Category Archives: Ancestry

My family, then and now.

Family Stories

Besides blogging, I have spent time researching my ancestors and particularly intriguing, was why my 2G Grandfather, John Bryan, sometime prior to 1847, changed his surname from Bryant to Bryan. Having drawn to a dead end trying to trace his forebearers I stumbled onto an old Bryan, family tree, then researching various wills, probates and other family trees, surmised that indeed, he changed his name.

Posting a story on Ancestry about the name change, soon I received a note from Howard Bryan in Virginia thanking me for clearing up a similar problem he had with John’s Father, Benjamin Bryant. It turned out that Howard and I, besides a common ancestry, enjoy hunting.

He sent me two excellent, stories about his turkey hunting exploits with a muzzle loader! Each is a neat story and I want to share the first with everyone.

“Turkey Stories

One year while we were living on our farm in Appomattox County, VA, I was doing taxes on the last day of deer season. Needless to say, it was an irritation. While the old computer was digesting the expenses for the winery we were operating at the time, I was preparing to clean my flintlock rifle so I could put it away until the next year. It still had a charge in the barrel from the previous day’s hunt. As I was about to discharge the weapon to clear it, I decided that taxes could wait for a few minutes, and I walked into the woods about 200 yards from the winery.

I went into the woods a few yards to a small stream and leaned against a tree where I had been seeing deer. In a very few minutes I heard some scratching, and a turkey flew down off a ridge to the South and landed in a tree. She was followed by several more – I counted eleven in all, and all of them were looking at me, in my blue sweater and red shirt. The closest bird was about 110 yards away, which is a very long shot for a flintlock, even one as good as the one I was carrying.

Jim Hash of Appomattox County, had made the rifle for me a few years before, and he had stocked it with part of a wild cherry log from our farm that I had given him. It is a .50-caliber weapon with a 41-inch half round, half octagon barrel rifled for round ball. I have shot 3-shot groups at 50 yards with that rifle that overlapped like a clover leaf. All the mountings are iron except for a thumb piece of coin silver so it is a real hunting rifle, not a flashy thing.

I watched the turkeys for a minute, trying to decide how to sneak up on them while they watched. Finally I decided to be brazen about it, and walked towards them, zig-zagging my path, whistling a tune. I was able to nearly halve the distance before the nearest bird started acting anxious. By the time she started shifting like she was going to fly, I was behind a large poplar that served as a rest for the rifle. I needed that rest, for I was no longer exactly calm.

The 13-lb hen started moving at the flash from the pan, but the ball caught her at the wing roots, and she fell at the base of her pine tree. Needless to say, I went back to the taxes with a better frame of mind once the bird had been cleaned.”

Papa, That Ain’t No Coon

This story has been passed down through my family for well over a hundred years. I have heard it from my Dad and his Brothers and Sisters. Brinson and Fannie Bryan, who were living in McLennan County, near Riesel, Texas, sixteen miles south of Waco, were my paternal Great Grandparents. Their son, Peyton, who played a big role in this story, was my paternal Grandfather.

The dogs were barking and raising a racket outside, waking both Brinson and Fannie up from a sound sleep. Fannie was expecting their ninth, and she hoped the last, child the next month, December 1889 and with all the work around their place, Hominy Hill, she needed her sleep! Brinson figured they had a possum or ‘coon treed in the large oak tree near the hen house. Next thing he knew all eight of his kids were awake and asking him “Papa, what’s all the noise with the dogs?”
This picture of Brinson, twenty-one, was probably taken in California.

Brinson climbed into his heavy clothes, it was cold for mid November, and lit a coal oil lantern. His plan was to “chunk” the ‘coon out of the tree and not even mess with loading his .44 pistol. With all these kids around, it didn’t pay to leave the old pistol loaded. He handed the lantern to his oldest son, Peyton, slipped on his boots and said to him, “Let’s go run that varmint off.”

Peyton, taken around 1893.

