Mary Jane McFarland
Fannin County TXGenWeb



Mary Jane McFarland
This photo was in an album belonging to Elizabeth "Bettie" Holderness Haden,
wife of Joseph B. Haden. It is the postcard type - made at Thompson's in Bonham. 
On the back inscribed in Bettie's hand is:
"Mrs. J. F. McFarland.  Mother of ten children when this was taken."
Sent in by Kay Haden
"Who is researching and would very much like to know more about the 
80-member caravan that traveled from North Caroline to Missouri."

Diary sent by Betsy Thaggard
by Jean Shelley Jennings Henry (DeBusk), Texas Christian University, 1937 

This article is an attempt by a granddaughter to present an account of a remarkable pioneer Texas woman. Such a presentation at best is an inadequate acknowledgement of what our state owes to its early settlers who helped bring Texas our of the wilderness, and to which my generation only adds or subtracts. Such strong characteristics and principles as those developed by many early Texans do not take root in rapidly changing populations. Grandfather and Grandmother McFarland remained all their lives from childhood in the same locality. My grandmother was always a devoted mother, yet one who never sacrificed discipline for sentimentality. Her opinions were formed unrestricted by preconceived philosophy. Her important life and high character were the results largely of small duties, faithfully performed, for fourscore years.

Copy of Only Diary Made Out by Mary Jane McFarland (Feb. 26, 1852 - Oct. 31, 1935). Born at Knight's Prairie near McLeansboro, Illinois, Hamilton, Co. 

4. Went to Putnam Co., Tenn., with my parents to visit grandparents.
6. Started to school at Moore's Prairie, in log cabin. 
8. Beginning of Civil War. Parents sold out and started to Texas. 
9. Six weeks on road. Landed in Ellis Co., Texas. (Bought furniture of Joe Meredith Hill, a small bureau which was made by Elisha Meredith and now owned by Joe Meredith and Lola Hill) 
10. Lived in Ellis Co. near Waxahachie in Boyd home. 
11. Moved to McKnight home 
12. Mother's father and grandfather traded belongings in Ellis Co. for place near Bartley schoolhouse, where they are both buried. 
13. Went to school at Walker's school house. 
14. My father died. Little brother was just 8 months old. 
15. Grandfather Harper died. 
16. My mother and six children worked our best. 
17. Went to school every day I could 
18. I went to school no more. 
19. I helped mother with the little children and made the best of life we could. 
Agreed to marry some time soon, which I did six days before I was twenty years old. 
21. Went to housekeeping. Sam came. 
22. Well settled and happy. 
23. Betsy came. Got a nice new cooking stove. 
24. Took care of children and helped Daddy build new kitchen. 
25. Flo came. 
26. Got a new sewing machine 
28. Mary came. 
29. Continued to care for the children. Daddy got new thrasher. 
30. Tenn came. 
31. Was baptized. 
34. Built the new house. Moved to town. Bought the piano. Moved back to country place. 
Sam went to Campbell. 

On a torn piece of cheap old scratch paper, this arresting bit of document, penciled in my late grandmother's quaint hand, spoke to me as plainly one day as if it were her own well-modulated voice. "Here," it seemed to say, "is the simple chronicle of a life whose years were underscored in recollection because they were 'uphill' years on the Texas frontier -- here is something symbolic of a host of sturdy pioneer men and women whose significant lives, perhaps by their apparent insignificance, have too long remained unrecorded!" 

I accepted the challenge. 

In 1861, a father, mother, and four children left Hamilton County, Illinois, in a covered wagon bound for Texas. Six weeks they were on the road. Mary Jane Harper, nine years old, was the oldest child and assumed much of the responsibility of her younger sister and the two brothers during the difficult move.

Seventy years after this trip over sparsely settled country, my grandmother, Mary Jane Harper McFarland, quietly related incidents of the journey as her own clear memory stretched back into those days of conflict. The problem of Missouri secession was a critical one in 1861, and the night the Harpers reached St. Louis, they found a skirmish taking place there. This being Mary Jane's first experience with actually seeing hand-to-hand combat, it made an everlasting impression, as did the rise of the South Canadian River at Eufala, Oklahoma. At this juncture of the trip, several wagons had congregated to wait until the water went down. Ingenious Mr. Harper and others, anxious to get on to Texas, devised a scheme whereby all could be transported to the other side. By floating the wagon beds, a raft was made on which the children were placed, while the horses, men and women swam across. Toward the end of the trip, the family passed through Sherman and Dallas, then little more than names on small wooden station placards. 

