Category Archives: Ancestry

My family, then and now.

Finders Keepers

Both families had taken advantage of the cool morning to do some exploring and try to find some coveys of quail.  Back in the mid 70’s, we, the Schroder’s and my family, were looking for quail in the higher, desert elevations, along a creek, southeast of Phoenix when one of the girls spotted what looked like a cave nestled under a rock overhang.

Closer inspection showed it to be a cave, at least 7 feet tall, extending back into the bank 20 feet, or more.  As the girls walked into it, they noticed a rock ledge running along the back, the ledge was around five and a half foot tall and they couldn’t see what was stored on it.  They called to Jake and I to come runnin’ and see what was up there.  He and I were astonished with their find, because up on the shelf was the remnant of a straw basket and in the basket were what looked like, at one time, fletched arrows, but over time the fletching had deteriorated.

As we removed the basket it fell apart, but definitely, once, the basket had been an arrow container.  There were no arrow points, or arrowheads, to be found anywhere, just long, uniform, arrow shafts, but the hard work of fletching the arrows had already been done.  Looking over the shelf and standing on my tiptoes, back in the shadows, was a turned over rock.

The last smooth rock that I had seen turned out to be, when I turned it over, a matate, or Indian corn grinder.  When an Indian village was attacked, many times the women would just turn over their matates and high tail it out of there.  Attackers wouldn’t notice the “rocks”, but if a matate was found, it was summarily destroyed.  At the time, the thinking was that if you couldn’t grind corn, you’d starve!

Jake gave me a boost as I wedged myself into the rock shelf and, expecting to see a rattler, I carefully turned over the rock.  No rattler, but a partially worn matate along with its mano (the grinding tool).  Finders keepers, as I tugged both to the edge of the shelf and hefted the 60 pound rock, the matate, to my shoulder.  It would be long carry back to our trucks, over 2 miles and one of the girls gave me a hand towel to put as a cushion on my shoulder, saving the day for toting the rock out of there.

Long and heavy carry it was, three cross country moves, a divorce and 40 year later, Bradley, my grandson and I photographed the mano and matate at his place.  Now it belongs to Bradley’s Mom, Brad’s widow, and he and I thought that this story should be saved for posterity!

Growing Up – White Fright

Today, even though I have walked away from a head on accident prior to seat belts and air bags, heard the zip of .308 bullets fired over and around my head, slid and fell down a steep canyon wall only missing a 200 foot drop by inches, lived through 5 tornadoes, been in the eye of 4 hurricanes and survived a 120 car, fog bound, pile up on Beltway 8 outside of Houston, through all of that you’d think that fear would only be a word that I just use! However, when I go into a doctor’s office, I experience a terrible case of “white fright” my blood pressure goes up twenty to thirty points, my heart rate up twenty beats or more per minute and I have even fainted while getting a shot in my arm and, just think, all of this was caused by a dog bite when I was 5 years old.

As I was running outside and the door slammed shut, the last words I heard Aunt Myree say to me were, “Jon Howard, you be careful and don’t play with that dog!” “That dog” in question was a terrier mix and my aunt and uncle, Myree and A.C. Turner, had it on a leash, attached to a clothesline in their backyard because it had been acting funny. Their backyard was in Huntsville, Texas, one block off of old Highway 75 and my mom, dad and I had gone up to spend a weekend with them and their two, young sons, Bill and Roy Peyton, known then as “Bubba”.

Once outside, being five years old, the first thing I did was go right up to the dog and try to play with it and it responded, not very playfully, by jumping up on my chest and biting me! The dog went for my throat, but because of its restraints could only jump to my chest. Inside I ran bleeding and crying, not caring about all of the “we told you so’s” heaped on me.

The biting event occurred on a Saturday morning and the first thing Monday the dog was euthanized and my uncle took its head to Austin, and sure enough, the dog was rabid. My family got the results on Thursday and Friday morning found me and my mom and dad in Dr. Talley’s offices, in the old Medical Arts Building, in downtown Houston, for the first of 22 rabies shots, spaced around my navel, timed every other day. It was the biggest needle I had ever seen, and thinking back, it must have had one or two ounces of an unpleasant looking, green serum.

The shots saved my life, but by the third morning, I resisted the shot so bad, that before it could be administered, it took 4 adults to hold me down with me being only 5. This went on for the next 19 shots and scarred me forever.

Service To Our Country

Since Colonial times, during the Revolution and the War of 1812,which actually was an extension of the Revolution, my forefathers answered their call to arms and served their colony and country. In writing a book about my forefathers, I have uncovered some very interesting facts that follow!

