of my mother Connie and younger sister Ethyl, believed to have been
taken at the Texas State Orphanage in Corsicana, circa 1918. Within
a few days after this photo was taken, Ethyl (left) died of complications
of the now famous Spanish Flu epidemic, apparently leaving Connie
as the only survivor of her family's tragedy. A story that would
not be learned until after her death, over 80 years later.
Pearl Rea was born to her sharecropper parents, Myron and Nona on
December 15, 1907 on their farm in northwestern Van
Zandt County, Texas, in an area
called the "Rocky Point Community", northeast of Wills
a name and place all but forgotten to current residents. Her father
was a tenant farmer on 60 acres of land, about 4 miles from town.
mother, then only 61/2 years old, was orphaned in 1914, first by
the death of her 27 year old mother and the apparent loss of her
father a short while later. My mother described the memory of the
last time she saw her father. The date of the sequence of events
which became confused in stories told to me in my childhood. Mother
described her father tearfully saying goodbye at the train station
in Wills Point, in November of 1915. He apparently had gone away...but
why... and to where? She was never to see or hear from him again.
(There were times when I was puzzled as to how a father could not
attempt any further contact with his children. My concern was quieted
in the rationalization of how terribly difficult "the times" were.)
railroad station at Wills Point which exists today was not built
until 1927. It is located near the site which my mother described
as the last time she was to ever see her father, in November of
1915. She remembers him crying as he tearfully hugged his daughters,
who were then only 2 and 8 years old...and said his "goodbye'. She
was never to hear from him again.
and Ethyl were sent to live with their paternal grandmother, in
Alsa, a small community about 2 miles northwest of their farm, which
remains today, near the southwestern shore of Lake Tawakoni. In
May 1916, only 2 years later, their 63 year old grandmother succumbed
to the Spanish Flu in a terrible epidemic that swept the nation
and world, of millions of that generation of souls. Afterwards,
it was decided that the girls would then be placed in the Texas
State Home for Children in Corsicana... but why? (The state orphanage,
while then a large facility by any standard, no longer exists today).
December 14, 1918, while barely 5 years old and one day before Connie's
11th birthday, her sister Ethyl
died of pneumonia at the Corsicana orphanage... an apparent complication
of the Spanish
and Ethyl lived in separate dormitories...as children of similar
ages were housed together, apparently without regard or concern
for family relationships. My mother once described how she would
have to sneak into Ethyl's room at night, during her sister's illness
and crawl under her bed. She would lay on the floor beneath Ethyl,
praying that her presence would give her sister enough strength
to survive the pneumonia.
remember mother telling of the hot Texas summer nights in the orphanage.
In an apparent effort to control bed wetting, workers turned off
all the water hydrants in the early evening. Mother told of only
being able to obtain drinking water by dipping her hands in the
toilet. Such stories both horrified me and evoked a strong sense
of compassion for any child who had been placed there.
mother was never adopted from the orphanage. A friend of one of
the workers at the Corsicana State Home, a relatively successful
business woman in town...took a personal interest in her, apparently
in mother's early teenage years. Eventually this lady seemingly
took mother into a kind of "foster parent" or sponsoring relationship
and became the only "family" mother would ever relate to.
was a good student and became a cheerleader for the Corsicana Tigers
high school football team. Her foster "mother" first sent her to
the Texas State College for Women (TSCW) in Denton...and later to
nursing school in Galveston...which is where she met my father.
time to time in my youth, I would reflect on what it must have been
like for mother in her childhood. As horrible as her stories were
then, I never dreamed that in reality, I would some day learn the
truth was far worse than I had been told. Mother kept within her
a "secret" that she was never
to share with anyone. She kept it within her...even to her death.
were occasions in my youth when I would sense mother's melancholy.
Somehow there was a feeling within me that events such as Christmas
and birthdays were just not as joyous as they should have been.
I only recently have shared these feelings with my two sisters...who
themselves expressed a similar kind of pre-occupation that "special
times" were just not as we seemed to want them to be. There was
feelings about "family" were very much influenced by my knowledge
of mother's orphan experience. In addition, I became aware of a
sense that I was a "Waters"...as my paternal family background was
the only "roots" I had.
