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    Synopsis

    People are often surprised when they learn of the worldwide adventures of Michael J. Hawron—not just because of the extent of his travels or the remarkable experiences he’s had, but because he’s made a life with his family in the small town of New Boston, Texas.

    Putting down roots in a town thousands of miles away from the people you know can be as harrowing as immigrating to an entirely new country, but the right house, in the right town, with the right people can make all the difference in the world.

    After settling in New Boston during an unplanned detour, Hawron has learned that though life in rural Texas is often quiet and serene, that doesn’t mean that it’s boring. The history of the region, the values, the people in the community, and the rich genealogical and political heritage in the area make for many interesting tales about Hawron’s idyllic corner of paradise.

    After chronicling his intercontinental adventures in his last book, Entertaining Detours, Hawron was determined to capture the nostalgic charm of his late-found hometown, and The Little Town with the Big Heart was born.

    Thirty-two

    suppose that most new families struggle as they first find their way. We had to work quite determinedly in order to make a nest for our little family when we were strangers and newcomers to New Boston. Our city celebrates “Pioneer Days” each summer, and I feel that is quite appropriate.

    As I have described earlier in this book, there are times when it seems the past reappears, seeking to be remembered, such as the vestige of the old Poor Farm in the grassy field nearby our home. The longer we live here, the more the roots of the past have become clear to me. As with trees, these roots are mostly unseen, but they support today’s life aboveground. There would be no leaves of today without the roots of yesterday.

    My wife and I are inveterate walkers. We have held hands walking the bustling streets of Hong Kong, the majestic forest trails of the famed Vienna Woods, the beaches of the Seven Seas, and now the dusty country roads of western Bowie County. At first these rural pathways were just a means to the end of getting daily exercise.

    The longer I walk these trails, and learn from the folks around me, the more these winding rural roads emerge as threads in a tapestry, rich with local history. I will share a few of these tales with you, as I feel it is important to acknowledge that the strength of small towns perhaps comes in a large part from those close-knit and inter-twining roots of people and families whose lives are unavoidably and powerfully interconnected.

    The county road that winds southward past our property passes Read Hill Cemetery. Annette and I have often walked through there. The terraced driveways are smooth and easy to stroll along. At the summit, the vista of distant fields and forests is very peaceful and rejuvenating. In the autumn, the rich sunset colors can be quite spectacular, if we time our walk just perfectly.

    At first, these many gravestones were just rocks along the wayside, etched with names of people unknown to us. Now, after having strolled these pathways for twenty years, I note these markers have come to remind us of families we know from school or church, from soccer games or Scout outings. They represent the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents of those with whom we interact on a daily basis.

    Occasionally, there are the monuments to the sad, untimely passing of one’s child. There are the graves commemorating those babies who died in the more severe pioneer days. Some of these graves are simply marked “infant,” as I imagine the child passed before a proper name could be bestowed. A century later, the loss of a child is no less heartbreaking. There’s Wayne’s gravestone, commemorating his youth that was cut short at eighteen years, shortly after the turn of this century. At the opposite, northern end of the summit is my daughter Suzy’s marker. Close by is the final resting spot of a little middle-school girl who had fallen victim to an infection.

    Yesterday I noticed a gravestone marking the deceased’s birth year of 1816, some twenty years before this soil became the Texas Republic. I went back last night to double check these details, when I stumbled across what is perhaps this cemetery’s seminal pair of graves, a real find. There I saw the small, but elaborately engraved white stone of Martin Read, topped with the Masonic symbols of the square and compasses. He was born in 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. He died in 1855, during the Kansas territory upheavals and some six years before the Civil War. His wife, Eliza, born in 1808, passed away in 1877, and is buried next to him, her gravestone declaring her “The wife of Martin Read, M.D.” So it appears that this good doctor arrived on the earth exactly a century before the establishment of Read Hill Cemetery.

    Read Hill Cemetery is itself wrapped in the story of a pioneer family’s struggle, which we learned of at a time when we ourselves were struggling to get established. How we learned of this is wrapped in yet another family’s struggle, and at a time when our nation was facing a severe test.

