Message from Drawing Winner

Joe Wayne REYNOLDS who won the Martin VARNER book in the drawing at The Old Settler’s Reunion 2010, sent the following comment. I decided to move it here for those who don’t follow comments to postings.

2010/09/15 at 9:24 pm
Just wanted to say I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Martin Varner biography that I received from the drawings held at the Old Settler’s Reunion in August. Thank you and I hope to someday become more informed of my own family’s heritage in the East TX area, through the resources provided by the Wood Co Geneaological Society.


Drawing Winners from Old Settlers Named

Congratulations to the winners of our free drawing at the Old Settlers’s Reunion at Quitman last week.

The winner of the free copy of Don RANEY‘s biography and family history of Wood County’s first Anglo-American settler, “Martin VARNER: Texas Pioneer, His Life Story and His Descendants,” is Joe Wayne REYNOLDS of Quitman.

Sherma LARGENT of Quitman won the free year Wood County Genealogical Society membership for 2010-2011 and is, thus, the newest member of our society.

Minutes of April Society Meeting

Here are the minutes of the April Wood County Genealogical Society meeting which will be presented at the May meeting tomorrow, May 17, at 7 p.m. at the Quitman Public Library meeting room.

Monthly Meeting
Quitman Public Library
April 19, 2010

The meeting was called to order by President Shirley Patrick at 7:00 pm with 16 members and 10 guests. President Shirley Patrick welcomed everyone and thanked them for coming.

Our guest speaker for the evening was Don Raney. Mr. Raney is a sixth generation Texan who has been an active genealogist for over 30 years. He published a book, “Marin Varner, Texas Pioneer; 1785-1844 in September 2009. This book describes the life and adventures of his Great, Great, Great, Grandfather, Martin Varner, in Colonial Texas. He also had copies of this book for sale.

After the program the business meeting began at 8:35 pm. The minutes stood approved as presented.

Treasurer Sally Allcorn presented the following financial report:
Last Bank Statement Dated: March 1, 2010
Starting Balance Shown (03/01/10): $1,243.19
2 Single Memberships 30.00
Money from copier 5.00
Total Deposits: $ 35.00

Hometown Trophy (award for Shirley Bates) 32.16
Total Expenses: 32.16

Ending Balance Shown (03/31/10): $1,246.03

Outstanding checks: None

Total Deposits not shown: None

Current Balance: $1,246.03

The financial report stood approved as read.

Old Business:
A motion was made by Dorothy Harbin, seconded by Shirley Bates to pay Don Raney $50.00 for speaking to the society. Motion passed.

President Shirley Patrick reported next month will be elections of new officers. She appointed Mary Beth Ramage, Sally Allcorn, and herself to the budget committee. She also told those present to think about volunteering to serve on committees or in an officer position. Anyone who is interested in serving should call Deason Hunt or Shirley Patrick and let them know.

Mark Reid would like for someone to take over doing the name tags for the new members. Willie Kay Paredez suggested getting permanent name tags that the members purchase and keep up with. She showed two different examples of name tags from clubs that she is a member of.

New Business:
John McCall reported he is working on a project that helps to get markers for Confederate Graves that do not have one. Let him know if anyone needs one or finds a grave that might need one.

Mary Beth Ramage suggested two fund raising ideas one would be publishing an obit book for the society to sell with some of the information that we have in the genealogy room and the other was a 1st Families certificate which we could sell. The first families would have to fill out a form and the society would have to verify information that is on the form before giving out the certificate. Tyler does this and sells them for $25.00 each.

Mr. Raney left a case of ten books to sell with the society receiving a commission. Anyone who wants to purchase one needs to contact Dorothy Harbin.

The meeting adjourned at 9:00 pm.

Minutes were taken by recording/corresponding secretary Kathy Lutonsky.

A Real “Rootin’, Tootin” Pioneer Hero

It’s a wonder that no one has made a novel, movie, or television series about the life of Wood County’s Martin Varner. It’s all there in black and white in Don Raney‘s recent history of Varner, “Martin Varner: Texas Pioneer, His Life Story and His Descendants.” And, there’s a whole lot of Wood County history there through tracing the many family connections of the Varner family.

Don was born here himself in the Hoard community and not very far from the area that Varner and his family (the first White settlers in the Wood County area) lived just south of present-day Hainesville. Connections to other historic pioneer families of Wood County are also in the book.

Don made all this come alive in his presentation to the April meeting of the society at the library in Quitman. If you want a story about a man who traveled across the United States to Texas with conflicts along the way with Indians, the United States government, and, oh, yes, the Mexican government and ultimately Santa Anna’s army, Don Raney is a man you should see (or at least read his book). Varner’s ultimate death at the hands of a neighbor over what seems to us a trivial matter (tools of the neighbor’s trade) qualifies as a true heroic tragedy.

I am so happy I didn’t miss the April meeting and, thus, miss hearing Don tell the story. I knew he was a good teacher from a previous visit he made to the society and from workshops I attended which he taught at a genealogical conference in Lufkin several years ago.

