Old Overton House Has Romantic Story...

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       Hundreds of old relics and antiques carrying one's imagination back not only to the days of the Republic of Texas, but to the stirring times during and preceding the Revolutionary War, are preserved in the oldest house in Dallas County, yet used as a residence. This house is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Overton, five miles southeast of Oak Cliff. The house was built in 1844 by Mr. Overton's father, William Perry Overton, who settled there in that year and took up a headright from the Republic of Texas. He is said to have been the seventh actual settler of Dallas County.

The above home of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Overton, five miles southeast of
Dallas, is the oldest house in Dallas County still in use as a residence. It
was built while Texas was a Republic in 1844 by Mr. Overton's father, William
Perry (Uncle Perry) Overton, who was the seventh actual settler of Dallas
County. The brick in the chimney is said to have been the first brick
burned in Dallas County. The walls were originally made of logs, which
were covered over with weatherboarding hauled from Palestine, Anderson
County. The addition at the back was built in 1853-54 with lumber hauled
from Palestine. A window at the back in the kitchen contains twenty-four
panes of glass which the Overtons say was the first window glass brought
to Dallas County. The house was opened to the Confederates during the
Civil War and was used as a hospital for wounded and sick soldiers. Frank
James once lay sick for seven weeks in one of the upper rooms. Uncle
Perry lived in the house for fifty-nine years and died in it at the age of 81.
His wife, Aunt Jessie Overton, died there on Jan. 7, 1928, at the age of
78. The house contains hundreds of heirlooms and relics collected by
the Overton ancestors from three continents.

       This has been the Overton homestead ever since it was built. William Perry Overton, widely known as Uncle Perry, lived in the house until his death in 1903. His wife, known to hundreds of Dallas County people as Aunt Jessie, died in the same house on Jan. 7, 1928, leaving her son to continue the ancestral line of occupancy of the historic building. Aunt Jessie was buried in the family cemetery a half mile from the house. A touching incident of the burial was the singing of old spiritual songs over the grave by a group of negroes after the white folks had gone away. Two or three of the negroes had been slaves belonging to Uncle Perry before the Civil War. Aunt Jessie was 78 years old last Aug. 16.
     Mr. and Mrs. Overton have talked of having the family antiques and relics properly prepared and cased to be presented to a museum, or to the University of Texas, but they mean so much to them and their family, that they can scarcely bear to think of seeing them taken out of the old home. They have never been appraised by any authority on antiques, but people interested in the subject have estimated that they would be worth several thousand dollars. At least five nations and many generations are represented in the collection. Among the most interesting objects in the collection are a saber and a bottle of India ink yet in liquid form, brought from India more than 150 years ago by an English ancestor who served in the British army in India; a jewel box brought from Spain to England by another ancestor of Spanish nationality, a sword used by another forefather who fought for American independence, and several fine handmade walnut tables, cabinets, desks and other pieces of furniture made by Uncle Perry that would be a credit to the best cabinetmakers of today.

J. B. McEntire at the left and Joseph Overton
at the right are exhibiting two famous war
tools from the Overton collection of relics.
The sword Mr. McEntire has was brought
India by one of Mr. Overton's ancestors
who was in the British Army. He carried it
later in the famous naval battle of Trafalgar,
in which the British fleet destroyed the com-
bined Spanish and French fleets at the cost
of the life of Lord Nelson. The sword in Mr.
Overton's hand was used by his maternal
grandfather, Jonathan Cameron, aide to
Gen. Washington, in the Revolutionary
War. He once used it after being captured
to cut his way through the British and Tory
lines and carried it back with him to Wash-
ington's headquarters. The rifle was brought
to Texas from Missouri in 1844 by Mr. Over-
ton's father, William Perry Overton, who
carried it to California with him in the gold
rush of 1849.


     Among the dozen or more old guns in the house is the old long rifle brought to the Republic of Texas in 1844 by Uncle Perry and carried by him to California and back during the gold rush of 1849. Another interesting weapon is a shotgun that Aaron Overton, Uncle Perry's father, received as a present on his twelfth birthday. The story is related that a few shot from the gun struck one of Aaron's uncles the first time he fired his new gun. The boy received a big silver watch on the same day. This watch has been handed down from generation to generation and was used as a timepiece until a few years ago. It is now 104 years old and began to tick when it was picked up from its resting place in a cabinet. The driving force is transmitted by a chain around a drum inclosing the mainspring.