    We had just applied for citizenship for Annette and Mikael when shortly thereafter the 9/11 attack occurred. The immigration attorney we hired was a former DA from a nearby county, a robust man named Richard Townsend. All naturalization applications were put on hold by INS for over eighteen months, so this gave us plenty of time to get to know each other. On one visit to his office, Richard related to us how Read Hill Cemetery came into being.

    The following is from material found in old handwritten and typewritten notes, shared with me by a member of the Read Hill Cemetery committee, of which my wife Annette and I are now members. It seems the Read family’s arrival in Bowie County was about as unplanned as was ours. Apparently, Dr. Martin Read was a close friend of General Titus, whose name was given to a nearby County. The Reads traveled from Virginia in route to the General’s home with an entourage, including 100 slaves.

    The pioneer family was crossing a swollen creek in western Bowie County in the spring of 1854 when the wagon overturned and the young bride, Eliza, fell into the icy water. She caught pneumonia, yet survived. (In fact, Eliza lived for another twenty-two years after her husband’s passing the following year, in 1855—ironically enough, from pneumonia.) But at the time of this incident, she was an invalid for several weeks, in this era before antibiotics.

    Needing to put his idled slaves to work, while his wife recovered, Dr. Read bought land where they were currently stranded, a hillside from which three counties could be seen from that vantage. His cotton plantation was known as Read Hill, and thus the cemetery was eponymously named when the family later donated land to New Boston for the establishment of this cemetery.

    Dr. Read’s son, Martin Jr., took over the plantation. Martin Jr.’s uncle, Dr. Rhesa Walker Read, served in the War Between the States as a surgeon in the Texas Cavalry. Dr. Martin Read’s daughter, Eugenia, married Dr. Spencer Allen Collom, a leading physician in the nearby big cotton town, Texarkana. The prominent group of clinics today known by that name was founded by their son. Mrs. Eugenia Read Collom is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Collom name, mentioned in chapter two as having been on one of the original land deeds for this area where our house now stands, would have been from this family.

    Now our story returns, from the Read family of the nineteenth century, to the Hawron family of the twenty-first century. Eventually, the rusty wheels of the Washington bureaucracy turned sufficiently so that Mikael and Annette’s citizenship was granted, about a decade ago. In these intervening years, our paths crossed once more with our former immigration attorney, when Annette was coaching a team at the local Upward Basketball program. A somewhat grayer Mr. Townsend showed up with his two grandchildren who were playing on the teams.

    While looking up details on Read Hill cemetery today, I learned that the last Texas Ranger killed on duty in the East Texas oil boom of the 1930's is buried there. The gravesite of Texas Ranger Dan LaFayette McDuffie is demarcated with a Texas Historical Marker. The marker reads as follows:

    …Texas Ranger Dan LaFayette McDuffie (February 16, 1883–July 7, 1931). A third generation enforcement officer; learned methods, skills from an uncle, Texarkana police chief. Held first office at 18. Won fame in 1923 amnesty, when 82 liquor stills were turned in. Spent 30 years as county peace officer, railroad special agent, and Texas Ranger. Known for his fearless courage, integrity. Met death on duty in a kidnapping case, when caught in gunfire.

    As we walk southward past Read Hill Cemetery, the paved road turns to dirt, and thus it becomes quite easy to envisage the pioneer wagon trails that long ago plied this break in the thick forests. A stone’s throw from the cemetery is a spot where our own boys once camped out with the Boy Scouts at tiny McGee Lake—formerly a watering hole for these passing pioneer wagons.

    As we walk further along the dusty county road, we can hear the haunting strains of a trumpet from a retired Marine bugler, Mr. Hall, echoing through the forest, should we be fortunate enough to happen by this way, either at dawn or dusk, when he plays Reveille and Taps each day.

    When Lenda Selph recently returned a draft of this manuscript which she is skillfully proof-reading for me, she included notes as to how this same pioneer wagon trail apparently once wound further up the road, around the corner and behind their property. Her husband had discovered some rusty old chains and some deep narrow ruts, still intact from the days when those passing wagons’ iron wheels rolled over that very soil two centuries ago.

