The Munsons of Texas — an American Saga
MORDELLO STEPHEN AND SARAH K. MUNSON
AND THEIR EIGHT CHILDREN AND SEVEN STEPCHILDREN AT RIDGLEY PLANTATION
When Mordello Munson returned from the Civil War, he again took up his occupations of stockman, farmer, lawyer, and legislator. He and Sarah raised their eight children and took brother Gerard’s four and brother George’s three children to raise when these childrens’ parents died prematurely. Sarah died at Ridgely Plantation in 1887 at the age of 55, and Mordello in 1903 at the age of 78. They are both buried in the Munson Cemetery near their home at Bailey’s Prairie.
On May 23, 1865, Mordello returned from the Civil War to his home, his plantation, his wife, and his six children. Conditions were not as he had envisioned on that day three years earlier when he had left with such enthusiasm and hope for an independent Confederacy. His slaves were free, and the political and economic situation was chaotic and uncertain.
Entries in Sarah’s diary during the preceding month include the following:
The War news is all bad now and the aspect of things quite serious. La. & Johnson having surrendered - if the Lord be with us all will be right. His omnipotent will alone be done, altho we may be houseless and homeless in a few days.
The cannonading [which they had heard] was a funeral observance of Mr. Lincoln.
All feeling melancholy at the probable fate of our Bleeding Confederacy. Well, we will have to submit if this is God’s will.
I wonder what our fate will be in a month hence. I trust to a Kind Providence.
My Dear Husband came this morning about sunrise. Oh joyful day, but sad to think of the Confederacy. . .Oh unhappy country and people.
The fact that Sarah had managed so capably during Mordello’s absence meant that they had a home, their livestock, their fields, and a nucleus of loyal black workers. Some of the slaves left from time to time, and some of these later returned. Entries in Sarah’s diary in 1867 and 1868 report the following: “Freedman Tom left today,” and “Mary deserted us today.” Nine days later an entry says, “Mary came back to the kitchen today.” Another says, “We washed today and without any negroes.” She later reports, “This was the Freedman’s great Jubilee day.” As late as 1881 an entry says, “Charles and Malinda left today - moved off.” Many did not leave, and Ralph (or “Rafe”) chose to “stay at home with my white folks.” Mordello had warned in his later letters that economic times would be very difficult after the war, and that Sarah should sell all inventories, collect all debts, and pay all bills. This policy probably helped them maintain economic stability. Mordello and Sarah returned to their occupations and activities of the years before the war — Sarah to managing the household and raising the children and Mordello to his law practice, his farming and ranching, and to the Texas state legislature.
The returning soldiers appear to have been prepared to reconstitute the state government as it had been before the war. In retrospect, it appears that the assassination of President Lincoln on April 14, 1865, just five days after Lee’s surrender, ended any chance of this. Despite the South’s bitter opposition to him, Lincoln’s ideals were based on “malice toward none and charity for all,” and it has been written that his plan for reconstruction of the South was unmatched in history for its generosity to a defeated foe. A revengeful Congress in conflict with a weaker president (Andrew Johnson) was less generous.
Texas Politics After the War 
In late May following the general surrender of Confederate forces, a large contingent of federal troops was landed at the ports of Texas — at Sabine, Galveston, Indianola, Corpus Christi, and at the Rio Grande. Troops were hurried to Austin and San Antonio and detachments were scattered widely over the countryside. A total of 51,000 federal troops arrived in Texas in 1865, but only about 5,000 remained in 1866. A proclamation was issued announcing the freedom of all slaves, the suspension of all authority of Texas as a state of the Confederacy, and the restoration of the authority of the United States over Texas.
The new United States president, Andrew Johnson, issued an amnesty proclamation prescribing an oath to be taken by the people before they should be allowed to vote in the restructuring of the state government. He also appointed Andrew J. “Jack” Hamilton as provisional governor. Hamilton had left Texas in 1862, and being loyal to the Union had been commissioned a brigadier-general by President Lincoln. He returned to Texas and assumed the duties of provisional governor on July 25, 1865.
Governor Hamilton ordered an election to be held on January 8, 1866, to elect members to a convention to write a new constitution for Texas. Only those who would take the oath prescribed by President Johnson were allowed to vote, and the vote was exceedingly small. The convention worked until April 2 and wrote a constitution which, if ratified by the people, was to restore Texas to statehood in the Union. The convention provided for an election on June 4, 1866, for adoption or rejection of the constitution and the election of state officials to serve if the constitution was adopted. In the election there were 48,519 votes for the constitution and 7,719 against . James W. Throckmorton defeated Elisha M. Pease for governor by a vote of 48,631 to 12,051, and Mordello S. Munson was elected as a member of the Eleventh Legislature, representing District 35, which included Brazoria and Galveston Counties. This two-year legislature was in session only from August 6 to November 13, 1866.
The legislature assembled in Austin and enacted such laws as were deemed necessary to place Texas in harmony with the Union and the new constitution. Among the actions of this legislature was the creation of the Bayland Orphan’s Home in Galveston, inspired, no doubt, by the many war orphans. Mordello Munson was a trustee and a long-time supporter of this home. Governor Throckmorton, who possessed the confidence of the people, devoted his energies to the restoration of confidence and harmony and hoped to avoid any further interference, civil or military, by the government of the United States.