I just never allowed myself to think that there was another
maternal side of my heritage was never
It was as though they never existed.
felt fortunate to be a "Waters". The man I identified as my grandfather
had died 20 years before I was born. He was a successful Galveston
banker and business man. His legacy was a family of 3 sons. One
graduated in the second graduating class of the "Rice Institute"
in 1918. He went on to become a professor of Electrical Engineering
and remained at Rice for nearly 50 years. My younger uncle attended
Rice before joining the Corps of Engineers in the later part of
World War I. My dad became one of Texas's earliest aviators. He
had one of the first privately owned airplanes in Texas and eventually
went on to fly for Curtis Wright Aerial Service and the Air Activities
of Texas, an ancestor of Texas International and Continental Airlines,
then located at Houston Municipal... now William P. Hobby airport
dad's flying experience eventually led him amazingly enough...back
to Corsicana, where he was a squadron commander in the Civilian
Pilot Training (CPT) program in World War II. So it was with a considerable
degree of irony that I was born in Corsicana and can relate to an
era of small towns with red brick streets, in the manner that I
World War II ended, a lot of things changed once again for a great
many families...and mine moved back to Galveston.
only association I would eventually have with Corsicana later in
my youth, were the "Labor Day" and "Memorial Day" trips we seemed
to make each year, almost as a ritual. We often would drive through
the Corsicana State Home on such occasions. I remember observing
the children playing there...filled with a sense of compassion for
their "plight". My thoughts were often of being glad that I was
not one of them...then a moment later wondering what it must have
been like for my mother to be there.
all of the summer trips to Corsicana...we never
went to Wills Point...even though it was little more than another
hour's drive by automobile. We never talked about going there...we
never even went as far east as Athens. I sometimes found myself
wondering what Wills Point was like. It would exist almost exclusively
in my imagination...for over 50 years.
few weeks after my mother's death, I became filled with a sense
of wanting to "go home" to a place which I had never been. A series
of events began to unfold in the later half of 1996 which promoted
that yearning within me. I subsequently fulfilled that desire...and
it left me very much filled with a sense of "going home" at last.
My mother died in August 1996...at almost 89 years of age. She had
been confined to bed for over 4 years as a result of severe Osteoporosis.
I was living in Minnesota much of the time...but made dozens of
trips to see her, especially as her "time" seemed more imminent.
I remained filled with the feelings to be compassionate and generally
not bring up the subject of her childhood. Such talk would invariably
provoke an all too familiar melancholy relapse. It was just something
we did not talk about very much.
were times when my sisters and I would never-the-less feel compelled
to squeeze out just one more little fact about our "roots"...which
we would likely never be able to find out otherwise.
mother was well over 60 years old when she "discovered" a 1st cousin
who lived in Iowa. It seemed a most remarkable occurrence at the
time...for my mother had appeared to never know of any kindred family.
Eventually this led to a "family reunion" of 3rd and 4th cousins
from Oklahoma and northern Texas. One of my sisters had driven my
mother to the reunion...and while there, struck up a conversation
with a 3rd cousin from Norman, Oklahoma. Over time, my sister was
told that the cousin was aware that the story of the Asian flu epidemic
was not "all true"...but the cousin refused to expound on the story
dismissed the information as little more than something which would
confuse the issue. I chose not to trouble my mother in her last
months on earth.
a week before mother died, my older sister summoned the ability
to ask her for more information. She expressed to mother that she
was beginning to feel like it might be possible that our grandfather
was "not a very nice man". I was told that mother responded with
a quick "NO"... but offered very little more than that.
mother died...having never revealed her uncommon tragedy to anyone.
It first seemed as though her story would simply die with her.
north on 4th Street in Wills Point appears much as it must have
in my mother's youth. The white watering trough, originally placed
there for horses drawing wagons laden with cotton bails, remains
the "center piece" for the down-town district. Most of the buildings,
along with the brick pavement remain much as it looked in 1914...
a year marked by a notable crime in the annals of Wills Point.
many others in recent times, I have become infatuated with the concept
of the Internet. Several friends, not endowed with access to the
WWW have asked me to research bits of information...sometimes seemingly
both remote and trite. Each time, to my surprise...I found the answer
to their question. Now I was facing a challenge of my own.
job as an air traffic controller affords me time off during the
week that provides opportunities which others do not enjoy. My access
to the Internet is for the most part unlimited...as I research trivia
facts along with serious subjects.
was sitting at my computer a few months ago... pondering what I might
be able to discover about Wills Point.
