Experiences of Men and Women in Texas

Seminar Paper, 2002

27 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)





Colonization, 1821 - 1835
Introducing M.C.R., M.S.W.H. & A.R.T.C.
Setting Out for Texas
Indian Tribes
Moving Frequently & Visiting Family and Friends

The Republic, 1836 - 1846
Introducing D.R.H., R.P.P. & M.A.A.M.
Indian Tribes 10
Texans vs. Mexicans & Other Reasons for Moving

Texas Tears, 1846 - 1869
Introducing M.D.G.W., S.K., R.A.P.B.A., E.I.M. & A.E.H.B.
From Slavery to the Yankee Soldiers
Children's Roles

The Last Frontier, 1865 - 1905
Introducing F.D.V.B., L.C.R., E.E.B.D., M.O.T.B. & M.A.P.B.
Indian Tribes
Winter Weather: Blizzards & Storms
Texas Rangers

Summary & Religion

Appendix: Then & Now



This paper carries the title Experiences of men and women in Texas and is closely related to the subject of the Nineteenth Century American Frontier, the Voices of Frontier Women in specific. The westward expansion connected to the different frontiers in North America brought along new opportunities, of which making a fortune and leading a better life can be mentioned. According to Frederick Jackson Turner's The Significance of the Frontier in American History, the frontier life many people sought furnished them with traits that dominate the American character today:

"That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom – these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier."[1]

In the seminar this paper refers to, several frontiers were mentioned and discussed. Among them the Hispanic and the Indian Frontiers as well as the Ranching and Cattle Frontier, all of which seem to play a role in Jo Ella Powell Exley's Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine. This book forms the basis of the findings following this foreword.

In it, sixteen Frontier Women describe parts of their lives, whether it be conflicts with Indians and Yankee soldiers or struggles against natural forces. It covers a time frame from about 1821 until about 1905, thus, of course, including the year 1890 when the Bureau of the Census declared the frontier closed.[2] This time frame is divided into four stages, which, as it becomes obvious from looking at the Table of Contents, was transferred here.

On a personal note: When thinking about how to approach this topic, I first thought I had to directly distinguish between male and female experiences but reading all these reminiscences of life, I did not find a proper way to do so and finally decided to approach the matter synchronically by focusing on the main recurring themes that in themselves not only show to what extent men or women were concerned but also which problems members of different generations were facing again and again.


Before breaking the paper into pieces, it might be a good idea to give a general overview of what is to be covered in closer detail in the following pages. The reader is about to enter a world of pleasure and pain providing him with the insights into lives that were once filled with tears and sunshine. As is mentioned on the previous page, the paper revolves around four stages: 1821-1835, 1836-1846, 1846-1869 and 1865-1905.

The time frame from 1821 to 1835 presents the years of colonial Texas, the early days when this state started to be settled by Anglo-Americans or people from states such as North Carolina and Louisiana. Whereas some of them were planters, the majority were hard-working farmers that either longed for fertile land or wanted to make a new beginning, or even both. What they did not know beforehand, they were to face problems caused by Indians, mosquitoes and diseases. The Mexicans later added to these hardships.[3]

In the second stage, from 1836 to 1846, Texas existed as an independent nation, for, the Texas Declaration of Independence had been proclaimed on March 2, 1836. Those were the days of the Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who intended to exterminate the entire Anglo-American population. The men living in Texas had to join the army and served in it until the Mexican resistance was broken. Prior to this achievement, women, children, slaves and old or disabled men were entailed in the so-called Runaway Scrape resulting from trying to escape the advancing Mexican army. Since the Indians were an omnipresent danger, the Texans also fled from them. They had left their homes in a more or less good condition but returned to a burned and looted country.[4]

This time of violence was followed by a time of happiness and sorrow for Texas women, 1846 to 1869. Texas had become a state in 1845 and when the Civil War broke out in 1861, all men capable of fighting had to ride into battle, leaving their families rather unprotected against epidemic diseases or other hazards. Furthermore, because the slaves were freed after the war, some families found themselves in an uncertain condition of affairs. Lacking a husband's or brother's help in times when they lacked food, clothing or medical supplies, older children had to support their families in order to survive.[5]

The last stage describes the years after the Civil War, from 1865 to 1905, when warlike Plains Indians were still roaming the country. Therefore the Texas Rangers were reactivated in 1874, to alleviate people's suffering from Indians and outlaws. What courage and strength must men, but especially women have had to make a living through all of this![6]

"In spite of dangers, hardships, and the deaths of husbands and children, [frontier] women made homes in the harsh land of North and West Texas. Their reminiscences, although tinged with sadness at times, are full of exuberance and pride in their accomplishments. They had come to a new land - a forbidding and strange land not easily tamed - and with their husbands had made homes for themselves and their children."[7]

Colonization, 1821 - 1835

Introducing M.C.R., M.S.W.H. & A.R.T.C.

Mary Crownover Rabb was born in 1805, in North Carolina, and married John Rabb in Jonesboro, Arkansas, when she was sixteen. About two years later, they, with their baby and other members of the Rabb family, decided to go to Texas where they led a nomadic life. Whereas John died in 1861, Mary lived on until 1882. She is said to have been a gifted storyteller.[8]

Mary Sherwood Wightman Helm was born in Herkimer County, New York, in 1807. With 18 she married her former teacher, Elias R. Wightman. In 1828 they headed for Texas with about sixty other people. They traveled by wagon, flatboat and raft. One year later, both founded the town of Matagorda. Because of his bad health, the couple moved back to New York in 1841. Two months later Elias died. Several years after, Mary married Meredith Helm, a Kentucky native and one of the founders of Connersville, Indiana. She died in 1886.[9]

