“I want you to know she [Lucy Hall Densmore] was the most loving woman I ever knew.”
Netta Bell Densmore, 1957
THEY CAME FROM ALABAMA
Fifty miles or so to the north of Double Springs, on the south side of the Tennessee, the Densmores, Warrens, and Halls must have suffered through the Nineties as did most southern farmers. The national depression of 1893 – 1894 was disastrous for Alabama. Business was crippled, money was scarce, and cotton, the measuring rod of commodity prices, sold at 4 cents a pound. The last of Will and Lucy Hall Densmore’s children were born during the nineties. Their complete family follows:
George Henry 1877 – 1953
William Rufus 1880 – 1964
Mary Lee 1882 – 1963
Lily Etta 1884 – 1965
Margie Ann 1886 – 1968
Ollie Belle 1889 – 1901
John Chester Sylvester 1891 – 1961
Samuel Lee (Timothy?) 1894 – 1950
Annie Sue 1897 – 1959
Robert Lee 1899 – 1899
They lived close by with their friends and relatives. Across the road was Grandpa Hall, the shoemaker from Tennessee, and Grandma Mary Hall, who was a mid-wife. The Halls rented the old Cobb plantation which must have given them adequate room for their large family. One of their daughters, Aunt Lundy, married Frank Quillen and they built their house even nearer the Densmore’s dog trot cabin. Another Hall daughter, Aunt Emmy, remembers playing in the remains of the old slave quarters while they still stood on the old Cobb place. Not far away lived Uncle Pet Hall, who owned a fine black two seated carriage. On another farm next to them lived the Warrens whose mother was their Aunt Malinda (probably called Aunt Maggie) until she died and then the children were raised by Uncle Marion Densmore and his wife, Aunt Fannie Warren Densmore. During this time, eleven-year-old Ollie Belle fell from a fence and broke an arm. Dirt was in the wound causing blood poisoning to set in which led to her death. It was likely in the nineties that Will Densmore’s health began to fail. Some say he had asthma and the possibility remains he suffered from lung ailments related to working in the coal mines. They must have been crowded in their cabin which has been described as building with a porch across the front that held a passageway through the center to the rear which divided the building in two parts. It may have contained two rooms, or it may have included more. This cabin no longer stood when my father visited the site in 1927. He had a picture made at the site with his sister, Mary, and with his son, Sam Jr. I believe the site can still be located as of this writing in 1984. It likely had a tin roof. I remember, during many rainstorms, hearing my Dad recalling, with fond memories, sleeping under a tin roof as a child as the rain fell. A creek ran to the back and to the side of the house where a spring house was located.
My dad, Samuel, said when he had the mumps as a youth, complications caused swelling in his testicles. His father, Will, realizing this could cause sterility went to the woods and killed a small animal (a rabbit or a squirrel) and enclosed Sam’s groin with the warm carcass. My Dad believed this backwoods remedy prevented him from becoming sterile and I suppose I’m in no position to argue the point. Sam remembers his father, Will, as a man who was not warm or close to his children. I can recall many times my father, Sam, picking me up and kissing me, then telling me he could never remember his father kissing him, something I now make sure my sons remember. My brother, Samuel Jr., remembers Dad saying the only warm gesture he remembers from Will was a pat on the head while sitting in front of the fireplace as the old man passed by the children as he came through the room. Sam apparently hung on to this memory his whole life as the sole display of affection from his father. I would like to believe Will’s bad health kept him from kissing his son.
Why Will and his family left Alabama to come to Oklahoma and then Texas remains a mystery although we do have some clues. Before Grandpa John Hall died in July of 1898 we know Frank Quillen, his wife Lundy Hall Quillen, and her sister, Emmy Hall, made a trip to Dallas County, Texas. Frank’s brother, Hugh Quillen, lived in Dallas County likely in Union Bower (now Irving) from what I can tell from a 1900 map of Dallas county. Although we don’t know why they decided to move we might speculate it was because of the growing economy in Dallas which just surpassed Houston temporarily as the largest city in Texas. They were not happy in Dallas and decided to return to Alabama, but I think they must have met Emile Voirin, a colorful Frenchman, during their short stay. The return trip by wagon was remembered as a long and miserable one taking over a month to complete. They were accompanied on the return trip with a friend named Conley. This may have been James William Conley who married Elizabeth Warren, the daughter of Major Warren and Malinda Densmore. Whoever this man named Conley was, it is likely he was related to James William Conley as he and other Conleys located in the Dallas area in 1912.
