Notes are based on conversations with Annie and Claude's daughter Mildred
Annie and her twin sister Kate were born in 1874 in Burleson County, Texas. I only know one childhood story about Annie. The country around Caldwell and Lyons was still wild and panthers roamed the area. Annie and Kate had to walk home from school each day near an area known as Panther Creek. One day they saw a panther following them. They dropped a lunch pail and ran. The panther stopped to investigate. Each time the panther approached, they dropped something else and then urged each other to run. Kate would say "Run, Ann" and Annie would say "Run Kate." They finally made it home and their father tracked the panther down and shot it.
The only other childhood story about the McCowen children also involves a panther. Will, Annie's brother, was sent by horseback to take a bag of corn to the mill to be ground. Will was about 7 years old and all of the grown men kept crowding in front of him. No one would let the young boy have his turn. Will was the last one to be served that day and started for home on his horse with the bag of corn meal just about dark. A panther started chasing him. Will dropped the bag of corn meal and the panther stopped to rip the bag open. Will was able to escape. The next morning S.B. McCowen (Will's father) and some of the other men in the area tracked the panther and killed it.
Annie and Kate were born 9 years after the end of the Civil War. Their parents had owned slaves, and Annie remembered one former slave, an old black woman known as Aunt Anne, who stayed with the McCowens until her death.
According to her daughters, Annie was exceptionally intelligent and one of her biggest disappointments in life was that she could not get an education. In 1890 the scholarships and financial assistance that are available today did not exist, and employment opportunities that would allow a young woman to work while attending school were scarce if they existed at all. Annie's father, S.B. McCowen, owned a saloon and was fairly comfortable financially. Annie asked him to let her go to college. He refused. He said that women didn't need an education and that at 16, she was old enough to have a husband and a home of her own. Annie married Enoch Claude Henslee in Brenham, Texas. She was 16 and he was 27.
Claude Henslee was a talented musician and played the fiddle by ear. He was in great demand to play for dances around the area before his marriage. Later, he would bring out the fiddle in the evenings and play for the family. Mildred especially remembers him playing Red Wing, Bonaparte's Retreat, and Turkey in the Straw. Many of his descendants were musically talented. His daughter Mildred played the piano by ear, and a granddaughter has been the pianist for symphonies in various cities where she lived. Several granddaughters have taught piano and organ and played for their churches. Claude's fiddle is in the possession of one of his great-grandchildren.
Annie and Claude lived in the Lyons, Texas area. They had a farm about 2 miles out of town and spent most of their time there. Claude grew cotton for his cash crop. Mildred said "If there wasn't much rain, there wasn't much cotton. If there wasn't much cotton, there wasn't much money." The farm was known for the exceptional quality of the water well, and people would always stop by for a drink from the Henslee well.
When it was time to pick cotton, Claude often kept the older boys home from school to help. Once Mildred was jealous and begged to stay home and pick cotton too. Claude said she could, but that she had to pick with them all day. Mildred soon found that it was hard work. If her brother Clint hadn't put quite a bit of the cotton he picked into Mildred's sack, she wouldn't have had much to show for her day. Needless to say, she never asked to stay home and pick cotton again.
Claude's parents, Enoch Claude Henslee and Sarah Jane Hudson Henslee owned a hotel in Lyons. As they aged, managing the hotel became more difficult for them, and Annie and her children lived there part of the time while Annie helped with the hotel. The hotel burned down in the night around 1913 while Annie and her children were staying there. Annie's daughter Mildred, age approx. 4, was the last one out. She was rescued by Marvin Murray who later married Annie's daughter Katie Lee.
Life on the Henslee farm sounds somewhat like the Little House on the Prairie books. All the children had chores, but there was time for fun. In the evenings they ate popcorn and listened to Claude play the fiddle while Annie worked on a quilt on frames suspended on a pulley system that could be raised to the ceiling in the daytime. There was a woodshed, and occasionally one of the boys got to visit it. The girls did not.
The Henslees had a smoke house for their meats, and a spring house to store perishables. Potatoes were buried in a bank and dug out as needed. Because fresh meat could not be kept for any length of time, the family belonged to a "beef club." The families in the club took turns butchering a steer. The family that did the butchering kept certain cuts and the remaining meat went to the other families in the club.