preconceived thoughts convinced me that discovering any information
about my mother and her family...and something that occurred 80
years earlier...in a small town that I have never been to...would
virtually be impossible
decided to see if any information about Van Zandt County was available
on the "World Wide Web". Once again, to my surprise, I discovered
a website for several organizations in the area. One of these was
a Methodist church...which had an e-mail address displayed.
sent a message to the minister...asking if there were anyone in
the area who was interested in local history and/or genealogy.
fortunes were with me...as I received an E-mail response from a
wonderful fellow Texan named Mrs. Jane Gamon. It turned out that
Jane is active volunteer in a well equipped genealogy library in
Canton...as well as having written various articles on local history
and color. I could not have hoped for a better suited "sleuth" as
she began to refer to herself.
described the situation as best I could through the medium of E-mail.
I included the fact that my mother was born near Wills Point in
1907...and that she was orphaned in the period around 1917. I did
not know anything further. I then expressed that it might be possible
that Jane would discover "unpleasant" news...but that I wanted to
hear about whatever she would learn.
only a couple of days time, Jane e-mailed hand copied information
from newspaper articles which appeared in the "Wills Point Chronicle"
in May of 1914.
offices of the "Wills Point Chronicle"...still in weekly pub-lication...and
which, through articles published in 1914 and 1915... provided information
about "roots" I could never have imagined.
first newspaper article my "sleuth" located was dated May 21, 1914.
of Mrs. W.M. Rea"
W. M Rea died suddenly at the family home in the Rocky Point community
Tuesday night at 9:30 o'clock, death resulting from heart trouble.
She was apparently in her usual good health up to about 40 minutes
of the time of her death, when she was taken seriously ill and expired
before medical aid could reach her. The remains were entered in
the Howell cemetery yesterday afternoon. The deceased was 25 years
of age and is survived by her husband and two children; four brothers,
T.M,. Claude, Bee and Edgar Halford, who reside in this county;
and her mother, Mrs. E.L. Grove, and a sister, Mrs. Pearl Norther,
who reside in Dallas.
sudden death of Mrs. Rea was a great shock to the family and friends
and cast a shadow of gloom over the community in which she lived.
The Chronicle joins the friends of the family in extending sincere
sympathy to the bereaved relatives in their great (sic)".
three weeks later, the Wills Point Chronicle would carry two more
brief articles. Reading these reports for the first time almost
83 years later...I was given more insight about the strength and
character of my mother...than a lifetime of knowing her had previously
afforded. The brief moment of reading the old newspaper articles
has also given rise to numbers of questions I would wish to ask
her...but now must rest in infinite speculation.
following was reported in the Wills Point Chronicle on June 11,
ON CHARGE OF MURDERING HIS WIFE"
J.R. Kellis, Marshall Ollie Orsborn and County Attorney M.G. Sanders
went out and arrested W.M. Rea of the Rocky Point community on Monday
on a warrant, charging him with murder in connection with the death
of Mrs. Rea, which occurred suddenly Tuesday night, May 19. The
prisoner was carried to Canton Monday night and placed in jail to
await the action of the grand jury. Mrs. Rea, who was 25 years of
age, was a sister of Taylor, Claude, Bee and Edgar Hallford of this
county, and is survived by two small children".
of Mrs. W. M. Rea Exhumed"
body of Mrs. W. M. Rea who was buried the 19th day of May, was taken
up by Drs. D.L. Sanders and M.H. Nichols yesterday, under the direction
of Sheriff Kellis, for the purpose of having it examined to see
whether or not her death was caused by poisoning. The examiners
report that they found the body in a decomposed condition, the stomach
being almost wholly digested by the gastric juices.
Sanders and Sheriff Kellis went to Dallas yesterday to have the
portion of the stomach which they were able to take from the body,
carried through a quantitative analysis."
the two articles gave me cause to reflect on the "stuff" of family...not
so much on the importance of family "pride"...but the fiber that
bonds and makes a family strong. I pondered at the importance of
integrity of the family unit...and what seems to be the collapse
of many such ideals in our society today. What part does "family
pride" play in the role of keeping family integrity?
began to speculate on the manner of "roles" played by "silence"
in family matters. I could reason both positive and negative results.I
now had other things to consider...as I would remind myself of the
basic "positive" atmosphere that was maintained in my upbringing.