If you missed the meeting and have not seen his book, society Vice-president Dororthy Harbin has some copies of the book for sale at a very reasonable price (and a part of the purchase price will go as a donation to the society). You can contact her at 903-571-4965 or at P.O. Box 794, Quitman, TX 75783 or by email at

Looking Back: Five Flags (Plus) Over Wood County

The land which would some day become Wood County, Texas, USA has been the scene of human habitation for thousands of years providing sustenace and dwelling for various peoples because of the bountiful water, forest, land and lifestyle resouces which still attract people here today.

Evidence indicates human presence here in native American Clovis cultures in prehistoric times. Historical evidence points to the arrival of the native Americans known as the Caddos as early as the first Century, A. D. Living in the forests of the Sabine River Valley and its tributaries (including the Lake Fork and Big Sandy Creeks and their water sheds), the Kadhadacho (as the Spanish called them) were in their early period mound builders and the westernmost people of the Missippian Mound Culture. They had abandoned these practices by the arrival of Europeans in the 1500’s. The Spanish and French noted them as they moved through the Sabine Valley area and traded with the loosely allied groups described as the Caddo Confederation. Hasinai Caddo tribes populated this area during historic times.

Indian artifacts have been found from North to South in the county. Examples include the Caddo Trace area at Winnsboro where Indian and Spanish relics possibly from trading have been found and the discovery of Indian villages and burials in the Quitman area. Also, Native American relics have been found south in the Mineola Nature Preserve area just north of the Sabine River.

This first “nation” having dominiion over the area which is now Wood County had no real flag as they are known by us today.

The first European nation to claim the area of Wood County was Spain,


and Texas north to the Red River was a part of the vast Empire of Spain from the 14th Century until 1821 as part of Spanish Colonial America.

Following the end of the successful rebellion against Spain by Mexico, Wood County was a part of the Mexican State of Coahuila and Texas


from 1821 until its own succesful rebellion against Mexico.

The Republic of Texas was born in 1836 and the area that would become Wood County was in the northermost area of the large orginal Nacogdoches County during the period of


the Republic. It was during this period that Martin Varner settled in Wood County. Varner is recognized as the first settler and also the person who cut the first road into the county (1840). Then, in 1846, Texas became a state of the United States.

That same year Texas became a part of the United States of America, larger counties were broken up, and Henderson County was formed. It included areas from Houston and Nacogdoches

United States of America

counties including the area of present-day Van Zandt and Wood Counties. Just two years later in 1848, Van Zandt County was created and it included the area that would become Wood County when it was created in 1850. (Creation timing was such that Wood County residents of 1850 are listed on the census of Van Zandt County.)

In 1861, Texas followed the actions of a number of Southern states and voted to withdraw from the United States of America and join the Confederate States of America. With the surrender of the Confederate government following four bloody years of warfare in 1865, Texas

Confederate States of America

entered a period of military government by the United States. In 1866 a nullification of the secession vote was passed by a Texas constitutional convention, and in 1869 Texans were again authorized to vote for members state officers. In 1870, Texas’ elected representatives were allowed back into the United States Congress.

Book Review: Martin Varner, Texas Pioneer

Martin Varner book review published in STIRPES, Vol.49, No. 4, Page 33, Dec. 2009. The author, William Barr, Katy, TX, has granted permission to reprint this review.

“Sweet Mother Texas” by William Barr

“Mother of heroes, we come your children true,
Proclaiming our allegiance, our faith, our love for you.”

My theory is that most folks under Lone Star skies encounter these words from the state song only in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show”. Unless they are of a certain vintage, contemporary Texans have a better chance of knowing the tune to the Agincourt Hymn than to “Texas, Our Texas”.

That said, it is a pleasure to recommend a biography-cum-genealogy of Martin Varner, a book authored by one of his descendants who does his folks proud and the rest of us a favor in assembling the facts about a family numbering among Austin’s “Old Three Hundred”.

Author Don Raney, an engineer by profession, developed an interest in family history more than forty
years ago leading up to his book and a post-retirement career in teaching genealogy classes for Richland College in Dallas. That his book had its origin in little family information, a disinterested many among his kinsman, and a charismatic, garrulous older relative with a rage to tell of his people makes the reading of Raney’s research all the more interesting.

The author marshalls an extensive array of detailed maps and primary and secondary sources in detailing Martin Varner‘s story. When it comes to Varner’s mortal wounding by Simon Gonzales, who as well murdered Stephen Austin Varner in the same incident, it’s to Raney’s credit that he includes multiple, somewhat contradictory versions of the tragedy.

Varner’s German forebears came to colonial Pennsylvania. In the wake of Lord Dunmore’s War, the Varner men placed their families in safety but returned of necessity to frontier farms in a war zone. Indian woes would pursue the family in their subsequent pioneering efforts in Ohio and Texas.