On this long wagon trip, they were followed by an Indian and his family for several days. Feeling threatened by his persistent surveillance, the men purposely showed their weapons and the Indian kept a wider distance. One night they were offered protection and allowed to camp near a homesite, but the Indian remained close behind. One family story relates Petway Hall dressing as an Indian and riding by a wagon for safety from Indian attack. However, Jimmie Frank McGee, granddaughter of Frank and Lundy and the source of much of the information of this period of time, does not believe Pet Hall was on this journey or ever was in a position to have warded off Indians. It may be that either Quillen or Conley donned the Indian disguise.
In 1901 the oldest son of Will Densmore, George, married Indiana Newman of Double Springs, a small petite dark eyed girl from what we can tell from photographs made at that time. I think they moved to Tuscumbia in the Muscle Shoals area where their first son Rufus Earl was born in 1903. This left William Rufus with much of the responsibility as the oldest remaining son on the farm as well as the only grown son. Chess was ten and Sam was six and likely Will was in failing health at this time. Rufe is remembered as not being pleased with the situation and the boys complained of the charge of affairs assumed by sister Lily. Later in Oklahoma I believe both Rufe and George lived near or on the same farm with their parents with their wives and children and possibly worked together.
Emile Voirin was the grandson of Charles Isadore Paul Voirin, a Frenchman who came to Texas in 1854 with the utopian socialist settlement of La Reunion, which was located a few miles west of the young city of Dallas. The settlement folded within a year giving to Dallas some of its early culture. Emile’s first wife, Annie Smith, died during the first decade of this century. A while after this, Emile went to Florence, Alabama to court Emmy Hall, but married her niece Mary Densmore instead. We think Emile must have met Emmy when she was in the Dallas area in the 1890’s. She likely was at the home of Hugh Quillen which may have been near Emile’s little two room house in Union Bower. From a photograph made about 1898 one would believe Emma Hall to be a woman of great beauty. However, when Emile returned to Texas it was Mary Lee Densmore he brought back with him.
We might wonder what occurred on this trip; did something happen to cause the Frenchman to change his mind? It may have been that Emmy refused his proposal or maybe he preferred the younger niece, but, whatever the reason, this began a change that evolved for the Densmores in the Muscle Shoals. As far as any one knows there was always a warm relationship between Emma and Mary before and after Emile. In the nineties when the Frank Quillen and Lundy had their picture made they took Emmy as always and standing beside her was Mary. Mary and Emma exchanged visits over the years and today Mary’s granddaughter, Gwendolyn Cordell, is a close friend to Jimmie Frank McGee, the granddaughter of Frank and Lundy Quillen who for years lived with Emma. Mary’s mother was Lucy Hall Densmore, an older sister of Emmy. Emile is remembered as a colorful man who would at times sing in his native French and was a very lovable man with his children.
My Uncle Rufe told me: “Mary married and came to Texas first”. Her family remembers her telling of crossing the Trinity from Dallas in a boat upon arrival. This must have been the great Dallas flood of 1908 which was the year she married. The area between the old courthouse and Union Bower, where Emile and Mary were to live, was one giant body of water. Today this is the Stemmons area between downtown and Texas Stadium. The twenty-six-year-old bride climbed from the boat at the foot of the rise of land that was called Union Bower (it had been called Weed prairie) and was received by her new family at the Smith home not far away. This was a large two-story house, impressive for a Texas farm house of that era. It was built in 1888 and is thought to be the oldest house in Irving (it still stands at this writing).
We are fortunate to have a picture made just a year before Mary’s arrival showing the house as she must have seen it for the first time even with the two young boys of Emile who greeted her. The house was built in an “L” with the front wing covered on three sides with a porch. It sat about two feet off the ground on posts without shrubbery of any type around it. The front and one side were open with trees to the other side and the back. A small balcony extended from the second floor over the porch entrance below. The Smiths were one of the wealthiest families in that area and the parents of Emile’s first wife.
