Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hardship in Christoval - 1905/06

My paternal great grandparents, Oliver and Sarah Wallen, left Kentucky for Kempner, Texas in early January 1905. They stayed in Kempner from January to mid November of the same year and then headed westward again to Christoval, Texas. Oliver took the buggy and went on ahead of the rest of the family in order to secure a place to live. The others would come by train when he sent for them. As he traveled, Oliver noted in his diary each and every town he came to and the distance between them. I recently clicked my way down the roads he took to Christoval via Google Earth street view. Everything was flat, dry, brown...and desolate looking, and I'm sure the road wasn't paved in 1905.

About two weeks after reaching Christoval the rest of the family was sent for and they arrived a few days later at the train station in San Angelo, 19 miles north of Christoval. There was Oliver's younger brother Jesse, Sarah, my 5 year old grandfather Willie, and the 2 year old twins Sula and Thomas. Sarah was about 5 months pregnant and I wonder if she knew at that time that she was going to give birth to another set of twins.

Christoval Baptist Church today
 via Google Earth
In Christoval, Oliver had searched in vain for a place to live. There was nothing available, or at least nothing they could afford. Mr. Ramsey, a kindly man from the Baptist Church where Oliver was to preach, offered them a one room "house" on his property. It was 12 feet by 14 feet, the size of a modern day bedroom. They pitched a 10 foot by 12 foot tent outside and that was their kitchen where Sarah would cook all their meals. Oliver doesn't say if the tiny house had any windows or if the floor was wood or dirt. I have a feeling it was never meant to be a house but rather a tool shed since the Ramseys had to clear it out before the family moved in. Oliver said: "It looks like living in a rail pen."  And I don't know what they did for heat in the Winter. Jesse didn't live with them, he had a place of his own. Maybe two adults and three little children slept all together in one bed to keep warm. 

Not the Ramsey "house",
but probably similar in size.
They lived in this house for 10 months, from November 29, 1905 to September 14, 1906, through winter, spring, and the heat of a Texas summer. It is where Sarah gave birth to the twins Homer and Hobart, and for the next six months after that there were seven sleeping in that little hovel. Once, they had to move out quickly as the river, just 30 feet away, flooded. Years later, Sarah told her daughter Myrtle that she picked cotton too, besides caring for the children and the constant sewing and washing of their clothing, and the cooking and keeping the small house up. She said she would be so tired after picking cotton that she would literally fall through the door into the house in sheer exhaustion.

The family attended Christoval Baptist church several times a week and Oliver preached there on a regular basis. Through all the hardship they never wavered from their faith in God, for that is where they found their strength.

Jesse, Sarah and the children
at Oliver's tomb.
In mid September 1906 Oliver moved his family to a two room house about 45 miles south of Christoval in Sonora, Texas. Even though his health was very poor, Oliver continued to preach in that town until he died just three and a half months later, in January 1907. He died almost exactly two years after leaving Kentucky, his twin boys having just turned 9 months old. Oliver was buried in Sonora and Sarah and the children returned to Kentucky a little later that same year.

Oliver's brother Jesse remained in Texas. He died there in 1917.



  1. Such an interesting story. Life was so hard for some. Aren't we glad we live now...

  2. In many (most) ways we are better off today. But sometimes I have mixed feelings about where our progress has taken us.

    ....and I'll just leave it at that!

  3. "Hardship" is an understatement. I'm amazed that we are here at all when I read the stories of those who came before us.

  4. I agree Kathy! Which is exactly why these stories need to be told and remembered so those who are responsible for our being here will always be admired, respected, and loved for their sacrifices and enduring spirit.

  5. Every time I read one of your posts I am awed by what you find on Google Earth! Wonderful, heartbreaking story. It's a wonder any of us were ever born given the difficulties our forebearers endured

  6. Google Earth sure helps me get the feel for my research into my family Susan. It's obviously become one of my favorite tools.