Turning High Plains to Farm Ground

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Absalom Terrell Collier was born December 14, 1876 in Upson County, Georgia.  His parents were Robert Terrell and Francis Ann (Shattles) Collier.  Sometime after 1880, his family loaded their belongings in a wagon and headed west.  They settled in East Texas.

Ab (as he was called) grew up in the rolling pine and hardwood hills of East Texas.  He was lanky and probably over 6’4” tall.  Oral family history tells us as a young man he broke wild horses to ride.  In 1895, he married Eudora Belle Stewart in Melrose, Texas.   They made their home in the Melrose area of Nacogdoches County.  Ab and Dora had six children who survived past infancy:  Alton Terrell, Lula Bell, Christine Sybil, Pauline, Lora Pearl, and Douglas Woodrow.  As were most of the men in rural East Texas, Ab was a farmer.

Eudora was born in Mississippi in 1877.  Her father, Eli Stewart, was a Primitive Baptist minister whose travels to deliver the Message led his family from Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana, finally putting down roots in the East Texas county of San Augustine, just east of Melrose.  Dora’s mother passed away when Dora was only six or seven.   Eli was married three times; researchers should note his first and third wife were both named “Jane”.

Eli Stewart and his third wife, Jane Pate Stewart. Eli is holding Sallie, Jane is holding John. Eudora Belle Stewart is standing. Photo was taken 1893.

Eli and his third wife are buried in the Shiloh Cemetery near the Denning community of San Augustine County, Texas.

 

Dora’s sister and the oldest sibling, Mary Elizabeth, was 25 when their mother died.  Mary helped Eli raise her brothers and sisters and was no doubt was an important person in young Dora’s life.  Mary Elizabeth Stewart, married William (Billy) Barton O’Neal in 1879.  They made their home in San Augustine County, where they stayed at least through the 1920 census.

William (Billy) Barton O’Neal as a young man.

Billy and Mary O’Neal left San Augustine County sometime after 1920.  The early 1920’s found them farming near Lubbock, Texas.

This is a low resolution photo of William (Billy) O’Neal on a mule. The setting appears to be in Lubbock County, Texas.

The 1920s were a time of change for American farmers.  During the years of World War I farmers prospered due to high prices resulting from war-torn Europe’s diminished agricultural capacity.   To address the high demand for agricultural products, the United States government encouraged an expansion of farms and farming assistance programs.  However, as Europeans recovered from the devastation of the war, U. S. agricultural exports fell and prices began to slide.  With the mistaken thought that prices would stabilize, the government continued to promote farming expansion.

As the 1920s progressed, it became more and more difficult to make farming pay in the small fields cleared between the forested East Texas hills.  The close-knit Collier family was hard hit as farming prices continued to plummet.  Cheap land was available elsewhere, including the Texas Panhandle.  And it was being discovered that the grass-covered High Plains of the Panhandle, once known as part of the Great American Desert, could be extremely productive farmland under the right conditions.

Dora began experiencing some medical issues, and her doctor suggested she consider moving to a drier climate.  Meanwhile, the farming economy in East Texas seemed to be getting worse.  Ab and Dora decided to take their family to the Lubbock, Texas area where sister Mary and her husband, Billy O’Neal were raising cotton.  They most likely made the move in the late fall of 1925 or early winter of 1926, after the cotton harvest.

Ab, with sons Alton and Douglas, loaded equipment, livestock, and other belongings on a train and went ahead by rail.  The rest of the family followed by automobile.  In the group traveling by car were Dora and her children, Lula Bell (with toddler Helen and her husband, Burette Doss), Pauline, and Lora Pearl.  Daughter Christine Sybil was married, had left Nacogdoches, and was building her new life with her husband.  Also included in the car were Alton’s wife, Tommie Inez, and the couple’s three sons:  Cecil Ensley, Homer Raiford, and Lenox Ravonne.  It was no doubt a tiresome trip, covering some 450-500 miles in a 1920’s automobile, with 6 adults and 4 children, and over roads that, compared to today’s, were probably poorly paved and not well-maintained.

1921 Road Map of Texas, stars mark the locations of Lubbock (left) and Nacogdoches (right) counties.  The two areas are 450-500 miles apart.

The family moved into the Wollforth area, southwest of Lubbock, where they worked a place known as the Napper Farm.

The group had not been in the area long before the shine began to wear off their move.   The monotonous landscape with unending horizon and constant sun and wind was in sharp contrast to the green hills of East Texas.