In “Colonial Soldiers Of The South, 1732- 1774”, a Poll dated June 13, 1748, Lewis Saunders, my 6G Grandfather served in the Virginia Militia, in Fairfax County, George Mason’s District (Mason is recognized as the father of our Bill of Rights), in Maj. Lawrence Washington’s Company, in Col. George Washington’s Regiment.

Farther south in the Colony of North Carolina, in what is now Onslow County, on Friday October 24, 1754, Colonel John Starkey’s regiment of foot, met for muster and training at Jonathan Milton’s residence on New River. Since the Spaniards had recently attacked Georgia’s outer islands the troops were formed to meet an expected Spanish invasion. John Brinson was a member of Capt. Thomas Hick’s company. John Jarrott was a member of Capt. Richard Ward’s company. All three of these men, Brinson, Jarrott and Ward, were my paternal, 5G Grandfathers. The Spanish invasion never took place!


William Murrill and Richard Ward, my 5Ggrandfathers and Joseph Sanders, my 4G Grandfather, all served in the Revolutionary War. Murrill was in the North Carolina Militia, Ward was an officer in the North Carolina line and Sanders was a regular trooper in Col. Hogan’s, 7th regiment, North Carolina Continental Line.

William Murrill was involved in several actions during the Revolutionary War. One story was very interesting and has been passed down through the family and recorded in the diary of a 2G Uncle of mine, James Buckner “Buck” Barry, and later copyrighted and published as “Buck Barry, Texas Ranger And Frontiersman”, edited by James K. Greer. This story was in my post on July 4, 2009, “[Skirmish]”.

And finally, during the War of 1812, a 3Ggrandfather, Absolum Presnell, from Onslow County, North Carolina, who had been too young to serve in the Revolution, volunteered and served in the First Regiment of U.S. Volunteers. He signed on as a Private and was discharged with the same rank.

Proudly, my family has served during all of our Country’s conflicts!

Growing Up – Watermelon Patch

As WWII ended, spending most of my summers at my Grandma Bryan’s house, outside of Marlin, was an exciting time for me. But, as boys in a rural setting will do, we decided that we needed more excitement than just catching crawdads.

One afternoon, my cousin, Dan, said that he thought stealing some watermelons would be fun. I quickly agreed with him. Our first job was to find a patch with some ripe melons. He figured that down the lane from Grandmas, Uncle Tom Norwood’s patch would be just about ripe.

To both of us, being 10 years old, Uncle Tom was a menacing figure. Tall, erect, a retired school teacher and, we later discovered that he was also a former slave. Before, or during, the Civil War, he was born into slavery and at the time he must have been over 85 years old. His wife, Betty, approximately the same age and a former slave too and when we were younger, she was a very caring nanny to both Dan and I. Being the closest patch around, we picked Uncle Tom’s.

We figured that it would be better if we stole the melons during the afternoon since the high temperature then would probably keep Uncle Tom inside. Down the lane, short pants and tennis shoes clad, we snuck and ahead, spotting the melon patch. Climbing through the fence we noticed some sticker kind of low, bushy flowers growing among the melons. We soon found out that these harmless looking “flowers” were really bull nettles, or stinging nettles, a very poisonous plant known to kill small animals, even dogs. The little hairs along the leaf packed a wallop, especially on bare legs!

Finding two ripe melons was easy. The hard part was getting them out of the patch. The first thing I did was to brush against a nettle. Wow, that stung as bad as a yellow jacket! Then Dan brushed against one, howling, and the race was on! Our goal of stealing melons was quickly forgotten as we dropped ‘em and scrambled out of the patch and hightailed it home.

Our legs were on fire as we told our Grandma what we’d done. In no uncertain terms, she scolded us for even thinking of taking one of Uncle Tom’s watermelons, but, kindly, she told us of an old Texas remedy for bull nettle stings, pee on the sting. We peed on each other’s legs and the stinging abated and we never thought again about stealing watermelons again!

Memorial Day

Today we take time to honor and recognize our troops who have died while defending our way of life. In the North, tradition was that Decoration Day began in New York in 1868, but, in reality, it really started in Virginia soon after the end of the Civil War. This is one of my favorite stories!