The Harpers settled first in Ellis County near Waxahachie for over a year. Then Mr. Harper moved to Fannin County, where he established his family before putting on a gray uniform. It was almost impossible for him to communicate with them during the war, and many a cold day Mary Jane would ride horseback with her little brother Jasper clinging tight behind her as they went into town for the letter that never came. 

The next few years were marked by an undercurrent of sadness and disillusionment characteristic of so many homes during that difficult war period when households, newly established, were disrupted by the absence of the men. Soon after Grandmother's father's return from the war, he died, leaving a wife and six children, two still babies, to fend for themselves during the hectic Reconstruction period. There was no money; during the war all the goods they had left in Illinois had been confiscated, and Mary Jane, now fourteen years old, wore her mother's cut-down dresses, and then carefully handed them down to the younger sister for further wear. 

I am repeatedly impressed with the simplicity of her brief diary. For her sixteenth year -- "My mother and six children worked our best." No disparagement, no complaint, but brave acceptance and resourcefulness -- two of many remarkable qualities exhibited throughout her life. 

Her entire formal education was meager. For a few months during her sixth and seventh years she attended school in a log house. After coming to Texas, housework and care of the other children left little time for anything but intermittent attendance. "17th year -- went to school every day I could. 18th year -- I went to school no more." 

Grandmother and Grandfather attended the same writing school, which was taught by Uncle Tom Burnett for a time in Fannin County after the Civil War. Concentrated study of the Blueback Speller made her easily rank the highest in that subject, and years later she could still spell down everybody at a "bee." Later grandfather said he was attracted to Mary Jane because she could excel him in spelling. 

Less than a week before her twentieth birthday, considered a late date for a girl to marry in those days, Mary Jane Harper and James Franklin McFarland were married. His grandfather had emigrated from Tennessee in 1836 and had acquired a title to land north of Ladonia. "Jim" could remember clearly the barn built by his father back of their home on this land, the only entrance or exit to which was through the house, so that the Indians could not reach the valued farm animals. 

If there was to be even a modest 'trousseau," Mary Jane would have to provide it for herself. The fall before she was married, she carded, spun and wove sixty yards of heavy, strong jeans. She had figured that the practical cotton and wool cloth would be the most marketable product that she could make with her own hands. Taking the material to Honey Grove, 15 miles away, she was able to sell it all and use the money to buy herself a few wedding clothes. 

Within six weeks after the snowy wedding day, she had woven nine more yards of the jeans -- enough to make a suit for her husband. The groom had never had a complete three-piece outfit until then. With what pride he wore the homespun suit into Bonham the very day the bride finished sewing securely the last seam with her capable fingers! 

The sum total of the assets of this young couple amounted to 176 acres of raw land given to the groom by his father, a $20 gold piece, and a few horses. They lived for three months with his people until the first crop was made. The $20 had been spent most carefully to buy the seed and provide bare necessities. Not one dollar of debt did the two incur, not only at this pressing period but ever in their lives. Although their material possessions amounted only to the land and the little box house built by my grandfather's hands on that land, certainly they were immeasurably the possessors of love, trust, and supreme confidence. There was very little furniture, and the kitchen utensil was a prized skillet, which served not only its intended capacity, but also as oven and roaster -- the luxury of a cookstove had to wait until a more prosperous day. How significant then Mary Jane' s 23rd year, marked by a dual importance: "Betsy (the first daughter) came. Got a new cooking stove." (Dare I scorn a modern efficiency apartment kitchen stove, provided immediately after my marriage, because it is not the latest model?) 

The shiny new Buck Brilliant cook stove demanded something more adequate than merely one corner of the one-room house, so when they had the money for the additional room, in her 24th year, she "took care of the children (Sam and Bettie) and helped Daddy build a new kitchen." She considered herself a partner in McFarland and Company, and carried uncomplainingly her part of the load. 

Grandmother was blessed with splendid health; the lot of a pioneer farmer's wife demanded it, because as he prospered, her responsibilities became more numerous and difficult: chickens to raise, cows to milk, harvest hands to fry meat or stir up corn bread for, besides keeping all the children busy and out of mischief and preparing for the next baby! 

