Of Railroads and Men
[This series of essays begins here]
George W. Ervin, his wife Sarah Jane and their seven children arrived in Texas in 1866, settling either immediately or rapidly in Hill County, where their eighth child, Robert T. would be born on 30 January 1867. In the four years that would elapse before Hester Jane’s birth, in July 1870, G.W. Ervin would lose his father, Robert Ervin (05 June 1800 – 19 September 1869) and one son, John P. Ervin (29 Dec 1856 – 11 Oct 1868). Since Robert Ervin died in Hill County, there are strong chances that G.W. and his father were living under the same roof. Jane Ervin, his mother, would remain with her son until her death, on 10 August 1887. George W. Ervin’s eldest daughter Marilda (born 13 Nov or Dec 1850) married John P. Mitchell on 6 December 1868, in Hill County, too.
At the time of the 1870 census, G.W. Ervin’s household was as follows:
G. W. Ervin, (born 09 Nov 1830, Rowan County, NC, declared himself as a farmer); Sarah Jane Ervin, (supposedly born 09 May 1832, TN, but unverified); Jane Ervin (née Tennison, G.W.’s mother, born 15 May 1806, Rowan Co, NC).
And the children:
Christina C. Ervin (born 24 Dec 1852, Tishomingo Co, MS), Christopher C. Ervin (born 26 Apr 1855, Tishomingo Co, MS), William Vinson Ervin (born 12 Jan 1860, Tishomingo Co, MS), Georgia Alice Ervin (born 17 May 1862, Tishomingo Co, MS), David D. Ervin (born 09 Feb 1865, Tishomingo Co, MS), Robert T. Ervin (born 30 Jan 1867, Hill Co, TX).
To which should be added Hester Jane Ervin (born 11 Jul 1870, but not mentioned on the census because it only covered those born on or before June 1st), probably named after her grandmothers (Martha) Esther (Mason) and Jane (Tennyson).
It is unclear when exactly the Ervins left Hill County. A 1872 document mentions them in Shady Grove, Arkansas, but it is difficult to say whether they were arriving, leaving, or just visiting. Howard has his grandfather operating a store in Fayetteville in the late 70s, so maybe G.W. Ervin did manage a store for a while there, (but earlier than what Howard thought). At any rate, the family wouldn’t stay out of Texas for very long.
In late 1873 at the very latest, but probably quite earlier than that, G.W. Ervin relocated to Dallas. No longer a farmer, no longer operating a store (if he ever did), George W. had become a businessman. Everything that would happen to him during the next twelve years of his life would be connected, not to whippoorwills, but to the Dallas & Wichita Railroad.
The Dallas & Wichita Railroad had been formed in 1871 with the object of building a commuter line from Dallas to Lewisville, Denton County, but the Panic of 1873 shut it down before any real construction was done. It was given new life in the months that followed when J.W. Calder of Nevada bought its debts, and a new board of eight directors was elected on January 5, 1874. Several prominent men were among them: Calder himself, of course, but also John Calvin McCoy, and former Dallas Mayor Henry S. Ervay. George W. Ervin was one of those eight men.
George W. Ervin would remain on the board for the next several years, but it was only indirectly that his position would prove beneficial to him, as was probably his intention from the beginning. He had been engaged for some time in real estate (he appears as “real estate agent” in a 1875 Dallas directory, and several maps of an area of Dallas connected with the future railroad are captioned as “Ervin’s addition to the City of Dallas,” with sometimes a “GW” added in front of the name to identify the man). More than a railroad man, G.W. Ervin was a real estate dealer. A few weeks later, in May 1874 at the latest, another important connection was made when fellow director Henry S. Ervay helped a man named Marcellus Pointer sell some real estate belonging to G.W. Ervin. Marcellus Pointer would also soon become involved with the Dallas & Wichita Railroad, until 1878 that is, when Calder was murdered. Marcellus Pointer was one of three men accused of the murder, but he was acquitted, (this affair evidently caused the D&W RR, already not in so brilliant shape, to go definitely under.) But it was not for that reason that Marcellus Pointer would play an important role in G.W. Ervin’s future life. It was because of his niece.
As G.W. Ervin’s affairs were gaining momentum, his wife Sarah Jane died on June 2nd 1874, “after a lingering illness” (Dallas Daily Herald obit, 03 Jun 1874). She had given birth to a tenth child on April 6 or 16, a girl named Lizzie who would survive her mother by only one day. Hester Jane Ervin, not even 4, had just lost her mother.
Less than a year later, on April 14, 1875, G.W. Ervin took Alice Wynne for his second wife. Alice Wynne had recently arrived in Dallas from Mississippi, and was the daughter of Joel Echols Wynne and Martha Ann Pointer, sister to Marcellus Pointer. G.W. Ervin’s private and professional life were becoming intricately laced.