The governor and the people were soon to realize the fallacy of these hopes. A political disagreement in Washington between President Johnson and Congress, chiefly on a bill granting the right of suffrage to Blacks, caused a new ordering of affairs in several southern states. In February of 1867 Congress declared “the present pretended state governments” of these states to be null and void, as “they are under the control of unrepentant leaders of the Rebellion.” It was declared necessary that peace and good order should be enforced by the military until loyal and “Republican" state governments should be legally formed. Texas and Louisiana were combined into Military District No. 5 under the command of General Philip Henry Sheridan with headquarters at New Orleans. Texas was placed under the command of Major General Charles Griffin with headquarters at Galveston. This threw political control to recently arrived northerners, who were called “carpetbaggers,” and to their southern collaborators, who were called “scalawags.”
On July 30, 1867, General Sheridan removed Throckmorton and other Texas officials from office on the grounds that they were "impediments to Reconstruction.” The defeated candidate, E. M Pease, was appointed governor, and there was no lieutenant governor nor legislature until February of 1870. Sheridan’s harsh policies of Reconstruction met with the disapproval of President Johnson, who removed Sheridan from office as a tyrant.
In due time, after much confusion and many changes of commanding generals and appointed state officials (and with concerted efforts by Union officials to guarantee enfranchisement of black voters), a new state constitution was again adopted. The vote for calling a Constitutional Convention in compliance with the U. S. Congressional Reconstruction Acts of 1867 was 39,932 black votes for and 818 against; 4,757 white votes for, 10,572 against, with 41,234 registered white voters failing to vote. This Constitutional Convention of 1868-1869, dominated by ultra-liberals, carpetbaggers, and Blacks, broke up without completing a constitution. Its work was gathered up under orders of the military officers and published as the Constitution of 1869. It was adopted by the voters with many white voters either disenfranchised or abstaining, and finally, on March 30, 1870, Texas was reaccepted as a state in the Union. The Handbook of Texas says: “This constitution, formulated under pressure from Washington, did not represent the sentiment of native Texans. It was the longest and most unsatisfactory of Texas constitutions, but the greatest dissatisfaction of the people living under it came from abuses by state officials elected under it rather than from constitutional defects” .
Mr. E. J. Davis, a leader of the ultra-liberal faction, was elected governor and the new Twelfth Legislature was called into regular session on April 26, 1870. Mordello S. Munson was not a member of this legislature, possibly in protest or disenfranchisement as a result of the reconstruction politics, or possibly at his wife’s urging to remain at home with the family. Brazoria County was placed in District 12 together with Galveston and Matagorda Counties, and their representative was B. Rush Plumly of Galveston. This legislature met in four sessions during 1870 and 1871. It was stormy and had an unusually large turnover — out of thirty seats, seven members were declared ineligible, eight resigned, and four died while in office.
John Adriance [see Chapter 22] was the representative from District 12 in the Thirteenth Legislature, still under Governor Davis, which was in session only from January 14 to June 4, 1873. W. S. Moody of Galveston was the elected representative from District 12 for the Fourteenth Legislature under Governor Richard Coke. Upon Moody’s resignation, Mordello S. Munson replaced him as representative. This legislature was in session from January 13 to May 4, 1874 and from January 12 to March 15, 1875. Mordello Munson was thus a four-time member of the Texas legislature.
These new legislatures passed many new acts. Quoting from The Handbook of Texas regarding conditions in Texas: “Everyone agreed that lawlessness was endemic in much of the state, but parties could not agree about the cause. Certainly much of it could be attributed to the postwar breakup. Bands of brigands roamed along the Red River and in the Big Thicket country. Gangs. . . preyed upon the people of northeastern Texas. Though their targets were often freedmen or federal soldiers, these murderers and horse thieves could hardly be called political activists. On the other hand, much violence clearly had racial or political overtones. . .To counter the above conditions, these legislatures passed laws to disarm the people and to create a state police, a state guard, and a reserve militia to protect the frontiers. They also passed acts to regulate the registration of voters; to regulate elections; to levy and collect taxes; to establish free public schools; to build public school houses; to encourage the building of railroads; to regulate public printing; to establish thirty-five official newspapers; and to encourage further settlement of the state through the homestead law. Texas was finally on its way to stability, growth, and progress again.
With his education having served him so well, Mordello was especially active and influential in the establishment of a permanent public higher-educational system. He was one of the legislators most instrumental in securing the passage of the law creating the University of Texas at Austin and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas at College Station. Thus he appropriately carried on for future generations his father’s deathbed plea, “Educate my children.” Many dozens, perhaps a hundred, of his descendants have obtained educations from these institutions.
There was such widespread disapproval of the Constitution of 1869, that the Twelfth Legislature of which Mordello Munson was a member provided for the Constitutional Convention of 1875. The House of Representatives had killed a proposed plan for a so-called Commission Constitution, which was to be framed by a joint committee of the legislature and then submitted to the voters. This convention drafted the Constitution of 1875, which was approved by the voters in 1876 and remains in effect today.
Mordello was a candidate for the Texas Senate in 1874, and he was urged to run for governor on several occasions, reportedly in 1878 and 1890, but he never held either office. He was, however, occasionally referred to thereafter as “Senator,” just as he was frequently referred to as “Colonel Munson,” although no records have been found showing that he held that rank. It seems likely that he may have been promoted to that rank in the final months of the Civil War.
In 1878 an ad appeared in a Texas newspaper (source unknown) promoting Mordello for the office of governor of Texas, and a letter dated April 13, 1878, from J. D. Stephens, Comanche, Texas, reads: “I see your name mentioned for governor and nothing would give me more pleasure than to see you in the Executive office.” At this time, and apparently again in later years, Mordello declined to run for governor, very possibly because of the hardships on Sarah and his family caused by his long absences. In a letter to Mordello in Austin dated October 29, 1866, during the session of the Eleventh Legislature, Sarah wrote:
I have been disappointed so much until I am almost heartsick. . .You are needed here very much at this time. . .I hope, Dear, after this, if we are deprived of everything else that would add to our comfort in a worldly sense, we may have the happiness of being with each other the balance of our lives, for here to fore I have had but little of your assistance in governing our children as well as in other things. . .and tis unaccountable what losses you have sustained in a pecuniary point of view, these though may all be buried with the past and let us hope for better in the future.
