This is a copy of a letter to my Great-grandfather, John Dobson Holdaway,1834-1928 from his brother Andrew C. Holdaway. A Civil War Veteran, he moved from Virginia to the frontier of Texas to homestead in 1867. I have difficulty making out the date at the top of the letter. As you can tell, Andrew is yearning for a visit or news from John. I don’t believe John could read or write. John returned to visit Virginia once about 1912, when my Grandparents met and married. I’d be appreciative if anyone could decipher the date of the letter. The letter shredded as I copied it.
From all accounts, my Great-Grandfather John Dobson Holdaway was quite a colorful character, coming from Virginia to West Texas. One of thirteen children of David Holdaway, a landless farm laborer and Mary Hash Holdaway, his future in Grayson County probably looked none too promising, so he moved West at an early age, adventured around spending time as an Indian Scout for the Texas Rangers before becoming a Texas Ranger himself. Involved in the hostilities with the Indian Nations, he was part of the group that attacked the Comanche camp where Cynthia Ann Parker lived happily with her Comanche husband Nocona and two sons and daughter. At the time of the attack, the men were out hunting, so the women and children were undefended. The men did return before the action was complete, returning fire. Nocona was injured. One son was killed She was recognized as white due to her blue eyes and returned to her white family twenty-five years after she was taken by the Comanche, against her wishes, where her young daughter died of flu a couple of years later. She lived on a few miserable years, before succumbing herself, of heartbreak and starvation, separated from the Comanche family she loved. The whole thing was a sorry affair.
John Holdaway and his whole company were mustered into the Confederate army together in Van Zandt County Texas. His records show that when he enlisted, his clothes were in “very poor condition.”
He was shot in the head and the leg in a battle at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Stunned and lying on the ground, he was bleeding copiously from a head wound. He lay there for a while waiting to die. Upon realizing that wasn’t going to happen right away, he got up, furious at being shot and resumed fighting. He was captured and sent to a prison camp in Clark, Missouri.
He and several Confederate prisoners were high on a water tower, working, when a Union Soldier rode into camp, shouting out the news, that President Lincoln had been assassinated. The Confederate prisoners cheered and threw their caps in the air, forgetting what easy targets they made. They immediately fell flat and slid behind the tank as bullets peppered the tanks.
When the war was over a couple of months later, the prisoners of war were released. John made the long walk back to Virginia. He eventually made his way back to Grayson County Virginia to marry a cousin, Elvira Perkins.
Not long after they were married, John got a letter from an army buddy, asking him to partner with him in a ranch he was settling in West Texas. Low on prospects in Virginia, he and his bride set off, only to find his friend suspiciously dead and the property claimed.
John and Elvira headed back east with no particular plan and fate intervened. The creek rose, stranding them. They couldn’t go forward or back. A sharecropper had abandoned his cabin and crop near to where they were flooded and the farmer offered to let them take it over, getting them out of their current dilemma.
The couple eventually had twelve children, losing most before they were old enough to have children. My grandfather, Roscoe, thinks he was born around Waxahatchie, and remembers walking along next to a covered wagon to claim a homestead in Red River County Texas. He recalls a little dog trotting merrily along beside them. They ran it back several times, only to find it had rejoined them during the night. There was no returning it many miles down the road.
They settled in Red River County Texas, where the tiny community was later named Johnstown for the four men named John who settled it. He died in 1928 and is buried in the cemetery at Rosalie, Texas. He has a very large headstone, remarkable considering the poverty at the time of his death and a Texas Ranger commemorative marker at his grave. Perhaps the daughter with the pension provided the headstone. My grandfather was the only other surviving child. My mother assures me he didn’t have the money to purchase a stone.
He did bear two interesting marks from his civil war days: a leg wound that left him with no feeling below the right knee in and a mini-ball embedded over his right eye. His grandchildren loved to feel it and hear the story of his getting shot. The kids were always impressed with his story of wearing his socks pinned through his longjohns to the loose skin of his leg all day without realizing it. At the age of ninety-three, he was granted a pension of fifty dollars a month for his service to the Confederacy. He named his daughter beneficiary so she drew it the rest of her life after his death, a godsend for her during the depression. He was known as a garrulous man, a great storyteller. Tall and thin, He had a long white beard past his waist. My grandmother, his daughter-in-law said the only complaint she ever had about him was it was hard to get him to take a bath.
He lived to be ninety-six, dying accidently because he refused to use a flashlight when he got up to go out to the toilet at night. He tripped one night and hit his head on his iron bedstead, cracking his skull.