Mary remembers the two sons of Emile running to greet her and saying, “Why, you are not freckled-faced and red-headed”. There in Union Bower (now a part of Irving), they lived in a two-room house nestled in a grove of native live oaks and raised their family. A wing was later added with a porch around it. The house is no longer standing but was located on Wildwood road (now Darr road) by Voirin street near Walton Walker Blvd. The Voirin family owned a great deal of land where Walton Walker Blvd. crosses Highway 183 including what is now Texas Stadium. It was to Union Bower that Lucy brought her family after the death of her husband Will; many Densmores lived in that area. The Union Church nearby was where Sam and Netta Bell Densmore were married in 1914. In the 1980’s Sam’s grandson, Samuel Densmore III, negotiated for his firm the sale of much of the same land his ancestors pioneered early in the century.
Years ago, William Rufus told me he came to Texas by train in 1904 but I failed to ask him why he did so. He would have been 24 that year when he arrived at the Texas and Pacific Depot (near Main and Central Exp. today) in the August heat. He was a young man, unmarried, quite handsome from pictures we have, and, we might suppose, coming west looking for his future. The St. Louis World’s Fair was at its peak at that time and Teddy Roosevelt was running for re-election as President. Rufe said he stayed in Dallas from August until November before going to Oklahoma. Who did he stay with? Could it have been Hugh Quillen or Emile Voirin? Was he trying to establish a claim to land in the Indian Territory (as Oklahoma was called prior to 1907) through his grandmother Sarah Caroline Reavis? Some have said the Densmores came in hopes of claiming Indian land because of Indian blood and I recall he mentioned her Indian blood as well as the spelling of her maiden name (while unable to recall her maiden name) to me in 1961. It is also possible he had no specific plans but was just looking for a new life somewhere else.
After Rufe went to Oklahoma the family followed from Alabama, but it is uncertain why they moved. Rufe told me John Hall, a brother of Lucy, also lived in Oklahoma but died before the Densmores arrived. We know John B. Hall was born in 1856 and died in January of 1908 which would put
the Densmores in Oklahoma at the end of the first decade of this century. I believe they must have come early in 1908 because Rufe spoke of John Hall’s death as something that happened just before their arrival. Daughters Lily and Margie married in October of 1908 and I remember my father saying they married in Oklahoma. Lily married Lee Emerson and Margie married Noah Pryor.
Why would Will Densmore, in poor health and in his fifties, move to new territory to live as a pioneer? It could be that the dryer climate would improve his condition. Fifty years of age was not too old for Grandpa Sylvester to start a new family just as his father, William, before him. This, plus the possibility for free Indian land, may have been a last chance for Will and Lucy to work out a good future and was a gamble worth taking.
Will’s son, Sam, remembers playing in the Canadian River in Oklahoma as a teenager as well as clearing timber with brothers George and Rufe. It took seven days to clear the land which was a rather difficult task (at least difficult enough to remember to tell about years later) which also required walking through an intimidating cemetery to get to the trees. Sam and Chess, the two younger boys, had the job of building the fire and took turns each morning. From this story, we know both Rufe and George lived nearby. When did George come to Oklahoma? Was this with the rest of the family? Rufe married China Singleton in 1908. They had a daughter, Goldie, and China died in childbirth with their first son, Dale. Rufe later married Emily Doyle in Allen, Oklahoma, in 1916.
The Densmores must have lived most of their time near Allen and Atwood while in Oklahoma. Sometime around 1910 they had pictures made in front of their small log cabin. They moved a table out front and placed a lamp on it near two small glass cups that were souvenirs of Allen, Oklahoma. There Lucy stood while Will sat beside her in his rocking chair. Will’s poor health is apparent, but Lucy shows the strength of the strong pioneer woman she must have been. Other pictures were taken that day and in two others Lucy can be seen leaning in the doorway watching with obvious pride as images of her fine family are preserved for later generations to see. The children still at home were photographed together; there is a photograph of Sam and Chess, on each side of Annie. Then Chess photographed with the pony and also Annie in the same pose.