Pulled 1,000 Teeth.  

     "Here is a relic that has probably cause more pain and less enmity than anything else in the collection," Joe Overton commented as he lifted a rusty metal instrument of some kind from a cabinet drawer. "This is a pair of tooth-pullers my father made soon after settling here. I once heard him say that he had pulled 1,000 teeth with them. He was an expert blacksmith and spent two days making his tooth extractors. He also made most of his blacksmithing tools. Neighbors with the toothache in the early days came from many miles around to get him to pull their ailing teeth.
     "Surgery seemed to be a trait in the Overton family. Here is a surgeon's operating knife with two cutting blades and a pair of small scissors which all fold up like a pocket knife. This was used by one of the early Overtons who was an English surgeon."

Anson Jones' Signature.

     A historical document of considerable interest in the collection is the original paper signed by Anson Jones, last President of the Republic of Texas, granting the original 1,280 acres in the Overton homestead. The grant of land has been preserved almost intact with 1,000 acres yet remaining in the homestead. Some of the best farming land in the county is contained in the place.
     Another heirloom with which the family would not part very easily is a stick pin made from a piece of natural gold in the form of an elephant found by Uncle Perry in the California gold fields in 1850.

A 100-Year-Old Money Sack.

     A money sack made by Mrs. Rachel Cameron Overton, Uncle Perry's mother, about 100 years ago, from cloth she wove, was pointed out by Mr. Overton. The sack has probably contained an aggregate of $100,000 taken in by Uncle Perry while he was operating a mill, Mr. Overton said. Uncle Perry also used one of his wedding socks for a money sack until a hole was worn in the toe. It is also preserved among the keepsakes.

How They Shaved in '44.

     "Do you know how they used to shave 100 years ago?" Mr. Overton inquired. "Here is my father's shaving set. This mirror, with the buckskin back and wood case and folding front to prevent its getting broken, is probably the oldest mirror in Dallas County. I don't know how old it was before my father brought it here with him in 1844 to use in shaving. This little pair of short-bladed scissors was his razor. He was a middle-aged man before a razor even touched his face. When his beard became long enough, he would take this mirror in one hand and the scissors in the other and proceed to clip his beard back as short as he could. This set has been taken on hundreds of hunting and fishing trips.

Mrs. Overton is shown here with two of the
old guns of the Overton ancestors. The
double-barreled muzzle-loading shotgun
at the left was given to Aaron Overton on
his twelfth birthday anniversary more than
100 years ago. The long gun at the right
was the famous old fowling piece used
by Lord Dillon when he killed his game


 Lord Dillon's Weapons.

     "Here is one of the best private collections of old guns you ever saw. Each one of these--about fifteen--guns has history connected with it. This old muzzle-loading fowling piece was used by Lord Dillon, with which to kill his game keeper. It came into possession of my mother's family several generations ago. This powder horn and shot holder also belonged to Lord Dillon, who used them with this gun.

Was Washington's Aide.

     "This sword belonged to Jonathan Cameron, who was Uncle Perry's mother's father. He was an aide to Gen. Washington in the Revolutionary War. Once on a scouting expedition, Jonathan was surrounded by Tories. He was riding horseback and wearing his sword at this side. Throwing his old coonskin cap into the air and rising in his stirrups, Jonathan shouted at the top of his deep bass voice, 'Hurrah for King George.' The Tories were somewhat taken aback by this demonstration of loyalty to the King, and in the confusion that followed, Jonathan dug his spurs into the sides of his horse, unsheathed his sword, and with some additional uncomplimentary remarks about King George, slashed his way through the Tory lines with this very sword and outran his pursuers in the forest. By his escape, he was able to carry back valuable information to Gen. Washington.

A Saber From Trafalgar.

     "This saber, brought from India by one of my ancestors who served there in the British cavalry, was later carried by him in the battle of Trafalgar. That was the famous naval battle in which Lord Nelson, on Oct. 21, 1805, lost his life after defeating the combined fleets of the French and Spanish under the command of Villeneauve and Gravina. the battle was fought off the coast of Cape Trafalgar at the northwest entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.

