The New Arrival
Cuthbert “Bird” Mead’s buggy bounced over the last of the dusty road into town, and he reined the horse in tight. He could already hear the train huffing its way into town. He pulled up under the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Extension Railway sign outside the train station to wait for his older brother, William, or Billy as everyone called him.
Bird and Billy had been a couple of rowdies in their youth. Only three years apart in age, they were best friends but could manage to argue and get into fisticuffs about most anything, especially over Bird's nickname. “Tweet, tweet, Bird!” Billy would tease. “It's Bert! Bert Mead!” Bird would shout to his ornery brother. The name Bird stuck.
As they grew into manhood, their mother insisted that a “civil discourse” was advantageous over fists. Her admonitions occasionally worked but she was mostly resigned to a cluck of the tongue, and “boys will be boys.” Then, the tragic years of the Civil War and the loss of their father in that war forced them into early manhood and sobered them both.
Now, years later, they found themselves in Greenville, Texas, married with families, still suffering from the great losses sustained in that war, but seeking a new direction for their lives. Billy had lost his first wife in childbirth and he was left with Allie, a son to raise alone. He married again, this time to Mattie, a woman with Cherokee ancestry, and now she was expecting his child. So, today, Bird was to bring news to Billy that was as exciting as all git out, and he was bustin' his britches to tell him.
The huge smokestack of the train came into sight and the train began its slowing process, with squeaking brakes and slower yet slower chugs from the engine. The engine pulled into the station and sighed a great relief of steam from its underbelly, frightening Bird's horse. “Whoa, now, Red!” He hopped from the buggy seat and snubbed Red's harness close to his chest with one hand while patting Red's stout neck with the other, calming the horse. A clang of the engine's bell began in slow, rhythmic beats like the pulsing heart of the engine that signified its final stop.
Bird kept a watchful eye on the train as people began to disembark. Billy had been doing some work for the railroad like their father before them, and he was one of the last to emerge. Bird spotted Billy, he tied the horse's reins quickly to a hitching post and hurried onto the platform of the station, waving at his brother. Billy spotted Bird and waved back. They met in a manly embrace and Bird took Bill's valise in hand.
Billy looked at Bird in surprise. "What are you doing here? Where's Mattie? Is she okay?" Bird smiled broadly at his brother and put his arm around Billy's shoulders. "Mattie is doing fine. She's been busy having a big ol' son for you, so she sent me to pick you up!"
Billy stopped dead in his tracks. Facing Bird, Billy's face lit up like a Roman candle. "Mattie? A boy? The baby came? Already? It's too soon! It's—Is she all right?" Billy grasped Bird's arms tightly and began shaking him. Bird laughed at his brother and backed away.
"Take it easy, Bill. Mattie is just fine. She had a baby boy this morning about 9 o'clock and they are both fine. Our mother and sister were with her every minute and she had an easy delivery." He paused a moment and slammed his hands down on Billy's shoulders. "You have another son!"
It took a moment more for Bill to comprehend what Bird had just told him. "Mattie's all right?" he asked again and Bird nodded a vigorous yes. Stunned, Bill said nothing and stared at Bird. Then as if shot, he jerked off his hat, threw it into the air, and yelled, "Yahoo!"
Bird laughed again and steered his brother toward the buggy. "Come on! Let's go see this fine little feller before he grows up into a man!" The ride back to the farm was too fast and the horse was lathered by the time they got home. Bill jumped out of the buggy, leaving Bird to take care of the horse and buggy, and he burst into the house.
Mary Ann, Billy's mother sat holding the new baby boy, rocking him and singing to him while Nancy, his sister fussed around the kitchen, making things tidy. Bill jerked off his hat, glanced toward his sister, and then rushed to his mother's side. He kissed her on the cheek and then looked down at his newborn son, blissfully asleep. Mary Ann smiled and began to hand the baby to Bill but he said, "No, Mother. Not yet. I must see Mattie first."
He got up quickly and went into the bedroom where Mattie lay in bed. Her father stood beside the bed, holding his daughter's hand. Mr. Gower was a dark-skinned man with massive hands and a somber, bearded face. He looked up at Billy and managed a slight smile. The two men embraced and Mr. Gower excused himself without a word. He closed the door behind him so that this young couple could have a moment alone.
Bill knelt down by his raven-haired wife and kissed her gently on the mouth. "My Martha! My Mattie!" He looked deeply into her dark eyes and tired face. "Are you all right?" She smiled and nodded yes. He kissed her hand. "You have given me hope again. You have given me a reason to go on!" She patted him gently on the cheek. "We have a son," she cooed.