Did this recently learned event threaten who I was? I decided straight
away...of the folly of such a notion.
rise of periods of reflections within me, on the stigma of such
crimes could, at times seem ominous.
then realized that the "stuff"of protection offered by silence,
might be the very thing my mother, through her "motherly instincts"...and
her wisdom of years, was trying to protect her children from the
trauma of her youth.
the story continued to unfold, I began to realize that there was
a potential to consider that a remarkable act of heroism...through
a simple act of family devotion...was being revealed in my mother
having kept these "secrets'...buried deep within.
was driven to learn more...about a woman I had known all of my life.
April of 1997 I traveled to the area of Van Zandt County, long ago
known as the "Rocky Point Community". The scene of this photo is
about three miles north of Wills Point, looking north along FM 751...the
southern perimeter of a place I could relate to as "home" ...even
though it was a journey I had never made before.
was driven to the newspaper and records from my grandfather's
trial afforded a lot of insight about what had happened...and my
mother was very much involved in the outcome of the story.
of the court testimony came from neighboring farm families which
lived either side of what today is called Texas State Highway 47.
The Rea farm was on the east side of the roadway, immediately north
of a present day power transmission line located 3.7 miles north
of Wills Point.
grandmother had apparently long been suffering from goiter...which
at the time appeared to be untreatable and potentially lethal. The
accounts of the murder trial indicated Nona had been taking multiple
"prescription" medications from at least two area physicians. A
letter to her sister submitted as evidence in the trial revealed
her discomfort and concern.
grandfather went to the family physician in a supposed attempt to
obtain a more effective medication...and coaxed the doctor into
prescribing quinine...the "miracle drug" of the time.
at the Bruce and Human Drug Store, to have the quinine prescription filled,
he engaged in a conversation with Mr. John Pratt, the pharmacist...about
finding an effective means to control rats in his barn. Mr. Pratt
testified in court that the conversation turned to the use of arsenic
for such purposes. While at the drug store, my grandfather purchased
a "nickels worth" of arsenic.
Bruce and Human Drug Store on
4th Street in Wills Point...where in the spring of 1914, my grandfather
bought a "nickel's worth of arsenic". The firm is still in business
today...ironically, I would learn, owned by the descendant family
of the attorney who defended him at his murder trial.
past times, prescription medication was often dispensed in the
form of a powder. The patient purchased capsules separately, which
were used to aid making the consumption of the medication more
palatable. It appears that there would be very little physical
differences in appearance between quinine powder...and arsenic,
which is a white crystalline powder in it's most common form.
mother, only 61/2 years old in May, 1914...
was quoted in the court records by the attending physician as having
said, "Daddy fixed the medicine and gave it to her".
is obvious by the details of the trial...that dying from arsenic
poisoning is no pleasant experience.
of the neighbors who came to assist my grandmother's distress, was
present for about 30 minutes prior to her death. In court testimony
she described observing "hard convulsions with contractions of the
muscles and hands gripping and she was frothing at the mouth. There
was a kind of white froth at the mouth."
in attendance told the physician who arrived about an hour after
her passing...of the "fit" they had observed.
M. H. Echols, the attending physician, testified that he recognized
the symptoms as possible poisoning...and was immediately suspicious.
court records reflect that the doctor asked my grandfather, "Is
there any poison in the house?" My grandfather responded with a
next morning, ladies of the neighborhood assisted in preparing my
grandmother's body for burial. She was buried at 3 o'clock that
afternoon in an unmarked plot at the Howell Cemetery, about 1 mile
northwest of the farm.
only a week's time, neighbors reported that Myron Rea was displaying
a picture of a young lady to numbers of individuals...an act which
appears to have immediately promoted suspicion...and ultimately
leading to my grandfather's undoing.
object of Myron's affection was a young lady referred to as "Miss
Etta Wallace", who's father operated a creamery, located about 1
mile south of the Rea farm, on the east side of SH 47, at the crest
of the hill.
rumors and suspicions which appeared to have spread through Van
Zandt County at the time, quickly lead to my grandfather's arrest
and the exhumation of Nona Rea's body.
farm site where my mother, while only 61/2 years of age, was taken
to live with her paternal grandmother and uncle, after having witnessed
the poisoning of her mother in 1914, about 2 miles to the east...and
where she would begin to keep a secret within her which she would
take to her grave...over 80 years later. It is also the location
of a KKK cross burning, which
terrified the remaining family, causing them to flee to New Mexico
and placing my mother and younger sister in a state orphanage.
