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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Life in Frontier Texas

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Too bad Eleanor Jane Hobbs didn’t put more of her recollections down on paper, but at least she wrote what she did.

On Aug. 31, 1914, her 84th birthday, Mrs. Hobbs wrote a five-paragraph letter to the editor of the Elgin Courier. Many decades later, retired Austin police officer Norris McCord, who grew up in Bastrop County, discovered the letter plus another she had written and provided them to the Elgin Historical Association for inclusion in Elgin, Etc: Stories of Elgin, Texas,” a book the organization published in 2008.

Mrs. Hobbs’ letters are at once compelling for their description of frontier Texas and frustrating in that they don’t go into more detail.

As she explained in her first letter, she came with her family to Texas from Dallas County, Ala. in 1839 when she was seven. They lived at a couple of places in Bastrop County before the family bought property on Piney Creek. A few years later, the family settled near present Young’s Prairie.

Moving from place to place sounds routine, but in the late 1830s and early 1840s, little about life could be taken for granted.

“After we came back to Mike Young’s [Young’s Prairie], Levay Williams was killed and scalped by Indians,” Mrs. Hobbs wrote. “I watched over his body while the men dug his grave.”

At the time, she would have been about 16. And back then, that was practically grown.

“I was married July 1, 1847 to W.R. Hobbs,” she continued, “who was then a Texas Ranger and served under Captain Jack Hays on the Texas Frontier.”

She doesn’t say in her letters, but William Right Hobbs joined the Rangers on Sept. 15, 1845 and served under Capt. D.C. Cady. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he was in Hays’ regiment of volunteers, the Rangers the Mexicans referred to as “lost Diablos Tejanos” (the Texas Devils.)

The couple married after Hobbs came back to Bastrop County from his service in Mexico.

“When Mr. Hobbs [he was seven years older than her] would go to Bastrop, I was left alone and as it took him all day and till late at night to make the trip,” she wrote. “I would leave the house while he was away and stay on top of the corn in the crib for fear of the Indians.”

But Indians didn’t pose the only danger back then.

“Many times I saw buffalo and wild cattle feeding out of the brush and watched bears catch our hogs,” she continued. “Our nearest neighbor was Dickie Townsend, four miles away.”

In 1852 the couple settled on what came to be called the Hobbs place. At the time, their land lay in Bastrop County, but when Burleson County was organized, that part of Bastrop County went to the new county. Later still, it became part of Lee County.

“So we lived in three different counties and lived at the same place and in the same house all the time,” Mrs. Hobbs wrote.

When the Civil War broke out, Hobbs joined the Confederate Army, but due to a medical issue received a surgeon’s furlough.

By the Mrs. Hobbs wrote the two letters published in the Courier, she was the only survivor among her five siblings. She had come from a big family and raised a big family.

“I have fourteen children and 49 grandchildren,” she wrote. “I have divided all I have among my children and have never regretted it, for all have an outstretched arm of welcome wherever I go among them.”

Mrs. Hobb’s second letter was published Sept. 24, 1914.

Her husband had come to Texas at 17, she said.

“He has been in many battles and skirmishes with the Indians and had much hard fighting to do and has helped in [the] rescue of several children who had been captured and made prisoners,” she wrote. “He was out…after Indians and was taking a dispatch to headquarters and had to run for his life,” she wrote. “The creek was on the rise and that was all that saved him; they ran to the water’s edge and shot arrows across at him.”

Again, she mentioned the wildlife that had once been plentiful in Central Texas.

“I have seen herds of buffalo, deer and wild mustangs grazing near our home and have stood in my door and seen 25 or 30 run by not 50 yards from the house, which was a pretty sight,” she wrote. “Bears were plentiful and Mr. Hobbs used to hunt them often. One evening his hounds treed two bears up one tree, he killed them and brought them home and we certainly had some eating as I think bear meat is fine. While we lived near the Yegua [Creek], he killed alligators, panthers…and various other kinds of animals.”

Hobbs lived until Dec. 21, 1902, dying at the age of 79. His widow lived on until Feb. 16, 1920. Both are buried in Lawhon Springs Cemetery near their old homestead in Lee County.

© Mike Cox - November 30, 2011 column
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