Plans to Emigrate to Mexico
Returning from the war with a fear that his future in Texas was going to be difficult, unsettled, and possibly untenable, Mordello looked to Spanish-Mexican territory for a new home as his father and grandfather had done before him. In 1792 his grandfather Jesse had moved his family from the new state of South Carolina in the new nation to the Natchez District of New Spain; and in 1824 his father, Henry William, had moved his family from the new state of Louisiana to the Trinity River in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas.
During the War Mordello had apparently met and befriended Farrell Vincent of Kentucky. Together they formed the Tuxpan Land Company and purchased land in Mexico where the Tuxpan River is joined by the Yapatal River, about five miles west of the town of Tuxpan. They planned to develop sugar plantations and tropical fruit orchards and move there if conditions became intolerable. Farrell Vincent handled the purchase of the property and, with others, moved to live there. He was living in Mexico in May of 1867, when he sent a letter to Mordello telling of the advantages of living in Mexico and urging him to move down as soon as possible. An entry in Sarah’s diary under the date of January 1, 1868, reads: “Mr. Munson left for his Mexican land on Saturday last, 28 Dec. . .Mr. Munson is still in Houston attending to some business there, expects to leave Galveston on Jan. 6th. . .I received a note from him yesterday.” Mordello had not returned by January 20, at which time began a five-month gap in the diary.
The first white child born in the Tuxpan Colony was born to Farrell Vincent and his wife, Laura Jane Alexander, and was named Mordello Vincent. One of this man’s sons, Mordello Vincent II, was as late as 1975 an attorney in Mexico City, and more recently a resident of Louisiana in retirement. Others who joined the Tuxpan Colony were the R. Willys from Brazoria County, Dr. Collins, John Drayton, Andrew Alexander, W. H. Young, W. S. Smith, and John Oscar Smith.
The schooner Annie G. Webber sailed from New York on October 29, 1870, Captain Ogle in command, with freight for Indianola, Texas. From there she sailed to Tuxpan and back to Galveston with a load of fruit from the American settlement. Records indicate that about July of 1873 Colonel Munson bought the schooner from Mr. Will H. John for $6,000. On July 6 of that year the vessel sailed from Galveston to Tuxpan with one of the Munson sons (surely Henry William III, aged 21) and a friend aboard. The purpose of the trip was to attend to his father’s business in Tuxpan. While owned by M. S. Munson, the schooner was operated by a Captain Mosley. It made many trips between Galveston and Tuxpan, taking machinery for the sugar mill and other supplies to Mexico and returning with tropical fruits, plants, birds, and many things of interest for the Bailey’s Prairie plantation, in addition to commercial cargo. Some of the birds were described as being about the size of a large turkey and very beautiful, a most unusual sight in Brazoria County. An entry in Sarah’s diary in 1868 reports, “We received a barrel of fruit from Tuxpan from Mr. Smith,” and a later entry reports, “We have a lot of pineapples, oranges & lemons now.” A few days later she reported that Mr. Smith was leaving for Tuxpan “this morning.” The Munsons planted bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, and other tropical fruits on their Texas plantation, but none of these would thrive in the Texas winters. At one time Mordello valued his Mexican property at $30,000.
The Munsons never moved to Mexico. Mordello was probably dissuaded both because he was working in the legislature to reorganize the state government and because he and Sarah had recently taken Gerard’s four orphaned children to join the eight of their own. Eventually the schooner was sold and the plantation was never fully developed. Several sons and grandsons made trips to the Tuxpan plantation in the early 1900s, and investigations on the status of ownership was again pursued in the 1940s. Chicle produced on the land paid the taxes for many years, but the land was eventually confiscated by the Mexican government under one of its many land reform programs.
A final, curious chapter to this story was the marriage in Austin, Texas, in 1972 of Carolyn Williamson, a great-great-granddaughter of Mordello Munson, to Alejandro “Alex" Lubbert, a great-grandson of John Oscar Smith, who, as a young man, rode on horseback to the Tuxpan Colony from Seguin, Texas.
Family Life at Ridgely Plantation 
During these years, Mordello must have been extremely busy with his law practice, his plantation at Bailey’s Prairie, his Mexican enterprise, his large family, and his legislative duties. And Sarah? She was managing the household and the plantation during Mordello’s absences, giving birth to two additional sons, and raising her family of eight children and seven of Mordello’s nieces and nephews! Seventh child Walter Bascom was born on February 6, 1866, and the eighth, Milam Stephen, on September 26, 1869.
Mordello’s brother, Gerard, had been killed by a Confederate soldier in 1864, leaving his widow, Annie Westall Munson, pregnant and with three small children. Annie died in September of 1867, and Mordello and Sarah took the four children — William P. (aged 9), Lizzie (aged 7), Molly (aged 5), and Geddie (aged 3) — into their home at Ridgely Plantation and raised them as their own. At that time Walter Bascom was just one year old and Milam Stephen was yet to come, and their other children were Henry William III (aged 16), George (aged 14), Emma (aged 12), Sarah (aged 9), Joseph Waddy (aged 6), and Hillen Armour (aged 4).