    Apparently, that parcel of land is also blessed with natural springs. In those olden times, folks would come from around the community to get their water there. Lenda’s neighbor, Calvin Pierce, who lived just around the bend until his passing not long ago, related a story to her from his childhood. His family had come to these springs to get water, when they came upon a whole family of children, bathing in the spring-fed watering hole. He didn’t say whether or not his family went ahead and pulled water for drinking on that particular occasion.

    We got produce from a kindly woman, named Sue Love. She lived in Dalby Springs, perhaps named after Judge Dalby. “Springs” is apparently the operative word of that community’s name, as Lenda had another water story for me.

    Turns out a Mr. Warren Knight Dalby, from Bedford County, Tennessee, arrived in this area in 1839. Mr. Dalby fathered fifteen children, his last born when he was 72. Warren Knight Dalby discovered a spring of red mineral water about the color of tea and fixed a curb around it, made from the hollowed out section of a sweet gum tree. This resulted in the naming of the community "Dalby Springs." Lenda tells me, that community had healing waters that were yellow/gold in color. It has an historical marker, and was a thriving place. People came from all over to bathe in and drink the healing waters. [My husband] Terry went just two weeks ago with friends on a dune buggy journey to Dalby Springs. He brought back some of the spring water. I wouldn't drink it now, but I have in the past, like 40 years ago.

    We have this information because of the work The Dalby Family History was written by Judge N. L. Dalby. As Frances Fox relates, the most unusual thing about the book is that he wrote it at the age of 93. Judge Dalby served as District Judge of the 102nd Judicial District, composed of Bowie and Red River Counties, from 1935–1954. In 1967 he started gathering information for the book which he wrote in 1969. His handwriting had become so shaky that he typed all his work using the hunt and peck method.

    This book is a most carefully proven book. His references take four and one-half pages to list. He used court records, deeds, wills, several books, marriage bonds, and census records. He even found the indenture record for the immigrant, Knightingale Dalby, dated August 30, 1721, Parish of Ramsey, County of Huntington Court, England.

    There was big excitement in this tiny community of Dalby Springs once upon a time. (Now, mind you, “communities” in these parts can be the tiniest of geographical entities, sometimes no bigger than a few houses clustered together.)

    The Texarkana Gazette reported that a man was found murdered at Dalby Springs in 1865, and his wife's lover was suspected. At that time, Bowie County had neither legally instituted courts nor authorities to take charge of the case. Residents of the community, however, had a great respect for justice and would not permit themselves to dispose of the case without court action.

    The suspect was taken into custody by a group of citizens, and then a letter was dispatched to the district military judge, the Honorable B. W. Gray of Mt. Pleasant, who was requested to come to Dalby Springs to hold a trial. Records of the case do not reflect the reason, but the Hon. Mr. Gray did not make the trip, despite the fact that the letter sent him was lent great importance by an attached note written by A. H. Latimer, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a member of the Congress of the Republic of Texas who was staying at Dalby Springs at the time.

    I could go on with this fascinating tale, but some readers may already be moaning, too much information! You history buffs will have to look up the rest of this tale yourselves—It’s a hoot!

    What stands out to me, is that we have driven to Dalby Springs numerous times and have walked the wooded pathways to Sue Love’s house, all the while never once suspecting the tumultuous history that lies behind the community’s sleepy façade. Like a successful prospector, in order to truly appreciate the history of a town, and what “makes it tick,” you have to do some digging.

    Digging is something our kids have done often on our property. They have found all sorts of ancient, rusty items that were once a part of a farming implement. Once or twice they have found an arrowhead, from the days when Native Americans roamed these parts freely. We found a stone once that looked like it had been used in food preparation. Lenda Selph made such a discovery herself, which she told me in a recent email along with another colorful story.

    A long time ago, just across the road from my house there once lived a black couple in a log cabin. The husband always came home from the fields each day for dinner (meaning lunch). One day the wife was very angry with her husband. She fed him his lunch, and then waited. When he was fast asleep under the old oak tree, she sneaked up and whipped him soundly with a bull nettle branch and then took off running and hid in the thick woods!

    In this same area, about 25 years ago, the fence row was plowed up, and the woods cleared to be made into a hay field. My neighbor and I were walking along and I spied a large rock amidst the plowed ground. It turned out to be a dual purpose rock that Native Americans used. On one side was a deep indention, probably used for grinding. On the other side were two indentions. My neighbor probably still has it.

