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Stephen F. Austin State University

Peek into Panola - Gertrude Sistrunk (September 2013)

A Peek into Panola - Gertrude Sistrunk
By Vina Lee

When my husband and I moved to Lake Murvaul in 1992, we purchased a home on the lake from the Taylor family. They kindly took us around to meet folks in the area and show us our school district in the little town of Gary. Mr. Taylor stopped at a huge two story metal building rusting with some of the metal sheets coming unscrewed, but the business was still in operation. I cautiously stepped through the rugged opening behind a heavy wooden door into a very dim store setting. The entire floor from wall to wall was filled with wooden benches and shelves reaching toward the rafters all filled with nuts and bolts, nick-knacks and antiques up stairs. Mrs. Taylor said she bought her antique sewing machine there.

While we talked, they introduced us to Gertrude Sistrunk. I was listening and looking at interesting things at the same time. Turning to be polite, I responded to the interlude reaching out to shake hands, "What do the folks in the area call you? Sis?" (I thought they said, "Sis Trunk.")

My husband and the Taylors were aghast but Mrs. Sistrunk just straightened her shoulders, lifted her head tightening her lips saying nothing. We had numerous morning coffee chats with Mrs. Sistrunk after that without reference to "Sis". The building is still where it was then, the business now closed and some of the nuts, bolts and pipe are for sale in the next door filling station in Gary which became a town in about 1844.

J. H. Thomas was first, building a home that was a longtime landmark in the farming community. The business area, originally Zuber, had a post office, cotton gin and stores. Gary was settled when the railroad was built between Timpson and Carthage which might have brought the Sistrunks to the area during the community's development after 1940.

In 1898 the railroad reached the Thomas Hull farm midway between Timpson and Carthage. Hull and Smith Garrison established a twenty-acre town site together, opened a depot and named the settlement in honor of Garrison's grandson, Gary Sanford. The post office was moved from Mount Bethel and renamed Gary in 1899 and it developed into a bustling sawmill town with a cotton gin, sawmills, a hotel, stores and saloons. The Red Front Saloon was the center of social activities until the county became dry in 1905. It is still dry today!

Gary shared in the prosperity from the oil and gas industry from the 1940s into the 1980s. Local economic activity was mostly pulpwood hauling and cattle ranching. Walter Prescott Webb and Woodward Maurice (Tex) Ritter) were born in Gary. Greturde Sistrunk passed away in 2010, but was always a dignified, refined lovely lady in every situation.