Ervin in Coke

Last winter my dad and I drove to Texas for the gazillionth time. One of our stops was at Coke County, where the Howard family lived in 1908-09 in the little town of Bronte. Besides hunting for the Howards, I was also looking for Ervins—Hester Howard’s brother, William Vinson Ervin, to be specific. So we spent some time at the county seat, a town named Robert Lee.

W. V. Ervin is perhaps best known, when he is remembered at all, as the father of Robert Howard’s cousins Maxine and Lesta (image above from the 1919 El Rodeo, the Big Spring High School yearbook). W. V. appears to have been a big shot in the town of Big Spring, over in Howard County, where he located with his family in 1898 and where the Howards visited in 1908. But before Ervin settled there, he was all over the place: Albany, Ferris, Lampasas, and—of all places—Robert Lee in Coke County.

I already knew that our man had lived in the county because of a transcription I’d found on a genealogy website. According to the transcript, a “W. V. Ervin” was named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness” ($45) dated February 8, 1892, claim #84 in Minutes of Accounts Allowed, Volume 1. Also transcribed were parts of Marriage Book 1, 1890-1900 which has Ervin marrying Miss Ida Ezzell, though no date is mentioned (but based on the dates before and after, the marriage should have been late in 1891). So, as long as we were going to the Robert Lee courthouse, a little extra digging for Ervins wouldn’t hurt.

And, if you’ve been paying attention to this here blog, you may recall a series of posts by Patrice Louinet entitled “Long Road to Dark Valley.” In part 4 of that series, Patrice added a few nuggets to my knowledge and a name to my list of inquiries: Ezzell. Here’s the relevant passage:

On December 8, 1891, [Hester’s] younger brother William Vinson married Ida Ezzell in Coke County. She was the daughter of Samuel R. Ezzell (1834-1910), a preacher and newspaper publisher. Relocating to Ferris, Ellis County, William V. launched his own career as a publisher, buying the local newspaper, the Ferris Sentinel, in 1893. He sold his share in 1898 to move to Big Spring, Howard County, where he began publication of the Big Spring Enterprise. He would remain a newspaperman until his death in 1927.

This information is background to Patrice’s primary aim in that post, the revelation that W. V.’s business partner in Ferris, the son of Samuel Ezzell, was most likely the man that Hester Howard was in love with and wished she had married instead of Dr. Howard (this according to Cross Cut native Annie Newton Davis’s 1978 interview with de Camp). So, while in Coke I should probably look for Ezzells, too.

While there is not much left of Robert Lee, it does have a Ford dealership (or maybe it was Chevrolet), a tiny library, and a cafe—and the county courthouse, of course. We spent some time at all of those places. First stop was the library. As is typical of most of the small town libraries I’ve been to in Texas, the librarian was very friendly and wanted to be helpful; unfortunately, my area of interest is pretty narrow. After quickly exhausting the scant genealogical materials she had, we looked into the county histories. One of them, in an essay about the county newspaper, added a bit of information:

The first issues were called The Coke County Democrat, of tabloid size, four columns and consisted of four pages. Warren and Edgar were the first publishers followed by Warren and Matthews. A short time later, it was Brady and Shores, then J. S. Brady bought Shores’ interest. The paper changed publishers and editors often in the early years. Brady moved the plant to Robert Lee when the county seat was moved from Hayrick and the paper was renamed The Coke County Rustler. The dateline was May 9, 1891 with Brady and W. V. Ervin as proprietors.

That nugget, from a book simply entitled Coke County and put together by the Coke County Book Committee in 1984, led us to another book, From the Top of Old Hayrick: A Narrative History of Coke County, compiled and written by Jewell G Pritchett (which we found later at the Midland library), and which added an Ezzell wrinkle:

The first paper was called The Democrat, but it was soon changed to Coke County Rustler. The Coke County Rustler was a predecessor to the Robert Lee Observer, and the issue of April 4, 1891, was published with Hayrick, Texas, as dateline, S. R. Ezell [sic.], Editor and Publisher. One month later, May 9, 1891, it was published with Robert Lee, Texas dateline, with J. S. Brady and W. V. Ervin as publishers.

So W. V. “launched” his newspaper career a bit earlier than we had thought. And over at the courthouse, we learned that W. V. had also tried to make money the way his father had, with land.

Besides Doc Howard’s medical registration, I also got copies of W. V. Ervin’s marriage record (click above) and several land deals, all in the town of Robert Lee. S. R. Ezzell made a couple of land purchases in Coke County, too (March 18 and December 17, 1891), but I didn’t pull the records. Anyway, in chronological order, here’s what I’ve got for W. V. Ervin in Coke County:

1891 May 9, publisher of Robert Lee Observer.
1891 Dec. 8, marriage to Ida Ezzell recorded.
1892 Jan. 30, purchased lot 5 in block 73, town of Robert Lee, for $75.
1892 Feb. 8, named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness,” $45.
1892 Dec. 13, sold lot 5 in block 73 for $25.
1893 Oct. 12, purchases the Ferris Sentinel, presumably he has left Coke County.
1894 June 16, R.T. Ervin (W. V.’s brother), of Wharton Co., sells W.V. Ervin, of Lampasas, for $500, lot 13 in town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. (filed for record July 14).
1894 Sept. 15, W. V., of Ellis Co., sells Samary Ezzell, of Lampasas Co., lot 7 in block 13 of town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500. (filed for record Sept. 24).
1896 Feb. 7, Samary Ezzell of McLennan Co. sells W. V. Ervin of Ellis Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500.
1896 April 7, W. V. of Ellis Co. sells Mrs. G. E. Webb of Coke Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. for $125.

In a May 1, 1897 announcement in the Ferris Wheel (formerly the Ferris Sentinel) readers learned that “the partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned has been dissolved, Frank Ezzell having bought the interest of W. V. Ervin and will continue the publication of the paper,” though “Ervin & Ezzell, proprietors” continued to appear in the paper for months afterwards.

By March 1898, he had set up a new publishing venture in Shackelford County, the Albany Enterprise. This endeavor, however, didn’t last the year. On September 16, 1898, The Albany News reported that “W. V. Ervin packed the Enterprise plant and left last Friday morning for ‘greener’ fields.” On September 30, the News reported the first issue of the Enterprise out of Big Spring. The November 12, 1898 Ferris Wheel ran the following:

The December 3, 1898 edition of the Ferris Wheel has this item: “The Cake [sic.] County Rustler has this to say about our former partner and his paper: ‘Col. W. V. Ervin, once owner of this paper, [publishes] one the best weeklies on the Texas & Pacific.’”

Now settled in Big Spring, the Ervins had three more children: daughters Lesta (1902) and Maxine (1906), and a son, Frank Wynton (1903), who only lived two and a half years. And it is there in Big Spring that W. V. Ervin would live out the rest of his days, perhaps.