William Thomas Densmore died in April of 1912, surviving his father, Sylvester, by less than three years. Lucy, strong as always, took her three remaining children and moved to Union Bower where her oldest daughter Mary lived. Rufe stayed in Oklahoma a few years but he never felt healthy there and soon came to the Dallas area also. Daughters Margie and Lily also followed or moved with the family. I don’t know when George and his family moved but they also came to Dallas. By the fall of 1914 all of Lucy’s children were married; Chess married Carrie Ragsdale in 1913, Annie married Charlie Roseberry in July of 1914, and Sam marrying last to Netta Bell in November of that year.
Also in 1912, Elizabeth Warren Conley, the daughter of Malinda Densmore and Major Warren, moved to the Dallas area with her husband, James William Conley, from the same area in Alabama where they had been so many years by the Densmores and the Halls. Coming with them was James’ brother, J. Henry Conley, and his wife, Rebecca Stokes Conley. They settled in Sowers, Dallas County. Today both Sowers and Union Bower are part of Irving; Sowers is on the west end while Union Bower is on the east. Their descendants married Ramseys, Bells, and Thorups.
The eight surviving children of Will and Lucy raised their families in the Dallas area and many of their children and descending generations continue to be too numerous to even know each other. The move to Dallas seemed to be without apparent plan or intention yet I have never heard of any one talking of returning to Alabama to live. I believe the real reason for this great family to be in the Dallas area rests on the shoulders of a romantic Frenchman who chose to sing his love songs, probably in French, to niece Mary rather than her Aunt Emmy on an Alabama farm years ago.
Sweet little Aunt Emmy, who I was fortunate to have known, waited a long time for her beau. Having not married, she lived most of her life with her sister, Lundy, and her husband, Frank Quillen, on the same Alabama farm. When they were well up in years, Lundy died; Emmy and Frank continued to follow the same daily routine they had for most of their lives until, a year after Lundy’s death, Frank came to Emmy and said: “Emmy, we are going to have to marry or the neighbors will talk”. So after all the years following losing her romantic Frenchman, Emmy married Frank. I remember her telling the story of her marriage with warmth and pride. They married in 1938; Emmy was 68, and Frank lived nine more years dying in 1947. Emmy made many trips to the Dallas area to visit the Densmores and some of the Halls that were children of her brother Pet.
Emmy was a graduate of the State Normal University of Northern Alabama which had been moved to Florence after it was burned by the Yankees at LaGrange, Alabama during the Civil War. She had a teaching certificate and wanted to teach but her father, John W. Hall, would not let her because he did not think it was fitting for a woman to work. She was terribly shy to the delight of Uncle Pet’s boys who always teased her to watch her blush.
I remember a call Emmy made to me in 1957 when she realized a great-great-niece of hers, Patrica Hall, was going to attend the same university I attended; the Halls and the Densmores were a family and she wanted me to look after Patrica. I did not realize she had seen these two families, with their great numbers, together for eighty of her eighty-seven years at that time. Little Emmy, about five feet tall, the baby sister who lived with Frank and Lundy because she had no husband of her own, and had no children born to her, was to become the great matriarch of three families.
In 1953 a family reunion was held at the home of Ione and Leon Roseberry, son of Annie Densmore Roseberry in Irving. I remember that much was said of the fact that Aunt Emmy, sister of my Dad’s mother, was still living and would attend. I never realized until this writing that it was she who had come to the Irving area in the nineties before any of the Densmores and even before Irving itself. Emmy was there in Alabama when the Densmore children were born to her sister Lucy and may have assisted her mother who was a midwife. She saw them leave and it was to her that they returned to visit over the years. Emmy was the great matriarch. She lived to be 95, dying in 1965. The name she had inscribed on her tombstone reads Emma “Hall”, not Quillen.
