"Gone to Texas"
Billy Witcher Family Emigration to Texas 1860
"In October, 1859, William Witcher and his wife, Elizabeth Gilbert, started to Texas with their children, Armistead Melville, Reuben E. and Celestia Ann. Fannie had married at 17, and stayed in Pittsylvania county, Virginia. James C. and John had come to Texas earlier to select a location for the family. They stopped in Honey Grove with Lemuel and Betty Ramsey, who had come to Texas. They rented land and had wheat sowed when the family arrived on a snowy Christmas Eve, 1859. The Blairs, Yoakhams, Ramsey's and others had already started a community. They brought honey, milk, butter, eggs and other gifts, but were told the new comers it was impossible to have milk and butter through the summer, for the cattle went to water holes and did not come home. William Witcher said if he could not have fresh vegetables, fruit, milk and butter, he would just go back to Virginia. He liked good eats.
The wagon train made up of several families, was to have started earlier, but a mad dog bit one of the horses, so they waited to let it get well, before starting. An auction sale was held, but no money was paid him, except one neighbor gave him 50 cents for some honey. The auctioneer was to finish up the sale, and send the money later, but the war came up, and nothing was ever finished. All the articles that were brought to Texas have long since been lost, except a trunk and a Blue Willow sugar bowl, which is in the hands of Lola Craig, daughter of Celestia Ann.
Celestia Ann Craig always regretted that Isaac was brought without his wife. Wm. Witcher tried to keep his slave families together, but a neighbor owned the wife of Isaac, and William bought her and the neighbor promised to bring her to a certain meeting place as they left Virginia, but when the train reached the agreed meeting place, he failed to be there, so Isaac was brought along. They thought perhaps the wife could come on with other people later on, but she never came, as the War started very shortly. Isaac loved his white folks, as he called them, and often spent weeks with them. As he grew older, he would get out of patience with his daughter Cindy, for not keeping white sand (sugar) for his coffee, and would go visiting his white folks for sugar.
How the wagon train ever got over the mountains, and crossed the streams, is hard to imagine. A few rode horses. Mrs., Prickett, a widow, drove a carryall. The others were in wagons. On very bad days Mrs. Prickett let Mrs. Witcher and Celestia Ann, who was 9 years old at the time, ride with her and her daughters, but her team of young mules were very temperamental. If their mother, ridden by a negro servant got out of sight, around a bend, they balked, and word had to be sent up, for the rider to come back in sight, then they would start on. Once in midstream, when Mrs. Witcher and Celestia were riding, this happened.
As they went along, they often picked up parties on their way. Once it was Joe Harris on horse back. He came on to Texas, and lived with William Witcher, until he married. His daughter Myrtle, married a friend of the Craig’s, Charlie Fulton, and lives 7 miles from Bells. Another traveler who joined the train, was a man and his negro servant. A great deal of mystery surrounded this man as he seemed to have money, and nobody could find out about him. He loved his mint julep, as he called it, which was coffee with whiskey in it. He was very helpful around the camp fire, until his drink was made, then he retired until the meal was ready.
The most trying time along the way, seemed to be when a man named Switcher dislocated them at the forks of a road. It was sleeting. They soon found out they were on a toll road made of logs, which were coated with ice. The teams slipped , and sometimes fell. They could not get off the road, for it was a swamp, and they had to keep going. The men wanted to go back and have it out with this man, but the women begged them to let it go. They always had a bad taste for the name "Switcher". As a usual thing, people along the way were very kind, often giving shelter to the women and children at night, and selling them vegetables, milk and butter. Once a man refused to let the women and children have lodging or sell them food. The man seemed to be on a higher ridge, and William Witcher reached up and shook hands with him and the man gave them lodging food and everything they had wanted. Mom always thought he must have been a Mason. There were two things mother always spoke of with a great deal of reverence and that was Masonry and Virginia.
The following year the Yoakum's bought land in Grayson, east of later Bells, so William Witcher came up and bought (a) joining them, little dreaming the part romance was to play later in the lives of the older people.
The four older sons were in the army, and Reuben too young to go in the regular Army, was in the Horse Guard, and away from home. William Witcher got sick and died, leaving his wife and daughter, Celestia Ann, on the place with two negro men, who shielded and helped, as only a faithful slave could. Water had to be hauled, and numerous other task. Soon a second death occurred. One of the Negro slaves died (Peyton) and he was buried in the place beside Wm. Witcher. William’s body was later move to the West Cemetery at Bells, and his wife buried beside him. Peyton’s body was never moved. Neighbors built rude coffins. Even nails were scarce, and wooden pegs were used instead.
Mrs. Witcher lived a widow until the children were married, and in the meanwhile, Mr. Yoakum’s wife had died, and since they had lived neighbors for all these years, he ask her to marry him. He said they would both be happier in their own home, rather than living around among their children. She felt that they had not many years to live, but they kept house 15 years before he died, and she went again to live with her children."