Stepping outside and heading the hundred feet to the old, oak tree, with the dogs raising a ruckus, Peyton held the light up towards the tree and he and his Papa were greeted with two big, yellow eyes staring back at them. “Papa, that ain’t no ‘coon,” he exclaimed, as he and Brinson edged closer to the tree! There, crouched on a branch, eight feet above them was a very, large cat, rather a very large mountain lion!

This looked like another “tight spot” shaping up. Brinson had had his share of “tight spots” in his life. Joining the Texas Rangers in 1845 he had fought Mexicans and Indians during the Mexican War. After that war he guided wagon trains to California facing more Indians, wild animals and thieves. Next was his three and a half years of service with the Confederate Army of Tennessee and experiencing some of the fiercest battles of that bloody, war. He had married Fannie in 1867 and settled, hopefully, into a peaceful and quiet life of farming, mule trading and raising his family.

Now, he was being stared down by a big cat and knowing the dogs would keep the cat treed, he told Peyton, “Boy, hold the light on the cat while I get something to finish it off with!” That “something” happened to be his old Bowie knife, almost two feet of it, which he tied onto a walking stick, or Moses stick. Counting the knife and stick, his “lance” was nearly six foot long. He knew if he shot the cat with his pistol that it would die, but not before it would leap down on he and Peyton.

As Peyton held the light, Brinson shinnied up into the tree and with one thrust shoved the knife into the cat’s throat and then, with both hands, held on tight to the stick as the animal thrashed about, impaled on the knife. After it was over and the cat lay still on the ground, Brinson thought it funny that his three dogs could tree the lion and keep it treed, while the lion could easily kill the dogs and also how the light from a coal oil lantern had kept the cat off of them.

Apparently, the dogs had intercepted the cat before it had gotten into the hen house. It ended up a very lop sided victory for Brinson and Peyton, no dogs or chickens injured, just a little lost sleep.

This may have been the last mountain lion killed in McLennan County, Texas!

A Family Affair

In September 1861, in a scene that was being acted out all across the South, two young Texans, Will Collins, 21 and Levi Sanders, 23, left their homes, wives and young children in Henderson County and rode their horses to Dallas. There, they enlisted for twelve months service in a sharpshooter company, Company I, 6th Texas Cavalry, Confederate States Army. Col. B. Warren Stone signed up both. The Confederate Congress later extended their enlistment for the duration of the war.

Levi’s horse was worth $125.00 and his double barrel shotgun and Bowie knife were $25.00.

Levi, my maternal, Great Grandfather and Will, my Great Uncle, were brothers-in-law, Levi having married Susan, Will’s sister. They served together the rest of the war, getting sick with measles and mumps like most of the Texas troops. These men were tough and courageous but these two diseases hadn’t made it to Texas and easily swept through their camps.

In May and June, 1864, based on their service records, Levi was on special orders from Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk and Will was on detached service, his horse being unserviceable. There is a mention in their company’s reports that these men went back to Texas for horses and even came back with them!

political correctness

Just before WW I ended in 1918, my Uncle, Sgt. E. Jay Bryan, died in France from the flu. He had been in France for almost a year and had been through the all of the war, but the flu was the worst killer of our young service men!

Uncle E. Jay was a handsome young man as this picture, taken in 1917, just before he shipped over to France, shows!

Two years before, E. Jay’s National Guard unit, Company F, 3rd Infantry Regiment, was activated by the Army and served with Gen. Pershing during the Mexican Border Campaign of 1916. Company F, charged with defense of the Mexico/U.S. border was made up of men from central Texas.

Sixty years before, his Grandfather Brinson. M. Bryan, my Great Grandfather, also defended along the border during the Mexican War of 1846/47. He was part of a Texas Ranger contingent, Bell’s Rangers, also from central Texas.

Today, our southern border still remains a real problem area. It was simple in my forefather’s times, they just closed the border and ran the Mexicans back across. Things were much easier then before our Country became engulfed with political correctness and the disgusting pandering of our politicians.