Historic Chinaware.

     "This set of chinaware was exhibited in a British museum more than 100 years ago by my mother's grandmother. Her father, Henry C. Davis, inherited the set and brought it to Texas from England. My mother was born in England and came to Texas with her father. The set of china became hers when her father was killed many years ago at the age of 73 years. He was run over near here by a train.

A Bullet Through the Window.

     "A story connected with the Ku Klux Klan activities following the close of the Civil War is recalled by a bullet hole in a pane of glass in the dining-room window. The bullet did not shatter the pane, but merely made a hole about an inch in diameter from which several cracks radiate. The hole was plastered up with putty at that time, and it still remains just as the repair was made sixty-two years ago

This is the oldest fireplace in Dallas County. The rocks
were chopped into shape with an ax in 1844. Roaring
log fires radiate cheering heat on cold days this winter
in the living-room of the Overton home. About this old
fireplace, Uncle Perry Overton and Judge J. M. Hurt,
widely known Texas jurist, have spent many a pleasant
hour talking politics, business and old times. Judge Hurt
was, for many years, a member of the Court of Criminal
Appeals. He was the grandfather of Judge Earl E. Hurt
and Assistant District Attorney Robert L. Hurt, of Dallas.


 "Darned Poor Shooting."

     "Uncle Perry, after the war, had a number of liberated slaves working for him. One of these big negro men had particularly incited the hatred of the Ku Klux Klan and the klan members had vowed that they would kill him. It was Uncle Perry's custom to feed the negroes in the dining-room after the family had finished eating. One evening about dusk, the negroes were eating in the dining-room and Uncle Perry was standing before the fireplace at the north end of the dining-room, filling his pipe with tobacco. A rifle shot was heard from the edge of the woods about 100 feet east of the house. A few pieces of shattered glass tinkled to the floor under the window. Uncle Perry, feeling a stinging sensation at the back of his head, reached back with one hand and got a handful of bloody hair that had been cut off by the bullet which cut a crease across the back of his head. He threw the bloody hair into the fire and remarked: 'Darned poor shooting.' Then, without another word, he continued filling his pipe, got a live coal from the fireplace on the corner of the shovel, placed it on top of the tobacco in the bowl of his pipe, took a couple of puffs, sat down in his homemade armchair, crossed his legs and began meditatively puffing slowly at his pipe as he gazed into the fire.


 The Negroes Hunted Cover.

     "The negroes, some fifteen or twenty of them, sat speechless and too terrified to move during the few seconds while Uncle Perry was continuing his preparations for his smoke. But the moment Uncle Perry sat down and began smoking, they recovered from their stupefied terror. Chairs were turned over backward as they jumped up from the table. Some of them scrambled under the table, some dashed into a closet at the end of the room and others ran into the kitchen, but Uncle Perry calmly puffed his pipe through it all.
     "This incident is a typical illustration of the Indian traits which Uncle Perry had inherited from his mother, who was half Cherokee. He had jet black and straight hair and a very brown skin.

Took Frank James' Gun.

     "Uncle Perry is said to be the only man Frank James ever surrendered his gun to. He was a neighbor to the James family in Missouri and in his youth, played with Frank and Jesse James. One day, Uncle Perry beat Frank shooting at a shooting match. Frank handed over his gun and said: 'Here, take my gun. You are the only man I ever surrendered my gun to.'

Frank Sold Calico.

     "Years later, in the late '80s or early '90s, after Frank James had been pardoned by the Governor Missouri, he came to Dallas to visit his boyhood friend. He had been here but a few days, when he was stricken with typhoid fever. For seven weeks, he was sick in this house. He was cared for in a room upstairs. That room is now just like it was when Frank James occupied it. The same bed and other furniture are yet here. After he got well and strong again, he went to Dallas to get a job. A few days later, Uncle Perry and Aunt Jessie went to Dallas to do some trading. They found Frank clerking in one of the store. Aunt Jessie wanted to buy some calico and Frank waited on her. Frank seemed to be embarrassed at selling ladies' dress goods. Uncle Perry, sensing the humor of the situation, remarked: 'Frank, I never thought you would ever come to this, selling calico for a living.'
     "Frank said: 'Well, a man must have a job. I won't be doing this very long, you can bet your boots.'