Now, enter my Grandmother, Linnie Ross Sanders Wallace, born in 1866, , who I wrote about on May, 27, 2007, in [“A True Texan”]. She was a Civil War baby boomer, and a rebel’s daughter. Her Father, Levi Sanders, had spent four years fighting with the 6th Texas Cavalry across Indian Territory, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. She made sure that I knew what “Decoration Day”, now known as our Memorial Day, was and just what it meant.

Within a month after the end of the Civil War, May 1865, ladies in Winchester, Virginia, formed a Ladies Memorial Association, (LMA), with the single purpose to gather fallen Confederate soldiers within a fifteen mile radius of their town and provide them burial in a single graveyard. Once that task had been done they hoped to establish an annual tradition of placing flowers and evergreens on the graves. There were Federal troops buried along with the Confederates and they received the decorations also. Within a year, ladies across the South had established over 70, LMA’s.

In the first year, these LMA’s had assisted in the recovery of over 70,000 Confederate dead! The ladies of Lynchburg chose May 10 as their Decoration Day. This was the day that Lt. General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson had succumbed to wounds. The Richmond LMA had chosen May 31 because that was the day the populace of that town had first heard the guns of war in 1861.

Vicious Reconstruction laws not withstanding, by 1867, Decoration Day flourished across the South and it was a day that southern spirit and pride surfaced. Alabama, Florida and Mississippi celebrated it on April 30; North and South Carolina on May 10 and Virginia finally compromised on May 27.

Then in 1868, in the North, May 5 was officially designated Memorial Day. This was later changed to May 30, because no significant battle was fought on that day. In May 1968, at Waterloo, New York, Pres. Lyndon Johnson “officially” recognized Waterloo as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Still later, our government intruded and made the last the last Monday in May, Memorial Day, a Federal holiday.

LBJ should have studied his history better! He began his career as a history teacher at San Jacinto High School in Houston, and taught Linnie Ross’s youngest, daughter, Hazel. He soon switched to teaching civics, government studies. Maybe he was deficient in American history?

A Mystery

Growing up, my Grandmother, Linnie Ross Sanders Wallace, told me several times (in no uncertain terms) that the Sanders were SCOTS-Irish, with the emphasis on “Scots”.  I heard her and remembered it, but like all youth, I didn’t realize the importance of it later.

Digging through the Sanders’ family’s genealogy, I’ve come across a mystery of sorts.  The mystery being was William and/or Lewis Sanders involved in the capture and slaying of Edward Teach, better known as, Black Beard the Pirate.  Lewis Sanders was my 6G Grandfather and William was my 6G Uncle.

The plot started when I read an old letter, written in 1895 by Thomas Bailey Saunders and sent to one of his nephews.  The letter was posted on Gary B. Sanders website, “Sanders, of Randolph and Montgomery Counties, North Carolina, and Jackson County, Alabama, and other counties in Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas”, and I quote,

“There were two Saunders brothers who came from England long before the Revolutionary war. At that time the pirates were very bad on the North Carolina coast. The governor of Virginia outfitted a vessel to catch them, and in making up the crew he took one of these brothers, and they caught old Black Beard, the pirate, and hung him to the mast arm. The crew got a good deal of money, and when that brother came back he left the U out of his name. This is the reason so many spell their names Sanders”.

Spending a good deal of time researching the events, I was surprised that, actually, the Governor of North Carolina was in league with Black Beard.  In fact his Secretary was captured and convicted of accepting funds from the pirate.  In reality, the Governor of Virginia gave two unarmed sloops, Ranger and Jane, to Lt. Maynard of the Royal Navy.

On November 22, 1718, Black Beard engaged the two, unarmed sloops in Oracoke Inlet off the coast of North Carolina and opening fire on them with his cannons, he almost destroyed both ships. Teach closed in on Maynard’s ship, Ranger, boarded it and engaged Maynard personally in combat.  Maynard shot him and both men swung their cutlasses, Teach’s shattering Maynard’s and as Teach was going to deliver the death blow, according to an Autumn, 1992 article in the “Colonial Williamsburg”, magazine, now online, his throat was slashed by a stout Scot among Maynard’s crew.

To claim the reward Maynard cut off Teach’s head.  Returning to his home port of Hampton, as a warning to other pirates, Teach’s head was placed on a stake near the mouth of the Hampton River.

Another quote from Gary B. Sanders website, further whetted my appetite for intrigue, “… I think it’s likely that William Sanders of Anson County, North Carolina may be the brother of Lewis Sanders of Fairfax County, Virginia.  William and Lewis appear to be of the same generation.  DNA tests show William was related to Lewis.  These two may well be the two emigrant brothers described in a somewhat jokingly fashion in the 1890’s letter of Thomas Bailey Saunders.”