As a man in his late twenties, Martin Varner left the family farm in Warren County, Ohio for points south during the War of 1812. Flatboats carried him and some friends to the Arkansas and Missouri Territories, where they hunted buffalo and trapped beaver. This led to Varner joining the Jones Brothers’ abortive settlement along both sides of the Red River and his carving out a farm in present-day Choctaw County, Oklahoma.

By the time Varner married Elizabeth (“Betsey”) Inglish, another pioneer in the Wild West of their day, the Adam-Onis Treaty clarified the international border between Spanish Texas and the United States. When Federal troops from Fort Jessup subsequently burned the cabins and fields of the 200 settlers west of the Kiamichi River in the interest of re-settling the Choctaws, Varner and his neighbors attempted to ambush the soldiers in retaliation.

At this juncture, the Varners, after crossing the Red River, regathered in Jonesboro.They elected to follow Henry Jones into Stephen F. Austin’s Colony in 1821, “the seed colony of Texas”. The opportunity to acquire cheap cotton lands was too great to pass up, and Varner was clearing land and farming present-day Washington County by 1822.

By 1825, Martin Varner established a farm lower down the Brazos which in the twentieth century become the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site. From here he distilled the first spirituous liquor in Texas in 1829, a product from his cane fields. It was during this time of extending his wealth and raising a growing family that Varner participated in the Battle of Velasco in 1832.

Varner sold the property in 1834 to the Patton brothers after much improving it. The site of Varner’s log home appears to lie underneath the plantation house built by the brothers, a home alike restored and improved by the late Ima Hogg of Houston, aka “Miss Ima”.

An intriguing report from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hints at Martin Varner choosing to build on the creek which bears his name with an eye towards attracting trade and developing a town in Brazoria County. Given his ill-fated patronage of the carpenter Simon Gonzalez, which dates from this period, the possibility exists that the Varners’ return to East Texas, with Gonzales in tow, was in part motivated by exposure to the profits to be made from trading posts and settlement development.

Clearly, the development of towns to facilitate agricultural expansion and stock raising was a goal of Varner’s nearest neighbor on the Brazos, Josiah Bell, and of Stephen F. Austin himself, the recipient of that that first bottle from Varner’s farm.

Guarding the baggage of General Houston’s army at Harrisburg, Varner, a man over fifty, played a role in the Texian victory at San Jacinto. Having first secured the safety of his family by seeing them east of the Trinity, he hastened in 1836 to join the war against Mexico securing the independence of the Lone Star republic. Around the time, the Varners and some of their relations had moved to the Sulphur River, near Fort Lyday in present-day Lamar County.

Indian trouble had earlier seen the removal of the Varners to the area around San Felipe (present-day Waller County) from their original settlement near what is now Independence. As a result of pressure from other tribes, they fled the area around Fort Lyday in 1841 to what is now Wood County, the Indian troubles there having been removed with the Texian victory over the woodland tribes at the Battle of the Neches in 1839. Another factor in heading south and east lay in a dispute with the Lydays involving land claims in the area about twelve miles south of present-day Quitman.

Whether Martin Varner and his only son met their deaths as a result of Gonzales resenting the garnishment of his tools for debt, or this factor was exacerbated by the latter encouraging Varner slaves to runaway to Mexico, it is beyond dispute that the Mexican carpenter also perished in the altercation of 1844. Joe, a slave of Martin Varner, assisted the fatally wounded patriarch in dispatching Gonzales with a knife after the carpenter had shot and killed the teenaged Stephen Austin Varner.

Most of Raney’s book consists of genealogy, located in the second section of pages. I think the book is worth reading by non-family members who appreciate not only Texas history, but the skillful telling of a family history which effectively draws on local and state history to make possible our understanding of lesser-known heroes.

Martin Varner was a hero of early Texas, and this literary work in heritage preservation neither understates nor overstates the case for such a claim.

William Barr of Katy, Texas holds the MA degree from the University of Texas and the MDiv degree from Yale University. He is an instructor of American History at San Jacinto College and writes for a Tennessee daily newspaper, the Paris Post-Intelligencer.

Don Raney, Martin Varner: Texas Pioneer; His Life Story and His Descendants (The Book Warren, San Diego, California, 2009), 430 pages. Copies may be purchased with a check payable to the author by mailing $25.00 plus $5.00 shipping and handling to Don Raney, 1506 Comanche Trail, Garland, TX 75043.

Don Raney Program on Martin Varner Saturday, Jan. 9 in Tyler

Don Raney, a descendant of Martin Varner of Wood County and author of the recent biography/family history of Martin Varner and descendants, will be speaking to the East Texas Genealogical Society at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 9 at the Tyler Public Library. The public, which includes any of us in the Wood County Genealogical Society, is invited to attend.

The program is about “Martin Varner, Texas Pioneer, 1785-1844. Don has spoken to and visited with us here at the Wood County society in the past and is a visitor to Wood County from time to time.

Weather forecast is such that it will be warmer Saturday and the roads should be clear of any rain, snow, or ice in case that we have some between now and then.