East Texas Frontier Life: Artifact Analysis from an 1846–1871 Farmstead

Davy Crockett National Forest, Texas, 1998

by Velicia Hubbard, Assistant Forest Heritage Program Manager

William and Eliza Conner arrived in Houston County, Texas, 162 years ago, having moved from Abbeville, South Carolina. Once in Texas, they constructed a new home and began a family that would grow to include five children. Eliza died in 1844 and was buried in a small family cemetery just a short distance from the house, alongside several of their children. William remarried, and he and his second wife, Rhody, continued to live in the original house until the Civil War.

Shortly thereafter, William built a new house several miles away, where he and this third wife, Emily Warren, lived until his death in 1894. Other members of the Conner family lived in the original house until it and 100 acres of land were sold in 1871. Until recently, the only remaining signs of the Conners’ presence were the headstones and graves still present in the small cemetery.

During March 1998, 35 volunteers from across the United States came to the Davy Crockett NF to document William Conner’s presence. The volunteers joined forces with archaeologists from the NFs and grasslands in Texas for eight days of excavation, lab work, and study sponsored by the FS through its PIT program.

On the last day of the project, we were joined by more than 70 Boy Scouts and their adult leaders from the Naconiche District. The scouts, who were completing required tasks for the new merit badge in archaeology, cleaned up overgrown vegetation in the cemetery and assisted in excavations.

The volunteers were exposed to a remarkably intact picture of daily life on the Texas frontier during the early years of the Republic of Texas through early statehood. Our efforts led to the recovery of musket balls, gun flints, household ceramics, bottle and window glass, farm implements, and smoking pipes. The remains of the chimney, noted to be of a mud-and-stick (mudcat) construction, were clearly identified, as were the water well and three walls of the house.

We were also honored with visits from descendants of the Conner family, Blanche Shaw (Conner’s great-granddaughter) and Beverly Collie, who brought a special and unique insight to the work being accomplished on the site. Ms. Shaw enthusiastically reports, “This experience has made me interested in researching genealogy again.” She was impressed with the work being conducted on the site and also said, “I think it is quite an honor for my great-grandfather. I know my mother would be pleased.”

Another visitor, Oren Sullivan, visited the grave of his great-grandfather, Samuel Sullivan, for the first time. Samuel Sullivan is buried in the cemetery with the Conners, and is believed to have been a relation by marriage. During the project, numerous other visitors from Houston and Trinity Counties paid visits to the site.

This project is but the first step in preserving the legacy of the Conner farmstead as a part of the cultural heritage of Houston County. As a result of this work, it will be possible to plan and implement a long-term preservation strategy for this site, ensuring its availability for future research and providing a unique glimpse into the daily life of some of Houston County’s earliest settlers.