Being left with questions that, in all probability, will never be answered, I can only make some assumptions and ask a few more questions.  Both brothers were of Scots-Irish ancestry. Both brothers also took the “U” out of Saunders.  Was one of the Saunders boy’s a part of Maynard’s crew?  Was one of them the “stout, Scot”?

What if the old story is really true?

More Family History

This week, after forty-four years in hiding, a piece of my family’s history finally turned up in, very fitting, a gun case. In 1966, Sam W. Bryan, at the time, eighty years old, dictated the following stories about Brinson Bryan, his Father, my Great Grandfather, to Lenora Bryan Peters, his Niece. This correspondence filled a gap in Brinson’s life and is also very interesting.

In 1847 Brinson Bryan riding a formerly, wild mustang horse and packing a .36 cal. pistol, joined a wagon train heading for California. His pistol, a Paterson Colt with a nine-inch barrel was issued to him when, as an eighteen, year old, in 1845 he joined the Texas Rangers.

Brinson had just completed service in the Mexican War with Bell’s Rangers. They served along the Texas/Mexican border and their job was keeping the supply lines open to General Zachary Taylor’s army encamped south of Monterrey. Regularly they had scrapes with Mexican soldiers, Mexican guerillas and marauding Comanche and Apache Indians.

The wagon train, driving a herd of oxen along with them, averaged about twenty-five miles a day and all the way out and back they had scrapes with Indians. One funny, but dangerous, story was when a lone, young Indian jumped Brinson, threw a tomahawk at him and charged. He subdued him, just as the main body of the Indians arrived. Brinson wanted to fight the tomahawk thrower, but the Indian Chief said the young, Indian’s Father would whip him. Which he did, leaving the young Indian some major whelps!
On another occasion, as the wagon train was lumbering along, Brinson was out hunting, he shot a bear, took it back to the train, skinned it and the folks enjoyed the bear steaks. At the same time, he and the other hunters came across a bee cave, robbed the hive, put the honey in the bearskin and enjoyed it all the way to California.

In 1849, coming back from California, he stopped for a drink of water at a spring west of Waco, Texas. Up rambled a bear, Brinson wasted no time, shot it with his pistol, got his drink and headed on into Waco. At the time Waco had one saloon and one log cabin house.

Family stories have Brinson guiding wagon trains to California, but we “lost” him until 1855 when he purchased land in Hill County, Texas, after that, a blank until 1862 when he enlisted as a sharpshooter in the 40th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Sam’s stories also make no mention of the 1850-66 time frame.

Back then, things weren’t very easy, manual labor and hard work was the norm. Just think about walking and riding a horse from Texas to California! Men and women were tough and had to be strong just to exist from day to day. Where has all of that strength and toughness gone?

Recognition For Buck Barry

Buck Barry, my 2G Uncle, came to Texas in 1845 and this past Saturday, in Walnut Springs, Texas, I attended a presentation, “Character In Action” about Col. Buck Barry and Capt. Jack Cureton. Cureton, like Buck, was also a Texas Ranger and fought Indians, rustlers and thieves with him. Both men made their homes in Bosque County, in what later became Walnut Springs. Much more had been written about Buck so most of the presentation was about him.

Bryan Sowell, author of ‘TEXAS CENTRAL HEADQUARTERS, Walnut Springs”, gave the talk and spoke about what it is that makes one man’s life endure and another forgotten? What makes us cherish Buck’s memory; his courage, character, compassion, rugged individualism, the common good or his love of democracy?

This picture, a Daguerroetype, was made in Corsicana in 1853. It’s probably not the first of this type made in Texas, but it may be the oldest surviving one.

He cited quotes that highlighted these characteristics. A few of these quotes follow.

From the Meridian Tribune on April 9, 1909, a Walnut Springs pioneer, R.W. Aycock described Buck as “One of the best men that ever lived when treated right, but if a man didn’t want to do the right thing, or wanted to pick a scrap, he could get it out of Buck any time!”

According to Dr. James Greer, his biographer and long time family friend, “As a Ranger with Hays, he met the Mexicans; as a sheriff, he encountered outlaws; as a frontiersman, he fought Indians; as a ranchman in Bosque County, he was the nemesis of horse thieves and experienced the annoyance of fence cutting; as a Texan and Southerner during the Civil War, he saw four years of the most grueling and the most undesirable type of military service protecting the Texas frontier from Indians.”

