Hopkins County TXGenWeb | History of the Black Community at Sulphur Bluff

Hopkins County, TX | History of the Black Community
at Sulphur Bluff

Last modified: 8 MAY 2010

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History of the Black Community at Sulphur Bluff, By D. H. (Dick) Hare, (deceased) - Wrote Oct. 1979

From the historical files of June E. Tuck, who does not validate or dispute any historical facts in the article.

It was about 20 years after the Freedom that the "Lehigh" community began to be settled. The first tract of land was purchased from E. F. Donaghee by Anderson Keith in 1887. The name Lehigh soon gave way by common usage, as the Sulphur Bluff Negro community.

Cotton was becoming "King" of Northeast Texas. The rich productive lands of Sulphur River Bottom and the Blackland Hills were being cleared and put into growing cotton and corn on a much larger scale.

The community was situated primarily in the Robert Ringo, John D. Bloodworth, and Justo Travieso Surveys on the south side of South Sulphur River. Potts Slough emptied into the river at the this community, and being about mile up river from the Forks of Sulphur and the Five Points. Five counties connect at this point being Franklin, Hopkins, Delta, Lamar and Red River.

Cotton Gins were being built closer together to better and conveniently serve the growers. I. H. Hare built two gins at Needmore and Years later the Needmore Gin was owned by Arthur White and Jim Aikins. Henry J. Smith built a gin at Prairie View which years later became known as Hurt’s Gin. The Laws Gin was at Laws, Texas, which later became known as Fairview. Sulphur Bluff had the Staten and Dawson Gins

It was about one mile east of the community of Needmore, two miles south to Prairie View, about four miles southeast to Laws, and some five miles, as a crow flies, to the Town of Sulphur Bluff.

The Needmore Store was first owned by Tobe Walker, then Sam Simpson, J. W. St. Clair, Millard H. Hare, and I. H. Hare, Sr. The first Prairie View Store was owned by Miss Addie Harris, and years later, J. L. & Roma Clifton Hedrick built another store near the Prairie View School. The Laws Store and Post Office was operated by Allie and Jack Laws. For the most part the Black Community traded and banked at Sulphur Bluff.

At one time old and venerable George Dixon opened a little store, with a very limited grocery supplies of staples, in a little building behind his home. He had salt, sugar, soda, baking powder, flour, coffee, spices, sardines and crackers, etc. One time a fellow be the name of Red robbed the little store. He was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary.

The community was always blessed with honest upright, hardworking, and thrifty citizens. It always had a strong and able leadership, and a demand for respect for Law & Order.

The first church house was built of logs in the 1890's. It was located about a quarter of a mile from the plank church built about in 1903. The citizens that cut the logs and built the first church were: Henry Johnson, Anderson Keith, Dan Keith, George Dixon, Dick Hall, Jerry Gragg (sic), Dann Gragg, Claud Gragg, Willie Bremby, Charlie Bremby, Jack Bremby, Dan Bremby, and Elmore Williams.

Anderson Keith gave one acre of land for the church site of the second church house. The early day Deacons were: Henry Johnosn, Will Bremby, Anderson Keith, and the last Deacons were: Dewitt Bowman, Fred McIntosh, and Vandolar Harrison.

The Pastors of the Church were: Rev. Walter Alexander, Rev. T. F. Washington, Rev. J. M. Sims, and Rev. Lee Lewis pastored the Church for the last 40 years. Baptizing were held at Elmore Williams’, Willie Bremby’s or Jerry Gragg’s pools.

George Dixon was born in Florida and after Freedom he came to Texas. He met and married his wife, Rosa Gidden, who was born in Mississippi. The moved to this community in 1890. Up to this time the Black people could not read or write. George began teaching Subscription Schools held in various homes.

After the new church building was built in 1903, it also served as the Public School House. In the earlier days the length of schools were 3 months. An average of about 30 pupils attended the school. It fluctuated due to short time residents moved into the District to pick cotton, work in the timber, and all other such work besides farming.

The teachers that taught at Prairie View (Colored) were: Rosetta Keith - Dicie Gragg - Scott Pannell - L. A. Pannell - Marinthia Simms - Elgie Bremby - Pinkie Figgers - Sallie Pannell - Undine Hughes - Sofia Bowman - Carl Jones - Florence Spigner - Willie Pannell - Maggie Trammel - William Bell - John Anders - Emma Hughes

The early teachers were paid $40. To $50. per month. The Prairie View Common School District was consolidated into Sulphur Bluff Independent School District in 1945. The few remaining families of the Community asked the Sulphur Bluff School Board to permit them to retain their very dedicated teacher, Marinthia Simms, and their separate school, that was for so long as Mrs. Simms was able to teach, and, or, there were pupils to teach. The school was closed in 1964. (Simms was also spelled Sims on the same person)

The community students went to High School at Mt. Pleasant and Pittsburg, Texas, for the most part. The College students attended I & M in Fort Worth, Prairie View, and Tyler College.

The community never had a cemetery. They buried at the "Pierce Chapel Cemetery some two miles distance in the Needmore Community, and at the Deaton Church cemetery at Mt. Vernon

Mrs. Rosa Dixon was hurrying up the family’s dinner as they would soon be coming from the fields. She discovered she had no eggs in the house so she rushed down the road to an old Blacksmith shop where some of her hens went lay eggs. The "Day Light" was almost scared out of her. She heard a terrible roaring in the sky, there was crackling in the air, with flashing of light. It was not only Mrs. Dixon that became so scared and alarmed. It was only natural that such rare celestial phenomenon created so much talk and speculation. "It just had to be a warning Omen to People; It was known that Queen Elizabeth passed, and just maybe it had something to do with it." The Dixon family conjectured the significance of this "Omen"

Edmund Halley, the English Astronomer, had predicated that the Comet would pass the Sun on May 18, 1910, and that the Earth would pass through the tail of this comet. Thusly, the World has known it as "Halley’s Comet." Had the World at that time suddenly had Radio or Television for hearing instant Worldwide News, chances are that these things would have scared people, as much as did the comet.

In 1911, Auguste Hoffman of Mt. Pleasant acquired all rights to White Oak and Red Oak timber in Hopkins, Delta, and Lamar counties at the community. His rights included the construction of a sawmill, buildings, and housing for laborers. He located the mill just across South Sulphur river from the Adonia Church. It was a big operation and brought a lot of work to the area. It was on a short-cut road used by many Sulphur Bluff farmers in hauling long staple cotton to Paris, Deport and Clarksville, which passed through the community.

The Heading and Staves were hauled to Saltillo and shipped by rail on to Mt. Pleasant. Barrels were in great usage at this time for storing, shipping, etc. products in the United States and Europe. Whiskey, Salt, Vinegar, Syrup, Flour, and ever so many things that came in Barrels.

Roy and Clyde Williams operated a large hardwood mill for many years. It was located slightly southwest of the community. Working in cutting, snaking, hauling saw logs afforded many people extra work from their farming operations. Cutting fence posts, railroad cross ties, were timber operations that were carried on for so many years in Sulphur River Bottom and the Hill lands.

It was 1915 when Willie Bremby bought his Maxwell, Jerry Gragg an Overland, and Elmore Williams a T-Model Ford. They, like all new car owners, soon learned an Automobile Vocabulary of many a word having a distinctly different meaning. Patching was not of clothes, boots not worn on one’s feet, and kicking was not all done by ornery mules, and bring me the Jack, was not the one in the barn.

In Texas it was June 19th, Freedom Day, and most generally referred to as Juneteenth. Until in recent times it was the most celebrated holiday, as July 4th was for the Whites. Being primarily as agricultural economy, nobody worked on these holidays...... unless the proverbial Ox was in the ditch.

The community had celebrations of Freedom Day, alternating with Mt. Vernon and E. Caney. At the community the week of Freedom Day, they had many barn dances, a big picnic of dinner on the ground, barbequed beef, Hopkins County stew with pots of Chicken and Squirrel. There was preaching at the church. In the afternoon they played baseball. It was such a happy occasion. Meeting with old friends, making new friends, sweethearts, and romances that led to marriage.

The community had some very good players, but did not have a team that matched games with other communities or towns. However, some of their good players did play on teams elsewhere in the general area. The players were:

1915 Community First Team Players: Sam Williams - Loddie Keith - Arthur Dixon - Dock Williams - Robert Keith - Artie Johnson - George Bremby - Waymond Dixon - Lamar Williams

At the beginning of each baseball season at Sulphur Bluff there was one big "Exhibition Black Ball Game" as a fund raising event. Others played these annual exhibition games. Huge crowds of whites and black attended these games.