newspaper accounts of the trial suggest it was quite a spectacular
event, "unlike seen before in Van Zandt County". The accounts of
the week of the trial report that the "courthouse was overflowing"
and women and young children from throughout the northern part of
the county were present to wait outside on the courthouse grounds.
have reflected that the "spectacle" may have played a large part
in the motivation of mother to conceal her feelings from that time
in her life.
the trial records with an "open mind"...one can not clearly find
the defendant guilty. The levels of arsenic found in the portion
of stomach sent to Dallas for examination, were consistent with
levels of concentration commonly found in normal human tissue.
argument was made that Nona may have accidentally placed the arsenic
in the capsules, instead of the quinine powder.
grandmother's growing discomfort and concern for suffering from
goiter promotes consideration of the possibility that it might even
have been a suicide...or a mercy killing.
letter submitted to the court, which was written by Nona to her
sister Pearl in Dallas, seemed almost fatalistic in it's content.
were numbers of witnesses which reported as never having observed
anything other than a kind and respectful atmosphere...and appearances
of a caring relationship. One such witness was a man who had worked
as a temporary hired laborer and lived with the family for a brief
period in recent months...and reported observing no unusual problems.
witness is quoted as having testified, " I never heard anything
wrong with them and they seemed to be just as affectionate as man
and wife ever were".
was not unusual at the time, for a man with young children, to loose
a wife through death at a young age...and immediately seek a wife
to replace her. My genealogy research, prompted since discovery
of this event, has amazed me with the numbers of multiple marriages...as
well as dramatic differences in the ages of husbands and their wives.
Etta Wallace testified that she lived "about one mile" from Myron's
house and had known him "about one year" and that he had tricked
her into giving him the picture. She appears to reveal a need to
express that there was no basis for anything other than an informal
testimony indicated that Etta Wallace had been to the Rea house
on prior occasions, including a period of illness of a younger brother
to my mother, who had died a few months earlier. During court testimony,
Etta Wallace stated that she remembered "...sitting up one night
or perhaps two nights with his little boy at the time he was sick.
His little boy died of that illness."
Echols testified that, "In my judgment, Mrs. Rea died from arsenic
grandfather was never-the-less found guilty of second degree murder...and
sentenced to spend the "rest of the days of his life confined in
the state penitentiary".
motion for a new trial was made by W. B. Wynne, attorney for the
defendant with firm of Wynne, Wynne and Gilmore, which listed 13
supporting charges, basically arguing that there was insufficient
evidence to support the finding of the jury, not the least of which
was proving a motive.
of the arguments included a recount of the testimony of DR D.L.
Sanders, who stated during cross examination that "The goiter condition
that the deceased was suffering with, and the death caused by it,
would produce every symptom described by the witnesses who witnessed
her death". While it's difficult to make a conclusive judgment...I
find myself generally believing that he did it... But what if he
didn't? One young male court witness named Sid Ebarb testified that
at an earlier time, Miron Rea had told him, "If I were a single
man, ole man Wallace would have to sick the dogs on me to keep me
away!" I found marriage license records which suggest that a few
days after the completion of the murder trial...Miss Etta Wallace
married another man. In the summer of 1998, I located the adjoining
gravesites of Sid Ebarb and Etta Wallace Ebarb, who died on June
12, 1984. The two are buried only a short distance from the entrance
to the former "creamery", in what is called the Rocky Point Community
Cemetery. (The sign on the highway identifies it as the "Stony Point"
Cemetery). Sid Ebarb had taken Miron's advice to heart...
formerly unmarked grave of my grandmother is reasonably believed
to lay beneath the large oak tree, pictured in Howell Cemetery,
about four miles north of Wills Point in Van Zandt County. A marker
was placed there in 1997. The graves of two of her children are
likely in the same location.
having made some pretty significant discoveries about my families
past difficulties, I found myself still confronted with a mystery.
What happened to my grandfather?
was now evident why my mother remembers that her father was crying
at the train station when he said goodbye. It is easy to envision
that he apparently was in shackles and being taken to prison in
few weeks after the trip to Wills Point, I drove to Huntsville,
in the belief that I would be able to ferret out sufficient information
to resolve the remaining mystery.
