If all men were as high minded and honourable as Henderson Yoakum, the world would roll smoothly around its axis, until it just wore out, without any of those jars, discords, strifes & contentions which now distract & disgrace it.
Pleasant Williams Kittrell (1805 - 1867)
Henderson Yoakum's home near Huntsville, where he wrote the first
History of Texas in 1855.
During my visit to Austin, Texas, some years ago (see my earlier post "Deep in the Heart of Texas" for an account of this trip), I stopped at the state archives and had a number of papers pertaining to Henderson Yoakum copied and mailed to me. I have transcribed some of those papers below:
13 Feb 1833 Place: Monroe Co., Tennessee
Source: Holdings of the Texas State Archives
Envelope: Robt. Cannon Esq.
New Philadelphia, East Tenn.
(via Campbell Station)
April 3, 1833
I take this opportunity of writing to you to let you know we are well, and in fine spirits. As for Henderson, he is so used to being from home that it does not hurt him to leave his people, and, for my part, I have made so many affable acquaintances, that my mind is too much occupied and diverted to think much about home. But this of itself, would not be sufficient to keep up my spirits were I not consoled by the presence of the one I love better than all my kinfolks, dear as they are to me. Among my acquaintances are Judge Mitchell’s family, in the country, and the John Laughlin family in town, all of whom have treated us with the greatest possible kindness. Mrs. Welker, that is, Judge Mitchell’s daughter, is one of the finest ladies I ever was acquainted with. She is so kind and affectionate, and withal such a great talker, that I have no time to indulge in thoughts about home.
This is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is level, and like Murfreesboro is healthy. We are now at the Laughlins in town, and will go to housekeeping in a few days.
Henderson is busily engaged in studying Law. He says he thinks he’ll get his license in about six months when he will be able to live by his own industry. He is going to have a Grench school, which will occupy but little of his time, and be of some profit to us. The Judge advises that if he can make out to live in the mean time, he ought to turn his attention to his studies. The Judge says by way of (smudged) that when he began the practice of Law he was (smudged) hundred in debt, and otherwise worse (smudged) than nothing.
Henderson is trying to teach me to read and write, but I make a good jest, as you see. I should like very much to hear from you and papa. Give my love to Eliza. I think of her often, and also to Uncle Mathew’s family.
Please accept the affections of your child,
To Robt. Cannon Esq. If you see any of our acquaintances coming to Nashville, tell them to call and see us. Tell Wm. Allen I paid Mr. Sublett two dollars for him. Please accept the assurance of my regard. H. Yoakum
Henderson Yoakum moved to Texas at the tail end of the Republic and on the cusp of the great migration that would come with annexation. His friendship with Sam Houston, a leading figure in the American Revolution, brought him in contact with the movers and shakers of his time. His diary discusses his introduction to the state’s future senators and governors.
In his 1954 doctoral dissertation at the University of Texas, Herbert Howard Lang talked of Henderson’s roots:
“Henderson King Yoakum was born on September 6, 1810, at Yoakum’s Station in Powell’s Valley, Claiborne County, Tennessee. His ancestors, of Welsh origin, had migrated to New Amsterdam with a group of early Dutch settlers. His great-grandfather, Valentine Yoakum, had moved from New York to Greenbrier County, Virginia, where, in 1771, he built a fort, which he called Yoakum’s Station. Valentine Yoakum, his wife, and all of their children, with the exception of their son George, were massacred in a Shawnee Indian raid on the fort.
NOTES: Sister Eliza (Elizabeth Martin) married Thomas H. Moore.
FROM THE TEXAS STATE ARCHIVES
When he died in 1856, his estate estimated he had nearly 9,000 acres valued at $17,773, with the majority being in Walker County, where he lived, and the rest spread through Polk, Houston, Cherokee (willed to a nephew), Leon and Trinity counties. In Polk, he owned land that was part of the George Wright Red River Co. appraised at $400 an acre.
Leaves from H. Yoakum’s Diary.
From Texas Archives, Austin.