 

 

Ab found farming conditions in the High Plains were different and with a set of unique challenges. The wide-open expanses made farming large tracts possible, but the single-row farming implements Ab brought from East Texas were out of place.

Farmer with one-row, horse-drawn plow.

Even horse-drawn multi-row equipment was giving way to mechanization with the introduction in 1918 of Ford’s mass-produced tractor, the Fordson.

Multi-row horse-drawn farm equipment contrasted with mechanized farming equipment of the 1920s.

Rain was scarce, averaging less than 20 inches of rainfall per year, as opposed to the 40-50 inches they were accustomed to in East Texas.  Winter snow was common, and a wind-driven 3- or 4-inch snow could result in 2-foot drifts if an obstacle was there to stop it.

Panhandle farmers had yet to realize the fine, fertile soil was delicately held in place by shallow, tenacious grass roots.   Turning the soil with a plow opened the ground up to erosion by the never-ending wind, generating immense, suffocating dust storms.  During periods of extreme drought these conditions combined to ultimately result in the infamous Dust Bowl days of the early 1930s.

Dust Storm

Then on April 20, 1926, William (Uncle Billy) Barton O’Neal died.  He was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.

 

Ab managed to purchase multi-row farming equipment.  The Collier family left the Napper Farm and moved to an area northeast of Lubbock where they worked the Duncan Farm.  Meanwhile, the Napper Farm was purchased by Riley Micajah (“Wig”) O’Neal, son of Billy and Mary O’Neal.

Dora and Ab Collier in the Lubbock Area

 

Alton and Inez Collier with sons Cecil (on left), Homer (in back), and Lenox (right front). Photograph made in the Lubbock area circa 1926.

 

Burette Doss holding daughter, Helen, Lula Bell (Collier) Doss and Homer Collier.  In front of windmill in Lubbock, Texas area.

 

Left to right: Lula Bell (Collier) Doss, Homer Collier (boy in front), Helen Doss (in bonnet), Lora Pearl Collier, and Cecil Collier. Lubbock, Texas area.

In 1927, Henry (Bud) Turner drove from Nacogodches to Lubbock with the intention of taking Pauline Collier for his bride.  The two were married in the Lubbock area on July 22, 1927.   In October of 1927, the newlyweds, along with Burette and Lula Bell Doss and daughter Helen, returned to Nacogdoches.  Lula would give birth to her second child the following month.

Sometime in 1928, Mary O’Neal moved to Midland, Texas to be with her son, Bascom Ely “Slim” O’Neal.  She may have been ill when she relocated.

On October 23, 1928, Ab wrote to Burette Doss in Nacogdoches and asked him to find him a farm – they were coming home.  Sometime between the time of cotton harvest in December 1928 and January 1929, the Colliers returned to Nacogdoches.  Family history tells that a crowd gathered at the train depot when the equipment and livestock were unloaded.  Locals had never seen such massive farming equipment.  Ab parked the equipment at his farm where the curious came from miles around to ask if they could look at these High Plains implements.

Mary O’Neal died in Midland, Texas on February 13, 1929.  She was buried in the City of Lubbock Cemetery.  Here sister, Eudora, was back in East Texas and was not able to attend the funeral.

 

The move to Lubbock left lasting impressions.  Homer Collier, son of Alton and Inez, started first grade in Lubbock.  Homer remembered his hands were always chapped by the wind so he tried to keep his hands closed so the redness wasn’t obvious.

Homer Collier, First Grade, Fall 1928

Pearl and Douglas were caught outside in one of the characteristic dust storms.  They were able to make their way home by holding on to and following the wire fence.  Lula often told her grandchildren how lightning would strike a barbwire fence and travel along the fence great distances.

Dora said Ab spent all the time they were in Lubbock chasing his hat!

Colliers in Atlanta

Home of George Washington (“Wash”) Collier, Atlanta, Georgia

 

The late Donald Collier was an avid genealogist and family historian.  His papers represent years of research in courthouses and other repositories of historical information.  Much of his work included the Colliers of Atlanta, although the relationship with Donald’s Vines Collier line was never proved.  More DNA testing could perhaps help to clarify if there is a relationship.

One document in the papers of Donald Collier was a history written in 1947 by Rusha Wesley.  Entitled “The Collier Family”, it was presented to the Atlanta Historical Association in conjunction with a founding celebration.  The paper provides a summary of the history of Colliers in Atlanta.