According to Buck, in an article he wrote titled, “Why Do Christians Believe and Atheists Disbelieve In The Bible”? He writes, “God being a spirit without body or form, yet possessing the greatest power known to man; possessing the power of all the elements that are necessary to create; possessing all the power of an infinite and perfect being.”

His biographer sums up Buck Barry very well, “No writer of western stories has created better fiction of adventure that this quite, early settler lived.”

Enough said!

A Position Of Trust

“Webster’s Dictionary” says a trustee is, “A person, usually one of a body of persons or group, appointed to administer the affairs of a company, administration, etc.” In Texas, a Prison Trustee is an inmate that performs certain functions outside of the inmates normal prison duties. A definite position of trust!

In January 1951, my Dad, John H. Bryan, went on, it turned out, an unusual quail hunt, on some very private property. The property in question was owned by the State of Texas, and on it was a State Prison Farm. My Dad’s Brother-in law, and my Uncle, was Rehabilitation Director for the prison system and he had arranged for my Dad to hunt birds there.

Another unusual item was that the State’s bloodhounds would hunt quail, and wouldn’t you know it, the Warden of the prison farm assigned a “special” Trustee, along with two dogs to accompany my Dad. The Trustee in question, the Warden’s favorite, was in for robbery and would soon be paroled. His prison job was training the dogs to track escapees and, for visiting dignitaries, he had also trained them to track quail.

Returning from the hunt with a nice mess of birds, my Dad said, “We had a great time today!” I questioned him, “What’s this “we” business? You went hunting by yourself.” He grinned and said, “Me and the Trustee. His dogs did such a good job that I let him shoot a couple of birds.” My Mom was horrified. She exclaimed, “Bryan, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard. He could have shot you and been half way to Dallas before they missed him or you!” He grinned again and said, “Aw Honey, he’s getting out in three months, was really a nice young man and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to mess up his parole.”

The incident passed, but two weeks later the hunt was brought vividly back to our minds. The headlines of the afternoon newspaper, “The Houston Chronicle”, blared, “Trustee Escapes From Prison Farm.” Wouldn’t you know it, the dog trainer Trustee was the escapee. My Dad called the Warden of the prison farm, who was just as surprised as my Dad was by the event.

The Warden told my Dad the story (which wasn’t in the paper) of how the dog trainer Trustee just walked off and when the officers sent the dogs after him, he just told them to “kennel up” and they went back to their kennels. Three times the dogs were sent out and three times they returned. By then the officers figured he was long gone and he was!
Years later I asked my Uncle whatever happened to the dog trainer Trustee. He laughed and said that he was never found.

Maybe the State of Texas didn’t look for him too hard?

Family Stories – More

Below, we pick up Howard Bryan’s tale of another turkey that succumbed to his muzzle loader. At the time of this story, Howard still lived on his farm in Appomattox County, Virginia.

“Turkey Stories
By Howard Bryan

A few years later I was headed to the back of our farm, hoping to get some tender venison for the freezer. Again I was carrying the flintlock. As I approached the edge of the mature oak woods that covered the Western part of the farm a flock of turkeys flushed, and flew to the West.

I thought that they would fly across the creek bottom behind the ridge where I flushed them and that they would go to the next ridge over, so I ran as quickly as possible to the Northern edge of that ridge. I had no sooner settled between a large oak and some thin cedar scrub when I heard the turkeys talking to each other. I did have time to get rid of the bright orange scarf I wear when moving about during hunting season before a doe and a young, slightly spotted fawn approached in company with the leading turkeys.

Now turkeys, with their keen eyesight and sensitivity to color; and deer, with their keen sense of smell and their acute hearing; are a bad combination for a hunter. Either will give an alarm, and everything close around the alerted animal will flee. Fortunately the slight breeze was in my face, and I had not walked into the area where the deer were moving, so scent was not a problem.

As I raised the rifle barrel the lead turkeys veered slightly away, just over the ridge, so all I could see were bobbing heads. The doe and her fawn saw the movement and froze. None of them spooked. The decision was, doe or turkey, since both were in season then.

I decided on the turkey, since I would have to shift about 30 deg. left to cover the deer, which was already alert. Sure enough, one turkey’s head and neck bobbed right into the line of the barrel. I aimed and shot, breaking the turkey’s neck. The distance wasn’t great, about 35 yards, but it was one of the most difficult shots I ever made; one that my wife still calls the luckiest shot she ever heard of. It’s difficult to impress some women!”