Going through some of E. Jay’s stuff I came across the following hand written poem with credit given to no poet, perhaps he composed it himself? It is my pleasure to share it with everyone.


We’re camping on the Rio Grande with nothing much to do,
But wash our shirts and darn our socks, and darn the insects too.

We want the world to understand we’re not too proud to fight,
But draw the line at loafing here with things that sting and bite.

The Rattlers are a friendly lot and visit us by scores,
Tarantulas prefer our tents to sleeping out of doors.

In napping in our shoes and hats the scorpion persists,
We’ve also learned the Horned Toad is a harmless little oaf,
But we’re not a bit too proud to fight, but how we hate to loaf.”

Just like today, most of us, and definitely our military, loves this great country and remains proud to serve her! But, one thing remains a constant, our country’s freedom is more important than politics or political correctness!

Looking Back

When I was a youngster my Dad made sure that I spent a lot of time with his family on their farm outside of Marlin in Falls County, Texas. At that time, prior to WW II, rural farmers and ranchers in Texas didn’t have electricity, propane or butane. The Rural Electrification Agency didn’t arrive in Falls County until after the war.

Looking back I remember helping my Dad, draw water from the hand dug well and haul it the two hundred yards to the house. I remember filling the lanterns with coal oil. I remember the smokehouse with hams hanging around the vent hole in the tin roof and salt pork curing.

I remember us chopping fire wood for Grandma Bryan’s cook stove. If the pieces were too big she would send us both back out to re-split the wood with a stern command, “John H. and Jon, you know that those pieces are too big. Get yourselves back outside and do it right!” But the cobblers, fresh bread and rolls couldn’t be duplicated now. She was a magician with her wood stove! I remember her making lye soap in a huge black kettle and when it cooled washing my hands with it.

I remember finding my first arrowhead and looking around to be sure there weren’t any howling, Comanches around. I remember the first fish I caught in Pool Creek, bordering Grandma’s place. I remember the first covey of quail, exploding out of the fence line behind the peach orchard and how the whirr of their wings scared me, but how calm and sure my Dad and his brother, Roy, were when they were shooting them.

I remember my Dad patiently training me to shoot my first rifle, a Remington, Model 510, Targetmaster. I still have the old rifle and have trained two generation of Bryan children to shoot with it.

I remember climbing up into the peach trees and eating my fill of fresh, ripe peaches. I remember, as a lad of six, sneaking into Tom Norwood’s melon patch and appropriating one, almost as big as me. I remember the sting of the bull nettle that I ran into as I was hurriedly leaving the area.

I remember the outside toilet, a two holer complete with a Sears catalog, and having to check for black widows before you sat down. When you finished you had to drop a hand shovel full of lime through the hole on to the “pile”. A thankless job was cleaning out the outhouse! I don’t remember ever doing that chore.

A Tribute To Bubba

One of Brad’s friends and a former commander of his wrote this very touching letter about Brad. He couldn’t attend the funeral because he was deployed in Afghanistan. At the funeral last Saturday, another friend of Brad’s, SFC Tim Albee, who last year helped us make the shooting range at the ranch, read the letter to all of the attendees.

“In August of 2006 I had the pleasure of meeting a man who would become one of the very beast friends I have ever had. This man was Brad Bryan, Bubba, to his family and friends. Bubba had already been through a lot when I met him. Multiple surgeries had left their mark: physical scars and an altered speech pattern. These physical effects were plainly visible, but what was also immediately evident was an inner strength that told me that this man had the courage and determination it took to look the devil himself in the eye and come out on top. I knew immediately that there was no quit in this man. That he had what it took to beat something like cancer, and for a while he did just that. You never heard him complain. He never doubted his faith in Jesus Christ, and he never compromised his dignity.”