Mordello’s only remaining brother, George Poindexter, died in 1878, and his wife, Agnes, died in 1882, at which time Mordello and Sarah took their three children — George P. II (aged 8), Mordella Stephen “Maud” (aged 6), and Sarah Kimbrough “Bittie" (aged 5) — into their family. By this time many of their own children and Gerard’s were grown and had left home, and their youngest, Milam Stephen, was twelve years old. Thus Mordello and Sarah raised fifteen children at Ridgely, and fourteen of them grew to adulthood. As Sarah died in 1887, Mordello, with the help of his other children, must have raised George’s children alone.
All of this was done with no running water, natural gas, electricity, bathrooms, nor inside toilets; the kitchen was set apart from the house; cooking and heating were done with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces; lighting was by candles and lanterns; and clothes were handmade. For many years there were twelve family members at each meal, plus the work-hands to feed. There were few schools, no grocery stores, no nearby neighbors, no telephones, no movies, and no television. There were no antibiotics, few vaccinations, and few medicines of any kind; no clinics, no hospitals, and few nearby doctors. Letters and diaries frequently described illness or fever in the children, the slaves, or the adults. Sarah, like Ann Pearce Munson before her, appeared to be ill much of the time. A typical entry in her diary reads, “I have been very sick with Cholera, Flux or something dreadful. Son is quite sick. Mr. Munson and Bud too are complaining with it. This is the tenth week [of] my confinement.” Another says, “Henry is quite sick. . .we fear he has pneumonia.” This type of report is almost constant throughout her diary. All of Mordello’s brothers and sisters-in-law died young, and Sarah, her mother, and her daughter, “Doll,” all died at or about the age of 55. It is surprising that all eight of her children grew to adulthood. The only transportation was by horseback or horse-drawn buggy, and the dirt roadways were often muddy quagmires. The five-mile trip to Columbia and back could be a major trip, as shown by Sarah’s letters to her mother there. Nevertheless, Sarah or her mother made this trip by horseback almost every week to visit each other. This may have been only a hundred years ago, but it was truly another world.
Mordello and all his sons loved to hunt. He kept a string of horses and a pack of well-trained dogs. Sarah’s diary is full of comments of Mordello (or his brother, George, or one of her two half-brothers, Lon and Will Black) taking the boys hunting or fishing. They hunted for ducks, geese, partridge, wild turkey, bear, deer, squirrel, wild hogs, and “wild cats.” Sarah’s diary has frequent reports of the men bringing in fish, birds, or game. Mordello especially liked to hunt “wild cats” at daybreak.
Sarah’s diary entries relate the story of their extensive gardening. The garden was started in January, with planting and later harvesting of peas, beans, butter beans, beets, radishes, turnips, parsley, cabbages, peppers, eggplant, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, muskmelons, pumpkins, potatoes (sweet and Irish), and others. Reference is made to peach, pear, plum, and fig trees. Sarah’s diary tells of frequent and busy gathering of wild dewberries,blackberries, grapes, plums, pecans, and persimmons in season. She tells of making grape and plum jelly, fig and peach preserves, and citron from the rind of watermelons. The diary gives Sarah’s recipe for sponge cake, blackberry cordial, grape jelly, and calf foot jelly . One entry relates, "Mr. Munson, Mr. Smith sweetened their wine. . .more than a barrell.”
They raised chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, pigeons, guinea hens, bees, sheep, and many hogs. One diary entry says, “Have 70 odd little chickens and about 20 little turkeys.” A frequent entry is, “I set a turkey hen today.” At slaughtering time, they would often slaughter twenty or thirty hogs in a few days’ time, and all were busy preparing hams, sausage, and bacon for the smokehouse. Dairy cows produced milk, butter, and cream. About the only foods purchased were flour, sugar, coffee, and tea; flour and sugar were always purchased by the barrel.
There was a tremendous amount of travel by horseback — the Munson family members going to Brazoria, Columbia, the Oyster Creek station, or the “Van” place and relatives or visitors coming to Ridgely for business or social visits. Visitors very often spent one or several nights there. In the extreme, one entry in Sarah’s diary reports, “All busy. Mr. Quigly and Mr. Moore came. . . Walter, Mrs. Walker and the children came. About 22 persons here to dinner today and tonight.” While this was extraordinary, it appears that a dozen or more for dinner was normal. Almost every entry tells of Mr. Munson or one of the children leaving, and of one or several visitors arriving at the home.
The Munson family, led by Sarah, were devout Methodists, and Sunday was truly observed as the Sabbath day. During the week Sarah played with her children and entered into their sports with a zest that equaled theirs. Horseback riding, walking on the prairie, and fishing were her favorite sports. On Saturday the entire family got ready for Sunday. The servants pressed clothes, shined shoes, and baked hams or turkey, cakes, and pies. The children put away their toys and other play equipment. They could play games on Sunday only if they did not require equipment. Even into the 1900s some older members objected to card playing on Sundays. If possible, they all attended church services at Columbia or Brazoria, about five miles away.
All of the children’s early education was at home with Sarah and live-in teachers. “Aunt Zena” (Sarah Alzenith Black, wife of William Waddy Black, Sarah’s half-brother) was for a time the children’s teacher, living with the family at the plantation. School was held at a certain time each day and in a certain room. The studies stressed were reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible. Sarah taught the children their “ABC’s” from the capital letters of the beginning of the chapters in the Bible, then they were promoted to the “Blue Back speller.” She read to them from Pilgrim’s Progress and fairy story books. An entry in Sarah’s diary dated February, 1882, reports, “I commenced my school again. Had an addition in George, Maud and Bittie [Sarah].” These were the orphans of Mordello’s brother, George, who had arrived with the family on March 2 of that year. As the children grew older, their education was continued in private schools, church schools, Texas Military Institute, Southwestern University, Texas A. & M. College, and the University of Texas.
