THE TEXAS LETTERS (Mar.-June 1861)

Following Elizabeth's death, at age 53, Mary returned to William in Pikeville. Her father, William Davis Carnes, was devastated by the loss of his beloved wife and soon resigned from the presidency in Knoxville and became president of a newly founded college at Franklin, Tennessee near Nashville. While there, he wrote two letters to Mary that are included in this collection.
In early 1861, William and his brother-in-law, Erasmus Carnes, became interested in exploring opportunities opening up in Texas. William's uncle, Abner Hill, and his sister, Martha Hill Real, were already living there. In early April, William and Erasmus left on a trip to Texas. While on this trip, William was much impressed and wrote to Mary that they should move there.

 Franklin College
Mar. 23, 1861

My dear children

I have received no letter from you since I wrote to Erasmus; but whether you write or not I will write to you. It always is of so much pleasure for me to receive letters from my friends that I am disposed to contribute to their happiness, if my letters can do so.

This is Saturday. I generally go some place on Saturday, but it is a rainy day and I am so hoarse I can scarcely speak and I concluded to stay at home today. I was taken hoarse Wednesday night and the hoarseness has increased ever since. I am not at all sick, nor am I suffering except my throat and lungs feel sore; but I can scarcely talk. A number of the students have been seriously affected with this cold. Some have coughed most violently, Joseph among the number, others have had slight chills and fevers and others have been hoarse. I suppose I am only affected with hoarseness from the same cause. Some have been able to recite all the time; others have lost some recitations. Those who have been hoarse seem to have suffered the least.

Political affairs seem to have quieted down. There is very little excitement compared with what it was a month or two ago. The farmers are very busy. It is said that greater exertions were never made than are now making by the farmers of Tennessee. It is generally believed that we are to have fine crops the present season. Considerable anxiety has been felt about the fruit. It is not all killed yet, but it may yet be. It will be a very great relief to the country if it pleases the Lord to send us an abundant yield of the fruits of the earth.

Our friends are sanguine that our school enterprise can go successfully, whenever the pressure of the country is removed. I am inclined to believe that we can easily raise the money if things quiet down again. The agents will commence to raise subscriptions as soon as things become a little more calm. Brother Tremble, who preaches in Murray, Bedford and some other counties in the middle of the state says he can easily raise twenty thousand dollars.

I feel great anxiety to see you all. I suppose I shall not be likely to do so before vacation; if I live till then, I recon I will be in E. Tennessee. I have made no arrangements for vacation yet. The children I know will want to go, and I do'nt know how we are all to get there. Cousin Martha Davis has written to me that she wants me to take Nettie to their house to stay. I do'nt know what I shall do. Time must reveal. I shall try to do what I think right in the premises. The boys are anxious to know what Erasmus intends doing. I hope you will not fail to write soon. I shall write often, if my life and health are preserved.

As ever your affectionate father

W.D. Carnes

Franklin College
Monday night
April 8, 1861

My Dear daughter,

I suppose Mr. Will and Erasmus will be off for Texas before this reaches you. I commence a letter to you tonight, I do'nt know when I shall finish it. I shall have to stop as soon as the bell rings and I do not know when I can begin again. As I know you will be anxious to hear of our health, I will speak of that first. My own health is but little, if any, improved since I wrote to Erasmus. I do not expect to be well till the weather changes and settles down. Joseph is much better. If he takes care of himself I have no doubt he will soon be well again. Willie is not so well today. He has not been able to be out of his room. Though he has been able to sit up some. He is better this evening and I hope he will soon recover. Annette is still rapidly improving. If today had not been so damp that I was afraid to _____ able to be up. If I can only control her appetite, I have no fears but she will soon be well again. I have never seen more violent and long continued colds than have prevailed here; but most of the students are getting better. We also have some cases of measles in college; but most of our students have had measles.

