Sam Woody came to Texas from Tennessee in the late 1840s. In 1849 he was camped in the area that would become Fort Worth when Major Ripley Arnold and Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson arrived to select a site for a military fort on the frontier.
After the fort was established, Woody stayed on, working as a freighter for the fort, driving a ox-drawn wagon to Houston, Shreveport, and Galveston to pick up supplies. Sam’s brother-in-law, George Preston Farmer, was the fort’s sutler.
But Sam Woody eventually got restless. He later would say, “The prettiest sight I ever saw is a new country, where man has never been and which is just as the great God of Heaven left it.” In 1854 Woody left Fort Worth, which had evolved from a fort into a town, and headed for “a new country.”
Woody went north but not far: He became the first permanent white resident of Wise County. He built a cabin on Deep Creek and established a ranch. In that cabin Sam’s son John J. was born in 1862. (In this 1910 photo, father Sam is lower left, son John J. is upper right.)
In 1938, at age seventy-six, John J. Woody was living on Harrison Street in Fort Worth when he was interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project, which recorded oral histories in the late 1930s. Woody recalled growing up on the frontier in Wise County:
“The Indians really cut a figure in those days. . . . [sixteen-year-old] Sallie Bette Bowman’s father had a good many horses, and the Indians were awful bad about stealing them. In fact, oxen almost replaced horses for awhile there. Well, [in 1868] Sallie Bette was up Deep Creek, watching the horse herd, when a band of Indians showed up. She knew her life was in danger, so she tried to get away from them. Since she was riding an awfully good horse, she almost made it. Those Indians chased her for three miles, then when she was right near a neighbor’s house, they opened fire and killed her. The woman of the house happened to be looking, and she saw them scalp her after she fell from her horse. They couldn’t catch the horse, though, and it went on to the ranch house. When her father saw the horse come into the yard without her, he and several men started out to see what was wrong. They found the girl all right, but the Indians had gotten away with the horse herd.”
Clip is from the March 26, 1868, Dallas Weekly Herald. Sallie Bowman is buried in Wise County’s Deep Creek Cemetery.
John J. Woody continued his story: “Those were hard times for the early settlers. . . . Many’s the night we’d all gone to bed with our parents saying they’d leave the next morning. Things would be different, though, the next morning. We’d wake up, the sun’d be shining, not an Indian would be in sight, and if we left, we’d be leaving everything we had in this world, so they’d just change their minds and stay.
“The early settlers were so anxious to have neighbors that they’d give a man 160 acres off their places just to have him settle and be a neighbor. Besides just being a neighbor, Dad wanted someone to talk to. You know, there were no telephones, newspapers, mail, or anything for the settlers then. The president could be dead for months and the settlers not even know it. . . . In those days, there were what they called ‘circuit riders,’ who were really traveling preachers for the different denominations. Dad was always glad to see one of them ride up, and before he’d even speak to the preacher, he’d tell us kids to grab a horse and light out to all the neighbors and tell them to come to our house for a meeting.
“We’d make a thirty-miles circle, tell them all, and they’d just about everyone be there that night. Preachers in those days didn’t preach like they do today. They’d preach almost all night. I can remember many a time when after making a few remarks, the preacher’d reach up on the mantle, take down the bottle, take a couple of drinks, snort once or twice, then be off. That whiskey just seemed to warm them up and prime them for a night. We kids’d lay down on the floor and go off to sleep, him still a-preaching.
“Back in Tennessee, the Woodys were all foot-washing hard-shell Baptists. . . . Dad was baptized but wouldn’t join any church because he wanted those circuit riders to keep coming, and he was afraid if he joined any certain church, the others would stop coming, and they were his source of news with the outside. His greatest delight was when two of them from different denominations came in at the same time. They’d argue Scripture then, and Dad learned a whole lot that way. He couldn’t read or write, but he heard so much Bible that he knew as much as some of the preachers.”
(Clip is from an 1847 issue of Texas Presbyterian.)
Tomorrow: Verbatim: Father and Son (Part 2): From Saddles to Sales