Built Cabin Near Kidd Springs.

     "My father settled in Dallas in 1844 after a two months' trip from Missouri in an ox team wagon," Joe Overton related. "He was accompanied by his father, Aaron Overton, and his brother, C. C. Overton. Aaron Overton took up his headright were Oak Cliff now stands and built his cabin near Kidd Springs. Father took up his headright to the southeast farther down the river and a little later, began building the house in which I now live.

Built First Mill.

     "Grandfather and his two sons were the only members of the family coming to Texas at first. Grandfather made a trip back to Missouri each fall to visit his wife and family. In 1847, he brought them to Texas with him to share his home with him in the new country. One of the first things he did after settling in 1844, was to put up a mill operated by horse power. This was the first mill built in Dallas County. I have heard my father tell of settlers coming to his father's mill from as far as 100 miles away to get their corn and wheat ground into flour and meal. The mill would grind 100 bushels a day by keeping it going from daylight to dark. He operated this horse mill until 1841, when he built a water mill.

The Lost Grave.

     "Grandfather died in 1860 at the age of 76 years. He was buried on the hillside near Kidd Springs and a stone marker was put over the grave. Several years ago, some of his nephews from Missouri came to Dallas, and we were going to remove his remains from Kidd Springs to the old family burial grounds, a few hundred yards west of my home. When we went to Kidd Springs to locate the grave, we found that houses had been built over the place. All the trace we could find was the old stone grave marker which one family was using as a door step. Grandmother reached the age of 87 years and died in 1874. They had twelve children, eleven of whom married and reared families. My father, William Perry Overton, was the ninth child.
     "Father was married on July 22, 1847, to Miss Martha Ann Newton. The Rev. W. H. Hord officiated, with Ned Wilburn and Milt Robinson as witnesses. She was born in Saline County, Missouri, and came to Dallas County in 1845 with her father. Seven children were born to them and she died in 1884. A year later, Mr. Overton was married to my mother, Mrs. Jessie Overton. She was the daughter of Henry C. Davis, a native of Hampshire, England, who settled in Dallas County and was killed on the railroad near the old home place at the age of 73 years.

To California by Ox Wagon.

     "Father caught the gold fever when the great rush to the gold fields of California started in 1849. He made arrangements for the care of his wife and family and joined a California-bound caravan. He started with an ox team and wagon, but at El Paso, traded the oxen for a team of mules and continued his way to the Pacific Coast. He started on San Jacinto Day, April 21, and arrived at San Diego five months later. They experienced great hardships on the way and many died, or were killed by Indians. After spending eighteen months mining for gold, he decided that he had collected a sufficient quantity of gold dust and nuggets and began the return journey. One trip across the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona was enough for him, so he determined to come back by boat.

Came Home by Boat.

     "Taking a coastwise sailing boat, he went to the Isthmus of Panama. He walked across the Isthmus at about the point where the Panama Canal was later built. He then took another boat to New Orleans, then traveled by river steamboat to Shreveport. There, he exchanged some of his gold dust for a horse and rode from there to Dallas.
     "He arrived home after an absence of two years. He was attired in the typical costume of the gold fields of California and had not shaved for several weeks. His own mother did not know him when he rode up. She thought he was acting a little fresh and was about to get a gun after him when he told her that he was her son. She examined him a little closer and recognized him. His wife did not know him, either. When they informed his small son that the newly-arrived stranger was his father, he walked up, and, reaching his little arms about his father's knees, inquired rather doubtfully, "Are you my pappy?' There was one, however, whom he could not fool. His dog was in the yard when his long-absent master arrived and ran joyfully to greet him, jumping upon him playfully.

Died at Age of 81.

     "After returning from California, father went into the milling business, operating for many years, the old Honey Springs mill on the headright of Honey Springs Creek. He ground wheat and corn for the Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. He retired from the mill in 1866 to give his full time to his farming interests. He died on Jan. 26, 1903, eight days before his eighty-first birthday anniversary. He lived until his death in the house he built when he first came to Texas, although it had been enlarged and repaired and a new roof put on a few times."