Annie had a large vegetable garden and, of course, canned most of the vegetables the family needed. They also enjoyed fresh dewberries which grew wild near the bayou. The Henslee children picked the dewberries but were cautioned to watch for the plentiful snakes (copperheads and water moccasins). There were also pecan and persimmon trees growing wild on the farm. Annie had peach, plum and pear trees. She made wonderful pear preserves, as did her daughters. The boys caught crawdads and Annie cooked them, but only the boys were willing to eat them. The family did not use wild game for meat regularly although they occasionally ate squirrel.
Claude made hominy. When he butchered a hog, he made sausage. Occasionally, the neighbors including Claude would gather at the Black's farm and make sorghum molasses. They used a horse walking in a circle to keep the molasses stirred while it cooked over a fire.
Annie cooked on a wood burning stove and was evidently an accomplished baker. All of my older cousins rave about her wonderful tea cakes. She often had tea cakes or ginger cookies baking in the afternoon when the children came home from school, and they would run the rest of the way when they got close enough to home to smell them. There was a neighbor boy whose mother had died. He always walked to school with the Henslee children, and he would try to arrive early enough to put his lunch pail beside theirs, hoping that Annie would put in a treat for him. She never disappointed him.
Tragedy struck the Henslee family when two children died within days of each other of unrelated causes. Enoch Horace died first. In later years, Annie believed he had died of a ruptured appendix. A few days later Mary Dean got bloody diarrhea and died. Both children are buried in the High Prairie Cemetery between Lyons and Caldwell.
The Henslee farm house started out as a simple structure with a living area and one large bedroom. Later, as the children arrived, additional bedrooms and two screened sleeping porches were added. A larger kitchen was built. Albert Armendt, husband of Annie's twin sister Kate, had a construction business and helped with the additions. The house had a long front porch with rocking chairs. When Claude worked in the fields, he would come home for a noon day dinner. This was the big meal of the day, and after eating Claude would rest for a while in one of the rockers. Since Mildred liked to sit by him and talk at this time of the day, he probably didn't get much rest.
Annie liked flowers and always had many growing around the house. Mildred remembers that Annie grew beautiful coleus, roses and petunias. She also had cannas, jonquils and narcissus. Mildred says Annie probably worked in her yard more than in her house.
The family had a horse named "Old Bert" who was a favorite with the children. Old Bert was used to pull the buggy or wagon to town, and the children also rode him. After Claude's death and the family's move to town, Uncle Lee Henslee gave Old Bert a place to stay. The Henslees were living in New Mexico when Old Bert died. The horse had been such a part of the family that Uncle Lee sent them a telegram telling them of the death.
Annie and Claude got a telephone in the farmhouse as soon as phone service became available. Of course they were on a party line and everyone knew the operator, Rosalie Smith. Their ring was two shorts and a long. They were only supposed to answer the phone when they heard their ring, but Mildred's brother Clint, who was always a clown, would pick up the phone when other people were talking and serenade them with his Jew's Harp.
Claude died in 1921. There was a cattle dipping operation in progress to control ticks, and Claude was earning some extra money by serving as supervisor for the county. Someone stored some of the poison in one of the bottles used for drinking water. Claude took a drink from it, realized what he had done and tried to spit it all out. The last hour of his life was terrible. Before any of the family could reach him, he was dead. His funeral was conducted in the front yard of Katie Lee's home in Lyons, and he was buried in Somerville. Claude was respected and his funeral was large. One interesting fact was that in those days of segregation, a large contingent from the black community attended his funeral and stood in back. Many of the black people made it a point to talk to Annie before they left. Several of the woman told her how Mr. Henslee was not like most of the other white men. He was always kind and polite to them.
Annie was left with 1 daughter in college and 5 children still at home. The youngest were 5-year old twins. The daughter in college, Mackie, was almost finished with school. She was able to finish her last semester by working at the boarding house where she lived. Annie had two boys at home but they were too young to run the farm. She leased it out and moved the family into Caldwell, where she worked for Mrs. Purdue, sewing for $1.00 per day. Claude's brother Lee Henslee, who was the county sheriff, and Annie's brother John were particularly good to the family. At one point Annie worked in Lee's office. She also ran for county clerk, becoming the first woman candidate for office in Burleson county. She was defeated.