You see Bubba comes from good, hearty Texas stock. Starting with his Father, Jon Bryan, Bubba’s lineage goes back six generations to the founding of this great State. He has the blood of pioneers, lawmen, Soldiers, farmers and ranchers running through his veins. Those were men who knew what it took to build something out of nothing, in the face of great hardship, and then make it thrive. Bubba was just like them. His integrity was beyond reproach. His courage was never questioned. He did the hard right and always shunned the easy wrong. Bubba was a man among men. He was my counsel when my path wasn’t clear. He was an example for me, an example of what a real man was made of, of what I and every other man around him should strive to be”

“Bubba was a great Soldier, one I was proud to have in my command. But it will never be his prowess as a Soldier that made him stand out. It was his spirit, the man that he was. It is his devotion to family and friends and his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ, even in the face of adversity, that makes him stand out. Bubba was my friend, one I love like a brother, and I will never forget him. Louis Lamour used a quote when describing men like Bubba. He said that a man like Bubba was “One to ride the river with”. Bubba there is not a river in all creation that I would not ride with you. I miss you, I love you, and I will see you in Heaven because I know that is exactly where you are.”



Two hundred and thirty-three years ago, July 4, 1776, our country proclaimed its freedom from England and today, as we celebrate this event and I thought it fitting to relate a family story about my 5G Grandfather, William Murrill and an action he was involved in during our Revolutionary War. This event was passed down through the family and recorded in the diary of a 3G Uncle of mine, James Buckner “Buck” Barry. Years after Buck wrote his diary, it was copyrighted and published as “Buck Barry, Texas Ranger And Frontiersman”. I have used family history and this book as my references.


Heavy gunfire erupted on the other side of the large pond and the twenty, man detail of Colonial Militia from Onslow County, North Carolina, started sprinting toward the shots. “Tony stay here and guard the pack horses,” William Murrill shouted as he ran past Tony, a family slave who served with William for the duration of the war. Tony was assisting the small unit that was on a prolonged scout along the coast for prisoners, rations and supplies.

The firing grew in intensity and was sustained for, to Tony, it seemed hours, when he saw two British Redcoats enter the water and swim towards him and the prize of horses and supplies that he was guarding. Thinking that William’s unit had been wiped out, he quickly hid behind a tree and kept a close watch on the enemy soldiers. When they came within gunshot range of the camp and saw the horses, they ducked behind a log in the water and tried to hide.

Tony breathed a sigh of relief when William and his victorious unit returned with no prisoners, but they carried the booty from the British camp, booty that included whiskey! William’s brother, my 5G Uncle, Kemp Murrill and another trooper, proceeded to get themselves drunk on the spoils. Tony told William about the Redcoats hiding behind the log in the pond. William immediately ordered them to come in with their hands over their heads.

As they were coming into camp, Kemp and the other drunk were going to shoot the prisoners, but William took their guns away and prevented a killing. Years later, Tony told Buck Barry, then a young boy, that they kept the prisoners for two days but he never saw them after that.

Feelings were real hard back then!

William Collins’ Demise

The more that I delve into my ancestry and family history, the more unique stories, or old, family tales, that I run across. This history encompasses valiant lawmen, outlaws, murderers and just plain, folks that all helped to tame this rough and tumble State we now call Texas!

William Collins Demise

William Collins was one of my maternal GG Grandfathers and before the Civil War moved his family from Jackson County, Alabama to Dallas County, Texas, along the Trinity River. In 1862, one of his sons, Van, joined the 6th Texas Cavalry with my G Grandfather, Levi Sanders, who in 1858 had married Williams daughter, Susan. Another son Robert, as we’ll find out later, turned out “wrong”.
In 1864, William sold some cattle, it is unknown if they were his cows or not, and was paid in gold. Remember, at that time, Texas was mired in our Country’s Civil War and cold, hard gold was an extremely scarce commodity. William’s neighbors found out about this and:

1. Either hung him, as a means of torture, to get him to tell where the gold was hidden and went a little too far with their efforts and killed him.
2. Or, hung him as a cattle rustler.

My choice is the former.

Now for a real interesting twist. At the time of William’s demise, one of his neighbors was the Shirley family, recently moved to the area after being “burned out” in Missouri for their Southern sympathies. One of the Shirley siblings was Myra Belle Shirley, better known later as Belle Starr, the noted female outlaw!

