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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

You Will Do

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Changing addresses in the 19th century was not nearly as complicated as it is today.

Many a family arrived in early Texas after having done nothing any more burdensome by way of preparation than loading their wagon and painting the letters "G.T.T." on their cabin door. That stood for "Gone To Texas." As a forwarding address it lacked any meaningful specificity, which was to the suiting of many Texas-bound folks. Of course, fleeing miscreants and felons didn't even bother with a G.T.T. "change of address" notice.

Texas being a sovereign nation from 1836 to 1845, emigrants did not have to worry about passports, visas, work permits, or walls if they came from the U.S. There might have been a tad of paperwork associated with coming to Texas from Europe, but nothing compared to modern times.

Given that the hardest part of traveling to Texas was the journey itself, just about anyone who took a notion to could become a Texan. The Republic of Texas enjoyed diversity even before it was called diversity. Still, not everyone was welcomed with opened arms.


In Washington County, for instance, a vetting tradition had developed that generally proved effective when it came to new arrivals. When newcomers showed up, a delegation of their neighbors would drop by for a chat. But they did not arrive with a basket of hot teacakes and a "Welcome to the Neighborhood" card. What they did show up with was an intent to assess the newcomer and then reach a decision as to whether he, she or they were welcome to stay.

If the decision was favorable, all was well. But if the ad hoc screening committee did not feel the recent arrivals met community standards of honesty, decency and piety, they were asked not too politely to move on.

So, when Josuah Wilson McCown and his family reached Washington County in 1837, a group of folks duly paid the head of the household a call. A native of Kentucky, as a 16-year-old McCown had moved to Tennessee in 1820. Nine years later, he left the Volunteer State for New Orleans. A yellow fever outbreak motivated him to return to Tennessee, where he farmed until he decided to take his wife and seven children to the newly formed Republic of Texas. His brother came with them.

After visiting a while, the Washington County screening committee concluded that the McCowns would make a fine addition to the community and, in the Texas speak of the day, told him, "You'll do."

When McCown realized that his new neighbors had presumed to pass judgment on the prospect of he and his family's ongoing residency, he replied, "Do or not do, I've come to stay."

And stay he did. At first, McCown supported his family (with the help of his wife Martha and older children) in farming a 40-acre tract three miles west of Washington-on-the-Brazos. After doing that for a while, he became a teamster, hauling freight between Washington County and Houston.

McCown had become acquainted with and then friends with the man for whom the Harris County town had been named-Sam Houston. In 1842, during the second presidency of the hero of San Jacinto, the republic's capital was moved from Houston to Washington-on-the-Brazos. President Houston hired McCown to move the young nation's records to the new seat of government.

Later, McCown relocated to Houston where he ran a hotel for a time.


The practice of asking travelers or new arrivals their business prior to community acceptance was not unique to Washington County.

Longtime Baptist Standard editor J.B. Cranfill, whose family had come to Texas in 1850, later related an anecdote about his uncle John. The family moved around quite a bit before finally finding a county to their suiting. On their way to what would prove their final stop, a nosy fellow tried unsuccessfully to question Cranfill's uncle.

"What air you goin'?" the man asked John Cranfill.

"We're headed for Parker County," he said.

"What air you from?"

"We're from everywhere else but here and are trying to get away from here just as fast as we can," John Cranfill replied.


Back to "Do or not do" McCown, not only did he stay in Texas, he stayed a long time. Eventually settling for good on a farm in Hill County, he lived on until Dec. 29, 1896. Whoever wrote the 93-year-old's obituary observed that he was one of the state's most respected and well-known pioneers. Clearly, he had been a man who would do, even if he hadn't cared whether other people thought he would or wouldn't.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" September 12, 2018

Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

  • Dove Hunting and the $24 Doctor Bill 9-6-18
  • Camp Mabry 8-29-18
  • Brushy Bill Roberts 8-23-18
  • Phone Fear 8-16-18
  • Slaves 8-8-18

    See more »

  • Related Topics:
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    Mike Cox's "Texas Tales" :

  • Dove Hunting and the $24 Doctor Bill 9-6-18
  • Camp Mabry 8-29-18
  • Brushy Bill Roberts 8-23-18
  • Phone Fear 8-16-18
  • Slaves 8-8-18

    See more »



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