I will be anxious to hear all your plans about Texas. I do not desire to thwart your purposes. I would not be selfish. I know our family bond is broken never to be united this side of Jordon. I know, too, that Mr. Will and those little ones which clamber about your side have the highest seat in your affections, and the(y) should have; and your hearth's temple, lighted by a mother's fond heart, should make home the dearest spot on earth to them; still I must believe I have a place in your large heart and that I will still be remembered by you, and most of all, when you invoke heaven's blessing on you and yours. I fear this world will never be what it was once to me. I do not want you to think I am melancholy, for I am not; but still I pass many lonely hours. The earth still smiles in beauty, the moon and stars still come out in lovliness; but the smile - - - - - - - - You may think strange that I always say something about marrying in my letters. The reason I do is, that I do not desire to keep anything from one who I believe has kept as deep an interest in me and _____ as you have. You may rest assured that I will write you facts on this subject as well as others. Whenever I determine to marry, if I ever do, I will inform you at once.

(On Sequatchie Valley) - - - - There are so many pleasant associations connected with that charming valley that it will always be to me a dear spot. But words are not feelings and I can never make you know the emotions that swell my soul while the many joys I experienced there pass in review before me, as they often do. Words are wind, and feelings are only natural swellings of the heart; but acts are living things, like facts they are stubborn and everlasting, and good deeds are footsteps in the ladder that reaches to heaven. I can never forget the self-denying acts of your sainted mother, but of heaven and the Bible there is nothing so pure as that love which makes us forget ourselves and live for others. Oh truly the fairest land is where our loved and lost are buried. There I learned to love and there I breathed love's vows. Is it strange that it has charm for me. Oh that my immortal nature may be whitened by the light of heaven from all the stains that sin has made. Then will my soul put on her wings and go to breathe the air of heaven, and seize the revelation of her spiritual being and learn her destiny in a future life, whither to our shortsightedness the way is unmarked, and to our weak faith and little courage her realities are solemn and fearful.

At this point I was again interrupted. It is now near 9 o'clock at night. Mr. Caldwell, one of the teachers in the high school in Nashville, has been in my room since dark. We have had quite a pleasant talk, about matters and things in general and education in particular. Willie is writing a letter, at the same table at which I write, to Stearns & Co. about his museum. He is determined to take it no longer. We are all better of our colds, this evening. Nettie is well. Her gravest trouble is that she can't get enough to eat. Willie is better of hearing than he has been since he was sick. He will soon be well.

- - - - - - My heart was once light and cheerful. But now how changed. Mildew and death are there, and frost cold and frigid have changed its leaves and blossoms and shaken them to the ground. Still I desire to suffer the will of God; but suffering it and doing it are quite two things. In every condition we have something to be grateful for. No night is so dark that our Father's smiles cannot cheer it; no place is so barren, so dark removed, that his blessings and mercies cannot reach it. And how bountiful they come. New every morning, fresh every evening, and repeated every moment of our lives.

I was stopped at this point. It is now Tuesday evening. We have just closed the excerises for the day. It has been a day of more than usual excitement here. We have had a wedding, Not of our pupils, however. A Mr. Fulgham, a brother of sister Lipscomb, (he lives in Trenton, West Tennessee) and Miss Bettie Barnes, who was living at Brother Fannings, were married at 1/2 past 10 o'clock today. - - - - -

- - - - - I hope I shall be able to see you before you move to Texas. I have not yet formed any plans for our coming vacation. It will soon be here now, only seven or eight weeks. The children all constantly, when they say anything about it, speak of going to your house, in vacation. It is highly probable if you go to Texas that Joseph will desire to go with you. I shall then be left alone with Willie & Nettie. Even Willie would be willing to give up school and be off to Texas if I were willing. It will afford me gratification, if anyone goes, that others will be with them to minister to them if they are sick. We can do well enough among strangers when we are in good health; but when sorrow, sickness, blighted hopes, clad in hue of darkness, all brood upon our heart then we need some one more near than strangers to sympathize with us. But my room is out. I want you to write as often as you can. If we are separated we ought to feel thankful that we can comfort each other by the use of the pen.

Remember me kindly to Mr. Rogers and other friends. Kiss all the children for me. As ever, your loving

and affectionate father,

W.D. Carnes


Wednesday night Apr. 24, 1861

Beloved Wife

I am now in Hunt County, Texas about 9 miles from Greenville; about 50 or 60 miles from Sister Martha's. We will get there Friday night. We have been ever since Sunday coming from Jefferson. I bought a pony about five miles from Jefferson. I gave 33 dollars for horse, bridle & saddle. It is the sngest(?) indian pony you ever saw.