Saturday, May 31, 1845. (at Smithland, Kentucky?) Our boat ran aground last evening, and we were prevented from reaching this place til this evening. We start home after supper tonight, for Nashville in the “Doctor Watson.”
At home Monday 2 June. Reached Nashville today at 10 a.m. and home by four p.m. and found all well for which I am grateful.
June 10, 1845. Gen. Jackson departed this life on Tuesday last at 6 p.m. 8 (mst) at his residence in the full possession of his mental faculties. During the last thirty years no man has filled a larger space in the world’s eye.
The Mexican Congress by a vote of 41 to 13 in the House and unanimously in the Senate did on the 3 of May ult. acknowledged the independence of Texas on condition she would not be annexed to the U. States.
Gen. Houston lately made a speech in New Orleans, admitted that he “had coquetted a little with Great Britain, and made the United States as jealous of that power as he possibly could.” He arrived at the Hermitage a few moments after Gen. Jackson expired.
A man by the name of Booth has written a letter to Mr. Clay and to our Pres. Polk to know their views in regard to the division of the Methodist church. The Prest. very properly declined an answer. Mr. Clay has come out expressing the idea that said a division would tend to weaken the union.
Huntsville. November 27. 1845. Yesterday we went to house keeping in the house, old, open, leake and smoky. In addition to all this, there has been a severe “northern” ever since. Yet we have some sweet potatoes and coffee, upon which we try to make ourselves as comfortable as we can.
Dec. 1, 1845. Last night the cold was considerable. The thermometer (Reaumer) being at Cincinatti (Texas) light this morning three degrees below zero.
Introduced to Gen. (T.J.) Rusk, one of the most considerable men in Texas. His character is pronounced excellent. He is of good stature, rather fleshy, a countenance evincing good nature rather than good intellect. He is expected to be one of the first Texas senators to the U. States Congress. It is said he’s too fond of his liquor - a fault very common among the prominent men of Texas. His politics while in the states are said to have been whiggish; though it is said he will not cooperate with the democratic party.
Also became acquainted with Judge W.B. Ochiltree, a man of decided character, warm feelings, seems genius, a thorough going democrat, but too strong in the expression of his views to meet with a hearty reception from all quarters.
Also met Gen. (J. Pinckney) Henderson, an old acquaintance, having seen him in 1836. He is a candidate for Governor under the new constitution. Is mild and conciliating in his manners, much liked by the people, of homely appearance, good sense, strongly democratic in his sentiment. Had only a nominal opposition, and will, if he lived, take his seat as the first governor of Texas as one of the states of the Union.
Much is said of the relative popularity of Rusk and Houston. There is little doubt they will both go to the senate; should a contest however arise between them, the result at present would undoubtedly be in favor of Houston.
Liquor and profanity are at present the distinquishing faults of the great men of Texas.
The town of Crockett is a new place, prettily situated some 12 miles from Trinity in the middle of one of the largest and prettiest counties in Texas.
Sworn in today as an attorney and counsellor of Law in Texas.
Gen. Rusk disgraced himself today by getting desperately drunk.
The country from Cincinnati (Texas) to Crockett lies beautifully, but is for the most part second rate land. Though said to be good cotton land.
December 5, 1845. (In Edwards, five miles from Parker’s bluff, Trinity) Passed from Crockett north 38 miles to Fort Houston, thence 15 miles west across the Trinity to this place. Described the saline flats at Edwards. The yield of salt at present is one bushel for eighty gallons of water.
Fort Houston is finely situated on a hill; is now a new town and quite small. It will probably grow to be a considerable plan. I am now on the border of the great buffalo and wild horse.
August 1847. (In Huntsville) Gen. Houston denounces (C. Edwards) Lester’s book (“Sam Houston and His Republic”) as a burlesque, that he had occupied only about thirty hours in dictating to him, and that Lester had left out the very best incidents in his life.