I was driving north on Interstate 45 past Conroe and Willis...I
became aware of a need to suppress a feeling of the stigma of a
family who had someone incarcerated in the state penitentiary. I
did not like that feeling...but the need to find out the ultimate
fate of my grandfather prevailed.
had no idea how long Myron Rea had survived in prison.
contemplated the irony that both of my sisters had attended Sam
Houston State Teacher's College (now Sam Houston State University)
in the 1950's...barely three blocks from the infamous "Walls". I
recalled several October trips to Huntsville when the whole family
attended the annual prison rodeo.
it be possible that my grandfather was still alive at the time...and
we were ignorant of his presence only a few feet away?
Walls"...principle correctional facility of the Texas prison system,
in Huntsville...and is also one of the world's leading locations
for capitol punishment, in the building located just behind the
right foreground "cell block" structure.
collected my "sprits" as I drove into the Texas Department of Corrections
(DOC) parking lot. It was a relatively quiet period during the afternoon
and I was initially greeted with impressive politeness.
explained the reason for my visit, at which time I was given a telephone
number of the DOC "Classifications" office. I spoke with a woman
on the phone who appeared somewhat miffed that I should expect service
just because I had gone to such an effort to travel to Huntsville.
She refused to tell me where her office was located...and given
the enormity of the DOC installations in Huntsville, it appeared
I had a genuine "bureaucracy" problem. I could not help but feel
that "this is the way they like it".
was given a Huntsville post office box address and told that I would
have to write a letter requesting the information. When I asked
how long it would be before I could anticipate a response...I got
more ambiguous information. I resolved to return home and write
the all important letter to the DOC.
my trip to Canton, a visit to the Van Zandt County District Clerk's
office had proven most fruitful. Once the reason for my visit was
established, I received every consideration and supportive, helpful
1915 murder trial records were still neatly tied in their folder...as
they must have remained for over 80 years. The records contained
in the trial folder proved to be filled with more fascination.
in the District Clerk's office in Canton, I expressed frustration
at trying to find out the ultimate fate of my grandfather. It was
clear that he would have been deceased by this time...but where
did he die? Could he have ever possibly been released from prison?
If he died in prison...what was done with his remains? I was told
that a cemetery existed near "The Walls" which the District Clerk
knew only as "Peckerwood Hill". She could not explain the name...but
assured me of the existence of the cemetery...as she had personally
been there. This was the cemetery for inmates who had died or been
executed in prison...and who's remains had never been claimed by
the surviving family.
resolved that I may indeed have to go to this place..."Peckerwood
Hill". I had long ago realized that such places must exist. I had
thought of such places during past news of executions. What did
the state do with the bodies? Internment in such a location seems
to be our societies ultimate insult for unacceptable behavior. What
if my grandfather was buried there?
Texas DOC cemetery in Huntsville, is located about 1/2 mile southeast
of "The Walls" (two blocks east of the Sam Houston State University
sports complex). Like so many other elements in and around the Texas
prison system, products of cheap labor seem abundant. Pre-cast concrete
"cross" markings are manufactured and identified with inmate numbers
and dates of death..."on site". Of approximately 400 graves, fewer
than 1/4 have a name...and nearly 1/2 have no apparent markings
of any kind. I have been to many cemeteries over the years...but
none compare with the sense of sadness apparent here.
nearly two months of hearing no response from my letter to the DOC,
in early May of 1997, I again returned to Huntsville...this time
filled with resolve to come home with some
I approached Huntsville, I reviewed in my mind, my plans for the
day. I would first go to "Peckerwood Hill" and conduct a thorough
check of the grave sights. I wondered how would I feel if I discovered
my granddad's grave there.
location of the cemetery is unquestionably a pretty setting. The
terrain of Huntsville is relatively hilly...and if it were not for
the graves, the setting would equal most any park in the state.
It is far better maintained than many cemeteries...barely a blade
of grass is out of place.
walks up and down the carefully aligned and spaced grave sights
provided no further information. Most of the older graves, dating
from 1900 to 1932 or so, have the name and date of death on the
marker. Very few of the graves from the 1930's until 1950, which
represent nearly 50 percent of the interments, have no apparent
markings of any kind, other than a plain white painted, cement cross.
Two or three have markers which appeared to have later been placed
there by family.
was not to find a marked grave for William Myron Rea at "Peckerwood
next drove to the Walker County courthouse and entered the county
clerks' office. I had learned that all deaths which occur in Walker
County are recorded there...even those of Texas DOC prisoners...even
those prisoners who are executed.
in the County Clerk's office, I requested a copy of my grandfather's
death certificate. The request was met with, "Are you a relative?"
assured the clerk that I was.