My mother, Mary McFarland Jennings, the fourth child, says of her parents, "They made us all happy in our childhood days because they regarded each of the ten as individual. We felt we were very necessary to the happiness and success of that household. Mother never wanted us to be domineering; neither did she want us to be doormats for each other or anybody else." 

Mother was always firm for a purpose," recalls Uncle Doc (John Allen McFarland). "She would have had little to say in favor of the modern idea of complete self-expression for children. One day, I followed an impulse to hit my brother Jim with a rock, whereupon Mother demanded an explanation of such unbrotherly conduct. 'Just playing,' I retorted. 'Maybe I couldn't help it.' Meanwhile she twitched off a convenient peach limb -- she was an artist with one of those -- and I discovered how she could 'help me to help it'." 

Another time Grandmother felt the necessity of following through a threat. The little boys had been told not to go berry hunting. They disobeyed, hoping to disarm their mother by bringing her a pail full of the fruit. Hers was not a compromising nature; that evening the favorite peach tree lost another strong limb to the cause of trustworthiness. 

The oldest son, Samuel Jackson McFarland, says, "Neither did mother nor father reprimand the other in corrective measures. Nothing was settled impulsively. They discussed their problems alone together, and in the case of a business deal, apart from the interested party. Father knew more than the salient facts every farmer should know, since he and Mother worked out such information for themselves. They were great complements for each other. Without Mother, the children would never have got an education. Father had the impulse for it, but he did not realize what it took to get it. For instance, they discussed early the problem of schooling for me. Father reasoned, "Now with Sam, here, we want to give him a good education. We'll start him in when he is five years old; he can go clear on 'til he's ten when he'll be big enough to work." 

There were no child psychology books on the shelves at this McFarland home place. Mary Jane Harper McFarland would not have known what the word meant, yet she had unique methods of imparting lasting lessons that worked. When Uncle Sam was a small boy, grandmother took him with her to visit the Hulseys, who lived quite a distance up the road. As they walked home, the youngster complained of being tired and of his feet hurting something awful. His mother saw no reason for whining, and could always substitute something better for self-pity. She walked over to a nearby tree, broke off a limb, and gave it to her son, saying, "Isn't this fine that we found a horse right here for you to ride home on?" The little boy was surprised and delighted and immediately mounted his "horse" and galloped merrily on home. 

"Father assigned me the job of ploughing up an old cane patch," further recalls Uncle Sam. "It was a rough job. I had a mean pair of mules to plough with, and I couldn't leave them. The day was scorching hot and Mother had promised to bring me some water in the middle of the afternoon. She didn't show up and I became thirstier and more disgruntled. I planned to 'get one on her' about forgetting to come. When I got home, she let me say my speech, then calmly replied to my queries that she had been there with the water at the appointed time, but as she was approaching, she heard me swearing at the stubborn mules and had decided to take the water back. Never since have I desired to indulge in that manner of speech."' 

Another incident that illustrates Grandmother's intolerance of cursing, even in milder forms, is one which Uncle Sam can barely remember. He was watching his father while the latter was making a gate and mashed his finger. The accident elicited an oath, whereupon his mother came out and said, "Jim, we'd better talk a bit. Our boy is coming along. Don't you think it would be better if he didn't hear you swearing?" 

Abiding confidence in the honesty of her children was second nature for Grandmother. Uncle Sam started to school before he was five years old -- just big enough to hold on behind his Aunt Rado, the teacher, on a horse. One day during the first school year he asked to stay home on account of headache. His mother asked him no further questions and let him stay. When the teacher called to ask whether the child were really ill, or had just played off, Grandmother replied, "Professor Slaughter, when my children say they are sick, they are sick." 

Her intense desire for her children's education did not stop with just making it possible for them, but she helped them herself. When one had trouble with Latin, she paid some of her precious money from the small leather trunk on top of the safe for a grammar [book] that she studied at night after the work was done, in order to be prepared to help with the Latin homework and keep that child encouraged. Her quick, intelligent mind grasped new knowledge readily, and her remarkable concentrative power made information, once perused, hers forever. 

Mrs. W.M. Williams (Florence), a daughter who lives in Denton, Texas, recalls, "She realized that we needed outside influence to 'bring us out,' so she took Miss Ela Hockaday to board, also Miss Kusel, Betsy's German friend, who was such a help in putting Germany on our map, besides stimulating our interest in crocheting, music and other things." 