Addressed the Pioneers.

     An insight into social life and customs of the first settlers in Dallas County is given in an address prepared and delivered by Uncle Perry Overton on July 14, 1893, at the eighteenth annual reunion of the Dallas County Pioneers' Association at Garland. He was 71 years old, but was able to get about actively and spoke clearly. John Henry Brown, president, was in charge of the program. The association was organized on July 13, 1875, with John C. McCoy as president. Vice presidents were William H. Hord, Mrs. Elizabeth B. Durgin, Isaac B. Webb and Mrs. Nancy J. Cochran. Edward C. Browder was secretary and John W. Smith, treasurer. Mr. McCoy continued as president until his death in 1887, after which, John Henry Brown was elected president at each reunion for several years.
     Uncle Perry lived for ten years after this address, which follows:
     "When I first came to Dallas, there was a little pole hut on the bank of the Trinity, occupied by John Neely Bryan, and a rough courthouse made of post oak logs, and that's all there was of Dallas. John Neely Bryan was living under bond to marry his wife. It was too far to go to get a marriage license then. I think license for the first marriage in Dallas County was issued from Nacogdoches, in 1845. There were very few preachers in the county in those days. Among the number was Amy McComas of Missouri, long since dead.

A Day at the Gristmill.

     "My father put up the first gristmill ever built in the county. It was horse-mill and the first bushel of wheat ground was for old Uncle John Cole, Jack Cole's father. Before the mill was put up, the people ground their corn and wheat in mortars or hand mills. Coffee mills were frequently used to grind the meal. When we put up our mill, people brought grist to it from 100 miles away, and I have seen as many as twenty-seven wagons there at the same time waiting for their turn. We ground out about 100 bushels a day, which was considered a good day's work. I have lived in Dallas County ever since I came here, except two years that I was in California along in 1849-50.

He Liked Texas.

     "Texas is the best country, in my opinion, under the sun. California is a good county, but is has only two seasons, wet and dry. I don't think that God ever made a better country than Texas. Take a belt through Grayson, Collin, Dallas, Ellis and Navarro Counties, and you have, in my opinion, the best country in Texas. In its early settlement, it was dry, but we always made enough to do us and sometimes something to spare. We have as fine crops this year as I have ever seen in the county. We had better times before the railroads came, we could sell everything we raised, money was more plentiful and everybody had it then. A 10-year-old boy had more money than the average farmer has today. It has gone into the hands of the few and we can't get it as we used to. The winter that I returned from California, I bought pork, but I never have bought any since, though I have sold thousands of pounds.
     "When I first came to this country, it was no more like it is now than chalk is like cheese. Men were not trying to swindle each other. I could go into Dallas and lie down with $100,000, and it would be there next morning. There was no stealing those days, and, if you wanted to borrow $500, or such an amount, you didn't have to give a mortgage to get it. I knew men to borrow $500 and never give a note.
     "I was a member of the first jury impaneled in Dallas County. A woman was asking for a divorce from her husband. We gave it to her, and before sundown that day, the foreman of the jury married her. The first legal hanging was in 1853 or 1854. A negress was executed for knocking a man in the head with an ax at Cedar Springs. He had her hired and she murdered him while he was asleep. I can't recall their names.

When Dallas Burned.

     "The town of Dallas burned July 8, 1860. A lot of men had been smoking that Sunday around Sam Prior's drug store, and I think the fire started from that. Crill Miller's house, the burning of which, was mentioned in last Sunday's News, was not burned, but his wheat stacks and cribs were burned. A chunk of fire had been placed on a bed beneath the mattress, but when the mattress was turned back, it smothered the fire out and the house did not burn. Crill's negro boy, Bruce, told about another negro, Spence, giving him a dollar to fire the house. I think the hanging of the three negroes for burning the town was unjust, because I don't believe they were guilty. At the courthouse, when the committee was investigating the fire, there came near being a squally time between Judge Nat M. Burford and Col. John C. McCoy.
     "I am a broad and a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and I am a Clark Democrat. I believe in giving every man a show at office."

- March 4, 1928, Dallas Morning News, Feature Section, pp. 7, 8.
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