Tell Eddie & Lu that Pa has bought them a little horse. He is very gentle and I may bring him home with me. Erasmus has not got him any horse yet. We put baggage on pony and ride him about. I suppose we will not buy another till we get to Real's and perhaps not then. We could have got some ponies cheap near Jefferson but was rather choicey and now horses seem harder to get in this country. We have been travelling two days in the prairies. They are pretty though they have fallen far short of my expectations in point of beauty. We see vast herds of sheep & cattle feeding on the prairies. Some places seem very fertile though I have not found any places that I could think of locating at. We have gone through the counties of Cass Hopkins Titus and are now in Hunt. I cannot tell you now all about the country as the room is full and the family wants to retire. I hope to find some place that I take better. We are informed that tomorrow we will see a better country. If we had not seen the sed hur(?) lands we would have been better pleased. Lands are cheap enough for any use but they don't strike me.

I will have time when I get to Martha's to write you the particulars. Erasmus and I are both enjoying fine health. Erasmus still talks of joining the Texan Ranger.

We are so (far) from any where that we get no war news. The people are now just learning that fort sumpter has been taken.

I don't know whether this letter will get to you soon. I hope you are well. I often think of you and the children but can do no more than look at your likeness. I want you to keep writing to me at Alton till I inform you otherwise. But must stop as I (am) imposing upon the family. May the Lord bless you and the children is the sincere wish of

Your devoted


Saturday evening May 4, 1861

My Beloved Wife

I will write to you again notwithstanding it looks like you would never get it. I have not heard from you yet. I am going to Denton tomorrow and if I do not get a letter I shall despair of hearing from you. I suppose you are troubled in the same way about my letters. I, it is true, feel a great solicitude about you and the children. Yet when I think of how you are situated, in a healthy place and if any of you should get sick I know from experience, that the people of Pikeville are very kind and attentive and would not let you want.

Sunday morning May 5, 1861

After writing the above George Grissom came and insisted on my going and staying with him and so I did. Lainesday(?) seems very friendly and expresses great anxiety about seeing you. I showed her your picture. She says you look very much like you used to. Ella is universally admired.

How I would like to spend this Sunday with you and the children. I think of you by day and dream of you by night. I am going to Denton to-day to see if I can't get some word from you. I believe now I would be glad if you had done as you spoke of doing - - write a letter before I left so it would be here ready for me.

I think we will start to-morrow to go out further west. We want to see the country and the Witchita rivers near their mouth. It is said that the water and timber are very fine in that part. I am better pleased with this country than when I first came here. It is a country where one may live very easy. All that any one need look to is to make bread. And it is very easy to make that; much easier than in Tennessee. I think too it a very healthy country. Geo. Real has been sick which is the only case I have heard of in the state except whooping cough. Real's sickness cannot be attributed to unhealthfulness of the climate. He has over done himself at work. To look at the country it would seem almost (difficult) for any one to be sick. It is a very high dry atmosphere and the air is almost constantly in motion. It (is) bound to be healthy. There is the finest range winter and summer. No one thinks of feeding in the winter.

I feel fully made up that we must come to Texas. There is a fine prospect for me to do well at the Law. The great contest that will surely arise about land titles will insure a rich harvest for those who make themselves acquainted with the principles of Law. I think however that we'll not come by water as I once thought we would. I find the distance from Shreveport is so great that we could not get from there to the place where I want to go without as much expense as it would take to come from Tenn. But it will (be) time enough to fix these things after I return home. Erasmus has now determined to locate. He has been hesitating. I don't know whether he will get employment in this part of the State or not.

It is now 9 o'clock and it (is) 12 miles to Denton and I must get off soon. I do not know what to say to you about writing to me hereafter. I do not know where I will go when this gets to you. I will write to you often so you may know where I will be as soon as I know myself. Now give all the children a kiss for me. Give Love to Mr. Rogers and all friends. I am in good health and hope to live to enjoy a happy return to you in the valley and to return with you to Texas where you may live prosperously and happily. Then farewell. It makes me sad when (I) go to take leave of you. It makes the warm tears start. May God bless and be with you.

Your loving Husband

Real is getting well fast.


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