Stephen F. Austin State University

Sam Houston and the Woven Coverlet (August 2011)

Sam Houston and the Woven Coverlet
By Deborah L. Burkett

Today Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin seem more like fictional heroes than real men with everyday needs. As pioneers and their families moved westward basic essentials had to be packed, loaded in trunks. In preparation for the trip, many followed printed guidebooks that told them to leave home with plenty of provisions. As a result, a great deal of quilting and sewing was done.

In finalizing an upcoming book about quilts, I recently came across stories that illustrate how tangible items add to our understanding of history. I also learned there are still discoveries to be made in our local area; topics worthy of study, some forgotten for a time, but all with stories to inspire.

The Vanishing Texana Museum housed in the Jacksonville Public Library is home to four antique quilts and a woven coverlet. As Library Director Barbara Crossman and I examined them, one unexpected and exciting find was a note that said 'Hand-woven coverlet made before 1836 owned by Mrs. Hall, great grandmother of Mrs. E.P. Dolan, Jr. used by Sam Houston while guest in Hall home'.

Initial research suggests it was woven in three segments using a loom and colored with homemade dyes. In the accompanying photograph Barbara Crossman is seen with the coverlet.

Once the age of this textile was established, preservation became a concern. Dr. Perky Beisel at Stephen F. Austin University was contacted and plans will be developed by a committee in Jacksonville. Their goal will be to preserve the items while continuing to document and place them in the context of our country's westward movement and the settling of Cherokee County.

More images and stories that speak to the 'taming' of Texas come from Phyllis and Gene Cottle of Troup.

A trunk and antique quilts are just a few of the treasured family heirlooms belonging to Gene Cottle. In the late 1820s, Stephen Cottle came to the area as part of Stephen F. Austin's second colony, settled near Bastrop and established Cottletown which had a fort, gin and grist mill. Three of the Cottle men perished in battles for Texas independence, one at the Alamo and two at Goliad.

Phyllis Cottle's great-grandfather, Samuel Butman, a sea captain from Maine, made a promise to God during a raging storm. He would give up the sea and devote himself to good works if he and his crew were spared. True to his word, once safely on land Butman boarded a train, headed west and settled Mulberry Canyon in Taylor County, southwest of Abilene.

Butman donated land for the Pioneer Methodist Church and endowed a church encampment, all the while becoming a successful cattle and sheep rancher. He didn't drive his cattle to Ft. Worth he shipped them by rail! Phyllis Cottle has helped preserve several quilts from that area.
Though typically not thought of as historical records, quilts, trunks and woven coverlets can speak to us, if we only listen.

Barbara Crossman, Jacksonville Librarian is pictured with the Coverlet