One time there was a convention being held at a schoolhouse close by. Grandmother and Grandfather entertained the 40 teacher delegates in their home because of a rain that kept them from going back to Ladonia for the night. (They had recently moved into a newer, larger home.) When the last pallet bed had been placed, at a very late hour, Grandmother began slicing ham and breaking eggs for breakfast. She was glad of this opportunity to have this group in her home and to hear their "outside" viewpoints. 

Her ability to stand physical pain was superlatively stoic. She and Grandfather gave two of my aunts a tour of the continent in 1910 as a part of their education that summer. They were to leave for New York on Wednesday to spend a few days before sailing. The Sunday before, Grandmother was in a buggy accident, and her arm was broken. She said nothing about it, not wanting to spoil the girls' long-anticipated leavetaking or cause them to postpone it. An X-ray the day following their departure revealed that it was a break. At another and much earlier time, she had several teeth extracted by a traveling dentist who did his work in the parlor without benefit of anything to relieve the pain. After this trying physical ordeal, Grandmother went about her work as usual and cooked for the large family and many farmhands. The only way the children knew anything was different was that their mother retired earlier that night than was usual and that her face was unnaturally drawn. 

So completely was she the confidante of her husband that Grandfather was frequently heard to remark when he had some bothersome business question to decide, "I'll consult Mary Jane about that." As soon as possible, he had begun buying land. An early experience with a lawyer's fee of $5 to draw up a deed made him determined to learn simple legal procedure himself, and a law book was added to the bookshelf along with the Bible, Shakespeare, and Enoch Arden. Mary Jane, however, was the first one to learn how to write documents of land purchase; "Jim" didn't bother with it any more, knowing she could be relied upon. 

Miss Lillie Benson, of Arlington, Texas, a long-time family friend, remembers well being at the McFarland house helping take care of the children when Grandfather came in with some men with whom he had made a deal. All he said was, "Mary Jane." Grandmother shook from her hands the water from the pan on the wood stove, dried them on her apron, opened the inevitable safe drawer that contained her writing materials, and drew up a whole contract in longhand without consulting a book. 

Grandmother's discerning mind worked out her own religious philosophy. She realized early in her married life that she needed a Higher Power to help her carry on. She sought and found her savior, and decided that her support would be in the Christian Church. In her quiet way, mainly by living out in everyday life the profession of her faith, Grandfather was brought to take the same step, and he was formally accepted into the same church. Their faith was simplicity itself. They believed in God and acted accordingly. 

Grandmother was anxious for her husband's parents to see his baptismal service. They hesitated to leave the family gold at the house. (Banks were highly distrusted.) Grandmother offered to stay with the money while they went to the church, and the arrangement was made. After they left, she placed the gold in saddlebags, rode into a wheat granary and buried the money, and galloped to the church in time to see the service. Immediately after, she recovered the bags and returned them safely. Even though her scheme was discovered, her resourcefulness was rewarded by forgiveness. 

To Grandfather, membership in a church meant active participation in it and its institutions. The church, Christian colleges, and missionary agencies received his hearty support. They were worthy of the most he could give financially, because they were dedicated to the promotion of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The first money he paid for anything other than business was a check for $500 for Texas Christian University when it was located in Waco. He took pride in the fact that although he had only a primitive, incomplete early education, all nine of his children (one, Eldorado, died when a small child) had received a college degree from some Texas university or college. Several of them attended T.C.U., which continued to received his financial support during his lifetime. His oldest son, Samuel J., served as president of the Board of Trustees of T.C.U. for many years. 

As the boys and girls grew to manhood and womanhood, received an education, married and established homes of their own, Grandfather and Grandmother McFarland were able to take life more leisurely than before. By wise savings and investments, J. F. McFarland had accumulated a sizeable fortune for those days, and was wise enough to use it for the best interests of his family, community and state. He was greatly respected and it is interesting to note that he was a lifetime Republican in the solidly Democratic community of Ladonia, and he knew why. ("Which is more than I know about my political convictions," says Uncle Sam. "I'm a Republican because he was, I suspect.") 

Grandfather was a staunch admirer of Abraham Lincoln and advocated strongly all his policies. He helped wage a spirited war against the liquor traffic and gambling. 

His death in 1917, on his and his beloved Mary Jane's 45th wedding anniversary, and in his 70th year, was mourned by all classes -- rich, poor, black and white. I am told that a large number of friends from all over Texas attended his funeral. 

