Monday, June 24, 2013

A Daughter of the Alamo

Grandma Morriss cabin,
built ca 1881
As I collect Kerr County photographs and historical items, I occasionally run across images which create more questions than answers, photographs which require a little digging to get to the root of the mystery.
One such photograph is of a one-room log cabin. It slopes a little to the right, has a stone fireplace on the left, is chinked with mud and stones, and has vines growing in the space between the fireplace and the cabin wall.
I know of three images of cabins from the early days of Kerr County: the Holloman cabin, the Real Cabin, and this little cabin. Each shows a small cabin made of logs. The Holloman cabin sports a porch, but the other two are plainer. All of them were photographed well after they were occupied as homes, in my opinion; the Real cabin has its chimney fallen on the ground.
But the mystery cabin is different: not only was it a photograph, but it the photograph was made into a postcard. I find what looks to be the same cabin in an illustration in Bob Bennett's history of Kerr County, and at least one reference in J. E. Grinstead's magazine, in the June, 1940 edition.
"Carving out a new county, and a place to make homes, out of this wild mountain country," Grinstead wrote, "was not all beer and skittles for the pioneers. They had to keep a gun at hand when they chopped the logs for their cabins. There were still bands of marauding Indians in the country. Shown in these pages is one of those cabins. It stands on the banks of the Guadalupe. Here, 'a daughter of the Alamo' known as Grandma Morriss lived."
The cabin, of course, interested me, because the photograph shows clearly how difficult life here must have been for the early settlers.
But I was also intrigued by the reference to the Alamo. What could that mean?
Well, as is often the case, I stumbled upon the solution by accident, and well after most other local historians already knew the story. In fact, there is an historical marker about the woman who lived in that cabin, the "daughter of the Alamo."
Mary Ann Kent was born in Missouri in 1827, the seventh child of Andrew and Elizabeth Zumwalt Kent. The family came to Texas in 1830, and lived in Gonzales. It is likely the Kent family knew James Kerr, for whom Kerr County is named, and also Joshua D. Brown, the founder of Kerrville, since Gonzales was frequented by both.
Andrew Kent rode to the relief of the besieged Alamo with a group from the Gonzales Ranging Company of Mounted Volunteers, and arrived at the old mission on March 1, 1836. He died during the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. (Kent County, established in 1876, was named for him. It is about halfway between Lubbock and Abilene.)
And so Mary Kent, along with her brothers and sisters, was the child of a defender of the Alamo, and hence the term "daughter of the Alamo."
In 1845, Mary Ann Kent married William Byas, a freighter. William Byas enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862, became ill, and died in 1865. Now a widow, Mary Ann Kent Byas lived in several places, but eventually arrived in Kerr County in 1869, to be near her sister, Louisa Kent Billings, on Johnson Creek above Ingram. While there Mary Ann Kent Byas lost four of her children to fever in a single day.
There is still a stream that feeds Johnson Creek that bears the name Byas Branch.
In 1879 Mary Ann Kent Byas married a blacksmith and farmer named Robert Chambers; he passed away only a year later. In 1881 she married her third husband, John G. Morriss, who was 15 years her senior, and had been a widower for many years. About the same time, they moved to the little cabin which was shown in the photographs I've seen. Their marriage was a happy one, ending when he died in 1897.
Now widowed three times, Mary Ann Kent Byas Chambers Morriss lived in the little cabin another 20 years, dying in 1917. At the time, local newspapers considered her possibly the last "daughter of the Alamo" to pass away.
The little cabin was preserved for many years, but was reported destroyed in the big flood of 1932. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Mary Ann Kent's life can be found at the Nichols Cemetery between Kerrville and Ingram.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 22, 2013.
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  1. Very informative.

    Thanks, Joe.

  2. Wow !!! What a story. That lady was definitely a pioneer.
    Thanks for sharing it with us, Joe.


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