I was asked for the name and date of death.
explained that I knew the name...but had almost no idea when the
date of death was. I explained the circumstances...and felt appreciative
that an effort would be made to help me, even though I had little
information to go on.
spite of the willingness to help...the search turned up no records
of the death of W.M. Rea. It was then suggested that I go to the
DOC Classification Office.
will I find it?", I asked.
now had a piece of information not available on my first visit to
Huntsville...and immediately drove to the huge "warehouse" appearing
building on the west side of I45, a couple of miles north of Huntsville.
inside the "Classifications" office, I nearly became victim to the
bureaucracy again...as I was directed from one office to another.
after a wait of about 30 minutes, a well dressed, ever so polite
gentlemen joined me in the waiting room and made a statement similar
to what I had been told before.
really don't like doing business in this manner. We prefer to have
all such requests submitted in writing".
time I was ready, responding with (while reaching into my brief
case) , "In that event, let me present you with a copy of a letter
which I mailed to you two months ago...and for which, I have received
almost felt sorry for my perceived opponent...for I could almost
feel his internal discomfort...as he felt his bureaucracy having
just been "slam dunked" in one quick instant.
retained his composure...and to his credit, expressed that he would
take personal responsibility for my inquiry...for which I both respected
him for his integrity...and appreciated that I may at last be able
to get the information I was searching for.
left Huntsville that day with little more than reassurance...but
it would prove worthwhile.
week later I received the following statement:
records indicate that your grandfather W.M. Rea was received into
TDCJ as # 38489 11-29-15 from Van Zandt County sentenced to Life
indicate that he was sentenced 4-13-15 in Canton, Texas. He died
2-6-17 of Milletus diabetes and was returned to his brother Ed Rea
to be buried in Wills Point, Texas."
presumed resting place of my grandfather, the Rea family burial
plot in Union Grove Cemetery, Van Zandt County, alongside Texas
FM 571, about 2 miles south of my grandmother's grave. The grave
of William Myron Rea remains unmarked. Recently learned information
suggests an existing marker may have been stolen by a subculture
organization of that era.
the spring of 1999, I received a telephone call from a descendant
of the mother of William Miron Rea. Elizabeth "Lizzie" Young Rea,
through her 3rd marriage of to a man named Charles Edgerton in 1888,
bore four more children, including three Edgerton sons. The three
Rea youngsters, including Miron and his younger brother Ed , had
lived in the Edgerton household as children, earlier in Van Zandt
County, then during a period of time on the Chickasaw Indian Reservation
in Oklahoma, where Miron's stepfather was employed as a postal worker...and
again after the family returned to Van Zandt County.
Edgerton, was living with her son, Ed Rea in the Alsa Community
of northwestern Van Zandt County after the death of her 3rd husband
in 1904. Lizzie took custody of 61/2 year old Connie and her 1 year
old sister Ethyl, after the incarceration of their father Myron,
pending trial for the murder of his wife. The children remained
in the household, after the sentencing of their father, until a
short time after the death of their grandmother Elizabeth on May
12, 1916...apparently due to complications of Asian Flu.
unknown period of time after the death of grandmother Elizabeth,
the girls uncle, Ed Rea, who was the head of the household at that
time, surrendered the custody of the girls to the state orphanage
have obtained a copy of the Western Union telegram sent to Ed Rea
on February 06, 1917 by the prison in Huntsville, advising him of
the death of his brother Miron and requesting instructions for the
displacement of the body. Ed Rea responded with a desire that the
body be sent to Van Zandt County for burial.
this point, there was another question which became apparent. The
information I have received indicates that both Elizabeth Rea Edgerton
and her son Miron are buried in Union Grove Cemetery, northwest
of Wills Point. There are no markers present for either grave. The
first thing I concluded was that the family appeared too impoverished
to provide markers.
to a KKK cross burning... and about this same time, Ed Rea sold
the farm and moved for a period time to east Texas. Coincidentally,
the three Edgerton sons, ages 20 to 25 at the time, suddenly, without
explanation, left for west Texas, settling near the panhandle town
of Farwell for a period, before moving to Artesia, New Mexico. A
short time later, Ed Rea joined his step brothers in Artesia, where
he lived until he died in 1961. I was curious about what appeared
to be the absence of an "explanation" for the initial move to Farwell...
