Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Volo Community: Bell county, Texas

                             THE OLD VOLO COMMUNITY, BELL COUNTY, TEXAS

Many times we must piece history together as if working with a puzzle; hopefully, we can assemble enough of the total picture to gain a bare glimpse of what might have been.  At best, our attempts are incomplete and inaccurate, depending on the accuracy of our sources.  This is the way I've found it to be regarding trying to re-construct the old Volo community.

Volo Community Map: Drawn by Woodson Bruner ("Woody"), Fort Worth, Texas

Note from The Handbook of Texas online:
"Parkdale, Texas:  Parkdale was on Runnells Creek eleven miles southeast of Belton in southeastern Bell county.  a country store community called Volo was founded in the late 1860s and had a post office from 1870 to 1882.  A new post office with the name of Parkdale was opened on the site in 1890; the community had 100 inhabitants, a general store, a gin, and a drugstore in 1892.  The post office closed in 1895, and mail was directed to Holland thereafter.  The Volo school had forty-seven pupils and one teacher in 1903, and the Volo cemetery still appeared on state highway maps in 1988."     Mark Odintz
(Source: George Tyler, History of Bell County.  San Antonio: Naylor, 1936).

Many families settled in the Little river bottom at the old Volo community between the 1850s and 1870s.  The community store was run by the R.B. Latham family for many years; their homeplace was located behind the store.  R.B. Latham's parents ran it before him; the store is now closed.  The railroad man also had his headquarters inside the store.  About two miles east of this general store, close to Runnels creek, was the Hilry Swan ("Hill") homeplace of 450 acres.

The Hilry Swan homeplace at Volo.
  1    3  4  5  6
      2                                1.  Texanna (Caldwell) Swan
                                        2.  Gertrude Swan ("Ted") ?
                                        3.  Lee Swan?
                                        4.  Elihugh Swan?
                                        5.  Will Swan
                                        6.  Hilry Swan ("Hill")

The Swan family witnessed, on occasions, the severe flooding of the Little river.  The water would come up almost to their home - they would be trapped between the flooding waters of both Runnels creek and the Little river.  In later years, when the children had invested in livestock, the cows would be washed away before they could get them out.  There was also the problem of repairing the fences torn down by the flood.  Three dates that we know the Little river overflowed were: May 21, 1884, April 23, 1885, and April 21, 1890 (We know this from it being recorded in Hill Swan's record book). 

Just southeast of the Hill Swan homeplace, which collapsed in the mid 1990s, was the old swimming hole.  It is located immediately south of a sandbar on Runnels creek.  Many times the Swan family would host parties at their place and invite the whole community plus all their relatives.  Hill would catch some fish and they would have fish fries on that sandbar.  Most people in the community were farmers; the main items for sell were cotton, wheat, corn, potatoes, oats, steer, hogs, and even several types of watermelons including such names as: Girdans Triumph, Black Diamond, Duke Jones, Halbert Honey, Branches Rattlesnake, and the two favorites: Mammoth Triumph and Alabama Sweet.

Baptism service at the Little river at the Volo community.

The above picture is of a baptism service at the Little river about a half mile north of the Hilry Swan homeplace at Volo.  Relatives say that Hilry Swan, Robert Thomas Blair, and Pearl Blair were all baptized on this day.  Note the pastor (with raised arm and Bible in hand), the church choir, the horses and buggies on the hill, and the baptism candidates down by the river.  (Note: One source says the baptism service was held at Burgess Crossing).

The Poncik family was the first Czech family in the community.  They had several children who later went to Rogers, Texas.  Mrs. Poncik couldn't speak a word of English.  The J.L. Wallace family lived at old Volo; one of the daughters was Miriam A. Wallace, who later married Jim Ferguson ("Pa").  Miriam became ("Ma") Ferguson and they both served as governors of Texas.  After their marriage, they lived in Temple, Texas, where Jim Ferguson was a banker.  Mr. Ferguson later bought much of the land at Volo, including the Greeson's land (who had a large family), the land of Robert Thomas Blair, and some of the Caldwell land. 