Aug. 14, 1847. (Yoakum, Henderson) Col. (Isaac) Vanzant and Gen. (George T.) Wood candidates for Governor spoke here today. Vanzant is quite an able speaker, and a gentleman of general information. Wood is a very plain man of moderate abilities and no speaker at all. Yet his good character and popularity are such that he will probably be Governor.”
Aug. 19, 1847. Huntsville. Several items in regard to the progress of our arms in Mexico. The drought here has been very great; vegetation is nearly burnt up. Old settlers say they have not seen such a one in Texas.
Aug. 21, 1847. Gen. Scott was in Puebla July 30.
May 1848. Notes on the presidential candidates of the United States. Santa Anna has left Mexico and gone to Cuba.
May 12, 1848. Comment of Generals Scott and Gid J. Pillow, occasioned by their appearing before a court of inquiry. Gen. Houston remarked … that he never knew a man who signed himself T. Jefferson Chambers, J. Pinckney Henderson, or any such name, that was of any account.”
1848. Gen. Scott’s letter to the Secretary of War, charging him and the administration with many things, called forth a reply from Secretary March that completely demolished Scott.
CONDOLENCE LETTER FROM PETER W. GRAY
Dec. 1, 1856
My dear Mrs. Yoakum,
I hardly know what to say, or how to express my feelings about the death of your good and loving husband, and my sincere friend. My sorrow has been great - and it is increased when I think of the sadness and distress it must cause you and your family.
I trust however it will be some consolation to you all to be assured that he received all the attention in his sickness it was possible for his friends here to give. (Smudge) Clepper of Montgomery who came down with him and Wm Porter, both were most kind and attentive. I was with him every day, and when ever my duties in Court allow it.
As soon as I received information of his arrival in town and sickness (on Monday evening last) I went to see him, and immediately procured the best medical aid. Dr. McCraven who has attended on my family for many years and in as experienced physician attended him. Up to Friday evening, he was doing aapparently well, and had been relieved of the severe pain he suffered at first on that evening an abscess seemed to have broken in his lungs. He expectorated to a great deal - suffered very much from it, and continued to grow worse until he died on Sunday morning at 1½ o’clock.
From the first he seemed to think that he would not get well. On Tuesday morning, he made his will, which I enclose to you. He said he had made one before, but as the law was now changed, he wished to change the will. Next day, he said that there was another thing he wanted to add to it, but afterwards, on my advice not to trouble himself about it, he let it pass.
What he wanted to add was this - that his library should be given to whichever of his sons should hereafter seem to take most pleasure in books or who would profit most by them. And that he wished me to take care of his historical manuscripts and papers until a state historical society was formed and then to give them to such society for preservation.
During his illness, his mind was often wandering and flighty, but very clear when aroused. He expressed his entire faith in God and that he would do what was right though he said once that he did not wish to die yet. He retained his senses until a very short time before he died and departed easily and without a struggle. His spirit left his weary body in calmness and peace. I felt entire confidence that he has attained the Christian’s reward and blissful abode. We should not then sorrow as those without hope but place our trust and confidence as he did in the goodness and mercy of God, who doeth all things well.
Mrs. Gray has written to you and Mrs. Campbell. She went to his sick bed a few hours before his death. He knew her and smiled pleasantly and said he was glad to see her and wish her well if he soever saw her again. It seemed to cheer him to see his friends about him.
He spoke to me of the birth of another son since he left home, and his being absent from you and his children seemed to distress him more than anything else.
I cannot say in a letter half I wish, but I wish you to feel comforted with the assurance that your husband wanted for nothing that could be done, and that he gave full evidence that our loss is his eternal gain.
Mr. Branch’s arrival today has relieved Mr. Porter and myself very much. We had made all preparation for the removal of the (deceased) and tomorrow Mr. Branch will return with the (splotch). I have settled all the bills and expensces incurred here during the sickness, and enclose a statement of them, with receipts for most.
I trust we shall meet again and I shall be most happy to render you every aid in my power. Praying that the God of the fatherless and widows may bless and keep you,
I am Your friend