Shortly after his marriage, G.W. Ervin decided to relocate in Lewisville, Denton County, where he would buy and sell land and lots over the next few years. He moved there in the second half of 1875, evidently capitalizing on the railroad company in the hope of making a fortune when the train would eventually make it to Lewisville, but he was also thinking beyond that, or rather below:
We had the pleasure of meeting in our office yesterday, Colonel G.W. Ervin, of Denton County. Colonel E. has an immense coal deposit on his lands, and of course awaits the advent of the Dallas and Wichita with great interest. (The Dallas Daily Herald, 22 May 1877)
The present indications are that there will be most enough in Denton County to fatten every hog in the state… G.W. Erwin writes to the Monitor from Lewisville, Denton County, as follows: “I am making good progress developing my mineral deposits, and the indications prove more favorable daily. Good miners and experts pronounced the indication for coal, lead and copper as fine as they ever saw. The surface shows iron, then comes slate, thin layers of cannel coal, which burns well, then lead, silver and copper. Oil indications are pronounced as good as in the famous Pennsylvania oil region, and our shaft is now 36 feet deep and progressing well. (The Galveston Daily News, 16 April 1878)
There is much talk here of the mineral resources of Col. Ervin, of the Lewisville hotel. It is believed that capitalists could come here and make millions out of them. (The Dallas Daily Herald, 18 August 1880)
The 1880 census does indeed indicate “keeps hotel” as GW’s profession, but this was evidently not his primary source of income, far from it. The ex-farmer from Mississippi was now making serious money.
By the time he relocated to Lampasas, sometime between late 1885 and 1887, Alice had given G.W. Ervin three new children: Coralie (1876), Jessie Florence (1880) and Annie (1882). Two more, the last ones, would be born soon: Winton (1886) and Lulu (1887). Of the children born of Sarah Jane, only William Vinson, Georgia Alice, Robert T. Ervin, and Hester Jane remained, raised by Alice, probably helped by G.W.’s mother. G.W. Ervin eventually moved to Exeter, Missouri, in 1890, where he would spend the last ten years of his life, dying there on 21 May 1900.
G.W. and Sarah Jane’s second child, Christina C. had married a Dr. Lou Thomas. The couple left Texas and moved to Indian Territory around 1884, settling near Fishertown, close to Muskogee. One of their first visitors there was her brother William Vinson Ervin, who wanted to become a physician (before he opted for journalism). G.W. Ervin very likely followed, though the newspaper entry inexplicably has him as “Dr. Phillips from Dallas,” though his identity is obvious. Dr. Lou Thomas died sometime between 1885 and 1891. On June 16, 1892, Christina married John Oliver Cobb, a prominent merchant of Muskogee, a wedding which was, according to the local newspaper, “somewhat a surprise to their friends, though it was not wholly unexpected.” The newlyweds spent some time traveling during their honeymoon, spending some time in Arkansas, and at the Ervins in Missouri.
It was there that Hester Jane met Christina’s husband for the first time. Coralie, GW Ervin and Alice Wynne’s eldest daughter, kept an autograph book, and Christina and JO Cobb wrote a few words in it on 22 August 1892. On the same day, Hester Jane did the same, quoting Shakespeare: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Famous lines from Macbeth that Hester’s son would put to good use when he would write the Solomon Kane story “The Blue Flame of Vengeance,” 37 years later.
In December, it was Hester’s turn to pay her sister a visit in Muskogee, where Christina had “been quite sick with la grippe.” Hester caught sick in turn and was stuck at her sister’s home for a few weeks at least. (For more on C.C. Ervin and Dr. Lou Thomas, see Rob Roehm’s “Ervins in Oklahoma“)
Years later, Howard would write: “My mother was not content in Missouri, and she spent much of her time in Texas, with various relatives. Incidentally, she spent most of the year of 1894 in Muskogee, in the old Indian Territory. An older sister had married a cowman who lived there, and my mother stayed with them.”
It is difficult to say whether Hester did stay a year at her sister’s, but Cobb, a wealthy merchant, was anything but a “cowman.” Howard also wrote: “My mother used to live in Oklahoma [...] You can’t fool her about Indians. But she didn’t know any of these strong, silent, noble savages. Those she knew were dirty, thieving rascals who came around at night, stealing, burning, murdering. She saw terrible things when she was a girl. She saw white people tortured and murdered. She knew of young girls being kidnapped by Indians.”
Hester Jane seems to have been genuinely frightened by Indians, but if what we can reconstruct of her stay in Muskogee is any indication, she was much more a witness of courtroom battles than anything else: John Oliver Cobb went all the way to the Supreme Court to prove that his first wife was part-Cherokee (so he could himself become a Cherokee citizen by marriage, and hence set up a very profitable business in Indian Territory). The legal battle between him and the Cherokees lasted for years. In the meantime Cobb’s first wife had died and he had remarried with Christina, Hester Jane’s sister.
Hester may have spent the full year 1894 with her sister, or she could have been alternating her stays in Missouri with visits to her siblings, which seems to sum up what she did from 1892 to 1903. She was obviously enjoying a life that must have been as pleasant as it was financially comfortable: her father was a rich man; Cobb was a rich merchant, William Vinson was becoming a successful journalist, her brother Robert T. Ervin was a promising banker who had married the daughter of one of the wealthiest men of Galveston…
And what was bound to happen probably happened during one of those visits. Hester Jane Ervin fell in love.
Not with Isaac Mordecai Howard.
With special thanks to my partner-in-Ervin-research Terry Baker, who supplied me with some information on the Dallas & Wichita Railroad and all the photos on this page.
[Next installment here]