGS : : HOTELS : : VACATION PACKAGES
Texas Escapes
Online Magazine
Texas Towns by Region
  • Texas Hill Country
  • Central Texas North
  • Central Texas South
  • South Texas
  • East Texas
  • West Texas
  • Texas Panhandle
  • Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Towns A - Z
    Over 2800 Towns

    Texas Ghost Towns
    Over 800 Ghost Towns

    Book Hotels
  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    Birthday Cake
    with 111 Candles
    washed down with "Good" whiskey

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox

    Interviewing the supposedly 111-year-old former slave on the porch of the man’s grandson’s house in Eagle Pass, the much younger reporter in so many words asked a classic cliché question: To what do you attribute your ripe old age?

    Born in the Deep South and a Texan since before the Civil War, Tom Sullivan looked at the journalist and gave an answer as stereotypical as the question: Moderation in eating and drinking.

    Finally, the old man with snow white hair departed a bit from the norm when he admitted that moderation did not exclude the occasional consumption of distilled spirits, though it did help to stick with “good whiskey” in addition to “taking care of myself.” By that, he said he meant never consuming so much good whiskey as to get in trouble.

    “I wish I had a drink of good whiskey right now to celebrate my birthday,” he said as the journalist scribbled away on his note pad.

    In truth, Sullivan had found another secret to longevity he never publically admitted: Faking your date of birth. While Sullivan claimed to have been born on April 10, 1824 in Logan County, KY, he was actually at least 20 years younger.

    But no one ever challenged his claim until Austin researcher Sloan Rodgers ran across Sullivan’s story while digging into the life of former Texas Ranger Big Foot Wallace. Pouring over online census records, Rodgers found that Sullivan had not begun claiming his 1824 birth date until after 1920. Further, he was born in Mississippi, not the Blue Grass state.

    Why he chose to posture as a really old man when already a fairly old man can only be guessed at today. Maybe he liked the attention. Maybe he figured in might entitle him to some form of government assistance.

    Whatever the reason, judging from a couple of surviving newspaper interviews, Sullivan had an interesting life. Of course, if a fellow will lie about his birthday…

    Sullivan claimed his mother had been one of George Washington’s slaves. Eventually freed by the first president, Sullivan’s mother married a man named Sullivan and had several children. Though free, her children ended up being pressed back into slavery, literally “sold down the river” from Kentucky to Mississippi.

    In 1848 or 1849, as Sullivan told his story, he and several other slaves arrived in Galveston with William Redus, who along with his two brothers had purchased land in Medina County. Though slaves were not supposed to go around armed, Redus provided Sullivan with a pistol and shotgun. That raised eyebrows.

    “Sure, I armed him,” Sullivan said his master told others. “Do you think I want some damned Indian to kill him?”

    Working on a 20,000-acre ranch near Hondo, west of San Antonio, Sullivan said that on several occasions he joined settlers in the pursuit of Indian raiders, once using his sharp knife to successfully cut an arrow out of a man’s back.

    Freed at the end of the Civil War, Sullivan took up cotton farming in Frio County. He also traded in cattle and horses and after moving to Frio County, secured a contract to carry mail from Pleasanton to Frio Town.

    While living in Frio County, he claimed to have met and become well-acquainted with two notable Texas characters, the flambouyant outlaw-turned-lawman King Fisher and the even more famous Big Foot Wallace, Texas Ranger, Indian fighter and stagecoach operator.

    In truth, if Sullivan came to Texas when he said he did, he would have only been a young child. It is clear that he did spend time in Medina and Frio counties, and likely some of his tales were true.

    If Sullivan had any notion of making money off his colorful if-somewhat-fictionalized story, it didn’t happen. When Sullivan died in a San Antonio hospital on March 3, 1936, no one in his family had enough money to pay for his funeral.

    For nearly a week, an Alamo City funeral home held his body while his daughter tried to raise the $166 needed to get him buried next to his wife near Pearsall. The problem came to the attention of the San Antonio Express, which ran a story headlined, “Body of Aged Negro Who Fought Indians in Medina County Awaits Burial for Lack of Funds to Pay,” but if they family managed to come up with the money, the newspaper ran no follow-up.

    Rodgers can find no record showing where the former slave ended up, speculating he may lie near his daughter Edna’s grave in San Antonio’s San Fernando City Cemetery No. 3. Likely, the family never could afford putting up a tombstone.


    © Mike Cox - November 7, 2012 column
    More "Texas Tales"
    Related Topics:
    Texas Black History |
    People | Columns | Texas Town List | Texas |

    Books by Mike Cox - Order Now
     
    Related Topics:
    Stories from Texas' Past | People | Texas Town List | Texas
    Custom Search
    Book Hotel Here - Expedia Affiliate Network

    CITY SEARCH


    TEXAS ESCAPES CONTENTS
    HOME | TEXAS ESCAPES ONLINE MAGAZINE | HOTELS | SEARCH SITE
    TEXAS TOWN LIST | TEXAS GHOST TOWNS | TEXAS COUNTIES

    Texas Hill Country | East Texas | Central Texas North | Central Texas South | West Texas | Texas Panhandle | South Texas | Texas Gulf Coast
    TRIPS | STATES PARKS | RIVERS | LAKES | DRIVES | FORTS | MAPS

    Texas Attractions
    TEXAS FEATURES
    People | Ghosts | Historic Trees | Cemeteries | Small Town Sagas | WWII | History | Texas Centennial | Black History | Art | Music | Animals | Books | Food
    COLUMNS : History, Humor, Topical and Opinion

    TEXAS ARCHITECTURE | IMAGES
    Courthouses | Jails | Churches | Gas Stations | Schoolhouses | Bridges | Theaters | Monuments/Statues | Depots | Water Towers | Post Offices | Grain Elevators | Lodges | Museums | Rooms with a Past | Gargoyles | Cornerstones | Pitted Dates | Stores | Banks | Drive-by Architecture | Signs | Ghost Signs | Old Neon | Murals | Then & Now
    Vintage Photos

    TRAVEL RESERVATIONS | USA | MEXICO

    Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Contributors | Staff | Contact TE
    Website Content Copyright ©1998-2011. Texas Escapes - Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved