Virgil Lewis
Oral History Interview


Source:  Oral History interview, date unknown.
Original in Vertical File in Herman Brown Free Library.
Thanks to Donna Gregg for her work in transcribing this item (2000).

I was born in Smithwick, Texas in 1896. I lived at Smithwick until I was 45 years old and I've been living near Burnet for the past 35 years. My grandparents came from Bosque County to Smithwick Mills in 1866 and they bought the mill from some of Noah Smithwick's descendants. He had gone to California in 1861 and sold the mill to his nephew John Hubbard. Hubbard was murdered later and his body thrown into Cow Creek, at the point now known as Hubbard Falls.
My grandfather and his brother came here to buy that mill because they were millers by trade. Their father had built the Stinnet Mill at Salado. My grandfather was George M. Stinnet and his brother was Thomas. The Smithwick Mill was closed in the fall of 1901 because there was a store and a gin in another part of the community that was easier to get to; also they didn't need the waterpower anymore.
I remember watching them gin cotton and grinding wheat and corn at the old Smithwick Mill in 1901. Another gin and mill were built about three miles from there; those were run by steam power. People had come from long distances to the Smithwick Mill, especially to bring wheat.

The site was known as Smithwick Mills -- that was the official post office name. They carried mail there from Austin on a packhorse. John Turner took the mail from Austin to three or four post offices on the south side of the Colorado River and crossed at Smithwick. Of course there wasn't any such thing as parcel post  ; just a few papers and letters. Turner lived at Smithwick Mills and made the round trip twice a week.
When the mill closed in 1901, the name was changed to just Smithwick, since there wasn't a mill there anymore. T. A. Stinnet was postmaster there for quite a while, and a Mr. Cox, and my father Frank Lewis. I was an assistant postmaster during my father's term.
My mother was Florence Stinnet Lewis. My father was born in the southeast part of Burnet County and moved to Smithwick when he was 2 or 3 years old. His father bought a place that took in Eagle _________ on the Colorado River. He had a farm and ranch there for 50 years. The big problem in those days was water and they had to have some place near the river or that had plenty of springs on it.
I went to Smithwick School up to the 8th grade, and then to the R. E. Lee School, of which R. J. Ritchie was the superintendent. The Smithwick School was near the mouth of Post Oak Creek; then it was moved to near the store and post office, 3 or 4 miles north of the first location. There is now a small store at that place. The main store burned while my father owned it. Then he moved about a mile and a half and opened another store. Then he closed that store and discontinued the post office. Then another party named Hall started up where there's a little store and filling station now.
We had two rooms and two teachers; a pine, box building with a partition. My first teacher was a young lady named Crawford. Professor Riddel, grandfather of Sheriff Riddel, also taught. Another good teacher was R. A. Mobley. He also taught in private schools during vacation. Public school only lasted about 4 or 5 months. I had the privilege of going to private schools some. The private schools tried to teach on above the public schools, above the 8th grade. Ancient history and other things that we didn't have in lower grades were taught. We didn't have many discipline problems, but when the teachers were sure that correction was needed, they occasionally did whip some people.
There were quite a number of people in my class. One of my buddies was Ross Cox, grandson of the founder of the store and post office at Smithwick--who built the building that's there now over 100 years ago. That building is still in good condition--a good dining room on the ground floor and the Masonic Lodge uses the upper floor. Will Jackson was also in my class, and Ary McClish (?), Otto Faith (?) and Emma Cox, Stella Shaford (?) who later became Stella Skaggs, a well-known lady of this part of this country; and Lonnie, her brother.

Most people in that area farmed and ranched, and grew corn, cotton and oats, or maize. I remember when they began to fence that country. At first there wasn't any fences except their fields they farmed, but when I was very young, five or six years old, they began to fence off the land. It took several years for everyone to get that done. They were mostly barbed wire, but the older ones were rock fences, rail or picket fences, or even brush fences.

I worked on the old Company Ranch as far back as sixty years ago. People pastured their cattle there and when I married, my wife had six cows out there. A few days after I married I saddled by horse and went out to get these six cows out of all the other stock that was on an 8,000-acre ranch. They were branded and it didn't take too long to find them by going to the waterholes at the right time of day. No one lived there then, just some people who were cutting cedar at that time. The place was sold several times. A man named Word owned it, and another one named Norwood.
I've heard stories about the gold buried out there for as long as I can remember, but I can't really tell you anything about it. There were lots of stories about Jacob's Well over there too because it was an area of lots of water. Water was a big thing then and it was just sort of a natural well so people knew about it. I guess it was about 25 feet from the ledge around it down to the water and it just looked like a well but nature put it there.
The Masonic Lodge at Smithwick began meeting in that building in 1875 when that lodge was about 10 years old. It had started at Turkey Bend; right on the Burnet-Travis County line. My grandfather and his brother were charter members of the Henry Thomas Lodge. A. M. Cox, who built the store and post office, was the man who had gotten the lodge going at Turkey Bend. Where they moved it to, where it is now, was a more convenient place and more people had access to it. Henry Thomas was a noted mason and helped found several lodges. In 1869 a Henry Thomas chapter was established in Georgetown. Thomas was a good friend of Mr. Cox.
[Highway]1431 hasn't been paved much more than ten years, but there was a lot of traffic on it even before then, people going to Austin. The first car I can remember seeing was in Marble Falls and it belonged to Bob Evans, the most wealthy man in town then. The car was at a blacksmith shop, getting a grease job. There wasn't any such thing as a garage then, about 1911. That was quite a novelty. Everybody couldn't get a car at once, and then I guess it took about 15 years for most people to switch from horses and buggies to cars; over a period of years anyway. I owned my first car in 1919; a Chevrolet that cost $550 new.
My wife's maiden name is Avis Susan Jackson. I saw her at gatherings quite often and finally I made arrangements to see her. We went driving on Sundays, picnics, or Kodaking. The house I was born in was built by my grandfather in 1882 and it's still in good repair. It's about 8 1/2 miles east of Marble Falls, about 1/2 mile off 1431.
There were a lot of people living at Smithwick when I was young. The Shafors, three different Hood families, Halls, several Jackson families, McClish families, all lived there. There were usually about 90 to 100 in the school. The principal took the older grades and the other teacher had the younger half. At recess we had lots of athletics; mostly baseball. At the end of the school term we had a big party and homecoming each year. We started each day at school with the National Anthem or some patriotic song. And prayer.

[Transcriber's Note:
  • Virgil Eric LEWIS, b. 13 June 1896, d. 11 December 1979; buried in Smithwick Cemetery, Burnet County, Texas.
  • Son of Francis Porter Lewis and Florence M. Stinnet.
  • Married (1) Estelle MAXEY 18 August 1915, b. 2 August 1896, d. 3 March 1925;
  • Married (2) Avis JACKSON 11 September 1926, b. 7 March 1902]


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