R.T. & Sallie (Whatley) Blair with their children at home at Volo.

The James Young Caldwell homeplace at the Volo community.

  1   2   3                   1.  James Young Caldwell (Young James)
                                 2.  Mattie (Bowers) Caldwell ("Matt")
                                 3.  ?

The James Young Caldwell homeplace is located southeast of the Hill Swan homeplace.  The home has  been restored.  After being James Caldwell's home, this house became the M. Walt Hagler home; the building to the left had been joined to the main house about 1930 when the Haglers bought it and moved in.

The Hagler homeplace at the Volo community.

       4                               1.  Irma Dean Hagler
    2     5                           2.  Daisy (Swan) Hagler
  1    3                              3.  Violet Hagler
                                        4.  W.E. Hagler
                                        5.  Elmina Hagler

The Beyers family, who were German, lived at Volo.  The Beyers brothers and a sister lived at the homeplace; they attended church somewhere other than Volo.  The Theodore Armstrong homeplace was located by a live oak grove.  He had two sons and one daughter.  He was accused of killing sheriff John T. Olive on September 11, 1892 (Note: You can read about this incident in the "Notes" section at the end of this post).  Jim Ferguson served as a character witness for Mr. Armstrong.  Walt Hagler's father had a home on a hill which overlooked Runnels creek.  Walt lived on the south side of the road.  Will Hagler, Walt's brother, married Hilry Swan's daughter, Daisy.  A.D. Swan was a cousin to the Hill Swan group.  He married the daughter of Mr. Thompson who ran the hotel in Holland, Texas.  A.D. Swan and his wife later went to west Texas. 

There was a house by the Sparks gin for the ginner in the early 1900s.  Clant McQueen and his wife, Fannie (Caldwell) McQueen, were the ginners.  Fannie (Caldwell) McQueen was Texanna (Caldwell) Swan's neice.  Later, the Umberhagen family owned the Sparks gin.

The Volo school was built on the Hill Swan farm near old Volo cemetery near Runnels creek about two miles east of the Sparks store.  The exact date of the beginning of the school is not known.  Alice Marshall, in a letter to Billy Blair in May, 1984, said that the old Volo schoolhouse was "used for a time as a shed or barn by your grandfather." (Note: My grandfather was Herbert Orlando Blair, so I'm sure she meant my great grandfather, Robert Thomas Blair).  Another source said that the old Volo schoolhouse was located closer to the Blairs than to the Swans.  It was a two-room schoolhouse which was later purchased by R.T. Blair.  He moved it; he added one of the rooms to his home and used the other for a storage building.  Fanny Swan said that when they moved the schoolhouse, it was a schoolhouse, church house, and everything else.  Yet another source said that the old Volo schoolhouse was on the same location where the Baptist church later built.  (This person thought that they took the old church and the old schoolhouse and combined them, then remodeled it).  The trustees in 1885 were: J.L. Wallace, W.C. Sparks, and Wiley Carter.

Volo community school group in 1905.

9.  Winnie Nunnallee
10. Earl Blair
11. Ruby Blair
18. Will Swan
22. Ellen Burk?
23. __________ Dolehide?
24. Pearl Blair
28. Herbert Orlando Blair
29.Edgar Nunnallee
30. Tom Dolehide
34. Gary Baird Blair?
37. May Phillips
38. Winnie Dolehide
40. Luda Matlock (Teacher)
41. Corow Holzcraft (Teacher?)
42. Edwin Everett Blair
43. Walter "Bolic"

The survey for the land for the school is recorded on page 229 of Hilry Swan's record book:

"Aug the 2 1892 Deed made to
School House tract of land by
Hill Swan & wife Beginning 50 yds
from the NW Cor of School House
at Rock for Cor at the South W
cor of Hill Swans pasture in west
line of Hill Swans tract being the
west line of tract No 2 in the sub-
division of the land in the estate
of Mrs. Caldwell deceased from
which a post oak marked X Brs South
east 14 yds Thence south 19 1/2 west
with said line 66 yds to Rock for cor
from which a live oak marked X brs
N 19 1/2 east 9 yds Thence in a easterly
Direction 50 yds to Rock for cor
from which live oak marked X
Brs east 4 yds Thence N 19 1/2 east
64 yds to Rock for cor from
which an elm marked X Bares
east 13 yds Thence in a westerly
direction 50 yds. to place of

Volo Community school, for which Hill Swan gave the land.

Volo was a two teacher school until Sparks was built, and then both Volo and Sparks were one teacher schools.  Some of the teachers at Volo were:
Thomas George, Frank Lair, Esther Small, Luda Matlock, Mattie Jacobs, Ida Ellington, Mildred Grimes, Joe Stephen, Kate Blair, Lois Oliver, Olive Barnett, Jesse McDaniel, Maggie Lowery, Miss M. Townsend, Hattie Woodward, Mildred Guynes and J.W. McDaniel.  A.D. Swan and R.T. Blair were trustees in 1906.  Other trustees were Hill Swan, Mr. Foreman, Mr. Caldwell, G.O. Boley,Thea Armstrong and some who served between 1907 and 1933.

Girl's Basketball Team in Sparks, Texas (Bell County)

  1   2   3   4
 5  6     7   8
9  10   11    12  13

Identification for the players in the above picture include:
1.  Jewell Blair
2.  Pearl Swan
6.  Gertrude Swan
7.  Ruby Blair

In 1906, Sparks school was built near the Sparks store on the highway.  At this time there were several buildings, including a store, church, gin, depot, and a blacksmith shop at Sparks.  The school building was a one room structure; the first teachers were Seth McKay, Jesse McDaniel and Emma Jones.

Near the Volo school and Runnels creek in 1908, Bell county, Texas

  1  2  3  4                1.  Lee Swan                                5.  Pearl Blair
  5  6  7  8                2.  ?                                              6.  Mr. McDaniel (Teacher)
                                3.  Tom Dolehide                          7.  Winnie Dolehide
                                4.  Daisy Middlebrooks                 8.  Earl Blair

In 1911 Volo and Sparks consolidated.  A new, larger building was constructed at a new location where the Sparks church now stands, about one half mile east of Sparks.  The building was a three room wooden structure.  Some of the teachers at Sparks were Seth McKay, Jessie McDaniel, Emma Jones, Florence Gordon, N.T. Beaumier, Stina Shannon, Mattie Halsey, Ruth Boyer, Gertie Nunnallee, Bryce Caskey, Ara Gilstrap, Edna Mae Cawthorn, Martha Utsey, Louise Barnard, Nathalie Moon, E.B. Echols, Mrs. L.R. Morris, Pearl Blair, Minnie Riddlehoover, Opal Hagler, Mrs. Tennie Harrell, Theopal Harrell, Stella Archer, Gertrude Swan, Arba Wohleb, Alice Swan, Winnie Wohleb, Mildred Edds, Helen Latham, and Louise Shine.

Volo community group

14. Will Swan
16. Winnie Nunnallee
27.  Earl Blair
35.  Herbert Orlando Blair
38.  Edwin Everett Blair

In 1925, Sparks, Little River, and Academy voted to consolidate, becoming the first large consolidated rural school in Texas also providing bus service from a large area.  From 1925 until 1940 just the high school students went to Central High School located at the Academy.  The grammar school building was torn down and one large building erected for all grammar school children.  In a few years, Sparks was one of the largest rural schools in Bell county, having an attendance of 100 and over at times.  One reason for so many students was because James E. Ferguson and Ma Ferguson owned several hundred acres of land in this area, and on this land they had a large dairy, a hog ranch and many tenant farmers.  This brought many farmers into the district.