The community always used Sulphur Bluff doctors and Druggists. Those used were: Dr. Gardner, Dr. Stephens, Dr. White, Dr. Thomas, Dr. Harrington, and Dr. Mead. It was in the 1930's that Virge Dixon hauled water and filled a cistern. It was not long until his family fell ill with typhoid fever. Unaware of the cause of the illness, his wife Gertrude, and three children, Lodell, Ruby and Grace, all passed within a six weeks period. It was thought that son, E. C., would not recover, but he did. It was not until after all the deaths that another doctor had an analysis made of their drinking water, or the whole family likely would have passed, as the drinking water was unsafe.

It has been an age of Old Negro Remedy for curing colds, flu, and pneumonia........ "Cow Chip Tea. The dry cow chips were gathered from pastures and boiled in a cloth bag. Cups of this tea was administered. May used a spoon sugar, and, or, squeezed some lemon on it to make to more palatable, especially in giving to children.

A "Broom Weed Tea" was made and taken in the same manner for breading chills and fever. New born babies were given pieces of fat meat to suck for removing throat mucus in stubborn cases of the new born. Catnip and Sassafras Teas were used for medicinal purpose

(Last name has been added to children, for searching)

Dan & Jodie Johnson Keith - Their children were: Forrest Keith, Bonnie Keith, Bobbie Keth, Arnelius Keith, Velma Keith, Buster Keith , Theoda Keith

Anderson & Mary Gragg Keith - Their children were: Rosetta Keith, Clifford Keith, Loddie Keith, Pearl Keith, Myrtle Keith, Robert Keith

Henry & Cornelius Williams Johnson - Only one child, Artie Johnson

Mauel & Mary Bremby - Their children were: Willie Bremby, Dan Bremby, Charlie Bremby, Jack Bremby, Tillmon Bremby, Harriet Bremby, Lillie Bremby, Fannie Bremby

Elmore & Daisy Wiulliams Williams - Their children were: Sidney Williams, Odie Williams, Ira Williams

George & Rosa Giddens Dixon - Their children were: Virgie Dixon, Willie (Sugie) Dixon, Arthur (Tootie) Dixon, Waymond (Sweet) Dixon, Fannie Dixon, Mallie Ada Mary Maldina Diamond Bessie Lee Dixon (sic), Hattie Virginia Pink Dixon, Silvia Georgianne Pearl Dixon, Vassie Louella Dixon, Manda Lucy Dena Parilla Dixon, Goldie Bessie Lee Dixon, Minnie Mae Dixon, Elbert Dixon, Alice Dixon, N. C. Dixon. ( 15 Children were listed.)

Jerry & Loreall Gragg - They had no children but Aunt Loralla had the affection and love of the Sulphur Bluff area, both Black and White, she was an "Angel of Mercy" in sickness and death.

Ned Rucker - He was one of the earliest Black people at Sulphur Bluff. Names of so many of the earliest has now been forgotten.

Virge & Gertrude Simmons Dixon - Their children were: Lodell Dixon, Homer Dixon, Booker Dixon, Ruby Dixon, Roscoe Dixon, Grace Dixon, E. C. Dixon, Virge Dixon, Jr., Billie Jean Dixon

Willie Bremby - Their children were: Elgie Bremby, George Bremby, Callie Bremby, Elmira Bremby, Willie Mae Bremby, Lizzie Brown Bremby, M. E. Bremby, Jerry Bremby, Eddie Ben Bremby.

Dock & Goldie Dixon Williams - Their children were: Minnette Williams, Clyde Lee Williams, Ophelia Williams, Gladys Jewel Williams, Marvin Williams, Juanita Williams

Mack & Dicie Gragg. - Their children were:George Gragg, Christine Gragg, Cunie Mack Gragg

Dan & Ella Gragg - Their children were: Mack Gragg, Leonard Gragg, Estelle Gragg

Lamar & Pinkie Williams - Their children were: Emma Williams, Elmer Williams, Georgia Williams, Kate Williams, Bernice Williams, John Lewis Williams

Sam & Annie Hackman Williams - They only had one child, Theoda Williams

Artie & Sadie Ward Johnson - Their children were: Henry Johnson, Lois Johnson, Edwin Johnson, Carl Johnson, Ira L. Johnson, F. B. Johnson, Bernice Johnson, Doris Johnson

Sidney & Janice Carr Williams - They had no children

Ira & Robbie Clayton Williams - Their children were : Irethia Williams, Elvis C. Williams, Clarence Robert Williams, Pauline Williams, Rosa Nell Williams, Loretta Williams, Lee Otis Williams

