Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Family Fun: The Old-Time Settlers’ Reunion

Research an event your ancestor may have attended. Did your ancestor live within a few blocks of the parade route for the annual Fourth of July parade in the town where they lived? If your family lived in a rural area, perhaps they attended a county or state fair. If they lived in a big city, perhaps they attended a play or movie opening. Was there an amusement park or traveling carnival near the area your family was from, one they might have visited? Were there fireworks displays in the town your family was from? How much do you know about the types of entertainment your ancestors might have enjoyed? This "fun" edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

The first family I “discovered” on my own at the beginning of my research back in 2005 was the family of my grandfather Kirby Runion Moore. His parents were Harlston Perrin Moore and Maratha E. Lewis. They came to Dallas County, Texas, from South Carolina in 1877. H. P. Moore was a tenant farmer, and that meant a pretty hardscrabble life, which may not have left a lot of time for entertainment or attending events. However, when the Twenty-Sixth Reunion of the Dallas County Old Settler’s Association was held practically on the Moores’ doorstep – in the nearby town of Hutchins (the Moores are listed on the Hutchins mail delivery route) – this must have been something too good to pass up. “H. P. Moore and wife” are listed among the attendees at the Reunion, as are a number of other people who are among my Dallas ancestors or are associated with them: Emory A. Gracey, the husband of my great-grand aunt Martha Amanda Matlock, and his brother M.D.L. (Marquis de Lafayette) Gracey; Dr. C. M. Rosser, the founder of Baylor Medical School and brother of Virgil O. Rosser, whose children Henry and Julia Lewis helped to raise; and Harvey Taylor “and wife,” aka Sarah Alcina Harris Taylor, my great-great-grand aunt. The Graceys came to Texas in the late 1850s and the Matlocks and Harrises came in 1852; the first of my ancestors to arrive in Dallas were the Floyds, who came here between 1846 and 1848.

An article from the Dallas Daily Times Herald (2 August 1903 issue, p. 16, col. 1-4, transcribed on Jim Wheat’s Dallas County Texas Archives) provides a good description of the area where the Moores lived at the time, as well as a snapshot of the area’s history up to that time:

“It was fitting that he pioneers should meet at Hutchins. It is a pretty spot, with its green fields, beautiful groves, substantial buildings of brick, well-kept lawns and comfortable homes. Not a mile away, are the lakes of the fishing clubs, where the fur, fin and feather enthusiasts of Dallas pass their leisure moments. Hutchins is an old town, and a small town. Thirty-one years ago, the Central built a passenger station there and "in the good old times," two saloons flourished, horse racing was a recognized sport, and now and then, men came to blows. This was long ago. Hutchins is a local option precinct now, and artesian water is the only intoxicant to be found by the thirsty in the village. It's a beautiful country, as fertile as the Mississippi delta and dotted here and there with homes of prosperous tillers of the soil. Four miles away is the thrifty town of Lancaster, "the best town in Dallas county" its admirers say, and this alone, tells the story why Hutchins has never spread out. More than sixty years ago, settlers from Illinois and Tennessee poured into the country where the town of Lancaster now stands.”

“Hutchins had made elaborate arrangements for the reception and entertainment of its guests. Clark's grove is an ideal spot for a picnic or reunion. It is a short distance from town and overlooks a stretch of meadow, and in the distance, is a beautiful lake. At 10 o'clock, a goodly crowd had assembled, Dallas and Lancaster sending the largest delegations. It was, point of number, the largest reunion held in recent years, and in point of hospitality, equal to any reunion held since the birth of the organization.”

The article mentions the four states in which the Peters Colony investors (the Peters Colony was an area in North Texas granted to these investors by the Republic of Texas) did most of their advertising for settlers: Illinois (where my Floyd and Finley families originated), Kentucky (where the Matlocks and Harrises originated), Tennessee, and Missouri.

I remember old-time settlers’ reunions being held in Seymour at the park near our house and how much my mother enjoyed attending these reunions, where she was able to get together with many people she had grown up with. These old-time settlers reunions in Seymour actually grew out of the old settlers’ reunion and rodeo, which originated in the cowboys’ reunion first held in Seymour in 1896. Apparently the second Cowboys’ Reunion, held in 1897, set the standard for the event:

“In August of 1897 the second Cowboy’s Reunion was held at Seymour, and this reunion was a greater affair than the first and still stands out in the minds of the old timers as unequalled in the annuals [sic] of Seymour Rodeos. This time there were in attendance Quanah Parker and his band of Comanche Indians, from 300 to 500 strong. The Indians were one of the principal attractions. One night they staged a regular Indian War Dance under the direction of their chief, Quanah Parker, all in full regalia and lighted by a huge camp fire. People came from great distances to see that spectacular event. Better preparations were made for the 1897 reunion, and more cowboy contestants were here. A circular race track was prepared on the hill east of Seymour one mile long, and the arena for cowboy contests was the ground inside of that race track. Most spectators came in wagons and buggies and lined up around the race track, thus forming an enclosure. Bronc riding, steer roping, horses racing, and steer bulldogging were the principal contests, with tournament riding and baseball games filling in the gaps.” [Baylor County Historical Society: Salt Pork to Sirloin: The History of Baylor County, Texas from 1879 to 1930, Nortex Offset Publications, Inc., 1972, p. 147.]

Genealogists love to play the “If I had a time machine” imagination game; well, if I had a time machine, these reunions were definitely events that I would attend. We could not only meet our ancestors, but the people they knew, and we could hear their stories of the old days. If only….


  1. Fascinating blog, Greta. I have no ancestors that lived in Texas, so alot of your information is new to me. I would also like to jump into your time machine....I'd take a ton of questions and all the photos that I can't identify with me.

  2. Nice article, Greta! You are fortunate to have those newspaper pieces - what a wealth of information there.
    But that time machine idea of yours would be great!

  3. It's great that you know they were there and have such a nice description of the event.