first heard my father mention the town of Jefferson
when I was quite young. Jefferson
is located approximately forty miles southeast of the farm in Hopkins County where
I grew up. Two miles north of the farm is the Old Saltillo Cemetery. The site
of the cemetery is connected to the trade route west from Jefferson.
During the mid-nineteenth century freight was brought up the Red River to Cypress
Bayou and then to the port of Jefferson.
Drovers with oxen to pull the wagons transported the freight overland from Jefferson
to points north and west. My father told me that the site for the cemetery was
selected after a young man traveling with his family on the Jefferson-Bonham freight
route died near where the family had camped for the night. The boy was kicked
in the head by a mule. The knoll where the family camped was a favorite camping
spot for drovers and families on their way west. According to Prof. Emeritus Thomas
Minter of the University of Toledo, some of the ruts made by ox-drawn wagons that
traveled through Hopkins County from Jefferson
can still be seen in the prairie soil.
Later I heard Jefferson
mentioned when my father told my younger brother and me that in the late nineteenth
century the financier Jay Gould wanted to extend his railroad from Texarkana
westward. He offered to build the railroad through Jefferson,
a city that historically had depended on steamboat traffic rather than rail traffic.
My father said that when Gould visited Jefferson,
he found that the town’s fathers did not want the railroad. Gould was so angry
that he predicted that sooner or later grass would be growing in the streets of
Jefferson. This legend is
not historically accurate, according to Fred Tarpley, author of Jefferson: Riverport
to the Southwest . When Gould visited Jefferson
in the 1890s, a railroad had already been constructed through the town.
As my father told me about Gould’s dire prediction concerning the future of Jefferson,
I detected that he felt some admiration for the tycoon. After all, the citizens
of Jefferson should have
been smart enough to see that any town needed a railroad
to prosper. My father was convinced of the importance of railroads.
He would shake his head regretfully when he mentioned that Quitman,
the county seat of Wood County, a neighboring county, had no railroad.
He felt that any town expecting to grow needed a railroad.
In January, 1944, my sister, Juanita Carson, and her husband went to Jefferson
in order to attend a performance of a play based on the Diamond
Bessie murder trial. They drove from Marshall,
where they were living at the time. When they came to visit us, they brought playbills
that had been distributed at the performance. They told about the re-enactment
of the trial of a man named Rothschild. Rothschild was accused of murdering Bessie
Stone, known as “Diamond
Bessie,” in Jefferson
in 1877. As a twelve-year-old, I was envious of my sister’s experience as a spectator
during the re-enactment of such a sensational trial.
In 1955, while I
was employed as a high school teacher in Big
Sandy, a student from the senior class and I drove the forty miles to Jefferson
in order to attend the Pilgrimage weekend activities. The annual Pilgrimage, usually
scheduled in May, was begun a few years before by the Jessie Allen Wise Garden
Club. I remember visiting the Excelsior Hotel.
In 1994 during a return
trip from Texas to Tennessee, I stopped for an hour
or two in Jefferson. I remember
admiring the iron grill work on the shutters and balcony railings of certain buildings.
The architecture of these buildings reminded me of the architecture of certain
houses on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans.
© Robert G. Cowser
shoe horses, don't they?"
Guest Column, October 5 , 2009
More Columns by Robert
- Jefferson Hotels