George & Pinkie Figgers Bremly (sic)- They had only one child, Georgia Fae Bremly

Joe & Dilcy Rogers Smith Pope - Dilcy was first married to a Rev. Smith, and their children were: Leo Smith, Edna Smith. Secondly she married Joe Pope, and their children were: Oscar Lee Pope, M. L. Pope, Evelyn Pope, Ruth Pope

Oscar & Rena Adkins Daniels - Their children were: Lorenza (Tubby) Daniels, J. D. Daniels, Izellia Daniels, Gaynelle Daniels, C. B. Daniels, Beatrice (Tootsy) Daniels

Dilcy and her twin brothers lived with their Aunt Mimey Rogers at the town of Sulphur Bluff for many years. Mimey Robers and her sister, Jane, were little slave girls at Gray Rock (Winnifield) Texas. Jane and her son, Rafe, lived for awhile in the Community.

Dilcy met and married Rev. Smith in Mt. Vernon. He as an itinerant Preacher and piano tuner. It was in Kansas City that Rev. Smith deserted Dilcy and her two small children. She had struck up a good acquaintance with a neighborhood woman friend. The friend scrubbed floors at a Catholic Convent, and she wanted to take a leave of absence for two months and visit her relatives in California. Dilcy agreed to work and hold her job for her until she returned. Dilcy was always a huge person, good humored, and enjoyed working. A lifetime she was an unforgettable person around the town. She walked from the Community always carrying a stick which said was her dog-stick. Walking this long distance and working so hard, was never a complaint of her’s. Being of such large body, she was a big eater.

When working at the Convent, scrubbing floors eight hours a day, the mid-day lunch she was fed, consisted of a little bowl of peaches and a few crackers. She allowed it might be alright for the Sisters to get by on that, as they just spent their days praying and fasting all the time.

She and the children returned to Texas. Having no work in making a living, she thought it best to try and marry an old man. Such a man she could depend on staying home and minding the children. Uncle Joe Pope filled the bill.

It was during the great Depression that the Community built them a log house. It was not very far from another historic log hut built by a Mr. Bivins, prior to 1842. He was the first white white man to have lived in Hopkins County. The first caravan of Hargraves camped at this vacant log hut. It was the last night of their long journey from Indiana to the site of Old Sulphur Bluff, which they founded in 1842. Old Sulphur Bluff was about three miles up South Sulphur River from the community.

Elmore Williams and Virge Dixon owned syrup mills. They made Ribbon Cane and Sorgham Syrups of fine quality. The stores in the area sold their syrups. Eating a breakfast that would stick to your ribs in the days of hard work often consisted of thick fried home cured ham, eggs, redeye gravy, fried mush, big fluffy biscuits and finishing off breakfast was some delicious Ribbon Cane syrup and fresh home-churned butter, with some strong boiled coffee. The "Good Old Days" did have some good things to be sure. Artie Johnson also had a syrup mill.

The community being situated on South Sulphur River and the vast Sulphur Bottoms was a natural paradise for fishing, hunting and trapping. Fish traps and barrel nets were placed all along Sulphur River and fish were caught by the wagon loads. Big fish fries were not uncommon. The trapping of all kinds of fur animals was a source of extra spending money. With a few, it was a livelihood. Furs were bought at Sulphur Bluff, while some trappers shipped their furs to distant markets.

During and after World War II, the Community dwindled in population. The young people that went to cities and to the Military Services, did not return to the Community. Row crop farming had gone the way of the horse and buggy. The old people had passed, or found it necessary to move closer to their children living in the cities. For some 20 years of the 1950's and 1960's an annual Home Coming was held. Preaching, singing, picnic dinner, and a lot of old time visiting made the day so very enjoyable. In this busy work-a-day time, simple getting together just to talk and visit is a thing of the past everywhere.

Ira and Robbie Williams are the last survivors of the Sulphur Bluff Black Community. The M. V. International Farms now owns all the land, except the Ira Williams farm. Some two miles distance from Ira Williams lives a couple be the name of Jesse & Mary Lee Perkins. He works on the Clyde Harris ranch. Lorenza (Tubby) Daniels works on the Clyde Mayes ranch

Source of information: Mrs. Lucy Dixon Bigelow, Sulphur Springs, Texas, age 81 years

Mr. & Mrs. Ira Williams, Sulphur Bluff, Texas, age 81.