Mordello’s son, George Caldwell Munson, attended school in San Marcos, and then at Texas Military Institute in Austin with his brother, Henry William. Henry also attended Texas A. & M. College for special military training. He became captain of the Prairie Rangers in Brazoria County, with Joseph Waddy as lieutenant and George C. Munson and Walter Kennedy as members. Mordello’s sons, Hillen Armour, Joseph Waddy, and Walter Bascom, and his nephew, George P. Munson II, attended Texas A. & M. Sons Walter Bascom and Milam Stephen attended Southwestern University at Georgetown, where their mother’s cousin, the Reverend Hillen Armour Bourland, was minister of the Methodist Church. Bascom, Stephen, and Waddy graduated from the University of Texas Law School at the same time, in the Class of 1888 — Stephen graduating with highest honors and being the youngest student (at the age of 18) to graduate from the law school up to that time. Some of the boys would stay at home to help manage the plantation while others were away at school. The girls were sent to Houston to private schools for young ladies.
Mordello continued through the years to improve his red Durham cattle and enlarge his herd. He was one of the early stockmen interested in the Brahman breed for the Gulf Coast and it has been stated by family members that he owned the first Brahman cattle in Brazoria County. He owned fine horses including some good race horses. On November 10, 1863, he purchased from George A. Feris of Richmond, Texas, for the sum of $3,000, “the colt Nadir Shah from the Feris Arabian `Ab-Del-Kadir’ and Dam Nadir, by Eclilptic G.- Dam Alice by Authentic. . .by Importer Larpedon.” And it was further written on the bill of sale, “The American Stud book will show the close relationship of the colt Nadir Shah to the great racers of America and England on the side of his dam.” The Munson boys had great fun racing the horses on privately owned tracks and on the public tracks in Velasco and Columbia.
During the postwar years Mordello acquired many additional pieces of property. Some were in Brazoria County and adjoining counties, and some in areas of west and north Texas not yet organized into counties. Some were as far west as present-day Jones County, near Abilene. Deeds have been found showing purchases of land in almost every year from 1867 until 1893. Most were bought by the highest bidder at sheriff’s sales on the courthouse steps. Economic conditions were depressed and many settlers, no doubt, gave up on their homesteaded land and it was sold for taxes. As there were few people with money and few bidders for this distant land, it could be bought for very little.
As examples, on June 6, 1868, Mordello purchased at sheriff’s sale on the courthouse steps at Brazoria for the highest bid of $71.00 all of 666 acres in Brazoria County lying between the Bernard River and Cedar Lake. In 1871 he purchased one-half interest in 1,476 acres on the Brazos River in Jones County for thirty-six cents per acre — total cost $265.68. In 1883 he purchased 320 acres in Hamilton County, west of Waco, for delinquent taxes in the total amount of $28.14, and also 480 acres in Jones County near Abilene for delinquent taxes in the amount of $7.20 plus $7.55 penalty for a total of $14.75. In 1884 he purchased 350 acres in Brazoria County on the east side of Oyster Creek in the Sandy Point District for $72.00, and in 1893 he bought 510 acres in Brazoria County in the H. T. & B. R. R. Survey for taxes and penalty of $33.78. This last purchase may have been land adjoining and becoming a part of his Bailey’s Prairie Plantation. During this period he purchased about two dozen different properties. It is not known what became of most of these.
During these years Mordello also had his contests in court, and he was not always victorious. A deed dated August 23, 1869, reads in part: “M. S. Munson has this day conveyed a certain stock of cattle in Matagorda and Brazoria Counties between the San Bernard River and Cedar Lake, numbering about 360 head, which cattle are branded L^; in full payment of the Judgment rendered in the District Court of Brazoria County on April 6, 1861, in favor of my deceased husband, F. M. Jackson against Thomas E. Hill and M. S. Munson for the sum of $1,011.41 with 12% interest.” A handwritten note on the back, no doubt written by Mordello, reads: “This was for slaves bought by Gerard just before the war. I tried to dissuade him but he bought them with my guarantee.”
Mordello apparently replaced these cattle with two purchases made the next year, 1870. For $2,000.00 he purchased “all that certain stock of cattle and horses (the latter estimated at about 150 head, more or less) formerly known as the `Winfrey Stock’ and branded W.I. now running in the counties of Fort Bend and Harris.” Also he purchased on December 29, 1870, for $1,400.00, “All that herd of cattle ranging between the Brazos River and Galveston Bay estimated to be about 500 head, more or less, branded with the anchor brand and the circle V, formerly known as the `Collins Stock’.”
The Summer Home at Bryan Beach
It is well known to all who have lived in Brazoria County that the summers inland are usually miserably hot and humid, while the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are usually delightful. On August 21, 1870, Mordello purchased for the sum of $50.00 a plot of land on the gulf — 44 1/2 acres “on the Mound” near the town of Quintana between the mouth of the Brazos River, to the north, and the San Bernard, to the south. In 1884 he added another twenty acres and in 1885 another eighty. All of this property became the beloved summer home of the Munson family. As his years advanced, he decided to retire from his law practice and devote his entire time to his cattle and farming interests, and he wanted to spend more time with his family.
At some date he built a large summer home on the beach property, about two hundred yards from the water. The original family home had five bedrooms, a dining area, living room, and two kitchens, one in front and one in back. Rain water was collected in a cistern which was covered by an extension of the roof of the house. The house was long and only two rooms deep, facing the gulf in order to take advantage of the gulf breezes, and it had a porch across the entire length facing the gulf. This was a summer home with sufficient room for his large family and many visitors. This description is taken from a drawing and description made by Mary Kennedy Giesecke, a granddaughter of Mordello. As a child she spent many happy summers at the beach house.