Many things could be said about this area in terms of events or marriages between neighbor's children, but the best way to get a "feel" for the community itself perhaps would be in reading some of the entries from Hilry Swan's record book, which is contained in two posts in this blog.

1.  Conversations between Billy Blair and Alva Mae (Swan) Hooker.
2.  Article in The Story of Bell County regarding the Volo and Sparks school.
3.  The Handbook of Texas online (article on "Parkdale, Texas").
4.  Woodson Bruner ("Woody") - drawing of the Volo Community map from information supplied by Alva Mae (Swan) Hooker and Billy Blair.
5.  Letter from Alice Marshall to Billy Blair in May, 1984.

1.  The Murder of Sheriff John T. Olive article by Jim Dillard (Prepared for the Williamson County Historical Museum): "A single shotgun blast ripped through the side of Williamson County Sheriff John T. Olive as he stood on a Bell County railroad platform in September 1892.  Twenty-seven hours later, the popular lawman would become the only elected Williamson County sheriff to be killed in the line of duty.  Since taking office in 1884, the former Taylor city marshall had developed a statewide reputation as a tough, yet fair, lawman.  Often accompanied by U.S. Marshall John Rankin of the 27th District Court, Olive roamed the Southwest and Indian Territory tracking down outlaws.  In 1888 he was called upon by President Grover Cleveland to go to Mexico and arrest the notorious gunslinger George Gladden.  Now barely clinging to life, Sheriff Olive was placed on a northbound train and taken to Temple, where a team of doctors determined that his wounds were fatal.  Accompanied by his friend Marshal Rankin, the 41-year old sheriff was then placed on a southbound train and taken to Taylor, where he died at the Taylor Hotel.  He was buried after a full Masonic ceremony held at Taylor's First Christian Church, which was packed to overflowing.  A three-mile funeral procession, led by a marching band and the Taylor fire department accompanied the sheriff's body to Taylor's City Cemetery.  Businesses in Taylor and Georgetown closed for the afternoon in honor of the fallen sheriff.  An investigation into the sheriff's murder began immediately.  Williamson County Commissioner W.S. Brookshire was sworn in as acting sheriff, and a roundup of suspects began with the help of City Marshal Charley Brady and Deputy Sheriff H.C. Purl, father of Georgetown educator Annie Purl.  High on the list were Theodore and Noah Armstrong, prominent Bell County citizens, because in 1880, then Deputy Sheriff John Olive had arrested two of their brothers for livestock theft.  After their release from jail, Neally and John Armstrong were killed in a shootout with Olive during a moonlit confrontation on a dark road 13 miles southeast of Taylor.  Since revenge was a common cause for murder in 19th-century Texas, Theodore and Noah Armstrong were arrested and charged with Sheriff Olive's murder.  Noah was tried for murder in February 1893 but was acquitted.  Charges against Theodore were dropped due to a lack of evidence.  Years passed and the murder of Sheriff Olive was forgotten.  However, 23 years later a witness came forward and told Williamson County Sheriff Lee Allen that Theodore Armstrong had bragged about killing Sheriff Olive.  Theodore was once again arrested and charged with murder.  Here the story takes several twists.  Although Armstrong never admitted to the media that he killed Sheriff Olive, a story appeared in a Fort Worth newspaper reporting Armstrong's confession.  Also, the surprise witness, on whom the entire case was built, refused to testify at Armstrong's May 1915 Georgetown trial.  However, Armstrong's close friend, Texas Governor 'Pa' Ferguson, did testify on his behalf, and after a 15-minute recess Armstrong was found not guilty.  He then sued the Fort Worth newspaper for libel and received $ 1, 000 in damages.  (Log on to Williamson County Historical Museum's website at www.wchm-tx.org for more information about Sheriff John Olive)."
(Note: There is a photo of John T. Olive and his wife in the original article).

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