In 1927, Sam, Nettie, and their two children, Sam and Nita, drove from Dallas to Sam’s sister’s (Mary Voirin) home in the live oak grove in Union Bower for a automobile trip back to their old home in Alabama. They were joined by Mary, and her children, Dorothy and Grady. They drove a four door Dodge sedan with luggage strapped to the running boards. Most of the roads were muddy and often narrowed to nothing more than two ruts for a path. They crossed the Mississippi River at Memphis on a ferry and stayed at a new concept in travel, the “tourist court”. One of these tourist courts had shade and swings the children remember. While, in Alabama, they visited Aunt Lundy, Uncle Frank, and Emmy in their home, and also Uncle Pet. They remember Aunt Mary falling in the mud while helping push the car. The car must have been crowded with this great number of people, but, even so, Uncle Pet returned with them for a visit to Dallas.
In 1936 Annie Densmore Roseberry returned with her son Leon and his wife Ione in their 1934 Chevrolet. The roads were better by now and some urbanization was beginning near the old farm, but it did not continue and the area is still rural as of this writing. In 1949 Rufe’s youngest son Tommy drove Rufe, Sam, and George again to Florence for a visit and I understand many of their sisters returned at various times for visits by train.
I have wondered for some time if the Densmores, while living in Oklahoma, were told of their grandfather’s death because Rufe did not know the year or even the general time Sylvester died when I asked in 1961. I have wondered if the two families of Sylvester drifted apart as Rufe did not mention them to me. There is evidence now that indicates visits by some of Will’s daughters to Double Springs in the mid to late thirties. They must have visited Sylvester’s youngest son Cleveland and possibly Dave at that time, while Rufe’s son, Tommy, remembers taking Rufe, Sam, and George to Double Springs during the 1949 trip.
The eight children of Will and Lucy lived the remaining part of their lives in the Dallas area. The oldest son George was a farmer most of his life and is remembered by his grandchildren as a loving and playful grandfather. He may have been the most handsome of the Densmore brothers standing tall with straight black hair and black heavy eyebrows. He often joked of showing his “Black Irish” heritage which may have related to his temper or to his dark hair. The dark-haired Irish are sometime referred to as “Black Irish” as are dark-haired people elsewhere in Europe, such as the Black Dutch. The straight black hair may, however, resemble Indian hair, again giving credence to Indian blood from the Reavis line. The heavy black brows, I believe, are Nordic features from our Scottish background. These dense brows show up on several Densmores including William Thomas, Rufe, and Sam. I recall a novel by Frank Yerby in which he describes a Scotsman brow as “a thick hedgerow of eyebrow (that) flares across the face without a break, so that both eyes stare out from beneath a single line”. That line caught my eye because of a fear I had as a youth when my brows nearly joined, and I thought I would go through life known as “one brow”.
The second son, Rufus, did not enjoy farming as much and for years worked for Magnolia Oil Company which was a forerunner of Mobil. He owned farms in both Pottsboro, Texas and Lewisville, Texas and owned grocery stores with his son Dale and brother Sam. Rufe and George lived side by side often in their life. Once they had farms on each side of Timber Creek near Lewisville. I remember his hospitality as we visited him often and my Dad, who was his younger brother, admired him a great deal. Rufe and his older brother, George, must have been close throughout their life. They must have lived close to one another in Oklahoma and we know they lived next door to each other on Montclair Street in Dallas as well as the adjacent farms in Lewisville. George named his oldest son, Rufus Earl. Rufe was also close to my father, who was his youngest brother, Sam, fifteen years his junior. Of all the Densmores we visited when I was a child, it was Rufe we visited the most and it was he that I knew the best.
Chester Densmore drove a truck route from Dallas for many years and had a great deal of sickness in his family with an invalid daughter, Jane; he himself was not well in his later years. His strong wife Carrie outlived all of the children of Will and Lucy and their spouses as well. Chess, like all of the Densmores, loved to laugh and tease. When visiting him as a child of six or eight I remember him asking me to tell him about my girlfriends. I would always answer him as truthfully as I could usually telling about girls I liked but did not have. He would take a lot of time and discuss great details with me. Once I overheard him laughing with the adults about this and I realized I was the only kid who took his questions seriously. I don’t remember if I stopped the discussions at this point, but I appreciated him spending the time talking to me for so long in a room crowded with adults.