After his marriage in 1878, son George C. Munson built a house for his growing family just across the lawn fence, which had an old-fashioned stile over it.
Each year in early summer, members of the family, with employed farm hands, would drive dairy and beef cattle and take chickens and supplies to the beach house, plant a garden, and open the house for the summer. Supplies were carried in four-mule-team wagons, crossing the Brazos River at the ferry at Perry’s Landing. The entire family went in buggies and on horseback in June, and returned in October, in time for the harvest season. With the large family and visits from friends and relatives from Gulf Prairie, Columbia, Quintana, and Velasco, there were always plenty of participants for croquet on the front lawn, for boating, crabbing, fishing and bathing parties, dancing in the evenings, and entertainment for everyone. One of the happy memories of those summers was the boat rides up the San Bernard River to hear the "sweet, mysterious music of the San Bernard.” Many stories have been written in Texas history about this “music,” but none more interesting than those told in later years to the Munson grandchildren; and many other interesting stories have been told from the wonderful times at the summer beach-house.
These houses were destroyed by the hurricane of 1900. Two small cottages connected by a log beam from the old home were built and the grandchildren had some happy days on the same land by the gulf. These, too, were destroyed by a hurricane in 1915. The land was then unoccupied and unattended for over thirty years.
In 1929 the Brazos River was diverted to the south to form the Freeport Ship Canal in Freeport, and the river then entered the gulf to the south of the Munson beach property. In the 1940s some of Mordello’s grandchildren, all engineers, went to survey the beach property. After much puzzled searching to find the corners, they discovered that their land that had originally fronted on the beach now lay far inland. The silt from the diverted Brazos River had filled in the beach and added maybe a half-mile of land. State law held that when such beach growth occurred the new land belonged to the former owners of the beach front, so that the original 144 acres had expanded into approximately 320 acres. In 1975 the state of Texas condemned and purchased all of this land and much more to form Bryan Beach State Park.
From these early experiences the Munson family has retained an everlasting love for the gulf beaches. Even to this day, every June, several groups from the far corners of the nation rent cottages at Surfside Beach and enjoy a week at the gulf, just as their great-great-grandparents did over a century ago.
A story is told in the Munson family to the effect that, in 1884, Mordello sold to the Bryan brothers a part of his beach property. When the survey was later made it showed a deficiency in the number of acres that had been deeded in the sale, so Mordello added additional land including “the Mound” to complete the transaction, thinking that this land was of little value. In later years it was discovered that this was a “sulfur mound” containing a huge deposit of pure sulfur. This brought about the formation of the Freeport Sulfur Company, became its major asset, and proved to be worth millions of dollars.
Mordello and Sarah’s Later Years
The first of Mordello and Sarah’s children to marry was George Caldwell, who married Hannah Dyer Adriance on February 6, 1878. Her father, John Adriance, was a leading merchant in Columbia and a close friend and business associate of the Munsons. Their first child, Lydia, died in infancy. They also named their second child Lydia, and they raised six children to adulthood. Mordello and Sarah’s daughter, Sarah, married Walter Kennedy from a neighboring plantation in 1881, and they presented Mordello and Sarah with eight grandchildren. Daughter Emma married Joseph Murray in 1882, and they also raised eight children. In all, Mordello and Sarah had thirty-two grandchildren who grew to adulthood.
After Sarah’s children were older, she took two long trips to visit relatives. The first, in 1875, was to Austin and San Marcos to visit Mordello’s half-brother, Milam Caldwell, and his wife, Mary House, who were called Mile and Millie in Sarah’s diary. Accompanying Sarah were her children “Doll” and Stephen. They left Houston by train on Friday, July 2, 1875, and arrived in Austin that evening. Her son “Bud” (George) met their train in Austin and showed them the town. She reports that Milam sent a hack to drive them out to his home, a distance of about thirty miles. After five days in Austin, they “got into the ambulance with two fine mules & a negro man to drive.” On the trip to San Marcos they passed the “deaf and dumb asylum” (still there), Onion Creek (still there), and many “wagons & ambulances & buggies” along the way. Sarah, “Doll,” “Bud,” and Stephen visited with Mile and Millie Caldwell and their children, Pearce, Willie, Mary, Della, George (daughter Georgie), and Milam, until September 12. Her diary of this trip ends as they prepare to leave for home.
In the summer of 1881, Sarah, with daughter Emma, made a trip to visit Sarah’s Waddy aunts, uncles, and cousins in Collierville, Tennessee. They left Houston by sleeper train on June 27 (erroneously recorded July 27) and went by way of Palestine, Longview, Texarkana, Little Rock and Memphis. The trip took only a day and a half. Collierville is about twenty-five miles due east of Memphis. They visited (including Fourth of July celebrations) Uncle Jo and Aunt Jennie, Uncle Dave and Aunt Mattie, and cousins John Thomas, Mollie, Maggie, Hope, and others. Sarah reported on their attendance at the Methodist Church — that it was “Almost a Waddy congregation.” They were still in Collierville when her diary entries stopped after July 19. Letters report that they had a wonderful time. They brought back cuttings of a white climbing rose that came to be known in Brazoria County as the “Munson Rose.”
Sarah became ill in 1886, and Mordello’s pleading letters to pharmacists in Chicago and New Orleans show his great love and concern for his wife, the seriousness of her illness, and the ineffectiveness of remedies of the day. The illness was chronic and centered in her throat and respiratory system. She slowly grew weaker and died on January 31, 1887. She was buried in the Munson Cemetery near her home under the live oak trees that she loved. This was undoubtedly a sad, sad day for Mordello and the entire family. In later years he wrote to a friend, “I had the best wife that any man in Texas could have,” and in historical retrospect that certainly appears to be true.
