Stephen F. Austin State University

Christmas Eve, 1849 (December 2011)

Christmas Eve, 1849

By Deborah Burkett

What will you be doing this Christmas? Chances are you won't be arriving at your parents' home in a covered wagon. But that's exactly what members of the Bell family did.

After a long trek from Bull Run Creek, Tennessee, the children of Thomas and Eleanor Bell arrived in Cherokee County, Texas, on Christmas Eve 1849. One can only guess what the weary pioneers must have felt when they were greeted by their parents that December day! This family of 12 sons and three daughters must have rejoiced and thanked God.

In the mid 1800s Zachary Taylor was president and westward expansion in the United States was about to explode; countless wagon trains would be filled with those who wanted to start a new life. Trips such as the Bells typically took months and months when oxen-drawn wagons were used. However the Bell children used mule teams, consequently their trip was much faster, approximately 6 weeks.

They joined their parents who had already settled in the Knoxville area the year before. Thomas Bell's farm was established on 644 acres which he purchased from W.G. Engledow for $644. In 1835 W. G.'s father, John Engledow, had brought his family to Texas, from Tennessee. They settled between Nacogdoches and Melrose, Texas on the west bank of Atascosa Creek. Knoxville, located in northeast Cherokee County between Troup and New Summerfield, was part of this survey.

A covered wagon called 'Old Buncombe" had been the Bell children's means of transportation. Made of wood and some iron this vehicle had a canvas top stretched over a framework of hoop shaped slats.

The accompanying photograph was found by Billie Nielsen of Jacksonville, the great-great-great granddaughter of Thomas and Eleanor Bell. She shared, "My mother, Edith Davis Goodson, grew up in the Blackjack community on a portion of the original farm…she loved researching her ancestors; this photograph was found in her genealogy files. A handwritten note on the back of the picture tells us that the wagon 'Old Buncombe' used by the Bells on their trip 'could' have looked like this…"

As Christmas 2011 draws near, we look back at this amazing time in our history and marvel at the series of events which led to that December day in 1849 when 'Old Buncombe' rolled into Cherokee County. Pioneer life in the19th century was filled with great struggle, perils along the trail we cannot comprehend but we are eternally grateful they made the trip! Have a Merry Christmas and don't forget to record family history when everyone arrives at your home for the holidays!

(Sources for this column were: Edith Goodson's genealogy files, The Handbook of Texas on Line, Ruth Ragsdale's 1970s series of articles in the East Texas Times and A Century of the History of Troup, Texas published 2009 by the Troup Genealogical/Historical Society.)