you saw the book shelf at a garage sale, you might be willing to
pay $5 or $10 for it. Or not. It’s not the most handsome piece of
furniture you ever saw.
It’s dark, a bit out of plumb and heavy. But this shelf, standing
in a back corner of the Coryell County Museum in Gatesville,
has a story as interesting as any of the books it ever held. A novel-in-wood,
it represents a Texas family saga extending from before the Civil
War through the Great Depression and into the modern era.
The protagonist of this book shelf “book” is Samuel Gott.
Born in Logan County, Ill. on Jan. 19, 1836, he came to Texas
in 1854 and settled in Falls County. And there he stayed, with one
When the Civil War broke out, no matter his birthplace in the land
of Lincoln, Gott enlisted in the 8th Texas Cavalry in August 1861.
He served as a sergeant in Company A of an outfit far better known
as Terry’s Texas Rangers.
Organized by Brazoria County sugar planter Benjamin F. Terry, the
regiment saw its first fight in Kentucky in December 1861. They
fought at Shiloh, and battled on to North Carolina, staying in the
fight until the war ended in 1865.
that Gott remained in the unit until at least 1864, but probably
stayed the whole time. His younger brother Albert M. Gott also rode
with the 8th Texas.
After the war, Sam Gott returned to Falls County and eventually
married Vincie Liles. When they set up housekeeping, Mrs. Gott told
her new husband they needed a dining room table.
Evidently as handy with saw and hammer as he had been with horse
and rifle, Gott found and felled a black walnut tree along the Brazos
River. (Black walnuts, which can grow to 75 or 80 feet, are considered
one of the scarcest of Texas hardwoods.) Cutting the tree into boards,
he fashioned the near iron-like wood into a table for his new bride.
The homemade table served the couple until they had enough money
to get another one, at which point Mrs. Gott relegated the sturdy
walnut table for general kitchen use.
Gott died on March 20, 1914 and was buried in Powers Chapel Cemetery
in his adopted Texas county. The widow lived on for a few years,
her old age slightly assisted by a Confederate pension.
When Mrs. Gott died, the old walnut table became the property of
Tom Liles Peters, a relative and Falls County farmer. Apparently
not needing the hand-hewn table in his kitchen, he stored it in
one of the outbuildings on his farm.
By now, the nation faced a crisis that affected nearly as man people
as the Civil War had—the Great Depression. Following the stock market
crash in October 1929, the nation’s economy slowly grew more and
more stagnant. By the early 1930s, money had become just about as
hard to find as a black walnut tree.
Rebecca Peters, her sister and their brother wanted a book shelf.
That was a luxury they could not afford, her father said. Well,
she countered, could you buy some wood and build us one? Nope, he
said. Lumber costs money, too.
But Tom Peters loved his kids and hated to seem them disappointed.
That’s when he remembered the old walnut table.
Peters hauled it out of storage, looked it over and reckoned it
had enough board feet of lumber to build a book shelf. So, to the
delight of his kids, he took the table apart, sawed the still-tough
lumber and started hammering. He ended up with a stair-step shelf
with two four-foot shelves on the bottom, two shelves half that
length flush-left on top of those topped off by a final small shelf
half the length of the second tier.
In the fashion of the day, Edith and her mother covered the dark
walnut with black enamel. When the paint dried, all the kids’ books
went on the new shelf.
Edith went off the college at Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton,
graduating in 1941. She worked as a county extension home demonstration
agent, later marrying Clois David Stone (from another old Falls
County family) and moving to Gatesville
for a long career as a school teacher.
The bookshelf-cum-Reconstruction era dining room table stayed in
her parents’ home until the 1970s, when Edith moved it to Gatesville.
It stayed in her garage for a time, but her husband—also a book
lover—suggested that she donate it to the Coryell County Museum
and she did.
Mrs. Stone died on Oct. 30, 2007 at 94, but the shelf her father
fashioned for his kids from a family heirloom dating back to shortly
after the Civil War is still holding books.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" June
25, 2009 column
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