Grandmother, pioneer-bred to bravery and courage, wrote to my mother in March of that year, "How thankful I am that I have the assurance of everyone's doing his best. This dear family shall be united, when each after a life of service has finished here and gone to that home where Daddy has gone. He left in full confidence that he will meet us all without the loss of one. Let us pray our Heavenly Father to so guide us through the remainder of our lives that when our time comes, our friends can say of us at least some of the good things they have so justly said of him." 

She had received her engagement ring on their 43rd anniversary. It is significant that they both let that wait until other, more necessary needs had been met. 

Grandfather had left security for his family in bank stock and black land, thinking by these safe investments they would be comfortably cared for. As it happened, of course, the war and postwar years left nothing entirely safe, and the bank stock proved as costly as the blackland proved unproductive. With much of this former hard-earned security swept away for a time, never once did Grandmother become bitter, faithless, critical. "I shall live to see these hard times right about," she would say as she went on about her home tasks of putting up beans, black-eyed peas, tart June apples, and preserves from the little Indian peaches, being very careful all the while to conserve every drop of food value. After the cooking was attended to, her busy fingers would find much to do. Perhaps she would make a knit sleeper for one of the children who were all grown and many of them married now, but who might be not so warm on a cold winter night, or perhaps a gray rag rug, designed herself from scraps carefully saved through the years from many a cotton shirt or gingham dress. 

After her husband's death, Grandmother lived in her "little brown house." Two of her sons went overseas during World War I and served on dangerous battlefields; another served in this country by looking after the farms that were so essential to the country's food supply. Through all this trying time and afterward she kept her mind actively occupied and her hands busy doing neat handwork on sheets, pillowcases, pillows, quilts. She must have made literally miles of "hair-pin trimming" for the nine children and many grandchildren. Her garden was a beauty spot in the town; always there were touch-me-nots, cornflowers, daisies and honeysuckles climbing riotously all over the fence. Seed that wouldn't respond to anyone else's care grew for her abundantly. The day before the first weakening heart attack that sent her to Dallas for treatment, she was seen working busily in her blue-checked bonnet, repairing the garden fence and caring lovingly for the pinks, zinnias, flaming verbenas and other blossoms she understood so well. 

Her last years were spent partly in visiting her family, at whose homes she insisted on spoiling the grandchildren, much to the amazement of her own children who remembered her strict supervision over their own conduct. 

On the evening of October 31, 1935, at the home of her youngest daughter Lola and Joe M. Hill in Dallas, Grandmother McFarland died as peacefully and unobtrusively as she had lived. The little brown house that she had left only a few days before was in perfect order. Not a thing was out of place. It was as neat as the symmetrical little piles of quilt pieces she had been working on in her bedroom. 

Surely a heartfelt tribute is the one made by the Negro woman, Annie Clark, who stayed with her the last few years of her life. "She was sure a wonderful woman," she writes. "I used to tell her she was so good to me; it was like going to school working for her. She was my teacher. I sure do miss her. Mrs. McFarland was a good Christian woman, a wonderful mother, and was always kind to me. She was always helping the poor and needy. She like to keep busy. She and I have spent many happy hours together. We would always find something to do. Her children, all of them were awfully good and nice to her. Before retiring at night, she would always read the Bible. You know she were a good Christian woman for she would always let me off to go to my Sunday school and church every Sunday. May God bless her children, grand, and great grandchildren." 

Grandmother would be the last to be conscious of her wide sphere of influence. She was not a woman of literary attainments, or varied experience and acquaintance with the world. Had she been, perhaps her philosophy would be more interesting to the sophisticated, but the people who made Texas were not sophisticates. Her descendants and countless others today enjoy the benefits made possible by her kind. Many of the religious, political, and social influences that affected such pioneers as she was leave us unmoved; yet we should understand them in the light of their day, and appreciate their splendid contribution. 

The span of Grandmother's life enclosed the destructive backwash of two wars; she was intimately associated with pain, hard work, birth and death. After not much less than a century of wear and tear, Mary Jane McFarland lives on as a vivid person -- not only the figure of strong maternity, the head of her family, but also the symbol of the development of Texas. 

(This was originally published in FRONTIER TIMES, April 1937, a magazine "devoted to Frontier History, Border Tragedy, and Pioneer Achievement.") Published by J. Martin Hunter. 


© 2005
Email Any Additions or suggestions

  Fannin Home page