    Well, that journey past Read Hill Cemetery took this story in many directions! Our local cemetery is but one of about 150 such cemeteries strewn throughout our county, each one with its own rich, unique history. At this point, it strikes me that I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for today’s generation to talk to their elders and learn all they can about their historical roots while there is still the golden opportunity.

    This oral history comes from Frances Fox, who conveyed the details to Miss Lenda, and now I am telling you this great-grandchild of a story. A fascinating fact came to light about another little country cemetery, about nine miles to the southwest, as the crow flies. Apparently, there a sole Union soldier is buried in the Old Union Cemetery, near Simms, Texas. That soldier had a great-great-grandson, from Tennessee, who later became a U.S. Air Force Sergeant Major.

    The Union soldier was from Tennessee, suffered a head wound during battle and later wandered into Texas, instead of returning home. When the soldier did not come home after the war, his widow applied to Washington, D.C., for widow’s benefits. Months later a reply came, informing the widow that she was not a widow. It seems her husband survived and, perhaps disoriented from his injury, settled in Texas.

    The son of this newly-resurrected former Union soldier set out on a mission of several years in search of his father. When they met up, the old soldier did not remember his son, and explained that he had a new family now. When the Union soldier died, he was buried in Old Union Cemetery, but in an unmarked grave. (Now the cemetery’s name was derived from a church by that same name, the Old Union Baptist Church; it is only coincidence perhaps that an old Union solider is buried there.)

    The great-great-grandson of the Union soldier, at 72 years of age and in failing health, wanted a proper military headstone for his ancestor. He had Italian marble sent to New Boston, Texas. Our retired Marine bugler neighbor, Mr. Hall, and his friends from the local VFW had the stone set in place. Now, here comes the amazing, emotional part.

    When the retired USAF Sergeant Major arrived to see his great-great-grandfather’s final, official resting spot—before he himself was soon to pass on to the Next World—he and his family were greeted with a full military funeral, complete with 21-gun salute. Our local bugler Richard Hall played taps. And now you know the story of how the only Union soldier came to be buried in the Old Union Cemetery in Northeast Texas.

    Review

    KIRKUS REVIEW

    A former world-traveling missionary-turned-small-town family man reflects on the joys and lighthearted foibles of country life in this memoir.
    Hawron (Entertaining Detours, 2015) continues his trilogy of homespun chronicles with this second endearing entry in the True Tales series. With evocative detail and a healthy sense of humor, he lingers over the nuances of 20 years of living in a small East Texas town where he and his Danish wife, Annette, cohabitated on a rural farm. There's certainly no shortage of anecdotes featuring his 12 children; in the opening chapter, he describes how his playful young son Richard frolics on the lawn. Hawron and his wife arrived in the hamlet of New Boston from Hong Kong many years ago and soon settled into a historic 120-year-old country property. The author generously shares the rich history of the Bowie County region, its remarkable landmarks, and the learning curve of their own "pioneer experience." This included grappling with the house's persnickety heating system, meandering skunks and possums, fire ants, and mandatory attendance at high school football games. They also learned about catalpa worms, dairy goats, and natural springs along the way. The townsfolk offered odd jobs to Hawron as he got on his feet financially, and he repaid their kindness with genuine, selfless friendship. Hawron's prose is chatty, uplifting, and pleasantly conversational within a narrative that's thankfully devoid of anything that anyone could deem offensive. He describes himself as a "car hypochondriac" and a tree lover, and many readers are likely to share these same qualities. At another point, he offers a gorgeous tribute to his loving wife. Overall, these stories are indeed a far cry from the days of exotic international wanderlust that Hawron enjoyed in years past. But his book shows his devotion to the unique peace and security of the bucolic countryside, where he treasures "the priceless gift of being a family, and the blessing of having wonderful friends."
    A richly drawn, affecting portrait of rural life.

    "I love your book. When reading it, I felt as though we were having a conversation. Your ability to put the reader into the words of the book as an experience is fantastic." -- Jane Hana, New Boston, Texas