Just then, the door opened and Mary Ann brought the baby into the room. She smiled. "I think he may be hungry now." Bill stood up and Mary Ann handed the baby to him. Billy held the squirming baby for a moment and kissed his cheek; then laid the baby beside Mattie. As the baby nuzzled against Mattie's breast, Bill beamed with pride. "We'll call him Worth. Worth Mead.
Billy's ragtag family was poor and struggling to rise above the poverty that the Civil War had brought to them. They came to Fannin County, Texas after the war with their widowed mother, Mary Ann, Billy's brothers, Bob, Bird and his wife, their sister Nancy, her husband, Parks White, and of course, little Allie, Billy's first son.
After settling in Greenville, the Mead family met the Elisha Porter Gower family and their daughter, Martha Jane Gower. The Gowers had Cherokee blood but that mattered little to Billy once he gazed into the dark eyes of Martha Jane. Love struck Billy in the heart and he married Martha, "Mattie" on December 22, 1878 in Greenville, Texas. Now, almost two years later, Mattie delivered her first son, Worth Mead.
It was said that Mattie's grandmother was full blood Cherokee, having married a French trapper named Dozier back in Tennessee. Mattie's father, Elisha Porter "Port" Gower had some Cherokee blood as well but it was too far back in his ancestry to remember. Mattie could speak Cherokee and knew many of the Cherokee medicines and ways that she learned from her mother, but she chose to cling to her English husband and live the White Man's ways.
Mattie loved little Allie and accepted him as her own. She loved all children and she got right busy and produced a passel of sons for Billy after Worth was born. After Billy moved the family from Greenville to Bonham, Texas, they continued to struggle for their growing brood. Mattie produced three more sons: Joseph Alcorn Creighton Mead in 1881, Clarence Porter Mead in 1884, and Samuel McKeown Mead in 1886. If nothing else, they were rich in sons!
Mattie was quite religious. After her mother died and her father remarried, she became a member of the Church of Christ, and she made sure that her sons were decent and God fearing. She forbade any swearing in her house and allowed no "demon rum" that Billy was fond of on occasion. With all those boys to manage, she became a bit stern and didn't hesitate to thump a son over the head with her thimble if they disobeyed her. Still, they managed to tease or fight, to her consternation.
Fannin County, Texas was growing rapidly by 1889, and developing towns that were interested in cattle, hogs, and farming. The Mead family had acquired several head of cattle by then but still struggled to make ends meet. Martha Jane's father, "Port" Gower was trying to get ahead as well.
The Gowers and the Meads found the opportunity they were looking for in Indian Territory just north of the Red River. The newspapers were full of the story about "excess lands" in Indian Territory to be parceled out to anyone who made a claim for it. It seemed that a Senator Dawes had decided the Indians up there needed to be civilized, so he got a law passed in Washington that would award every Indian 160 acres who had "head rights", and the Dawes Commission would see to it that Indians learned farming. Once all the land was awarded to the Indians, there was a lot of land left over—thousands of acres of land. This excess land could be claimed by anyone who wanted it. All they had to do was claim it and improve upon it.
Mattie was enough Cherokee to have "head rights" and she thought perhaps she could claim the land as an Indian. But her father advised her against it. "You will be classified as Indian. You will lose your citizenship as an American. Your sons will be Indian and will have to attend Indian schools. People will shun you because you are Indian. You are married to an Englishman. Wait for the excess lands to be assigned and claim your land that way." She took his advice and she and Billy waited for the announcement of excess lands.
There was to be a race for the first allotment of land. Anyone who wished to participate in the race was advised to show up in the central part of Indian Territory south of the modern day city of Norman, Oklahoma. At the sound of a gunshot, the race would begin. Participants would race to a place they wished to claim and drive stakes into the ground, thus claiming it for their own! How exciting! A race for the land!
Billy Mead decided on the gamble to obtain land in such a bizarre way so he and Port Gower scraped together enough money to buy train tickets that would take them to the central part of Indian Territory, some two hundred miles north of Bonham, Texas. Martha Jane was expecting her fifth child, so it was important that Billy get the land and get back to Texas in time for the birth of his next child before departing with the family for their new home.
[Author's Note] U.S. Census records and family Bible records provided the dates and places of birth of Mead family members in Fannin County, Texas as well as date of marriage for Martha Jane Gower and William Samuel Mead. Family stories accounted for the Gower and Mead families moving to Texas some time after the Civil War.