The youngest son was Sam, my father, a big man who loved people and enjoyed visiting his brothers and sisters. I remember him, with Rufe or Chess, telling a story and doubling up with laughter. He was the first
of the Densmores to move to the city, making the transition in 1917. He had a sharp sense of justice coming, I believe, from his mother Lucy. This gained him many friends but likely harmed his business success. He had the courage to attempt many business ventures but would often change to accept new challenges rather than reap the reward of the earlier enterprise. He was proud of learning a new trade as a butcher at the age of fifty. He seemed always to be in a hurry; my mother often quoted Sam’s mother, Lucy, saying “Slow down, Sammy, you will get through life soon enough”. He died at 55 and his wife Netta survived him 31 years. She was noted for her beauty in her youth and as a strong, unselfish, practical woman in her maturity.
Mary Lee, the oldest daughter, was a lovable aunt to me and I remember her sense of humor. She, like so many of the Densmores, enjoyed telling a joke on herself. She once told of finding a snake near the house and was concerned she would later find its mate. With this fear on her unconscious mind she touched the soap while bathing. Thinking this was the snake she ran from the house in the oak grove in Union Bower to her front yard totally naked before realizing her mistake.
Lilly was strong willed, authoritative, and preached in her own church which she established herself. Yet I recall her gentle side and her warmth. She adopted a retarded child who she raised until he died at about twenty years of age. Margie lived the longest of the family and died in 1968. She kept the family Bible and recorded much of the information on her brothers and sisters I have used here. I remember talking to her on this in the mid-sixties when she was the only one of her generation still living. She reminded me so much of the others, now all gone. She, like so many of the Densmores, cooked everything in a skillet of grease. She said her men worked hard and when they didn’t have meat they needed something to stick to their bones. My dad fried his toast in a skillet of grease when he made breakfast. Annie, the youngest, I remember as warm and sweet, always making me feel good when we would visit. I remember my dad speaking of her with affection as his little sister. She was independent and possessed a strong spirit.
On a hot summer night in 1922 the eight children of Will and Lucy Densmore gathered at the home of George Densmore on Montclair Street in Oak Cliff, a section of Dallas where George lived next door to his brother Rufe. Lucy Hall Densmore was on a bed placed in the living room and not expected to live through the night. The families brought pallets, and some slept in the front yard. Rufe’s daughter, Goldie, who was a young child, remembers her grandmother singing hymns as they came from next door, but she was not aware enough to recognize her children. During the night Rufe went to the back of the house to get Goldie and in a quiet voice ask her to sit by her grandmother. Goldie realized years later her father knew Lucy was near death and wanted his daughter to remember the moment. Goldie remembers falling asleep and being awakened by Rufe a while later who whispered to her “We can go now”.
Lucy Hall Densmore passed quietly from a life she lived with strength and forcefulness holding her family together with a sick husband and yet not afraid to become a pioneer in her fifties. Goldie, as a child, remembers Lucy as a leader, and not a quiet leader, in the Nazarene Church and thinking with pride that the woman leading singing and activities was her grandmother. I recall, as a youth, viewing Lucy’s picture in which she is standing in a firm way by her husband and stating that she must have been a tough old woman. My mother corrected me in no uncertain terms that she was the most loving woman she ever knew. It’s my guess that the Densmores owe a lot to the strength and guidance of the shoemaker’s daughter from Tennessee.
To trace the many segments of the Densmores from the children of Will and Lucy, or the many other Densmores, Halls, or Warrens, is another task and likely an impossible one. It would be interesting to know more about the Densmores in Ireland and Scotland. The actual proof remains to be found to tie Sylvester to the person we believe to be his father, William. I would like to know details on communications between the Warrens and the Densmores as they came to Texas about the same time in 1912. I think there must have been some communication as surely, they could not have come to the same place without correspondence. In so many cases here I have only asked the questions and have no answers or proof of answers. Hopefully, many answers or suggestions can come from reading this material by those who remember stories they have heard, and we will all be richer in the things that hold us dear to our past relatives. The questions that remain are tremendous.