Ann Raney Thomas Coleman lived from 1810 to 1897 and was originally born in England. She, her mother and her sister sailed to Brazoria, Texas, in 1832. By a circuitous route, Ann married the wealthy planter John[10] Thomas there. After he and their two sons had died in Louisiana, she married a second time but ended up suing for divorce. The story of her life was edited and published as Victorian Lady on the Texas Frontier.[11]

Setting Out for Texas

Since this enters the first stage, the beginning should be made by looking at how people came to Texas and why. Mary Rabb and other members of her family had packed up their necessities in Arkansas and set out for Texas with cattle, children and belongings. About 100 miles from there, the cattle got sick and had to be left behind to rest. At the Colorado River they met two gentlemen who were kind enough to help them across. They arrived safely at their journey's end, at Indian Hill, in December, 1823. Luckily for her, she did not have much to dread.[12]

Mary Wightman and her husband set out for Texas differently. They left New York by wagon, on the route switching to flatboat and raft to get to Pennsylvania, and from there taking a steamboat to New Orleans. The most difficult part of the journey was the way from New Orleans to the Texas coast. It usually took seven days, according to which measure provisions were taken along. Mary got sick from bad water and was sustained by a little vinegar and sugar only. She was nine days without food, had a fever and very little to drink! The ship must have been becalmed for lack of winds, so that the travelers started to lack food and water.

When they were out of cooked provisions, crackers and hard sea bread kept them alive. Due to water shortage, Mary says that one Mr. Pilgrim gave his share to the children and drank whiskey instead. The travelers witnessed a burial and craved for relief. A hurricane finally drove them ashore and they entered the promised land.[13] Ann Coleman, on her part, also sailed to Texas by way of New Orleans, but just like Mary Rabb, she arrived without any trouble.[14]

This shows how diverse the journeys could be, and obviously it did not matter how people got there because everybody had the same chances, good or bad luck. However, there must have been a reason why people wanted to face the unknown, leaving a comfortable home to establish another in unfamiliar places, and there was one: "Beaten paths are for beaten men. They would not have been paths if others had not gone that way before, and those that go before usually take all worth having..."[15]

Indian Tribes

It was mostly Indians' land the settlers came to, for which reason it was evident that conflicts had to arise between them. Mary Crownover Rabb thus reports that at Indian Hill, the name already suggests who owned the country, the doors were fastened at night so the Indians could not get in. Her husband had cleared six acres with another family father, and on a Saturday they interrupted their work. By Monday the Indians had caught all but one horse and had left without the event having been noticed. Whenever John was gone, Mary had to keep her spinning wheel going all day and much of the night to not hear them walking around hunting mischief.

What other choice did they have than to move? About three years later they settled in Egypt, built a house and made a field. Any conflicts with Indians there? Certainly, for, they killed their cattle and hogs! When John was gone from this home, Mary could choose between either running to bed with her children, for fear the Indians would shoot through cracks of the log cabin, or going to her brother-in-law. One morning some Indians came into the house and begged everything they could see fit to eat and not fit. The Tonkawa Indians usually begged all they could and then left, but that did not mean that the person opposite was not afraid of them.

The family thus moved again, but it was always so troubled with Indians stealing their horses and corn that they, in fact, lost a thousand dollars worth of horses. Mary's last recollection in the book is about her hunting bees with John. That day they heard guns firing, saw smoke rising and were required to return quickly. A few hours later they were told the Indians had killed a neighbor.[16]

In contrast to that, Mary Sherwood Wightman Helm did not fear the Indians. On the contrary, she left the doors open, with 25 to 30 Indians within call. Them being friendly, she speaks about their idle and dirty habits. When death came to one of their own, for example, he or she was never kept over night. The effects as well as the hut were burned the very same day, and when a chief had died, the next to the throne had to marry the widow.[17]

Moving Frequently & Visiting Family and Friends

In the early days of settling Texas, people had to move frequently until they found the place they considered best. Mary Rabb's first move was necessary because the Indians had been too bad at Indian Hill. The next move was made because the flies ate the cattle and horses up and because the mosquitoes were so bad that it was almost impossible to sew unless it was inside a mosquito bar. The next time it was a rising river telling them to better move on. When brothers went together, and this was the case here, it was possible for the older one to demand a certain spot, even the younger one's house. John allowed that once but not twice.[18]


[1] Peter Bruck The Frontier 1980, pp. 35-36

[2] see: Jones, Mary Ellen, Daily Life on The Nineteenth Century American Frontier. Westport, CT; London: Greenwood Press, 1998, p. xiv.

[3] see: Exley, Jo Ella Powell, ed., Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine. Voices of Frontier Women. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985, p. 3.

[4] see: Jo Ella Powell Exley Texas Tears 1985, p. 51

[5] see: Exley, pp. 105-106

[6] see: Exley, p. 179

[7] Exley, pp. 179-180

[8] see: Exley, pp. 5-6

[9] see: Exley, pp. 19-20

[10] Mary and John seem to have been frequently chosen names for babies at that time.

[11] see: Exley, pp. 29, 31, 47

[12] see: Exley, pp. 7-8

[13] see: Exley, pp. 19-21

[14] see: Exley, p. 29

[15] Exley, p. 183 & see: p. 183

[16] see: Exley, pp. 8-9, 15, 17-18

[17] see: Exley, pp. 26-27

[18] see: Exley, pp. 10-17

Excerpt out of 27 pages


Experiences of Men and Women in Texas
Dresden Technical University  (Anglistics/American Studies)
Seminar: Community, Race, & Gender on the 19th-Century American Frontier
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
619 KB
Frontier, American West, Westward Expansion, Texas, Life at the Frontier
Quote paper
Silke-Katrin Kunze (Author), 2002, Experiences of Men and Women in Texas, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/4199


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