A few years later, Annie married a man named Joe Kramer. Before she married him, she put the family farm in the names of her three oldest children. I don't know whether she was suspicious of Joe herself, or if John or Lee suggested that this was a good idea. Whoever thought of it turned out to be right. Soon after Joe found that he couldn't sell the farm and get the money, he decided to go work for a while in New Mexico. This left Annie married with no support and an absentee husband. By this time Annie still had 4 children at home. She packed up the family and went to Santa Rita, New Mexico to join Kramer. Mackie came to visit frequently. On one of those visits she met her future husband and ended up staying in New Mexico.
Joe Kramer left Annie again and moved to a midwestern state where he tried to divorce her. She fought him with financial help from Claude's brother Lee. Finally, she agreed to a divorce that awarded her part of Joe's Spanish American War pension.
Annie moved back to Texas but two of her daughters, Mackie and Mildred, were married and stayed in New Mexico. The twins and her son B returned to Texas briefly but never lived there permanently again. All 5 of the youngest children ended up living in Arizona or New Mexico while the older ones stayed in Texas.
Annie lived in Lyons. Part of the time she was in town in rented houses, but other times she lived on the farm by herself with a German Sheppard named Ruth that B had given her. (B named the dog for an ex-girl friend). Later Annie had a chihuahua named Skippy who was her constant companion. In later life she spent much of her time in the homes of daughters Katie Lee in Lyons and Laney in Silver City, New Mexico. Annie was always ready to go. She would say, "Just let me get my hat and I'll be ready."
In her late seventies, Annie began courting again. Elijah "Lije" Keese returned to Lyons to visit family. He was a widower and Annie had known him most of her life. To the chagrin of her grown granddaughters Geraldine and Maggie, Annie and Lije would sit on the front porch swing at Katie Lee's home and visit for hours. Lije and Annie married and moved to his home in Seagraves, Texas. We have no illusions that this was a grand romance. These were two lonely old people who liked each other and were able to live independently for a while longer because they had each other.
Lije was the only grandfather I ever knew, and I only saw him once when I was about 4. We visited them in Seagraves. Lije was in his 80s at this time and Annie must have been close to 80 herself. When we arrived for the visit, they weren't home. They got there a few minutes later and apologized - they had been out taking food to some "old people." Lije died a few years later and Annie moved back to Lyons.
Annie was a Methodist and stayed active in her church all of her life. One of the family stories about Annie is that when the new Methodist church building was built in Lyons, she was afraid the men hadn't cleaned up well enough after they finished construction so she went to town and cleaned the church herself before the first services were held. One of her favorite hymns was 'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus. That song was played at her funeral.
Annie stayed interested in politics all of her life. Until her eyesight failed, she read constantly and was well-informed about issues and current events. She kept up with trends and was one of the first women in her area to wear pants instead of a dress. Eventually, she required more care than her family could give. She died in a nursing home in Brenham, Texas. Her funeral and burial were in Somerville. She is buried in the Henslee plot with Claude.
During Annie's lifetime the U.S. was involved in four major wars: the Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, and the Korean war. Annie's son Hugh served in WWI and another son, Wallace ("Pete"), died just before reporting for WWI duty. Annie's daughter Ducky served in WWII as did three grandchildren. Another grandson was on active duty in the Air Force during the Korean War although he was never sent to Korea.
Annie was born into a horse and buggy world, without indoor plumbing or electricity in her home. She died in a world of automobiles, airplanes, telephones, television, motion pictures, computers, and satellites orbitting the earth.
Enoch Claude Henslee was the son of Enoch Claude Henslee and Sarah Jane Hudson.
Annie McCowen was the daughter of S.B. McCowen and Liza Ferrell. S.B.'s given name was either Sherrod Bradshaw or Sheard Bradshaw. Liza was also known as Ann Elizabeth, Annie E., and Ann Elisa. For some reason her marriage certificate lists her as Elisa F. Surprise! I have pictures. Click here to see them.
- Hugh, called "Brother" by the other children
- Katie Lee, called "Sister" by the other children
- Enoch Horace
- Mary Dean
- Wallace "Pete"
- Clinton W.
- S.B., known to as "B"
- Nellie, known always as "Ducky"
- Nettie, known always as "Laney"
Are Annie and Claude in your family tree? I'd like to hear from you. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: email address updated November 2008
Apologies to those who tried to contact me after my old email address quit working.
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