Mordello, then 62 years old, continued to live at Ridgely Plantation. One or another of his children lived with him at all times. First Emma and Joe Murray lived there, then Armour and wife Lilla, and later Sarah and Walter Kennedy lived with him until his death. With his sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews raised, educated, and rapidly getting married and having children of their own, he retired to his plantation. He had purchased additional property at Bailey’s Prairie, and his plantation now covered well over 3,000 acres. Law business continued to come, but he referred the greater part of it to his three lawyer sons, who had formed a law firm named Munson, Munson & Munson. And at different times other of his sons, Henry William, George, and Armour, took over management of his land and cattle.
During the early 1890s Mordello, together with his good friend, John Adriance of Columbia, was influential in preventing the division of Brazoria County into two counties and in placing the county seat in Angleton. In 1891 a new railroad was built across the empty prairie directly north from Velasco to meet the Columbia Tap (which ran from Houston to Columbia) at Anchor. The Munson’s mail, freight, and passenger station was the Oyster Creek station on the Columbia Tap. The president of the new railroad company was George Angle. Faustino Kiber and Lewis R. Bryan, major landowners along the railroad’s route, laid out a townsite and donated a half-interest to the railroad company in return for their building a station there. They further named the town Angleton, and Mrs. Angle was the guest-of-honor at the dedication ceremonies.
The citizens of the new and fast growing town of Alvin were displeased with the county seat in Brazoria being so far away and so inaccessible in rainy weather. They were urging that a new county, to be named “Sealy County,” be formed with Alvin as the county seat. Several county-wide ballots were held, with Brazoria desperately trying to maintain the county seat and Alvin trying to dislodge it. The compromisers, Munson, Adriance, and others, finally won the day in 1896 by winning an election which named tiny but centrally located Angleton as the new county seat. Angleton was later incorporated and has grown steadily ever since.
In about 1896, when Angleton became the county seat, Mordello purchased for his family a large tract of land on the western edge of the new town. The street leading through this tract is now South Walker Street, but it was long referred to as “Munson Row.”
Soon after 1896, son Walter Bascom, who had married Adelaide Cotton from the wealthy Cotton family of Houston, built a lovely, large, two-story home on this property. It was located near what is now 726 S. Walker Street. Soon after occupying the home, their first child, Stephen Olin, died of scarlet fever in this house. Bascom no longer wished to live in the house, so he sold it to his brother, George C. Munson, and he built another home further back on the property, at what is now 517 Bryan Street. This house was later sold to the Stratton family and it was destroyed by fire.
While George and Hannah Munson lived in the original two-story house, it was a family gathering place. In 1902 and 1903, when Joseph Waddy Munson moved his family from Columbus to Angleton to enter the family law business, the four of them lived in the “parlor” of the house for almost two years while their new home was being built nearby. This lovely Waddy Munson home, located at what is now 910 S. Walker Street, still stands today.
In about 1899 Walter Kennedy and his wife, Sarah K. Munson (II), built a small home on the Munson property. It was located at what is now 600 S. Walker Street. This home was destroyed in the 1900 storm, and they rebuilt down the road at what is now 520 Bryan Street. This Kennedy home also still stands today.
In about 1902, son Milam Stephen, who married Carrie Diggs in 1901, built his lovely home on the site of the original Kennedy home at what is now 600 S. Walker Street. He and his family lived there for almost eighty years, and this original “Judge Munson home” stands there today.
During the severe hurricane of 1932, which occurred just after George Caldwell Munson had died, the original two-story house was damaged. It was thereafter torn down, and the lumber from it was used to build a house next door, at what is now 730 Walker Street, for George’s son, Mordello Stephen Munson II. Mordello and his wife Minnie Ella raised their family here, and Minnie Ella still lives there today.
In later years, Mordello’s grandson Joseph Waddy II and his wife, Myrtle, repurchased the Stratton lot and built a home at 517 Bryan Street; grandson Henry William IV and his wife, Elsie, built at 632 Walker Street; their son, George McCauley Munson and his wife, Martha, built next door at 620 S. Walker Street; and in 1950 Mordello’s granddaughter Ruth Smith and her husband, Frank, built their home at 700 Walker Street, very near to the site of the original two-story Munson home. The two huge live oak trees now growing in their front yard were brought as saplings from “the prairie” by farm hands and planted on “either side of the road to the barn” in about the year 1898. Many of these homes are still occupied by Munsons today.
Mordello spent his last years being honored by his political friends and enjoying his large family of children and grandchildren. In 1892 an unidentified newspaper article with his picture was published strongly supporting the nomination of Colonel M. S. Munson for governor of Texas. By this time, at the age of 67, he had retired from public and political life, and his reply to each such call was similar to one of his recorded replies: “I fully appreciate the confidence and kindness expressed by yourself and neighbors but assure you that no contingency is likely to transpire that will influence me to change my present purpose of never again becoming a candidate for office. To be brief, I have earnestly and faithfully in years gone by discharged my share of official work and in the evening of life feel that I am entitled to an Honorable discharge.”
He continued to live at his plantation home and to spend his summers in the beach house on the gulf with as many of his sons, daughters, and grandchildren as could gather there. His two devoted daughters managed the summer home. In a letter to a friend he wrote that he was spending the summer on the beach surrounded by his grandchildren and that it was constantly “grandpa this” and "grandpa that,” until he felt like Old Father Abraham.