Back to Robert Collins. Family stories indicate that in 1864 he was forced to enlist in the Confederate Army, and as quick as he could, deserted. Since he couldn’t return to his home, he probably high tailed it to the Indian Territory. Later he joined the Belle Starr gang and even returned to Dallas County and killed some of the men that had hung his Father, William.

Another interesting twist to this story was that in 1873, Belle and her husband, Jim Reed and their gang, robbed a wealthy Creek Indian, who was said to have stolen a large sum of gold from his tribe. Torturing the Indians, they tied ropes around both the Creek and his wife’s neck and “hung” them multiple times until the gave up the location of the stolen hoard.

I wonder where they learned this trick?

My Kind Of Politician

There’s another famous relative in my family tree, a Great Uncle, Morgan G. Sanders (1878-1956). He was my Grandmother, Linnie Ross Sanders Wallace’s, brother and was a Democrat back when southern Dems were very conservative. But that’s getting ahead. Morgan was a teacher, newspaper owner, Assistant Clerk of the Texas Senate, lawyer, County Attorney, District Attorney and then, he really hit the ‘big time’.

In 1920 he was elected to the United States Congress and served from March 4, 1921 until January 3, 1939. In 1921, he also was admitted to practice law before the United States Supreme Court. When John Nance Garner was sworn in as Vice President in 1933, Morgan took his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. This is the committee that originates taxes, tariffs and funding of our Government.

Morgan was a staunch supporter of states rights and a balanced federal budget and broke with President Roosevelt over the packing of the Supreme Court and many other New Deal programs. He sure sounds like my kind of legislator! Breaking with FDR proved costly because he lost his reelection bid in 1938 and then returned to Texas.

Morgan died in 1956. “Uncle Morg” was one of Mother’s favorites and she spoke about him often. I never met him but I did meet his Son, Dr. Gurley Sanders. I’m fortunate to have men like Morgan Sanders in my ancestry!

Rear Guard

Another of my family stories follows and I believe it’s ‘neat’ to have these passed down, even 144 years after they happened.
Rear Guard
During our country’s Civil War, in December 1864, Gen. John Bell Hood commanded the Confederate Army of Tennessee and after their disastrous, and loosing, battles at Franklin and Nashville, Tennessee, as the long, arduous retreat from Nashville back across the Tennessee River began, Gen. Hood ordered Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest to command the rear guard

Among the units Forrest had in his Cavalry Corps that he selected for this defense, was the Texas Cavalry Brigade, commanded by Brig. Gen. Sul Ross and, in which one of my maternal Great Grandfathers, Levi Sanders’, unit was part. Forrest also asked Hood for at least an infantry brigade, hopefully 4,000 men, to also be assigned to him.

An infantry brigade, numbering 1500 men, mostly barefooted, was quickly cobbled together from the remnants of four brigades. Included in this group was Ector’s Brigade and what was left of the 10th Texas Cavalry Regiment (Dismounted).

Another Great Grandfather, (paternal), Brinson Bryan, was in this unit. By that stage of the war, most regiments that had begun the war with over 1,000 men on their rolls, were down now to less that 200!

One picture remains of Brinson Bryan, taken around 1846, after the Mexican War. Thanks to several house fires, no picture remains of Levi Sanders.

Both men fought side by side from December 17 to the 27th, 1864, and it is not known if they ever met, but the rear guard that included these 2 of my Great Grandfather’s, performed its duty flawlessly and saved what was left of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

The rear guard was in constant contact with Union troops the entire retreat, winning each battle and skirmish. Federal General Thomas said, “Hood’s Army on the retreat from Tennessee was a bunch of disorganized rabble. But the rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last.”
After the war ended both men were active in the same veteran reunion groups and I’m sure their paths crossed.

My family strives to keep this heritage intact and something to treasure. These men fought for four years for something they believed in – states rights. They lost the war, but we’ll always remember their sacrifice!