One of the most widely recognized Collier names in Atlanta is George Washington Collier, generally know as “Wash”.  Wash Collier is recognized as the “first merchant of Atlanta” for his combination store-post office, which also made him the first Postmaster.  His home, built sometime around 1868, still stands today in what is known as the Ansley Park residential district of Atlanta.  The house was built on the same site as his father’s house, which was erected in 1822 and destroyed in 1864.

There is much known in local Atlanta history about the Colliers.  Perhaps this post will serve as an introduction for future posts on that subject.  Here is the paper, “The Collier Family”, written by Rusha Wesley.

Rusha Wesley The Collier Family

 

More from Agnes Paschal, 94 Years – The Abraham Hill Drowning Incident

Birdsong House, 2017

Here is another story of the Vines Collier family told by a first-hand acquaintance and neighbor in the book, Ninety-Four Years, Agnes Paschal.  (see the CHF post Agnes Paschal:  The Vines Collier Family and Salem Baptist Church, dated January 19, 2019).  The book, originally published in 1871, contains much information about the community around Salem Baptist Church.    Now available through The Reprint Company, Spartanburg, South Carolina, this historical memoir of Agnes Paschal and her family was written by her son, George W. Paschal, following her passing.  The writing style is typical of that of the 1800s.

This particular event took place in 1818 and involves 43-year old William Collier, son of Vines, and William’s two friends, Abraham Hill and Freeman Birdsong.  The three lived in relative close proximity southeast of Lexington, Georgia.  Collier and Birdsong lived along Long Creek, while Hill lived some distance away.  Abraham Hill was a benefactor of Agnes Paschal’s family.  The book characterizes him as a man of great wealth and influence.

The three neighbors, having spent an evening in Lexington, were returning on horseback to their respective homes.  The book speculates, but with quite a degree of certainty, that the men may have been drinking, but were “not intoxicated in the sense of that country.”

Their path took them along what is now Highway 78, which runs from Lexington to Washington.   At the time of this story, the road continued on past Washington to provide the most direct route to Augusta.

The three stopped to water their horses at the ford where the road crossed Long Creek.  Birdsong watered his horse and went ahead to his house, which was on the road a little over a mile away.  When Collier’s horse finished drinking, he rode on to his home, located approximately two miles to the south.  Hill was left to continue on alone to his residence.  Hill and Birdsong both lived along the same route so the question later arose as to why Birdsong did not wait until Hill’s horse had watered and the two could have traveled on together.

Hill’s horse arrived at home without rider or saddle.  The next morning the horse was backtracked to the crossing and then 400 yards downstream to a beaver pond where Hill’s body was found along with the saddle.  There was no evidence of violence or any suggestion of foul play.  However, it was never clear why Hill had left the main road and gone into the forest.  Many questions were raised about the death of this prominent citizen but the mystery was never solved.

 

Here is the text from the book, Ninety-four Years, Agnes Paschal.

… Abraham Hill, upon a part of whose estate we lived, was a man of warm heart and genial habit. . . He belonged to one of the wealthiest, most extensive, and influential families in the county, and indeed in the South…

Abraham Hill, in the fall of 1818, had gone to Lexington on horseback, as was his wont.  He returned on the Augusta Road, accompanied by two of his neighbors, William Collier and Freeman Birdsong, one of whom resided on the west and the other on the east side of Long Creek, each about 300 yards from the stream.  Collier rode with them to Long Creek in order to water his horse.  Their horses drank in the creek, and Birdsong rode forward to his residence.  Hill should have accompanied Birdsong, as his own residence lay three miles farther down the road.  But, as Birdsong left the horses of Hill and Collier drinking, perhaps he thought little of it.  Collier turned his horse and rode back to his residence.  Hill’s horse was tracked from the ford, four hundred yards down the creek through a wooded swamp, until he came to an obstruction known as the Beaver Pond, which was a small lake of water seemingly formed by the branch from Birdsong’s spring.  The lake was of the depth of eight or ten feet, of the width of two hundred feet, and of the length of one hundred yards.  In the edge of this pond Abraham Hill was discovered next morning at a point where his saddle had fallen off.  His horse was found at home, tracked back through the woods to the pond.  There were no evidences of violence which might not have been caused by falling from his horse.  There was every evidence that the horse had swam from bank to bank time and again.  But whether this was before or after he lost his rider there were no means of determining.  There was no road which should have induced the man voluntarily to have taken that direction home, although the course was a little nearer.  It was believed that neither of the three neighbors who were last seen together was entirely sober, although not intoxicated in the sense of that country.  Collier and Birdsong were men of unimpeachable integrity; and they were each at their homes immediately after they parted with Hill.  The mystery was never solved.  Many of the friends and relations of the unfortunate man attended the coroner’s inquest and the funeral; and such search was made as the means of detection at that day afforded, but with no kind of success.