"explanation" came in telephone call in the Spring of 1999 ... which
revealed that the caller had long pursued an accounting from his
father, about WHY the four young men had left Van Zandt County in
such a manner.
explanation also may reveal an accounting not previously considered,
as to why the grave of Miron and his mother remain unmarked.
Rea and his step brothers are said to have had a "cross burning"
in front of the house by the KKK. (In contrast to popular belief,
the KKK did not treat only blacks in this manner). It would appear
that the KKK was attempting to banish the remaining members of the
family from the area, as a consequence of Miron Rea's behavior...even
though others were completely innocent of anything other than the
consequences of impoverishment through their vocation of tenant
is a most "telling" story of the activities of the Klu Klux Klan
that those of our modern day "minorities" have not bothered to tell...
apparently as a self serving interest. The KKK terrorized whomever
they identified as outside the perifery of their perceived "better"
society... even the totally innocent... and even those in their
own race. This is a side of the KKK (and early Van Zandt County)
that few alive today, are aware of...
I have no particular substantiated, documentation of "fact", given
that none of the 3 brothers ever married... and two would lived
the remainder of their lives working in the "barber" profession
in Artesia, New Mexico... I've quietly considered that two or more
of the brothers were the victims of another form of cruelty, we
now call "hate crimes".
the outside, it appears the KKK had brandished the family apparently
for the "crime" of something crudely identified as being "poor white
trash"...and through fear and intimidation, they were forced to
flee the area.
caller indicated that his father expressed a belief that the KKK
had also likely removed and destroyed the grave markers of Miron
Rea and his mother.
grandfather had survived only 14 months in prison before dying from
apparent complications of diabetes at 38 years of age. It would
not be until 1922, five years later...that insulin was first used
on human patients to treat diabetes.
the past year, I myself have become dependent on supplemental insulin
to treat Milletus diabetes. It's a curious sense to explain what
it was like to hear about my genetic ancestry in this manner.
I now can at last identify a sense of kindred spirit with my grandfather...for
we have something in common other than a stained family genealogy.
experience gave me an understanding of my mother in a manner I may
never otherwise have known... certainly a respect for what she had
sustained and carried within her for most of her 89 years. I am
haunted as what she appears to have witnessed first hand... first
the death of her mother while she was 61/2 years old and soon after,
her father's prosecution at a trial that was the scandal of the
county, much of Texas and certainly devastating to the world as
she knew it. My mother appears to have witnessed her father leaving
on the train for prison in 1915, which was soon followed by the
horrifying experience of the KKK burning a cross in their front
lawn. Her Grandmother died from complications of Spanish Flu in
May 1916. Within the year, her uncle sought to have the two girls
sent to the state orphanage in Corsicana... where she would watch
her younger sister die at the age of 5, one day before my mother's
own 11th birthday. These things, all, were part of a personal tragedy
that she would not share with anyone, taking it to her grave...
photograph, Texas State Home for Children in Corsicana (Navarro
County), approximately 2 years before my mother and her sister's
spent the last decade of her nursing career working in the "Renal"
unit at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston.
She cared for gravely ill kidney transplant patients, many of which
were children brought there from all over the world, with no families
at their side. She often became emotionally attached to the children...and
would tell me stories about them.
easy to imagine from where she summoned her compassion...and why
her compassion and nursing skills were so respected by doctors and
staff at UTMB. I have often thought that in the years of nursing,
as she tended to the needs of patients... while in some fashion,
she was also tending to her own needs.
such coincidences in life, we all are blessed.
wish that I could have had a moment alone with Mom...to express
my appreciation for what I know she tried to do...and also give
her a gentle hug...and express that it's OK....
mother, through her personal, lifetime of emotional sacrifice, perceived
a necessity for silence in the story of her childhood. She spoke
to me in other ways, through her "secret"...of the sacrifices and
devotion a parent may impose on themselves, for the love of their
gives me cause to reflect on the true "stuff" of silent heroes who
have passed this way in life, who's sacrifice we may have never
this manner, I can think of no parent who was ever more deserving
to be honored.
I feel good, as well, that I "completed the connection"... with
her childhood family that she only allowed herself to grieve for,
in her silence.
1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009
WATERS - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED