MAY 17, 2004

© Karen McCann Hett  All Rights Reserved 2003-2012

We are grateful to Barbara (Bobbie) Martin Stone, daughter of Johnie McCan Martin and granddaughter of John McCan, for sharing this letter with us. She found it when cleaning out her mother’s belongings and says she nearly threw it away; but upon opening the envelope, she found this special letter, written by our Great-aunt Hettie on February 5, 1915.

Hettie McCan Hale was the youngest child of James McCan and Amanda Barrett. She was married at age sixteen to Hartwell Hale. This is a letter she wrote her brother, John McCan, after the death and burial of their mother, Amanda. Amanda died January 12, 1915, at the age of sixty-five.

In the latter part of their lives, Amanda and Jim were cared for by their children. They were split up, and each stayed with a different child’s family. Grandson J. Ethel Winborn told me in 1976 that Amanda was living with his parents when she died in 1915. Jim was staying with one of the other families at this time. Ethel told me that Amanda died from an “internal cancer.”

It is worth noting that Amanda was a midwife and a very active one until nearly the end, and it is she who filed and signed many of the birth certificates for babies born both to the Dickeys and McCans, in both Leon and Madison Counties.

This letter consists of five sheets written in pencil, front and back. It seems to have been written over a period of several days, almost like a journal. Hettie signed off two or three times, but apparently continued writing more to put into the envelope, until she finally had money for stamps. They are fastened together by the use of very old stick pins.

The pages are not in sequence, making it difficult to put them in order. There may be a page missing, as the last page (beginning with “Bible”) seems to begin in the middle of a sentence.

In fact, these pages may have been parts of two different letters, since she says on one page that it has been too rainy to plant her garden, and on another page that her garden is all planted.

Hettie’s lack of formal education is apparent, and I have used “(sic.)” to denote places where her spelling is not standard. I have enclosed in brackets my interpretations of what she intended to write. I have transcribed exactly as the words were written, with the lines ending just where they ended on the page. She rarely used capitals, periods, or other punctuation. To denote where a thought ends, I have left a space instead of putting a period that wasn’t there in the original letter.

I want to make a comment about the specialness of this letter. Even though I began my family research in the 1960s and was fortunate to meet and converse with some of Amanda’s grandchildren who knew her during their childhood, this is the first “peek” into her personality that I have had the privilege to discover. It is always difficult to learn anything about female ancestors, because their lives were folded into their husband’s lives in all respects, so documentation is rare and learning of personal qualities is even more rare . We, her heirs, are truly fortunate that this wonderful portrait of her character has been preserved.

Sadly, Hettie’s own life was cut short. She died in 1918 at the age of twenty-six, the same year as two of her children. They may have been victims of the world-wide influenza epidemic of that the winter of 1918-1919. She is said to have been buried in Park Cemetery, Madison County.

Thanks to Hallie Lowe Johnson for this photo of Hettie McCan Hale

Thanks to Hallie Lowe Johnson for this photo of Hettie's brother, John McCan

Hettie’s simple faith in the Christian resurrection is of special note. The most poignant part of her letter tells us how much Amanda’s children loved her, and truly, why they did:

“...poor Mama
had to leave us we
can never call her
back but if we live
the pure and sweet
and noble life she
lived we can go to
her I believe if ever
a human went to
heaven Mama is there.”


Date of photo: about 1900


1. Mama: Mama was Amanda Catherine Barrett McCan, born 2 May 1849 in Montgomery County, Texas, daughter of John W. Barrett and Hulda Reding. She married Civil War veteran James M. McCan on 20 January 1869.

2. John and Debra: John and Debra are her brother, John McCan, and sister-in-law, Debra Stowe McCan. They were living either north of Dallas at Grapevine, Texas, or in the vicinity of Drumright, Oklahoma.

2. Buddy/Jimmy: Buddy was James Littleton McCan, the oldest son of James and Amanda McCan, and the oldest brother of Hettie and John.

3. Minnie Ola: Minnie was a little girl born to Jim and Amanda McCan in 1879 who died in 1880. The letter makes it clear that Minnie was buried in the Barrett plot in the Barrett/Burroughs/Connor Cemetery in Madison County and that Amanda was buried at Minnie’s feet. Interestingly, Hettie was born twelve years after Minnie died, but speaks of her familiarly.

4. Grandpa: John Whitten Barrett, born 1813 died 1877, is buried in the Barrett/Burroughs//Connor Cemetery just to the left of Amanda and Jim McCan. It appears that this burial plot was the Barrett plot but was designated for use by Jim and Amanda.

5. Ida: Sarah Ida Dickey McCan was the wife of James Littleton McCan,

6. Jim Winborn: James Winborn was husband of Hulda McCan Winborn, oldest daughter of Jim and Amanda.

7. Sister: Hulda McCan Winborn, being the oldest, was called “Sister,” as was the custom of the times.

8. Hartwell: Hettie’s husband was Hartwell Hale.

9. Ben: Benjamin Monroe McCan was the youngest son of Jim and Amanda, who was married to Maggie Stow, a sister of Debra Stowe, and may have lived near John and Debra at this time.

10. Allie: This probably refers to Allie Angelina McCan, daughter of Jim and Amanda, who married Eugene Golden. Hettie also had a sister-in-law, Allie Dickey McCan, wife of Wooldridge McCan and sister of Ida Dickey McCan.

11. Johnie: Johnie May McCan, oldest daughter of John and Debra.

12. Oliver and Bob Hale: They were relatives of Hartwell Hale

13. Aunt Ione Hester: Ione was probably a relative of Hartwell Hale; I have not come across any Hesters in my McCan or Barrett research. Note, however, that James Littleton McCan (referred to as Buddy and Jimmy in the letter) had a daughter named Ione.

14. Ben Hale: Ben was Hartwell’s great-uncle as stated, who was blind and was living with Hettie and Hartwell.

15. My baby: Ruby Jewell Hale, who was born August 1, 1914, was the new Hale baby. She died in 1918, the same year as her brother Marvin and her mother Hettie.

16. Annie: Annie Mae Hale, Hettie’s oldest, born 1913, who apparently was in the terrible twos and exhibiting a severe case of sibling jealousy. Poor Hettie obviously was without the benefit of training in child psychology and thought that she had a “mean” daughter.

Below are scans of the actual letter. Because it was written with pencil and has faded over the years, and because it is written front and back, the scans are not as clear as I had hoped. However, perhaps the scans will give you an idea of the appearance of the letter.


The letter will be presented with the image of the page first, then the transcription of the page below the image.

Page 1

This page begins with a post script, which was probably added at the top of the letter just before it was mailed.

I don’t know whether you
all can read this are [or] not
I wish I could talk to you
all instead of writing

Madisonville, Texas
Feb 5, 1915

Mr and Mrs John McCan
Dear Bro and Sister
I recd your letter and
was oh so glad to hear from
you all one more time
I had begun to think
you had forgotten me
Yes John poor Mama
had to leave us we
can never call her
back but if we live
the pure and sweet
and noble life she
lived we can go to
her I believe if ever
a human went to
heaven Mama is there

p. 2

Page two describes their mother's death.

John they said she called
for ever child she
had before she died
Buddy told me
she ask him to tell
me to come there and
then she said Jimmie
are you going to take
me where you promised
And he said yes
Mama and she closed
her eyes the last time
Oh John it nearly
kills me to think she
beged (sic) for me so hard
and I did not know
it until she was
burried Buddy told

p. 3

Page three discusses the burial site.

me all about it that
night after she was
burried (sic) John you
ask me was she
burried by Minnie
Know she was put
at Minnie Ola feet
so they could leave
room by mama
for Papa it was
Mamas request
to be put by Grand
pa but it wasn’t
eny (sic) room rite (sic) by
Grandpa and they
put her as close to
him as they could
John you ask me
to see that you

p. 4

Page 4 concerns parceling out Amanda's clothing and wardrobe (closet).

get one of her dresses
John Papa told me
she told him the
day before she died
that she wanted her
three girls to have
her clothes and she
wanted Ida to have
her wardrobe and
Jim Winborn told papa
after Mama was
burried that he did not
want Sister to have
eny (sic) thing so Papa
said when he went
home he would Box
them all up and
express them to me
and if he does I will
send you one

Back of p. 8 (page 5)

Page 5 continues the discussion of who is to get Amanda's clothes.

I have not seen or
herd (sic.) from Papa since
he left my house
but I guess he is
still up on the
Prierier [Prairie]. Hartwell
told Papa to send them
on and he would
pay what it cost to
send them
But if I get them I
will see that you get
one and Ben one to [too]
if he wants it
Papa told me to rite (sic.)
to Allie and tell her
what mama said
and see if she wanted
enything (sic.)

No page Number given at top; begins Hello this morning

Hettie says she is going to send the letter off today.

Hello this morning
I guess you all
think I am not
going to ans.
Yes, I am going
to send this off today
John I would of
sent it off sooner
but did not have
eny (sic) money till now
so you and Debra
excuse me and maybe
I wont haft [sic.] to
wait so long next
time to ans.
We are all well
and hope you all the same
Ans. as soon as you get
this Kiss sweet Johnie
for auntie.

No page number is shown.

The page is headed Sat eve and talks about the Hale family.

Sat eve
Well I thought I would
rite you all a little
this eve and hope you
all the same.
John did you hear about
Oliver and Bob Hale
being ded [dead] the[y] died
before Xmas
Aunt Ione Hester is
coming back in May
she said she was tired
off [of] that place
I sure will be proud
to see her Debra you
ask us to come to
see you all this
summer I don’t expect
we can we are

Marked p. 2

Discusses caring for Hartwell's great-uncle

Sat Eve

burdened at home
we are take[taking] care
of Hartwell great uncle
Ben Hale he is as
blind as a bat,
and we taken him
in Nov. the county
gives us 8.00 a month
to keep him and of
course you cant leave
home you all come
to see us what are
you all doing these
days it rains here
all the time so we
cant even plant
our garden

This page is marked p. 3

Hettie tells about her babies

Sat eve
Hartwell has got about
15 acres of his
land broke
Debra my baby is
the cutest little thing
She has been setting
alone for over a month
She was 6 mo
old the 1 of February
Annie is so mean
I cant do anything
with her you said
I ought to see Johnie
I am nearly crazy to
see her Kiss her for
me and tell her to
come to see Aunt Hettie
So by by-- Ans soon

P. 8

This page is numbered page 8 and seems to start in the middle of a sentence. It is one of several in which Hettie signs off.

Bible tell us we can
if we walk the narrow
road well John I will
close you and Debra
ans soon and kiss
little Johnie for
Aunt Hettie
Ans real soon
Your heart broken sister
Hettie Hale

Debra I have my
garden all planted
and two hens setting
so when you all
come I can feed
you all on vegetables
and Fried Chickens
[X] Here is a kiss
for Johnie

© Karen McCann Hett  All Rights Reserved 2004-2012
Content Used with Permission on © Barrett Branches

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Karen McCann Hett

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