In 2017, the remnant hull of the Freeman Birdsong house could be seen along Highway 78.  The tall frontal columns had been sold and removed earlier.

Staff Sergeant James Lester Collier, United States Army Air Corps

James Lester Collier was born 10 May 1918 Near Center City, Mills County, Texas and died 26 January 1945 Mindanao, Philippines.  He was the fifth child born to Hardy Ransom (Vines, Robert, Efford, Isaac, Hardy, James Lester) and Willie Mason Collier. He grew up near Center City in Mills County, Texas, and graduated from Star High School, Star, Mills County, Texas.

When the census was taken in April 1940 he was living in Abilene, Taylor County, Texas, where he was employed as a bookkeeper by the South Texas Lumber Company.

On 26 March 1941, James Lester enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and was assigned to the  San Angelo Air Corps Basic Flying School at Goodfellow Field, at San Angelo, Tom Green County, Texas, as a pilot trainee. At some point during this training he was washed out of the program, reportedly for being “too big of a dare devil.”

On 5 June 1943 James Lester married Aleen A. Simcik in Tom Green County, and at some point in time shipped out to the South Pacific where he was assigned to the Personnel Section of the 400th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 90th Bombardment Group (Heavy), of the Army Air Corps’ 5th Air Force.

On 18 October 1944 he wrote a letter to his older sister Mable: “Somewhere in New Guinea. Landed safely and I really was glad to get back on land again.” He also stated that when he got there he “received twenty-three letters so all I done this morning was read letters, write some, and watch it rain.”

In another letter to Mable on 23 January 1945, that was posted on the 25th, he wrote: “In the future send my mail to APO 321, the rest of the address is the same. I hope I have some mail there a short time after I get there.”

What he didn’t, and couldn’t say, was that his unit was moving to a base they were opening in the San Jose area, Mindoro, Philippines. On 26 January 1945 Staff Sergeant James Lester Collier boarded a B24 Bomber (J Model, Serial Number 44-41254) along with Lt Truesel’s crew, as a passenger. The plane crashed on the island of Mindanao, Philippines.

 

In a letter that he wrote on 30 April 1970, the only crash survivor stated: “We crashed near Cantilan, Mindanao. One of the guerilla soldiers that found the wreckage came to the U.S. a few years ago. I knew him pretty well before I left there. Due to my physical condition at the time I was unable to tie everything together and he really was able to tell me much that I did not find out at the time. We crashed about twenty miles inland on the north slope of a Mt. Maharo. The weather was very bad and the Japanese did not see or hear the crash I guess. The guerilla soldiers arrived at the scene first and buried all in a common grave. Later as you know they were reburied in St. Louis, MO. This man also supervised the removal of the bodies from the common grave. I hid from them as well as the Japanese for a few days. I later went to a farm house and they got me to the guerilla army, who had a Doctor and medicine.”

 

 

On 10 February 1950, Staff Sergeant James Lester Collier along with seven other victims of the plane crash were reinterred in a common grave at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery outside of St. Louis, Missouri.

 

 

A big “Thank You” to Bobby Carter, nephew of James Lester Collier, for providing this post.

Glynn Virden Collier, 1922 – 2020

Glynn Virden Collier, of Goldthwaite, Texas died March 11, 2020 at the age of 97.  He was descended from Efford Cobb Collier (a grandson of Vines Collier) and Elizabeth Singleton Harris.  In 1857, Efford Cobb left Upson County, Georgia and relocated his family to Texas.

Glynn Virden Collier’s line from Vines is as follows:

Vines Collier and Sarah Elizabeth Williamson

Robert Collier and Martha Marshall Booker

Efford Cobb Collier and Elizabeth Singleton Harris

Isaac Groves Collier and Elizabeth Ann Phillips

Thomas Jefferson Collier and Martha Bell Virden

Glynn Virden Collier

Here is his obituary (courtesy of Stacy-Wilkins Funeral Home).

Obit

In 2017, Kendel Hopper, a high school student, was awarded a scholarship by the Mills County Historical Commission for a essay that resulted from his interview with Glynn Collier (see below).

scholarship-hopper-on-collier-5

For more information about this line see the following posts

Efford Cobb Collier’s Bible and the Isaac Groves Collier Reunion in Goldthwaite , July 2018.

Searching for the Family of Efford Cobb Collier, December 2015

Collier Family History, by Elmer Roy Collier, January 2016

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