There were several fine biographical articles written about his career in books honoring early Texans of distinction . Excerpts from one reads: “In all his career, both private and public, not the slightest stain rests upon him, even the vile tongue of political scandal has passed him by as a mark too high and too purely honorable to be reached. In his private life he is looked up to and honored by all who know him, no person or party has ever attempted or desired to cast the least sign of disrespect at him. He is a lawyer by profession and stands at the head of the bar as a man of ability and integrity. Truly the word Honorable is in its proper place before the name of M. S. Munson.”
Mordello died at Bailey’s Prairie on October 13, 1903, at the age of 78. He was buried in the Munson Cemetery beside his beloved wife, where their gravestone stands today. Quotes from his biographers include the following: “It is to be doubted whether there is another man in the State who has lived in Texas anything like so long as the subject of this memoir.”; “No old Texian is better known"; and “The sage of Brazoria, the Grand Old Man and Patriot.” Perhaps the greatest tribute of all is found in a survey of the people who have named their sons and daughters after him. One can count six of his descendants, three members of the Caldwell family, and five members of other families who have borne the names Mordello or Mordella, or the popular nickname Della. One of his sons named a son Mordello Stephen Munson; and a daughter named a son Mordello Stephen Murray. His half-brother, Robert Milam Caldwell, named a daughter Mordella “Della” Caldwell (Minor), and Mordello’s first cousin, Sarah K. Munson Caldwell named a daughter Sarah Mordella “Della” Caldwell (Hanly). His brother, George, named a daughter Mordella Stephen (Maud) Munson; and his niece, Mary “Mollie” Munson (Gerard"s daughter who was raised at Ridgely Plantation) named a son Mordello Ray Brown. A nephew of Ann Pearce Munson in Louisiana named a son Mordello Pearce. Stephen S. Perry of Peach Point, a nephew of Stephen F. Austin, named a son Mordello Stephen Perry, and this Mordello Perry named his son, born in 1908, the same. Farrell Vincent, Mordello Munson’s Civil War friend and partner in the Tuxpan Land Company, named his first son Mordello Lee Vincent (Lee for Robert E. Lee). Some of these families have continued the name until today there is a Mordello Vincent II, a Walter Mordello Munson, a Mordello Stephen Munson IV, and a Luke Mordello Munson. How better can a man be honored and remembered?
Disposition of Mordello’s Lands
After Mordello’s son, Hillen Armour, married in 1890, Armour and his wife, Lilla Cox, and their family lived with Mordello and managed the house and fields for a number of years. At some time around 1901 or 1902 they moved to a house in Angleton because Lilla suffered badly from asthma and did not wish to live in the country. Mordello’s daughter, Sarah, and her husband, Walter Kennedy, and their family moved in to care for Mordello until his death in 1903, while Armour continued to work at the plantation. After Mordello’s death, the Ridgely house was left vacant. For over fifty years Mordello and Sarah had carefully tended the house, but in about 1905 it was destroyed by fire. Its location can be easily spotted today by the location of the rain water cistern.
In 1907, in the settlement of Mordello’s estate, the sons and daughters decided to divide certain of the various plantation properties among themselves and to leave other properties in the "M. S. Munson Estate.” The Murrays were living on the “Murray Ranch” property just west of Angleton, and apparently this property became their share of the division. (The facts around this point are not known.) The main body of Ridgely Plantation totaled 2,983 acres, and this was divided among the other seven families. All were then married and had children, and all lived in or near Angleton. Handwritten notes, dated March, 1907, on the back of a Munson & Munson envelope show the calculations for the division. The attached exhibit shows a map of the division. The deed of division is dated May 24, 1907, and is on record at the Brazoria County Courthouse.
During subsequent years, the Henry William III family, the George C. family, the Walter Bascom family, and the Kennedy family sold all or most of their inherited land. The Joseph Waddy family, the Milam Stephen family, the Murray family, and the Hillen Armour family (who have added to their holdings) have retained their lands up to this date. Three of Mordello’s descendants have built homes and lived on their property.
It is not known what became of the dozens of other far-flung pieces of property owned by Mordello. Those outside of Brazoria County were apparently sold, either by Mordello or by his heirs — very possibly in the settlement of the estate. Many pieces in Brazoria County were held in undivided interest by his heirs, and either the entire property rights or just the surface rights were sold from time to time. The mineral rights on several of these properties in Brazoria County have been retained by the family. With several generations having passed, the ownership of such rights are so highly divided and difficult to determine for lease purposes that the rights are virtually worthless.
There are several assets from the life of Mordello, however,
that have been carefully preserved. These include the Munson
Cemetery, the Munson Family Reunion, his personal papers and
records, and the Munson tradition of family love and pride.
Mordello’s personal records were removed to the attic of the
Angleton home of son Milam Stephen Munson before the Bailey’s
Prairie house burned in 1905. In 1950 they were discovered there
and removed by the dedicated family historian Erma Munson Rich.
Without these records, these institutions, and these family
feelings, this book, preserving the story for future generations of
Munsons, would never have been written.
-  When not otherwise indicated, information in this chapter is taken from the Munson Papers, see Appendix 1.
-  Information in this section is from John Henry Brown, The History of Texas; Members of the Texas Legislature 1846-1962, published by the Texas Legislature, 1962; and the Munson Papers, see Appendix 1.
-  These figures are from John Henry Brown, The History of Texas, Vol. II, p. 445; The Handbook of Texas, Vol. 1, p. 398, appears to give this vote as 28,119 for and 23,400 against.
-  The Handbook of Texas, Vol. 1, pp. 401-402.
-  Information in this section is taken from the Munson Papers; from the diary of Sarah Munson; and from Myrtle Murray, “Home Life on Early Ranches of Southwest Texas,” The Cattleman (Magazine), November, 1940.
-  See Appendix VI for a listing of those that are known.